Madhubala talks about her comeback movie, Vaayai Moodi Pesavum, and why cinema is her calling. Subha J. Rao listens in

Seventeen years after Paanjalankuruchi, the movie where an entire song was dedicated to her smile and beauty (‘Un Udattoram Sirippu’), actor Madhubala makes a comeback to the Tamil screen with Balaji Mohan’s Tamil-Malayalam bilingual Vaayai Moodi Pesavum/Samsaaram Aarogyathinu Haanikaram.

Though she made her debut in Tamil with K. Balachander’s Azhagan, starring alongside Mammootty, following it up with a mix of mass and class films, she achieved pan-India acclaim with Roja, the eponymous village girl who turns into a resolute woman amid the snow-clad peaks of Kashmir. “I’m still looked at as Roja. That’s amazing,” she says. “While shooting for Vaayai… in Munnar, I saw people pointing to me and saying: ‘That’s the Roja girl.’ And there I was, a mother of two, happily travelling back in time,” she laughs.

At the peak of her career, when she was just 30, Madhubala traded the arc lights for a regular life and settled down in Mumbai. “I never dreamt of making a comeback. Some years ago, I started doing small roles in Hindi films. I was sure I would do only Hindi, because it meant shooting in Mumbai and not leaving my daughters alone for long,” says Madhu. But, Tamil cinema always had a special place in her heart. “I was very impressed with what was happening in the Tamil movie scene, and had okayed a script by Lakshmy Ramakrishnan. That movie did not work out, but Balaji convinced me to sign up for his film. I was worried on many counts. The distance, the long days away from home… but he was so persistent. He said he would shoot within whatever time frame I gave. And, he did.”

Madhubala says she always likes to connect the dots. “I look for signs. Mammootty Sir was my first hero… now I’m working with his son Dulquer Salmaan. It’s like the universe is telling me that I will be welcome again in the industry.”

A lovely character

In Vaayai…, Madhubala plays a writer, the heroine’s stepmom. “It is such a lovely character. I know that at my age, I will be offered only character roles; but, I want to choose roles with spunk, roles of substance. Something on the lines of what Rishi Kapoor is doing right now in Hindi. A role that is pivotal, a role that challenges me as an actor,” she says.

The time is right, she says, to make a comeback. Industry trends are changing; newer stories are finding favour… “Like Amitji (Amitabh Bachchan) once said, he is able to do so much more as a character artiste than he could have as a hero.”

Madhubala has also returned to a much more professionally-managed industry. “Teams stick to the script. It is all about planning and executing it well. Everything from the script to the contract comes over mail!”

In her heydays, Madhubala acted under top directors — K. Balachander, Mani Ratnam, Shankar… and won critical and commercial acclaim. Despite that, on the first day of shooting for Vaayai… she was a nervous wreck. “I wondered if I would remember my dialogues. I was insecure and felt I was making a mistake. It was like being back on the sets of Azhagan as a rookie. But once, the first shot was canned, the 17 years seemed to melt away,” she says.

Supportive family

How easy then was it to say goodbye to cinema all those years ago? “It was the most difficult decision of my life. But, today, from where I stand, I can say it was the best decision too. I have a supportive husband, I’ve raised two lovely children… I would not want to change anything. Having said that, everyone has their strengths. There are women who rule the kitchen and find great joy in creating new dishes. There are women who do wonderfully well in other fields. But, other than my love for the arts, no other skill left me feeling fulfilled. I’m feeling so good now.”

Madhubala admits she never realised what a good thing she had going in her first stint, with the best of roles coming her way with very little effort. “I am someone who does not think too much. Things just happened. In my youthful brashness, I thought I had arrived, even without a godfather. Now, I look at what I got with so much more gratitude and humility.”

How has her family reacted to her movie? Her girls (13 and 11), who’ve watched Roja only in bits, are a little upset their mom is going to be away from them, but they understand, says Madhubala. “They don’t know their mom as an actor. For them, I’m just someone who can’t bake a cake or make a pizza! I can’t cook to save my life,” she laughs.