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Transcript of the Revathi interview

You have carved out a special niche for yourself in Tamil and Malayalam films playing the role of a strong determined woman. Did you consciously pick such roles?

I basically listen to the stories before I accept the film. Maybe unconsciously, in the beginning, I chose strong women roles, because thatís the way I am. I liked those characters. After I acted in my first few films it so happened that whenever some directors thought about a certain kind of lead woman role's they thought about me and came to me. It just happened; it was not a planned effort. But I am happy that it happened like this.

You have been fortunate to work with some of the best directors. If you were do an assessment of their work style what would it be?

I was fortunate to work with really good directors. I was introduced by Bharatiraja. My second film was with Bharatan in Malayalam. My third film was with Bapu in Telegu, and my fourth one was with Balu Mahendran in Tamil! I was very lucky and it laid the foundation for my performance.

As far as director Bharatiraja is concerned, I went to him absolutely raw. I did not know where to look, how to look Though my experience as a dancer taught me the different expressions, dancing and cinema are totally different. Bharatiraja moulded me Ė as to what looks good in front of a movie camera. I owe him a lot.

Director K Balachander is an institution on his own. You donít act with directors like Bharatiraja, Bharatan or Balachander. Iíd just sit there and listen to what they want before I do anything. I always tell them you tell me what I should do, and then I will perform. They'd tell me whether it is too much, make it a little better, smile a little more, cry a little more, or whatever. I would just let them mould me. I feel directors like these know the character the best because the characters are their babies.

Mani Ratnam is also one who knows his characters very well. He knows exactly what he wants from his artist.

The similarity between all these directors is them is they know their movies. It is very easy working with them, if you can sit and listen to them. I would do just that. I would listen to what they want and try to give in my best. The difference between these directors at work is very little and difficult to differentiate. When you work with them you would know, you really canít express it in words.

What about Kamal Hasan?

I did not work with Kamal as a director but as an actor in about three or four films. When you have a co-actor who is very good and who knows his art very well, he keeps you on your toes. You have to do your best. Acting, as far as I am concerned, is reaction to an action. When you work with people like Kamal, when they say their dialogue, I just have to react; I donít even have to act. They do the acting and I just react Ė itís very easy working with a colleague who is very good. People like Kamal, Mohanlal, Nedumudi Venu, Srividya, Sujatha are all very great actors and its very easy working with them.

And Rajnikanth?

I had just one opportunity to work with Rajni in a movie called Kaikodkum Kai. This was in the very beginning of my career with the director being Mahendran. It was more of an interaction with the director at that time because I would just sit there as a student and listen to what he told me. Rajni is a very cooperative person. He never made me feel that I am a newcomer Ė it was just my third film. I did not have much of an opportunity to interact with Rajni. Maybe if I work with him now, it would be easier to say how it is to work with him. But at the time when I did work with him, I was a newcomer who just sat alone and did what the director told me to. After a shot I would run back to the book I used to read. Thatís how it was.

Which has been your most cherished roles?

I have a long list of my favorite movies. Of the 90-odd films I have done there are at least 50 I can feel proud of. Choosing one from that is very difficult. One of my all time favorites is Anjali. Maybe because it was the first film where I did a very serious role with no songs to sing. That was also the first time I did a motherís role. In Anjali there were children all around most of the time. That particular film really changed a lot of my ideas towards life and society. It was the first time I thought about cerebral palsy. I started going to institutions where they educated such children. From Anjali onwards, my outlook towards NGOs and local causes changed.

As far the film is concerned, it was great working with Mani Ratnam and the children. Children are very natural as actors. People like us have to keep pace with their performance because they can do anything, show anything, express anything, anytime! Shamali was a real child prodigy. It was amazing the way Mani Ratnam moulded her into Anjali. The film was a beautiful experience for me.

What challenges you in a role?

When a role is totally different from what I have seen in life it challenges me a lot. Some of the roles come very naturally. When I listen to the director's story narration I just catch little points and try to incorporate them into the character I am playing. But sometimes you get roles you have never ever seen in your life. So it has to be a totally imaginary thing. There are certain elements you can pool in from your experience.

For example, my character in Thevar Magan was very innocent. But she had an intelligence of her own. So striking a balance between both was very important for me. Director Bharatan had moulded the character so beautifully I would just listen to him and put in my bit. Kamal Hasanís script was perfect to the T. The whole film was beautiful.

Similarly, I did a Malayalam film called Kakoti Kavile Appupan Thadi where I had to play a vagabond Ė a girl living in tents who keeps moving around and does any household job. That is a character I have seen; so I really had to work on it. The script was by Fazil, and the director was from Kerala called Kamal. So again its very easy when you have a very forthcoming director, who kind of tells you and listens to your suggestions. It is interesting to do roles like that.

