'They call Tarun Bhakta Prahlada's kid!'
How did you get into movies as a child star?
My debut was Bhakta Prahlada.
At the time, my father was a journalist with Picture Post. My parents were in Madras -- I was their fifth child, but only three of us survived.
My father was rather strict; he wouldn't even let us watch films. One day, when I came back from school and got together with my gang -- I still remember my friends, Bhanu and Balu -- they told me they had gone to AVM Studios.
"They took us in a big van and even dropped us back," they boasted.
I was disappointed at missing the fun. I didn't know what a studio was, but I knew I had missed something big, so I cried all night.
My father came to know about it and he told my mother that AVM was looking for a male child to act in a film.
I didn't care for any explanations. All I knew was that my friends had gone, so I wanted to go too. Mom, who had never visited a studio, used this as an excuse to coax my dad into taking us.
When we got there, the studio in-charge asked if I would pose for some pictures. You see, they had already signed on S V Ranga Rao and Anjali Devi to play the adult leads and were looking for a suitable child to play Prahlad.
Next thing I knew, the co-director asked me if I wanted to act.
I didn't know what that meant.
He then asked me to sing a song. I rattled one off from a film. I was then asked to recite a shloka.
I don't know why, but I said I will recite it on Friday. Soo they told me to return on that day.
That Friday, someone from the studio landed up at home. Mom was surprised and called up my father. Finally, we all landed up at the studio.
There, they took some pictures again. Then someone wanted to cut my hair, but my mom refused.
They said, "The hair will grow back. It's a good character and such a good chance."
They brought a costume, cut my hair and took pictures. They brought a Baba suit, and the picture was taken. They said it was to be shown to AVM Chettiar.
Chettiar approved. One thing led to another, including a screen test, which was a serious affair in those days.
Their worry was that I would have to act with elephants and snakes and didn't want me if I was likely to scream and panic.
When she heard that, my mom put her foot down and went, "No way."
Weren't you terrified, yourself?
Today, I'll run a mile if I see a snake. Not then.
I touched the snake. I rehearsed for a song. Chettiar was happy and I bagged the role.
The film made history at the box office and got remade in other languages. People started calling me Prahlada.
In fact, even today, there are women who know me as Prahlada.
And when (Mani Ratnam's) Anjali was released, they referred to Tarun as Bhakta Prahlada's kid.
I went on to do about 80 films as a child, in Tamil, Telugu, even Hindi.
Which were your Hindi films? And what did all this do to your schooling?
School? Well... I dropped out, never went back.
I only had private tuitions because I was shooting continuously.
In Hindi, there was the remake of Bhakta Prahlada, then films like Meherbaan and Apna Desh, with Rajesh Khanna, Jeetendra, Sunil Dutt, Nutan...
When did you start doing adult leads?
Well, by the time I turned 12, I was too grown up to be Baby Rojaramani and too young to be a heroine.
At that time, I got this offer from Malayalam. To me, Malayalam films were stark productions, no makeup, everything natural. Somehow, the prospect scared me.
But the film revolved around a girl on the threshold of teenagehood and I took it up. That is how I did Chembarathi, which became a hit.
I went on to do the Tamil and Telugu remakes as well, Paruva Kaalam in Tamil with Kamal (Haasan) and Kanya Vaiyasulu in Telugu. After that, I worked in about 20 Malayalam films.
I started in 1965 when I was five and worked nonstop till 1981. I got married when I was 22 years old, stayed at home for two years, then started working again, this time as a dubbing artiste.
Did you end up marrying within the industry?
I married Chakrapani, an Oriya actor. We did Choti Behen in Oriya, did a couple of other films, then got married. I settled down, while he continued acting.
Today, he directs films and heads the recently launched Oriya channel of E TV.
I continue to dub. I've given my voice to Radha, Radhika, Vijayshanti, Poornima Jayaram, Suhasini, many others.
I must have done over 400 films as a dubbing artiste.
Is it easy dubbing for some of the new girls? I mean, they are supposed to speak with a mod accent, stuff like that... How did you cope?
Not really, I've even dubbed for a few Bombay girls. There are slight differences, I change my voice a bit to suit the age, but the emotions, then and now, are the same.
Singers take special care of their voice abd throat. What about you?
No, nothing special. The only thing is, I am not a morning person.
I think everything about me, including my voice, is at its worst in the morning. So I like to begin dubbing early in the afternoon and can go on till late evening.
Generally, I can dub for a movie in two days. If it is heavily dialogue-oriented, then it might take me a day or two more.
How about Tarun, how did Anjali happen?
Tarun was this active, peppy kid.
Actually, even before Anjali happened, Tarun was supposed to act in a film for another director.
On the day of the shoot, he was very excited. But when the hero came to the sets, he just froze. Went off into another room and wouldn't do a thing.
We couldn't figure out what was wrong. He kept saying he couldn't act.
So when Mani Ratnam's assistant contacted us, I said no.
That evening, when Tarun returned from school, I told him about the call. He demanded to
know how I could refuse!
He insisted on doing the film. It was his decision. And, this time, there was no encore of the previous incident -- he just went there and did his stuff.
And, as you know, the film won many awards.
Even today, it is entirely up to Tarun. Sure, I do ask about the director, the script and story and character. But he has the last word. I don't really advise him, not even about clothes and stuff.
What do you feel, now that he has become a hero?
Well, I am naturally excited. I've seen the original film in Malayalam (Niram) and I liked it very much.
It is a very young film, a very decent one. I'm sure he has done well in the remake.
The Tarun interview
The Nuvve Kavali review