Sudha Chandran pushed her limits to become a dancer. She is an example of one who has rewritten destiny with a positive initiative.
“If not for the accident I would have become a typical Iyer housewife, settled in the U.S., probably working or given up by now; settled in matrimonial bliss, trying to get my kids married,” is the kind of frankness that we have quite become used to associating Sudha Chandran with.
It may largely be credited to her alter ego Ramola Sikand of “Kaahin Kissii Roz”, a role that made her a household name. Either hated or admired for the viciousness she portrayed on screen, Sudha Chandran couldn't be ignored. “When I do negative characters on screen, people love it. In fact, people look forward to it. Because of my internal strength, the characters become larger than life. My friends would call me up from the local trains and tell me that ‘people are actually talking about you early in the morning about your jewellery, bindi and saree'.”
The biggest credit came from Bollywood director Ramesh Sippy, who complimented her on being the most loved negative character after Sholay's Gabbar Singh.
Sudha confesses though that she wasn't always this strong. After that fateful accident when she was 13 years old on the way back from a temple visit, life dramatically changed for the aspiring dancer. “I didn't even know what amputation was then. Later when it was explained to me, the realisation that I will have to live without a limb came as a big shock. Suddenly I did not know where my life was heading from thereon. It was like a pack of cards had just tumbled down.”
When the question ‘what next?' was looming large casting a dreadful shadow over her life, a simple answer from her father gave her the clarity and the hope to get on with life. “He said, ‘Never try to explore what is next. You have to go out and say, this is my next step and move ahead in life.' To this day, this has been the mantra of my life.”
Sudha Chandran was literally pushed to take the next step wanting to prove a point to all those who showered her parents and her with unwanted pity. “We talk about a society that's modern and that doesn't pinpoint people's defects and disabilities. But in reality, people still do. After the accident, people would come home and say, ‘How sad! You wanted your daughter to become a Vyjayantimala or a Hema Malini, but unfortunately all she has to concentrate on now is her education.' Quite frankly, it was hurting and demeaning.”
In all that hurt, there also dawned a sense of disappointment in Sudha that being her parents' only child she had to fulfil their dreams and aspirations. “There were a lot of things that my parents could not do or afford. And when they put all that dreams into me and when I could not fulfil them, I felt very disappointed. And that was the only reason I wanted to dance with an artificial leg.”
Though Sudha makes it sound easy, it was backed by a lot of hard work and determination. “I had started learning dance when I was three years old. When I resumed after the accident with the Jaipur leg, it was like starting all over again. Adding to the complication was my fractured right femur and the stiffness of my body. The artificial leg was like an alien body, fitted to mine. Both had to respond to each other. The skin used to give way and the stump used to bleed. Many a time I even wanted to give up. Learning was easy, adaptation took time.”
Stepping into films
Sudha wanted to give just that one stage performance and prove her phony sympathisers wrong. But it didn't stop with one. She went on to become an acclaimed Bharathanatyam dancer and was hailed by the media as the “wonder girl of India”. This caught the attention of the famous Telugu producer Ramoji Rao who wanted to make a film on her life. When Sudha was approached with this proposal she saw no reason to turn it down considering how it could be used to inspire others.
“Initially they had plans to cast a top heroine and use me in the second half of the film just for the actual dance sequences. After the discussions, director Singeetam Srinivasa Rao wanted me to do the film saying that he found me to be a good actor. At first I refused as I had a wrong idea about the film industry; I thought educated people don't get into it. But the director met me personally and explained that it was not so. After reluctantly agreeing, I realised what he said was true. In fact, after months of shooting I didn't want to go back home,” she recounts of her experience of shooting for the famous 1984 movie “Mayuri” (“Nach Mayuri” in Hindi) that won her the Special Jury Award at the National Film Awards.
Today, Sudha is busy juggling roles as a judge on reality dance shows on TV, soaps, films (she is currently doing two Tamil films with director Hari and Amir) and stage shows.
This year she is also the face of IBN's show that focuses on women entrepreneurs.
After many movies and television serials, looking back, Sudha says she has no regrets. “Failure has always made me a very strong person. And whenever I get instant success it's always short-lived. It's like I am destined to struggle for everything that I have to make in this life. People say that's destiny; fate can't change that. But I still feel that with positive energy and initiative, you can rewrite your destiny. God gives you strength and shows you the way.”