From a small village in Tamil Nadu to French cinema
Young Tamil girl Janagi stars in the French film Son Epouse.
A Tamil girl from a small village in the Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu, devoid of any glamorous star power, plays one of two leading female roles in the French film Son Epouse (meaning ‘His Wife’).
Born to a brick kiln worker and his wife, who worked as a maid in a school, Janagi chose the unconventional career of theatre and dance.
She teaches 24 folk dances and martial arts to students in school and college.
She had made up her mind about her future at the young age of 17.
“There was a sewing unit in my village. My mother wanted me to learn sewing and join them when I passed out of higher secondary school. I refused and joined a theatre group where my elder sister Prema was already working,” Janagi said.
She was a hit with the theatre group, as she was born with a talent to act.
The theatre group paid her Rs 1,500 a month in 2002. This meagre amount went into paying her fees at Annamali University where she enrolled in the distance education programme to study Tamil.
They theatre group performed street plays that had a social message.
Later she left to join another theatre group run by her relatives in her own village.
She lived with members of the group who fed and looked after her but there was no salary.
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Image: Janagi in Son Epouse
'Normally auditioning is for a few minutes but this audition in Tamil lasted the whole day'
One day Janagi attended a college workshop on behalf of her theatre group. Teachers from the National School of Drama in Delhi attended that workshop.
They told her that she was talented enough to join the NSD.
Encouraged, Janagi went to Delhi and applied for the prestigious drama school.
She failed the interview mainly because she knew no Hindi. Undeterred, she came back to Nagercoil and enrolled for Hindi classes.
She applied a second time and got through. Her theatre group back home paid her fees for the entire course of three years.
“The first year they taught us both direction and acting. The second and third year I chose to learn only acting,” Janagi said.
She felt at home in Delhi as three of her teachers were from Tamil Nadu.
In her third year at NSD she got a call from Prema Revathi, a novelist based in Chennai whom she knew. Revathi told her that they were auditioning for a French movie in Chennai and she should try.
“Normally auditioning is for a few minutes but this audition in Tamil lasted the whole day. The next day the audition was in English and that too lasted the whole day,” Janagi recalls.
A fortnight later she got a call to say she had been selected.
She was told to join the Alliance Française course in Chennai to learn French. She also had personal French tuitions every day. “The director also sat with me and read the script to me every day.”
Image: A scene from Son Epouse
'I have been busy so never thought of marriage'
Within a month, Janagi was speaking French. Her co-stars were Charlotte Gainsbourg and French heartthrob Yvan Attal. The director was Michel Spinosa.
Preparing for the role took longer than actually shooting the movie which was done in 30 days.
“It is about two girls, one Indian and one French. My brother in the movie likes the French girl. The French girl, who is a heroin addict, dies. Her spirit enters the Indian girl who starts behaving like her,” she sums up the plot briefly.
The film was shot in Chennai’s Besant Nagar, Pondicherry, which has a strong French influence, and Tenkasi in Tirunelveli district.
The film released in March this year in France and is said to have done well.
“I have seen the trailer but not the whole movie. They have promised to enter it at film festivals in India and then I will see it,” Janagi says.
She has since then acted in the Tamil film Malini 22 Palayamcottai. She has also done a television serial in Tamil, Puthiyathalaimurai.
She still works with her village theatre group. She teaches folk dance and martial arts to school and college students.
Her parents have retired and her siblings are all married. “I have been busy so never thought of marriage,” she shrugs and smiles.
She points to a banner that the village folk have put up. It shows a poster of the French and Tamil movies she has acted in.
The villagers are very proud of her and so is her mother, who says, “She has taken the responsibility of looking after her parents and that is why she has not married yet. This year I will get her married.”
Image: Poster of Son Epouse