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May 13, 2000


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'I hated every minute of it'

Jayasudha and Chiranjeevi She's in her early forties, but Jayasudha's tall, well-maintained frame convincingly belies her age. It's hard to believe she started her career way back in 1972! Today, even with absolutely no trace of make-up on her face, she looks stunningly beautiful.

Shuttling between her home in Madras, where she was born and has lived in all these years, and Hyderabad, where her Telugu films are shot, is now routine for Jayasudha. Having just finished her home production, Hands Up, she caught us by surprise by revealing that, although it was her own decision to join films, she actually hated acting for a while.

But her association with movies continues till date, even though she is the mother of two boys. As far as Telugu films are concerned, she is indubitably a veteran. She has acted in more than 225 films and, at one time, 24 of her films were released in the period of one year!

In this interview with Shobha Warrier, she goes down memory lane and relives her magical life in the world of films.

Did you decide to become an actress because of your aunt, Vijayanirmala?

Yes. My aunt Vijayanirmala was a famous Telugu actress. She has done a lot of Malayalam and Tamil films as well. Her husband, Krishna, was a big hero in Telugu films. I used to go to see the shootings with my aunt even when I was very young.

Were you passionate about movies even when you were young?

I think I was. What attracted me were the colourful clothes, the jewellery, etc, that the actresses wore. I noticed they wore a new dress everyday. I was so enamoured by the dresses. I felt even I would also get a chance to wear new clothes everyday if I became an actress. I also knew film artistes travelled a lot. I too wanted to travel and see places. For me, those were the reasons for becoming an actress.

So you became one?

No. It was not that easy. My aunt and her husband were making a film when I was hardly 12 and they wanted me to play Jamuna's daughter. But my father was dead against me working in films. See, we were in no way connected with films. Only my aunt acted in films.

My father worked for the Madras Corporation then. He felt the film world was not a good place for a girl. He was even against my going to see the film shootings. So I went to the sets without his knowledge. My grandmother, my father's mother, was very fond of films. She was the one who encouraged me to go for shootings.

I would go without my father's permission, whenever he was out of station. Whenever he came to know about it, he would whack me and tell me to take my mind off films and study.

But I was a very bad student. I was not at all interested in studies. My interest lay in sports, dancing and films. I used to be crazy about cricket. Do you know why? I was born in a hospital which was opposite the famous Chepauk ground. So I just had to like cricket!

How did you get permission from your father to act in your aunt's film?

My aunt herself talked to him. She convinced him that I was only a child and that she would take care of me. Finally, my father reluctantly agreed. And I had a great time, I enjoyed every minute of it.

After we completed the film, my father made me to go back to school. But, like I told you earlier, I was a zero in studies. To escape that, I wanted to go back to films. I cried and fought with my father. I was very adamant that I wanted to act in films. He didn't want to marry me off at that age and so he finally relented.

How did you get your next break?

My next films were K Balachander's Arangettram and Apoorva Ragangal. I was 14 then.

Wasn't Apoorva Raagangal a big hit?

Jayasudha It was a very big hit. The story was about a young girl falling in love with an elderly man and a young man falling in love with an old woman. Kamal was the young man who fell in love with Srividya. I had to wear a sari in the film and I still remember how I needed help to wear it. That was the first time I was wearing a sari in my life! Watching the film now, I don't feek I looked like a young girl at all.

It was tough portraying the role of a young girl falling in love with an old man. And Balachander Sir was a very tough taskmaster. He would not be satisfied unless he got 100 per cent from you. He used to reprimand me and shout at me if I messed up. I used to cry on the sets.

I couldn't bear anyone shouting at me. I even thought of not working in films again. I felt, who is he to shout at me? Why should I listen to others shouting at me? Then some of the seniors consoled me, saying he shouted at them too and I shouldn't take it personally. Even my mother felt bad when others shouted at me. She used to ask me why I wanted to act in films and listen to all this.

Anyway, I acted in four-five Tamil films before I got a very good offer from Telugu cinema. The film was Lakshmana Rekha. Yet, it was only in 1975 that I got my real break in Telugu, with K Raghavendra Rao's Jyothi.

