Flawed, Female, Funny: Sumukhi Suresh On Finding Power Through Her Art

Mar 8, 2022, 12:40 IST

Sumukhi Suresh

Writer, actor, and comedian Sumukhi Suresh has decided that she will die at 65. “It’s a great time to die because I don’t want to go through major things. I don’t want to have kids because I don’t want to mess them up. So, I think 65 would be great because some people will be like, ‘Oh God, she died so young!’ and others will be like, ‘No, she died when she peaked.’ If I die earlier than that, it will be like, ‘Shit, why?’ and, later, it will be like, ‘Makes sense.’ I want to be the gossip for at least six months.”

The reason we’re having this morbid discussion with such concerning nonchalance is because she is trying to explain how she’s done hating herself. After all, she only has about 30 more years to live. “The other day, in my writers’ room, I said that I’m giving up. I don’t wish to lose weight anymore. I’ll work out because it’s fun and I enjoy myself. But, apart from the health reasons, I really like the way I look. I stand out for myself and I think there’s a vibrancy about me. This is a thought that’s come very recently, and it’s a small thought. Because I’m going to die in 30 years, so what’s the plan? I can’t hate myself, it’s too much,” she says.

It might be a small thought, but it’s one that has been blooming in her for years, nudged and nurtured by her writing and stand-up, both inherently vulnerable art forms where you’re expected to lay bare your deepest thoughts. After doing that for years, now at 34, could this be the reason she has come into her own? She agrees immediately. “Stand-up as an art form, and the fact that a lot of women come to see my stand-up, really helps. It boosts my confidence. I’m so glad that they are there to listen to me. These things really change your fibre in a small but very interesting way.”

Of course, it’s not always quick or linear. When Sumukhi was doing Pushpavalli, the web series she created, wrote, and starred in, she dealt with a lot of insecurities. “I’m going to sound like a classic actor but being on that show and writing that show really helped. I treated myself very badly when I was doing it. I was okay with people treating me very badly or saying mean things to me, because I was like, ‘Oh, that’s her character.’ During season one, I couldn’t move away from it even though I’m not as under-confident or hateful about myself as Pushpavalli. But, in season two, something shifted. After I was done, I was like, ‘This is not me’. And it was quite cathartic.”

Sumukhi Suresh

She recalls an incident where she wrote a scene in which her character wears a sari in season two. As the actor, she had to deal with the fact that she had to wear a sari on screen, and she panicked. “I thought, ‘Oh no, my waist will show.’ I hate that. And you have to be very smart about picking a sari because the conversation could then become about whether I look older than the guy. The experience of picking out that sari was the worst in my life. I was done. I didn’t want to do it,” she says. It was seemingly such a small thing but it sent her into a spiral. She was worried about whether the audience would wonder why a guy like Vidyuth (her fiancé in the show, played by Vidyuth Gargi) would like someone like Pushpavalli. “As a writer, I was okay with that conversation because you can ask any question in my writers’ room. But, at that time, I was also the actor. It was a lot. Then, when the show came out, not one person, not even the trolls, brought that up. It’s bizarre and also interesting that the audience didn’t give a crap about it, and here I was, stressing over what was going to happen. It was worth nothing. But now I know that I am not going to ask that question ever again.”

Armed with this clarity, and a vision to ultimately become a production giant such as Shondaland (Grey’s Anatomy, Bridgerton, Inventing Anna) and Hello Sunshine (Big Little Lies, Little Fires Everywhere, The Morning Show), Sumukhi recently turned entrepreneur and started a company called Motormouth Writers.

It currently functions as a writer’s collective and focuses on writing stories about flawed, female characters. There are about nine writers in her company right now and she has only one criterion for choosing them. “In terms of skill, everyone picks it up. Also, writing as a concept is very dynamic, especially in our country where there are so many languages involved. Each voice is very different, each thought is very different. The only thing I look for in a writer is absolute honesty. In a writers’ room, questions are posed about a character that might not always be morally correct. Personally, you can have your own moral standards, that is needed, but, in a writers’ room, any and every question is allowed for you to have a well-rounded character. If you are bringing up a question that is controversial or sensitive, if it is answered correctly, then that’s going to reflect in a script. So, honesty and just a general openness is what we look for in our writers,” she says.

Sumukhi Suresh

Sumukhi created a superior prototype for flawed female characters in Pushpavalli, but, as she’s grown as a writer and as a performer, has her definition of flawed evolved? “I was recently asked if this means that I’ll only write villains. What does that even mean? They were like, ‘So, you won’t write a nice girl?’ I asked them what makes you think a nice girl isn’t flawed. Everyone is flawed. When I say ‘flawed’, I mean a regular girl. Who is a good man? Who is a good woman? It’s impossible to have someone that virtuous. Even Superman and Wonder Woman have flaws, and these are mythical superhero characters. So, for me, the definition has always been a regular girl who might make some decisions that lead to something worse. Am I writing people who are deeply, in-the-soul bad? I don’t know. I personally don’t even believe in that kind of badness. Unless it’s Hitler.”

So far, Motormouth Writers’ commissioned projects include two movies and one web series. Other than that, it is also developing three shows and two movies. After Pushpavalli ended in early 2020 (yes, there’s no season three!), we haven’t seen Sumukhi in a fiction show. Will that change now that she’s writing her own shows and movies? Is she writing good, meaty roles for herself? “100%! I don’t get called for roles at all. The number of compliments I get about my acting does not line up with the number of roles I’m offered. People are like, ‘Will you write a movie? Don’t be in it.’ So, in the show Sumaira Shaikh and I are writing, I’ve written a very nice character for myself, very different from what I’ve done so far, which is good for me,” she reveals.

It’s still a shock that she’s not offered more acting work, and the reason for that defies all logic. “Earlier, I used to at least be called for best friend roles. Now I’m told, ‘Why best friend, we’ll call you when a lead role comes. Agar big girl ka character hoga tab denge na hum!’ I want to say ki regular girl bhi toh big girl ho sakti hai na, dost. Main regular hi toh hoon, aisa toh nahi hai ki main mutation hoon,” she says, laughing at the incredulity of it.

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