Seema talks about her role in Malayalam cinema and how it played a crucial part in shaping a new chapter in Mollywood.

Hers is the face that launched a thousand dreams in the mid-seventies and early eighties. Along with the late Jayan, she sizzled on the screen with her no-holds-barred acts and on-screen daredevilry. Later, in tandem with Mammootty and a host of brilliant actors, she breathed life into several unconventional heroines created by M.T. Vasudevan Nair and T. Damodaran. Yes, we are talking of Seema who has played some memorable women on screen at a time when many leading ladies either ran around trees or overworked the tear glands without a pause.

At Chitranjali Studio in Thiruvananthapuram, the veteran actor was taking a break in between her shots when Friday Review met up with her for an interview. Between crackling one-liners and some loaded one-word replies, Seema took us down to the time when she was the reigning queen of Mollywood, a period that is now referred to as the golden period of Malayalam cinema.

“Yes, I was fortunate to have got the chance to work with some of the best directors, scriptwriters and actors in Malayalam cinema,” says Seema, reeling off the statistics of her films with MT, with Damodaran Master, with Jayan, with Mammootty and so on.

Initially if it was her costumes, make-up, song and dance sequences that caught the attention of movie buffs, within a few years, she evolved into an actor par excellence who could hold her own ground in multi-starrers. “Aalkkoottathil Thaniye, Anubandham, Innalenkil Naale, Aksharangal, Angadi, Meen, Sandhaykku Virinjapoovu.... those were author backed roles and there was only one main heroine in those films,” she reminisces.

She recalls how Urvashi, an excellent actress herself, told her that it was Seema who freed the heroine from the dramatics and melodrama that was expected of heroines in those days. While speaking about her movies with Jayan, she says it is a pity that many mimics make their name riding on Jayan’s name. “Many of them have never seen him. Moreover, his actions or dialogues were never so exaggerated. He has been caricatured beyond recognition.”

She says with pride that Damodaran Master used to tell her that his heroines were written for her. “That is a compliment I cherish. I remember Deedi [Damodaran], now a successful scriptwriter herself, as a little girl. It has been a great journey and, at present, I enjoy working with children I have seen growing up,” she says. Her son Ani Sasi is an assistant director of Priyadarsan and Seema is acting as mother to Keerthy, Menaka’s and Suresh Kumar’s daughter, in Priyadarsan’s Geethanjali.

“Priyan works with me every 10 years or so,” laughs Seema. She adds: “He had cast me in Ayalvaasi Daridravasi (1986), years later we worked together in Kilichundan Mambazham (2003) and in 2013, I am again working with him in Geethanjali.”

Questions on her absence from the Malayalam screen are met with silence and a cryptic smile. Then she says that it was because no one gave her a role and, in the meantime, the small screen had kept her busy in one serial after the other. “I completed ‘Ammakkili’ and now work has begun for ‘Deshadanakkili’.

A phone call from her husband, veteran film director I.V. Sasi, interrupts the conversation. Seema hands over his call saying ‘here talk to Sasi ettan’. The first question has to be about his next film in Malayalam. “I will do one soon,” he says. As you compliment him on his films with Seema, he adds: “Yes, those were movies that have stood the test of time. It would be hard to come across such strong screen women now. Her characters were never run-of-the-mill heroines. They were women who often took the path less travelled.”

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