Natyam to Abhinayam – Preethi Sanjiv

Jyoti Shekar

Most of us have been raised with the belief that studies are everything, that unless you study well, there can be no hope for a good future. I was one such kid, a complete bookworm with a strong belief that studying is the most important thing in the world, and used to bully my friends into studying hard. It took one person to change my belief. Preethi Srinivasan, now Preethi Sanjiv.

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Preethi is a Tamil television actress, anchor and a proclaimed dancer. Right from childhood, she has been focused on her dance and later, acting. When we were in school together, she would good-naturedly laugh off my admonitions about studies and relentlessly worked towards her chosen career.

And I stood corrected.

Preethi gave her first dance performance for Doordarshan at 5 years of age for a programme called Kanmani Poonga. From then on, she has worked with many music stalwarts like Varoor Ramaiyyar Pillai, K. Lakshman, Murugesan, Balamurali Krishna and so on. Her first acting break was given by the legendary K. Balachander, while Mani Ratnam said she had the potential to be successful. She was the winner of Vijay TV Jodi No. 1 in 2007 and has acted in many serials including Bandham, Veetukku Veedu Looti, Bommalattam etc.

Currently, she is on a break from acting for her children and runs Samarpana Dance School to share her passion for dance. She is also a very talented Veena player and a Tanjore painting artist.

Preethi is a wonderful example of a self-made, focused and driven professional who achieved everything through her own hard work and artistic skills. In conversation with Preethi, let us discover the journey of a woman in the silver screen and her struggles to keep her creativity intact while juggling the responsibilities of a family.

Jyoti: Hi Preethi. We are honored that you took out the time for this interview. I have known you for years, and I know the hard work and dedication you have put in for your acting and dance career. Please tell us a little about your dance journey.

d4ed7cc6-9771-4f31-9fe1-8486979b8ca4Preethi: Hi Jyoti, thank you for thinking of me. As you know, my dancing journey started when I was 3 years old. During that time, it was not easy to join a class. The minimum age for any class was 6. Even then, the kids were only allowed to sit and observe for about 6 months; they could start learning only after that. That was the process then. But I was a very active and enthusiastic child. So Varoor Ramaiyyar Pillai, with whom I started my Bharatnatyam dancing lessons, allowed me to join the class as an exception. I later learned under K. Lakshman.

Over the years, I have been blessed with many gurus. Both in dancing and acting, wherever I worked or learned was a great experience, and always took me one step forward. When I look back, it all feels like a cakewalk now.

My arangetram happened in 1993. I was just 8 years old then. I danced for 3½ hours, which seems impossible today. I was a disciple of Murugesan at the time. After that, there was no looking back. I was constantly giving performances.

It all sounds good now but it was a very difficult path. Especially for junior artistes. Back in 1993-94, we used to spend around Rs.10000 to Rs.15000 per dance programme. We could only spot 10 or 15 people in the audience. Especially in the peak season of December in Tamilnadu, there were slots allotted. The juniors would always get the least popular slots. But my mom was a fighter and managed to get prime slots for me. My mom used to pledge her jewels for my performances; my father was a businessman and could not come up with money all of a sudden. But I feel in that situation, I was blessed. I was known as Preethi Srinivasan in Chennai, even amongst bigshots like Padma Subramanian, Chitra Vishveswaran and Anita Ratnam, Shobhana (though she was not so well known at that time), Urmila Satyanarayanan etc. They used to call me Junior Bomb.

I was also in renowned singer Balamurali Krishna’s troupe. It was a great experience. I did a lot of programs in temples – Thanjavur, Chidambaram etc. Balamurali Sir himself had sung for me when I was a kid.

Jyoti: That’s quite a story. So when you were so focused on dance, how did you foray into acting? If I am not wrong, you were introduced into serials by the illustrious K. Balachander. What brought that on, and is it a constant pressure to be able to perform at such platforms since a young age?

Preethi: I was in 11th standard when I developed an interest in TV and movies suddenly. I really wanted to meet two people – Mani Ratnam and K. Balachander. Even at that age, I was not thinking of meeting the heroes and heroines. I wanted to meet directors.

I got an opportunity to meet them through my sister, who was a family friend of both. Mani Ratnam was very sweet. He was looking to cast for Kannathil Muttamittal then. But I was already seventeen and the role he had in mind was for a younger girl. But he did say that I have a spark and will be successful one day.

When I met K. Balachander, he was so impressive. He is so calm, serene and truly legendary. I think every actor should be trained by him at least once. He can really bring out the talent in anybody. He is brilliant at making people do what they are best at. Also, he is very energetic. He took one look at me and immediately sent me to meet his daughter, who was taking care of Kavitalaya, and his daughter in law, who was taking care of Minbimbangal.

And that’s how my acting career started. Veetukku Veedu Looti was my first mega serial. I have been blessed to be recognized for my talent, thanks to the training by KB Sir. I also worked on his stage drama.

The funny thing is I don’t know how to read or write Tamil. When it was my dialogue, he used to stop the rehearsal and recite those words to me with their meaning, and I would write it in English. Of course, I received the script also. Working with him was never a pressure, but always a pleasure.

nmzxI was well recognized, but I was taught everything. If in an exam, you know all the answers, would you feel pressured? I was happy, and I did each and every shot in one take because I was well prepared.

Apart from acting, I also worked with Vijay TV as an anchor. In 2007, I won the dance title Jodi No. 1. I used to work more than 12 hours a day juggling acting and dancing. At one point, I was working in 5 to 6 serials, one reality show, and one anchoring show.

Jyoti: Please tell us about your dance academy, Samarpana Dance School.