That film changed my career. The story was about a 17-year-old girl who had to go through a lot of trauma in life. It was an inspiration from a Hindi film starring Jaya Bahaduri called Milli. It was a very big hit in Telugu and it brought about a major change in my life.

So you didn't have to struggle to get good offers...

Yes, I didn't have to struggle at all. After Jyothi became a hit, many wrote that I was the successor to Savithri. So, you can imagine how far the film had taken me.

Are you a spontaneous actress?

I think I am. Because I am from Madras, I cannot read or write in Telugu, though it is my mother tongue. So they would read the Telugu dialogues to me and, believe me, I could remember everything. I never mugged my dialogues. Neither did I write the dialogues in English or Tamil. My memory helped me. I have acted in more than 225 Telugu films without learning Telugu. I never had any difficulty in enacting any role. The directors would tell me to do something and I would do just that.

You started your career with Tamil cinema. Yet, after Jyothi, you stopped acting in Tamil films.

I didn't do many Tamil films after Jyothi because I became very busy with Telugu films. Can you believe that 24 of my films were released in one year? Those days, if you looked around, you saw only my face on the posters everywhere.

Were you excited about this kind of popularity?

I don't know. I was too busy to even sit and think and enjoy my success. I think I was not excited at all. I used to feel so tired then. In fact, I had started hating films.

Did you, at any time, regret your decision to join films?

Yes, I did. I used to ask myself why I chose this profession. You won't believe it but, even now, I sometimes regret not having studied well. It is not because I look down upon films.

When I first started acting, it was a profession that was looked down upon. I also felt stupid dancing in the middle of the road and holding a hero who was as old as my father.

In those days, all the heroes were very old. I didn't like that. I used to feel, "How can a 17-year-old fall in love with a man who is as old as her father?" I wanted to fall in love with someone who was my age! (laughs) I was crazy about cricketers and I wanted to marry one.

Was it Sunil Gavaskar?

No, not Sunil Gavaskar. I liked Imran Khan a lot. I was crazy about him! (laughs)

What would you have become if you had not joined the film industry?

I would have become a teacher. Even though I was so bad in my studies, I wanted to be a teacher. Otherwise, I would have liked to become a nurse. I feel nurses are more close to a patient than a doctor. But, then, I was destined to become an actress.

But you began hating films after a few years...

Jayasudha Five years in the industry and I began hating films. I used to come back home only by 4.30-5.00 in the morning. And I would be woken up after an hour or so because I had to shoot again. God! It was so tough.

My father was very strict and he used to see it that I was very punctual for my shootings. He would tell me, "You wanted this. It was your choice. Now you have to work systematically."

For 10 years, I had a real tough time. I hated every minute of it. Then, in 1985, I got married to Jeetendra's cousin, Nitin Kapoor. Yes, a Punjabi.

How did the two of you meet?

In those days, a lot of Telugu films were remade in Hindi. Raghavendra Rao and Dasari Narayan Rao were the main directors of those films and I had acted in nearly 25 of Dasariji's films. All of us were so close then. The roles that I did in Telugu were done by Rekha in Hindi and Jeetuji was the person who remade those films into Hindi.

Jeetuji asked his cousin, who is my husband now, to assist Dasariji for both Hindi and Telugu since he treated him like his own younger brother. Besides, they all lived together as a joint family. That was how we met first. Soon, he became my neighbor in Madras too.

In those days, all the south Indian films were shot in Madras. We shifted to Hyderabad only five years ago.

As more and more Telugu films were remade in Hindi, we began meeting more. We exchanged books and talked about cricket. When I realised he was as passionate about cricket as I was, I became closer to him. Soon, friendship turned into love and we decided to get married.

Was there any opposition from your family?

Naturally. But both our families attended our wedding in Bombay. After the birth of my first son in 1986, I stopped acting for two years. In 1988, I started acting once again. Then, in 1990, after my second delivery, I took another break for two years.

Why did you decide to return to acting if you hated it?

I felt bored sitting at home. I used to dream of having a home of my own and cooking for my husband and children. But, in real life, you start getting bored after a while.

