Sarika has always been bold, only the interpretations changed with time and mindsets.

Sarika may mean many things to millions of film lovers. To those who had their first flush of youth in the 1970s and early 80s, she would come across as the girl who launched a million fantasies. To those who did not quite like what they saw then, the second coming of Sarika has evoked more than passing interest.

She is subtle, she is sensible, she is a talented actress, they have discovered. For all those who wrote her off as yet another bare-dare dame many years ago, Sarika has sprung a surprise in her second essay.

Roles that have meat, are crucial to the narration of the film, banners which are finding a footing and growing a reputation for sensible cinema have all been with her. A couple of summers ago, she even got the National Award for Rahul Dholakia's “Parzania”.

Now, the fair-skinned, light-eyed Sarika may just mean more, much more to all. This time her word counts more than on any other occasion. After all, she is part of the international film jury at the ongoing International Film Festival of India. Rarely ruffled, seldom a word out of place, Sarika is calm and measured as ever as she gives her take on films at IFFI, and what lies ahead, for herself, for the film industry.

A platform

“I am not so sure if IFFI can really help in getting global recognition for Indian films. It just does not work out that way. IFFI is being held in Goa. A majority of the audiences exposed to films of varied nature are Indian. Global recognition for our films does not come that way. Where IFFI helps is in providing a platform to our audiences who do not get to see the works of many master foreign filmmakers to appreciate those films. They can see films from, say, France or Iran and also go and see ‘Dev.D’. ”

She, however, rules out any comparison and possible demeaning of Indian films with respect to their foreign counterparts at a forum like IFFI. “Most foreign films in the fray this year do not have the luxury of a big budget. Most of them are by either first-time or second-time directors. There are just a couple of Chinese and other big-budget films. The very nature of selection of films for the festival is such that non-commercial ventures are encouraged. There is no reason to feel that Indian filmmakers will suffer here because of their relatively tight budget.”

Through with her take on IFFI films, Sarika takes off the hat of a juror. And soon dons the cape of a versatile artiste. Expressing her pleasure at the marriage of different art forms at IFFI where Leela Samson's troupe performed at the inaugural ceremony, Sarika says, “Art is art. It is just a manner of expression. The tools various artists use for expression are different. But at the end of the day, we are all in the same bracket. It could be a classical dance, a film, a painting or even a piece of writing; it is ultimately art for expression. And if we can combine various elements, blend them in a way that is not jarring, nothing can be better.”

So, Sarika who started off in films as a little girl and went on to be a bombshell of sorts before deciding matrimony was better, is all for a blend of arts. It is also a mix and match that she appreciates in films too. A far cry from the world of those who deride parallel cinema as a synonym for boring or find commercial cinema as a vulgar mode of commercial exploitation, Sarika sees things from a different prism.

This time, donning the mantle of a seasoned artist, she says, “It is not fair to write off commercial cinema. I won't even call it Bollywood because that in itself means that originality is missing in the industry. You must understand that commercial cinema that may not find many takers on the festival circuit has been succeeding for many years. You and I may not think it is great cinema, but it is a cinema that works, and is working despite all the criticism. People do queue up to see commercial films with all their larger-than-life projections. There is a big audience to bring back the big money involved in many of these films. Let us not disrespect the work of people who perform, people who toil to make these films. Whoever is making a film that is appreciated by audiences deserves respect.”

She almost strikes one as a family matriarch when she strikes a balance in her conversation, but really there is very little to fault Sarika. For instance, just take a look at the work canvas in her second innings. A central role and a National Award for “Parzania”, a minor but noticeable role in “Bheja Fry” and noteworthy performances in “Manorama Six Feet Under” and “Sacred Evil”, etc. And a meaty essay in “Tahaan”. She could not have done better.

So, how does Sarika's magic work at a time when most of her contemporaries have either retired from films or been reduced to playing the stereotypical doting mom in Hindi films? “There is no magic but just a clear thought process. I realise the more variety of work you have in your resume, the more you will grow as an artist. For instance, I cannot do a ‘Parzania' again. It will be boring. The audiences may not like to see me do the same role again too. In my second innings I have been conscious with the choice of roles. My one-to-ten priority today is to see the role, see what it offers me, whether it throws a challenge at me to do something that I have not done earlier, how well it blends with the story, how crucial it is to the central theme of the film.”

So, how does she manage to balance a little comic caper or a thriller with a sob drama in the shadow of the gun in Kashmir? “Well, I do the same thing as you would when you write a story. You would approach every story keeping in mind the newspaper's requirements; modulate the language to suit the style of the paper. Similarly, I take different sensitivity to different roles. I cannot carry the same mindset to every film set. Approaching every role in a different way is cool for me.”

As indeed is her collection of forthcoming films that includes “Shoe Bite” with Amitabh Bachchan and “Kachcha Limbu”, where she reunites with Vinay Pathak after “Bheja Fry”. Of course, for the moment being part of the jury is cool too for Sarika. The hat fits. Life is cool!