“To be honest, I was not keen on becoming an actress in films,” begins Swagatha and adds, “I was more interested in theatre, like my sister Maya (who has done films like Magalair Mattum, Velaikkaran and 2.0). I had done theatre in school — TVS Lakshmi School, in Madurai — where they had a separate theatre department. I would play the lead in school plays and was very active in theatre until I finished school. But I had no knowledge about cinema then. I come from a very non-filmi family, so there was not even a dream of becoming a film actress.”
Swagatha says that she grew up as an “unattractive girl” who was constantly body shamed and developed a lot of complex. “I was also a cricketer and athlete at school, and used to spend most of my time on the playground, out in the sun. So, I was dark skinned and very thin. Neighbours and even some relatives used to call me karuvaachi and shame me. So, I never considered myself attractive enough to become an actress,” she elaborates.
In fact, this body shaming actually helped her form a closer bond with music. “Music was making me feel a lot better because no one judged me for my looks while I was singing. And I used to win at all the singing competitions. That was a very healing thing for me when it came to dealing with my complex of not being a ‘beautiful’ girl according to the norms laid out by society, and I formed an attachment to music,” she states.
Then, she came to Chennai and started pursuing a career in music. In 2013-14, while in Bangalore, she got an acting offer from a filmmaker. “I did not think I’d fit in, so I told him he should ask my sister. That’s how Maya’s career began,” she informs.
And it was her sister who motivated her to take up acting again, she reveals. “After Maya got into the industry, she started encouraging me and motivated me to transform my body and mind. She got me to get into theatre again and train to be an actress. She guided me into acting, saying, ‘Everywhere I go, people ask me if you are willing to act. There are so many people waiting for an opportunity. Even I’m still trying my luck here. But very few get opportunities handed over to them like what’s happening to you. You have now transformed yourself. So, when something comes your way next, show what you have got.’ My family and friends were also supportive. They always wanted me to act; I was the one who was holding myself back,” she says.
So, Swagatha started prepping. She went to Adishakti Laboratory of Theatre Arts for intense training. She also trained under theatre actor Anand Sami. “While doing these, I had to go back to my roots, to Rajkumar sir, who taught theatre at school,” she says.
Then, she signed not one, but two films! And she went to Malaysia last February for personal and professional commitments. That’s when the lockdown happened. “I got stuck there and came back after quite a struggle. But the shoots kept getting pushed because of the pandemic. And later, Kaayal came my way,” says Swagatha.
In February this year, she got a call from lyricist Damayanthi, who she was familiar with because they are both part of the music industry. “She asked me if I was willing to act, and wanted me to listen to a script that she had written. We met the same day, and she narrated the script for two hours. It was a small film with a beautiful script, and I instantly said yes. She trusted me a lot, and there was no audition or look test,” she says.
They shot the film in 18 days, in places like Velankanni, Nagercoil, Rameswaram and Pondicherry.
Though she had decided to take the plunge, Swagatha says she was very nervous facing the camera. “Many would come up to me with their suggestions. But thankfully, I did my homework and took the guidance of my director, who let me be myself. She did not force another character on to me, but got what she wanted as she had a very clear plan in her head. The working process became easy because of this. It was very new to me, but I was appreciated a lot on the set by my co-actors and the crew. It was a gratifying experience as I was a newcomer and was pretty scared,” she states.
Quiz her if music will take a backseat now that she has become an actress and she says, “Music will always remain my first priority. I wish whatever fame I may get through this journey of acting in films, it helps my music reach more audiences.”