Do you like cooking?

I am very fond of cooking. I may be back from shooting at 10 at night, but if somebody asks me to cook for 10 people, I will. I love cooking. I don't know from where I get the energy. But cooking rejuvenates me. You won't believe it but whenever I am depressed, I cook. It is a good unwinding process for me.

When you came back after your second delivery, were you offered good roles or just the mother-sister ones?

You said it. Once a woman gets married, she will be offered only sister, sister-in-law, mother and mother-in-law roles. Immediately after my marriage, I got a few roles as heroine but, after my second delivery, they offered me only mother roles. I refused to accept them. As a result, I have done only three films in the last nine years. I didn't want to be the mother of a 40-year-old when my eldest son is only 14.

I'm the heroine in our home production, which we started in 1986. Out of the seven films which we produced, three did very well. Now we are producing a Telugu comedy called Hands Up. I play a comic CBI officer. Had she been a serious CBI officer, we could have thought of Vijaya Shanthi, but I am acting as a stupid CBI officer in the film. We have a lot of guest stars like Nagma, Chiranjeevi, Deepti Bhatnagar, etc, in the film.

You said out of your seven productions, only three did very well. Do you get very upset when your own productions fail at the box office?

Of course I do. Because we lose money, sometimes lots of money, sometimes all that we have earned. Film production is a big gamble. But we are used to this uncertainty. What drives us is our passion for films.

My husband loves producing films and I love seeing my stories come alive on screen. As I don't know Telugu, I dictate the story, dialogues and screenplay. Let me tell you, we will continue making films. We are comfortable with this business. Of course, we feel depressed when we lose all our money.

How do you get out of the depression?

Whenever I am depressed, I go to the kitchen and start cooking or I do a lot of shopping.

Whenever I called at your place in the mornings, I was told that you were doing your daily pooja and that you would be available only after an hour or two. Are you a very religious person?

Yes, I am a very religious person and I do a lot of poojas. If I don't have work in the mornings, I will be in the pooja room for 30-45 minutes.

Do you do poojas for mental peace or is it because you are afraid something bad will happen to you?

To be very frank, I have a lot of fears in my mind. But when I pray to God, I feel at peace with myself. If you believe in God, I feel you can communicate with him. I don't know about the others but I can. It is not like what you see in the movies... (laughs) like Him appearing through a window.

What is God to you?

Mmm... I don't know. He is one person with whom I can share all my problems. I see Him as the only solace when I feel helpless. I believe there is a power which guides us all. I have experienced the strength of that power.

After our marriage in 1985, we went to Bangkok for our honeymoon. We went to the beach on a Sunday afternoon and my husband wanted try the water scooter. I was very scared because I didn't know to swim, but he was adamant.

You had to compulsorily wear a life jacket when you went in the water scooter. It so happened that I was the last person to enter the scooter and there was no life jacket for me. But we decided to go ahead as my husband had one.

I kept asking my husband to drive slowly and soon, all the other scooters were far ahead of us. We might have gone about half a kilometre from the beach when a scooter suddenly raced past us. I was thrown into the water and I just sank... remember, I didn't know swimming.

I studied in a convent school and was very fond of Jesus Christ. In fact, I used to sign 'Jesus saves' in the autograph books. My father would get very angry with me for doing so. I am also very fond of Lord Venkateswara and Hanuman.

Back to my plight. When I was going deep down into the sea, I cried, Jesus! And, right in front of my eyes, I saw a big face of Jesus Christ. It was such a dazzling sight that I will never forget it. Me, a person who didn't know swimming came up without even drinking a drop of water. By then, my husband took a turn and came back. He saw me coming up from the sea.....

I might have been under water for may be a minute or little more than that. But I survived. I don't know how I came up or who brought me up. But I know one thing, I saw the face of Jesus Christ in front of me. It was nothing but a miracle that I survived.

It took me nearly four months to recover from the shock. I couldn't close my eyes or sleep for several months. It was an amazing experience which I will never forget. Now, you know why I am so religious and why I do poojas.

Do tell us what you think of this interview