Why do you think are films no longer being made with the kind of role that you would like?

Middle age ladies are not glamorous according to Indian cinema. That is the problem (laughs). In Indian cinema women look nice as long as they are falling in love or singing duets. After that it is a sudden transformation for Indian women actors Ė they become mother, sister, anni, etc. There is no role in Indian cinema for middle-aged women, because they feel a middle-aged women doesnít have an interesting character.

Itís really sad because a woman is really whole when she is middle-aged. She has learnt so much through life and is in a totally different state phase when she can express herself beautifully. It is the time when any kind of expression can come from her heart. It is sad that Indian cinema doesnít have anything for people like us. I donít want to do run-of-the-mill roles Ė be just a mother or an aunt. I donít want to do a role unless it has anything challenging. Thatís the reason I have done just two films in the last two years.

What are television projects you are involved in?

As of now the only serial I am acting in is produced by us. It is called Boom Boom Shakalaka. It is targeted at children. I am doing the character of a Lilliput who is about 4 inches tall. It is very interesting for me because itís supposed to be a character from yesteryears, speaking in "Sen Tamil" and it is a whole new world. Itís just a fun character. I like to do humorous roles too. Our production company is going ahead with few more serials, most of them for Sun TV and one for Doordarshan. I am not going to be acting in any of that. I am slowly moving into the technical aspects. I want to one day direct a feature film. Thatís my biggest dream.

You have also established a reputation for your social work and even started a NGO...

Frankly speaking, I do not run an NGO. We did start a trust but due to various reasons we have not continued functioning. One of the main reasons was that I felt that I am not able to give my full time to it. When you have an organization or NGO of your own, you need to give a lot of your time. I am not ready for that as yet. But I am a volunteer in different organizations. As a volunteer you can go whenever they need you, whenever there is a fund raiser event. You are able to learn a lot. I am involved with organistions that involve destitute women with mental health problems, one which addresses children with celebral palsy, and yet another which works with people with disabilties. I feel that being a volunteer is better than running an NGO myself because it takes less of my time with the administrative aspects. After all what is that I am trying to achieve? Make use of the popularity that I have achieved in films for the NGO's cause. Fortunately or unfortunately when popular people talk about causes it is heard more. I making just making use of that and helping some of these organisations.

Whom do you admire amongst your contemporaries as an actor?

I really canít say any particular person because there are so many young actors and actresses. There are some aspects I admire. When I came into films, I did not know how to use make-up, how to do my hair, or how to dress. It looked so amateurish. When you come in front of a million people you should be able to look after your appearance. Among the contemporaries film stars that is amazing. They really learn how to use make-up, what looks good on their face, what kind of clothes suits them. They are really very bothered about their physical appearance which is important. They go to school where they learn diction and where they learn how to act. But of course in the end acting comes through experience. You really canít teach anyone anger, laughter or sorrow. You have to learn by yourself.

Why do you think you did not have good run with Hindi films?

I am not the glamorous kind that Hindi cinema looks forward to. I really canít fit into that role. The films that I did in Hindi are basically the films that I have done in the south. Muskurahat was a remake of Kilukkam. I had done in Malayalam; Love was a remake a Telegu film. And Raat was a bilingual film. So it just happened that I did those roles in Hindi. And I donít think I fit in the role there. I am more comfortable in south Indian cinema.

People say there is a Shabana Azmi in Mumbai and Revathi in Chennai who are on the same track Ė why then are you not picking roles in new films like Shabana does?

It is really nice that that I am compared to such a lovely actress and a person. Shabana is a fantastic human being. I have met her a few times. In Hindi films there are better roles for middle-aged women. Like I said before, there are few roles for them in south Indian cinema. I am still looking for really nice, interesting, challenging women characters roles here. We have thousands of, no millions of women, who have amazing stories to tell. But that voice has not been heard in Tamil or Malayalam cinema.

The next logical step in the southern film industry for popular film stars has always been politics. Will you be getting into it too?

I have already got into it. I contested the Lok Sabha seat from the South Madras constituency in 1996 and lost. I will definitely being getting into politics actively. Because I believe politics is the answer to bring about change. NGOs are important. But politicians are the people who have the power to make changes the NGOís want. I think politics is very important and in our country more so because the power is only with the politician and the bureaucrats. I canít become a bureaucrat now, it is too late. But yes definitely a politician in the future!

Produced by SoundPicture Communications

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 Video interview
  Her niche
  Debut with top directors
  On Kamal Haasan
  On Rajnikanth
  Her cherished roles
  Challenging roles
  Midlife crisis
  Becoming a director
  Social work
  'I admire'
  Hindi movie roles
  Compared to Shabana
  A politician!
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  Boom Boom Shakalaka