Actor Saranya Ponvannan on being a favourite mom, both onscreen and offscreen

“Need a mother? Call Saranya Ponvannan.” That's the refrain in tinseltown. The actor, in her second innings, has played amma with aplomb. She has made the audience sniffle and smile as the perfect mom. She capped her performance with a National Award in 2011 for Thenmerku Paruvakaatru, for playing a mother torn between love and possessiveness.

She was recently seen as an urban mother in director Rajesh's OKOK. A welcome change, for most directors have slotted her in the “rural, suffering” mother mould. “The roles I get are not very different, so I struggle to infuse some individuality into each of them,” says Saranya, whose current projects include Seenu Ramasamy's Neerparavai and A.R. Murugadoss' as-yet-unnamed production, directed by Kingsley. She's shooting for the former in Manappaadu near Tuticorin and for the latter near Cuddalore.

The actor, raised in metropolitan Chennai, still wonders how people decided she did village roles best. “Initially, I used to be at a loss. I am such a softie; I can't even raise my voice. When essaying loud characters, I cringe. Luckily for me, most of my directors are from the rural heartland. They help me get the diction and mannerisms right. I try to bring about subtle differences through make-up (or the lack of it!), and certain quirks,” she says in a telephone interview.

Working with Seenu's team again (he directed her in Thenmerku…) is a breeze, says Saranya. “There's a wonderful camaraderie. Seenu always makes me look more rustic than usual. He's terribly proud that I won the National Award for his film and embarrasses me with profuse praise on the sets,” she laughs.

Saranya says she is comfortable doing emotional scenes. It is the humourous ones that tire her out. This despite the applause she has got for her comic roles. “People tell me I handle comedy well, but I'm still not comfortable with it.”

The actor says she has found her niche and is happy with her lot. “I never fear competition. I've always striven to give my very best. I believe I will get what I deserve.” Did she imagine she would receive the National Award? “Never. Not even when it was flashed on television. My kids were jumping with joy, but I played the voice of reason and told them to wait before announcing it to the world. Even then, I thought it would be for ‘supporting actress'. The family was very excited. Now, my daughters, aged 16 and 13, tell me that ‘we miss you during outdoor shoots, but please continue acting'. They are so terribly proud.”

Saranya, who is on a family holiday, will return and take a call on certain interesting scripts that have come her way. “I like to space my films and work my schedules around my children's,” she says.

She's also doing a film in Kannada. After playing the mother of heroes, Saranya finally plays the sophisticated mom of heroine Priyamani in Charulatha produced by Dwarakeesh and directed by Pon Kumaresan. “At last, I get to look the way I normally do and dress well,” says the actor, who loves design and fabric. It's a different experience too, she says. “I am so used to playing the boy's mom. I relate to it better. Actually, I think I was born with an overdose of motherly instinct. After shooting with young stars such as Jiiva and Udayanidhi, I almost end up feeling they are my kids… the love lingers. I forget I only acted as their mother!”

Though the actor works on her own terms, she says it is still a struggle to play mom in real life. “No one understands that the parents' meet at my kids' school is very important to me! I have great support from the family, but even on outdoor shoots, I micro-manage the home from the location. It takes great effort to balance both roles.”

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