‘Kovai' Sarala who returned to Tamil with the superhit Kanchana, has a line-up of interesting projects. Malathi Rangarajan writes
When she played a 32-year-old pregnant woman in Mundhanai Mudichu, her debut, she was in Class X. She followed it up with Chinna Veedu, where she was the 65-year-old mother of Bhagyaraj! More than three decades later, Kovai Sarala made quite an impression in the recent supernatural thriller with a strong comic slant, Kanchana, as the hero and director Lawrence's mom.
Our exchange is more an LOL session for both of us as I recall her hilarious segments recently in Kanchana and earlier in films such as Shajahan. “Even during the shoot, Lawrence kept telling me that Kanchana would be another turning point in my career,” she laughs. Earlier she had worked in two Telugu films that Lawrence had directed, besides Muni in Tamil, and they had hit it off well.
Strangely after Kanchana there seemed to be a slight lull in Tamil, though in Telugu Sarala continues to be busy. “The only criterion is that my role has to have some significance. Otherwise, I don't even ask the director about the rest of the cast.”
She now has some interesting projects in Tamil — Paagan, Kopperundevi and Ragalapuram — lined up. Sarala plays a cop in Ragalapuram, along with Karunas. “It's a full-length comedy. Manohar is a first-time director, but has been a comedy writer for long. I liked my role and when Manohar narrated the story, I felt he would do a good job,” she says.
But there have been instances when her hunch proved wrong. “True, but I do my work with utmost sincerity. The rest depends on several other factors such as the director's ability to transfer his thoughts successfully to celluloid and the length of the film.”
It was Bhagyaraj who brought Sarala to cinema. As he was also from Coimbatore, he knew her family well. And he was aware of her keenness to become an actor. “Once he had come home to meet my father. ‘What are you doing now,' he asked me. ‘I'm preparing for my Class X exams and learning typewriting as well,' I said.”
“Do you wish to act?”
“Sure,” said the teenager and Mundhanai Mudichu happened. Today, Sarala has completed around 700 films.
The seasoned comedienne teamed up with none other than Kamal Haasan, as his heroine, for Sati Leelavati. The two provided a rollicking time for viewers. “It was a memorable experience. Initially, I was apprehensive about acting with the storehouse of talent. But he made it all so easy,” she laughs. “Leelavati was a full-length comedy. Playing heroine was never an aspiration. If I had been particular about it, I would have faded out of the scene long ago. Luckily, the humour route I took continues to throw up opportunities.”
The actor has been around for more than three decades and it's been a roller-coaster ride for her. A spate of films with her as the comedienne would follow a hiatus. “Like any other, this is an industry where complexes, ego and politics abound. And I cannot be a sycophant to get roles. So ups and downs are inevitable. I take them in my stride,” she shrugs.
But Sarala is prudent. When the going got tough in Tamil, she changed tack and travelled towards Telugu filmdom. “I've completed more than a 100 films there,” she says. “And I continue to work in Telugu.”
Does she know the language? “Not a word, when I began. But now I manage,” she replies.
Has she ever considered shifting base? “Many suggested I should move to Hyderabad. But I prefer remaining in Chennai and travelling to and fro.”
It was the Telugu version of director V. Sekar's successful film, Pondatti Sonna Kaettukanum, which first took her there. And it has been a worthy journey so far.
Sarala's television forays are few and far between. ‘Sabash Meera,' a comedy, was probably the last. “That's because I'm very choosy,” she smiles. ‘Paasa Paravaigal,' a reality show, which she now hosts on Kalaignar TV, showcases her spontaneity. “It's extempore for the most part.”
Long ago I had read her interview to a weekly. “I plan to remain single,” she had said. Did she ever have a change of heart? “See, I've stuck to my word, haven't I? After a hard day's work on the sets, I can't imagine allotting time to pander to the whims of a husband. I prefer being the queen and the minister of my home. Marriage is not for me.” Sarala punctuates the sentences with a chuckle.