Preethi: Samarpana Dance School (https://www.facebook.com/Samarpana-dance-school-463479647359622/) started in October 2016 on Vijayadashmi and it has just completed two years. It is turning out very well and I have 30 students now. I am very contented and happy with their progress. The students respect me and are very enthusiastic about learning dance. We have developed a sort of camaraderie.

bsisI believe the bond of friendship is very important between a disciple and a guru. That’s how they grow with each other. Every day with them is a new learning experience for me as well.

I danced in Melatur Bhagvada Mela, which is recognized at the national level. In that programme, no girl can participate post-puberty. I had danced as Krishna when I was a child, with all ‘male’ Gopikas. Not only that, I had the backing of a writer from Hindu newspaper, Nandini Ramaniyar, who used to cover my performances. Most of my childhood articles were covered in Hindu. But unfortunately the opportunities to be internationally acclaimed never came, despite all the time, effort and money spent. Even now it’s the same. Very few junior artistes get a break. When there are seniors around, they are always the centre of attention and somehow not many young budding artistes get recognized. I believe seniors should take the responsibility of training their juniors to continue the legacy of Bharatnatyam. And times are changing. There was a time when 10 out of 10 girls used to be interested in it. Now hardly 1 or 2 are.

The greatest thing about any knowledge is to share, rather than keeping it to oneself. That is what I am doing with Samarpana, which means the art of giving. It is my humble effort to gift the art of Bharatnatyam to youngsters.

Jyoti: Do you plan to get back into full time acting any time soon?

Preethi: I got married in 2009 and got pregnant within a few months. Then when my daughter was 2½, I started working for AVM and San Media in a couple of serials and also did a reality show, Kitchen Superstar. All of them were hits.

But then again I got pregnant and gave up my profession. In retrospect, I think giving up my profession was a bad decision after marriage.

That’s when I started Samarpana. It is purely for my passion and satisfaction. But it doesn’t give me much earnings. I just do it for myself.

But yes, now I intend to be back, time permitting. I am going to do a reality show, Super Mom, on Zee Tamil. Whatever else comes my way, I will do it. I will never give up my dance school, my acting profession or being a mom.

I would like to tell the women out there that if you are planning to leave your career, give it a lot of thought and do what you feel is best suited to you. Marriage comes with issues, especially ego issues if you are in the same profession. It is good for a girl to have an identity for herself. I believe I should be known as Preethi first, then only as the daughter of, wife of, mother of etc.

But you have to earn it and fight for it. Only your name will see you through the end. Being a mom is a different play, but what you are earning for yourself (not necessarily money!) is important. If you are not in the spotlight of your own life, you will be pulled down by fights or even small arguments with your husband.

You cannot put yourself down. Even if others are doing it, don’t do it to yourself. Be the way you are. People will love you for the way you are; you need not go begging to people for love. When you start achieving, you will be positive. Even if people laugh at you, you will be able to smile back confidently.

Jyoti: What’s your beauty regime like?

Preethi: I just believe in one mantra. Be happy always, smile at anything. Smile in the face of any negativity or adversity and it will run away. People may call you overconfident, or a snob, or someone with an attitude. But don’t even care about any of that. Just keep smiling and don’t let stress get to you. And you will find a way to get out of it. Even in the face of success, just smile. Don’t let that get into your brain or your heart. Just take it as yet another happening in life and move ahead with a smile.

Be it negativity, positivity, achievement or failure, just take everything and lock it in your cupboard of experience. Believe me, each moment will be a learning experience for you.

Our beauty radiates from within. The more you smile and handle things with maturity, the more you glow. Without this, none of the external care would work!! But do drink a lot of water.

Jyoti: In our busy lifestyles and schedules, what is the best way to keep our creative juices flowing?

Preethi: Be active! 24 hours is more than enough to take care of everything in life. I personally don’t even like to keep a lot of maids, I prefer doing things myself. When we keep ourselves busy, creativity flows like anything. When you start working, you will be active, and when you be active, you will be creative. That is my idea of life.

Be happy and start observing the nature surrounding you, you will start gathering knowledge from that. When you meet someone, listen to them and that’s how you can gather more knowledge and learn what you don’t know. If we focus on arguing or talking, we don’t learn anything from others. Judging someone is bad, but learning from their lives is a positive thing to do for yourself.

Jyoti: What is your message to young aspiring actresses?

8a8ce496-c14a-4c2c-b645-75196aad45b1Preethi: Always make your own decisions in life, be confident about what you want and what you don’t want from your profession. Take every step carefully, but don’t get scared of it. Also, be positive when interacting with people. What others think about you largely depends on what you show them.

If you think you are right, stand your ground and go ahead. Don’t get into any negativity or regrets. Most importantly, don’t compare yourself with anyone else. You are a unique person. God is great and has made every person unique. Be confident in your own skin.

You know, I passed up many movie opportunities. That was not my comfort zone. They say it is difficult for females on the big screen. I was scared to say yes to movies. But now as a mother of two kids (one of them a daughter), I realise that it is difficult for women everywhere, not just in the movie business.

The difference between a man and a woman is always there, in whichever part of the world you go. Being a female, you will be pushed to a corner. You have to face difficulties. You have to be doubly determined to get what you want and do what you want. I was actually like that on the small screen and I never went wrong with my decision. The way I was trained with KB Sir, I could have easily gone to the big screen with that knowledge. But I was scared.

Girls need to be twice as positive to survive in this world. I believe every girl has the guts and the confidence to face the world, but the negativity in the surroundings (be it family or culture or any other factor) pulls us back. Please don’t fall for that. Push yourself. Be yourself. Define your goals by yourself, not by others. Then you can achieve all you want.

And lastly, remember that attraction and relationships are also a part of life. It is nothing to be ashamed of. Despite liking someone, I held back out of fear. Now I am happily married, and with maturity, I realise that there is nothing wrong in it at all. But no regrets. God had different plans for me, better ones.

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