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Friday, April 06, 2001

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The focus is on women


THERE ARE hardly any signs of activity, if you look from the main road that leads to Mahabalipuram - the black gates of a house at Uthandi open out to a short driveway that takes you into the interiors of a beautiful hacienda like structure surrounded by trees and a sense of calm that is quite soothing on a hot day.

The crew is working efficiently and without much fuss. The scenes are captured by the camera with the ease and candour of the routine. Two girls in simple chudidar kurta are going through the motions of a heart-to-heart in a scene that is both casual and taut. Resting in the side quietly is a veteran (Manorama) who has spanned the film industry with her histrionics for close to 50 years. Her modesty and lack of vanity make you wonder whether they make such people anymore.

The young director of the serial is very much in charge, guiding her cast and other members of the team into action with her constant cries of ``Come on children come on let's finish this bit''. Her enthusiasm, despite the heat and the tight schedule, is probably what keeps the other going too. And for her too this is an important schedule considering the fact that this is a major assignment. An assignment which will probably place her amongst the front rankers in the world of Tamil TV serial if all goes well.

The young, up and coming director is Priya V. who is in charge of a daily serial being produced by Madras Talkies to be aired from July 15. Based on the book, ``Sister Of My Heart'' by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, the serial, ``Anbulla Snegithiye,'' is about two girls, cousins practically, who are soul mates and the path their lives take them individually and together. It's a passionate story set in a traditional household with only women at the helm. The women have lost the men in trying circumstances.

The two girls are being played by Swarnamalya and Anuradha. They represent good, well brought up if perhaps a bit cloistered, individuals in a strict, orthodox household consisting of an old aunt played by Manorama, and the two mothers - played by Seema and Kamala. The story is tender and full of moments that expose the vulnerability of women forced to take charge of life and family matters. A life bereft of men except an old driver who ferries all of them around when necessary.

Considering the fact that daily soaps are becoming popular this is Madras Talkies's first one coming as it did quite by chance. The book ``Sisters Of My Heart'' was picked up by Suhasini on one of her trips out station, and once she read it she felt it would make a good serial. Rights were obtained from the author who is a resident of the U.S. The work was translated into Tamil, the cast was decided and shooting commenced on March 15.

``It's a very good story'' said Manorama, who was waiting for her scenes to start - ``I have done so many films and I'm doing serials also but I still find the role challenging. The director is good, never mind if she is young. And of course it is a good set of people I am working with and I am really looking foreward to its telecast,'' she says.

The well-knit unit shares the commitment to produce a work of quality. Says Swaranamalya, ``Doing this project is like coming home. I have already worked with Madras talkies in ``Punnagai'' and ``Alaipayuthe'' and I am so comfortable here. It's real fun despite the hard work. When I heard the story I found it irresistible, I just had to take it up. I think the screenplay is excellent and Priya is one person who allows improvisation within the parameters of her own perceptions of how a scene ought to be done. She is easy to work with and she is always open to suggestions. And I have always wanted to do a Brahmin subject.''

Anuradha, daughter of Chandrahasan, and the protagonist in the film ``Indira'', directed by Suhasini and now known for her presence in serials such as ``Boom Boom Shakalaka'' and in K. Balachandar's serials, plays the rather outspoken and restless sister in this serial. ``There is a lot of freedom out here. Working with Priya is easy because I seem to know what she wants. Besides she gives you room for creativity and freedom to improvise,'' she says.

Radha or Anu as she is known is a bubbly person whose attitude in life seems to be ``never say die'' to anything. After ``Indira'' which she says she did for a lark she settled down for marital bliss till she was drawn into acting thanks to Suhasini. ``Many serials came my way offering me interesting roles. I like challenges - and any role should make me learn new things because with each one I would like to improve.''

``When I work with Suhasini I learn how to emote on a spontaneous instinctive level - when I work with Mr. Balachandar I learn how to do a character and a scene through technique - he always knows how to push me beyond what I think I'm capable of into doing the right thing. And now I'm doing a kind of a cameo in my uncle's film, ``Alavanthan'' where I'm learning so much from him.''

Then there is a first timer who is playing one of the mothers. Kamala who is attractive and quite comfortable in front of the camera. In her case she literally strayed into acting.

Once Mani Ratnam casually asked her whether she would be interested in acting. She had forgotten all about it until Priya called her and screen-tested her for this role, which Kamala says, is the best one can get as a newcomer. It has everything she says - it traces the life of this character from her youth till old age and has a range of emotions to portray.

Is she over-awed by the experienced artistes? She smiles disarmingly and says ``Initially yes, but both Priya and the others have been really wonderful. They made sure I was comfortable.''

Others in the cast are Seema, who is gracing the small screen in a major role, Ravi Raghavendra, Banuchandar, Vijay Adiraj, Gautam, Srilekha, Sudarshan, Baby Kalyani, Baby Gayathri, Jhansirani and Gopi.

This is a story that is being sensitively handled without much of the melodrama and pathos that seem to be the hallmark of many of the serials. This is a young team and the members are going to make sure that what you eventually see is something that you will remember with fondness.

CHITRA MAHESH

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