Interview with Sarojadevi on Times of India dated on 9 -05 -1998

Date: 9 may 1998

Thre in no such thing as right talent

Film buffs need no introduction to B Saroja Devi, who hit it off in a big way with her maiden female lead in the Tamil film Kalyana Parisu, in 1959 (remade in Hindi as Nazrana with Vyjayantimala). She has acted in over 170 films in several languages including Hindi (Sasural and Beti Beta) and was popularly paired on the screen with matinee idols like MGR, Sivaji Ganesan, Gemini Ganesan, NTR, Nageshwara Rao and Rajkumar. She has won state awards for best actress four times (in different languages); was awarded the Padma Shri and later the Padma Bhushan; was given the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award; has participated in various international festivals and continues to be actively involved in cinema. Presently in Delhi as the first woman Chairperson of the feature film jury (for the 45th National Film Festival), the panchabhasha taare (movie star in five languages) speaks to Narayani Ganesh on cinema and her various commitments:

Q: Not very long ago, there was a clear distinction between what has been termed as ``commercial'' and ``art'' films --one catering to popular tastes with the standard recipe of songs, fights and drama in varying degrees and the other, relatively serious and off-beat films with a specific audience in mind, often carrying a message. Such clear cut distinctions are no longer extant. What do you feel about this?

A: It is better not to stereotype films. Every film has a character of its own. Indian cinema has evolved at its own pace and there is plenty of room for a wide variety of permutations and combinations. Variety is important. God in his wisdom has created a world rich in variety. Take flowers, for instance. There are so many different kinds that one can never get bored! In the entertainment industry, I firmly believe, the more the merrier.

Q. What is your opinion of the current trend in Indian films of including extensively choreographed group dances?

A: Most of it is quite jarring. That's because care is not taken to weave it into the plot. Just imagine: the hero and the heroine plan to meet clandestinely at a secluded spot. They proceed to do so, they begin to sing and lo and behold! A whole lot of boys and girls appear from nowhere and break into frenzied dancing. (She laughs) That's quite out of character and one gets distracted and confused. There are, no doubt, some group numbers that are very well-executed and aesthetically filmed and which also blend with the story. Earlier, such group dances figured either as dream sequences or while depicting a social function; at a college picnic, etc.

Q: You and other actresses like Vyjayantimala and Padmini have enthralled audiences with your powerful screen presence. Was the success of solo songs because of the personalities or the music or the picturisation?

A: I think it was a combination of several factors. The lyrics were beautiful --like those by Kannadasan; we had such wonderful music directors like M S Viswanathan and Mahadevan; a lot also depends on the story, camerawork, direction...What really matters is clarity --the present trend to go in for loud music with innumerable instruments hampers the background. The cacophony drowns dialogues and mars sensitivity. There is the other disadvantage --that of dubbing. When you try to re-enact the scene in a dubbing studio without the ambience of the sets and costumes and the characters, it cramps you. There is less spontaneity. Small nuances are lost.

Q: Films from the South have earned encomiums in the recent past. Do you think Southern film makers have been able to tap successfully the right talent?

A: There is no such thing as `right' talent. Anyone can do a good job if the story, the role, the director, are good. For instance, my first film --I'm sure any other woman in my place could have done an equally good job because it was an excellent unit and dedicated. What should be avoided though, is slotting artistes in a mould, for a particular role. Then it is difficult for the actor to break free from the character for which he was specially chosen. One gets branded for life, as it were. Real talent would show itself. The more versatile the actor, the greater will be the scope. A true artiste should be able to portray all kinds of characters with equal ease.

Q: In the late '80s, there was some talk that you might join mainstream politics. Do you see a political role for yourself now?

A: In 1987, Rajiv Gandhi did invite me to stand for elections as a Congress candidate from Mandaya constituency near Mysore. I had recently lost my husband (in 1986) and was in no frame of mind to take a decision. I believe in God and in a destiny. Several feelers have come my way since then but ... who knows? Maybe I will, maybe I won't.

Q: What are your present commitments, professionally?

A: Last year I acted in a Tamil film with Sivaji Ganesan Once More which has had a run of more than 100 days. It is a sequel of the film Iruvar Ullam in which we had starred many years ago. I have several duties to attend to apart from executing my responsibilities as Chairperson and member of the Censor Board, Karnataka; member, Tirupathi Thirumalai Devasthanam (TTD) and the various social welfare activities I am committed to. And of course, I continue to work in films.

Q: You are one of the few actresses who has not been linked romantically with any of your co-stars. How did you maintain your professional relationships?

A: I have always looked up to people who have led disciplined lives. When I was in school, the nuns at the convent fascinated me and my ambition then was to become a nun! I think my mother Rudramma was a very important influence in my life. I had complete confidence in her and I have benefited a great deal from her guidance. I believe in a well-planned and regulated life. One must learn to prepare --for anything. Once your home-work is done and the day is planned in advance, everything else follows.

Q: You say you believe in a regulated life. Are you following any kind of regimen like a particular diet or exercising?

A: Well, I eat normal food, but I do an hour of yoga and meditation every morning, something I began doing in 1986. It makes me feel good and keeps me in good health and spirits.



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