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Updated: May 21, 2010 16:46 IST

Amiably yours!

W. SREELALITHA
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Amala Akkineni
Amala Akkineni

I announce I'm going to meet Amala Akkineni, and colleagues respond with collective gasps — “what a looker!” (and, sighs — “oh, that handsome man she married…!”). I'm cynical — I mean, you last saw her nearly two decades ago! And, that cynic is suitably put to shame the minute I shake hands with the impossibly young-looking Amala. It's as if time's bafflingly halted since 1992 — the year she married Telugu matinee idol Nagarjuna, waved goodbye to tinseldom, and broke many hearts. I tell her this and that I carry love for her husband from my colleagues, and she giggles: “Yeah, I get that all the time!”

So, how did she feel when she quit the industry, after 50 films spanning all the South Indian languages and Hindi? “Relieved. I was working 365 days. I was glad to have my life back. Nag took great care of me. Still does! He's supported me in all my mad hatter schemes.”

Which brings us to how she founded the Blue Cross of Hyderabad. “I was always an animal lover. Even back in school and college, an animal in need of help was my responsibility. The day I set foot in Hyderabad, I saw an animal being hit by a vehicle. The city did not have a shelter for the bleeding animal, and I brought it home. In less than a month, our house was home to all kinds of animals — a buffalo with a broken hip, a blind mongoose, goats, dogs, cats… Nag pointed out that our house looked like a zoo. With his help, Blue Cross was born, and he gifted me the first ambulance!”

Interestingly, animal welfare is not the only thing she's associated with. “I work with 15 organisations that deal with issues ranging from environment protection and wildlife conservation to human rights, and women's and children's rights etc.,” says the social rights activist, who trained in Bharatanatyam for 10 years in Kalakshetra, and in yoga for four years at Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, Chennai.

In between all these, she has accompanied her husband on his shoots. When she watches him shoot, does she suffer pangs of regret? “No. Doing films is not fun or glamorous as it seems,” says Amala, who lived in Chennai for 16 years before her marriage. “Why should I be tucked away in a studio playing a role I do not identify with, when I'd rather be with 500 widows, preparing them to face the world. I'm doing what I believe in, and that's the role of my life.”

A role she takes very seriously. “It's about what drives you to bring about change. I remember a time when there was hardly any awareness about HIV/AIDS; there were full-blown AIDS cases, bundled together and left in garbage bins by their families. How people think or behave cannot be programmed. And, clarity of thought is Nature's way of putting you in a position to show humanity to live in a better way.”

And, this is where, she says, social work comes in handy. “We are taught to address social fear. Let's face it; we live in a world that has people with HIV/AIDS. As we cannot expel it, the best thing is to accept it.”

She asserts that the best way to bring about this acceptance is through children. After all, as she puts it, “you can bend a plant, not a tree”. “Expose them to the right way of living. Teach them to give kids with HIV/AIDS the same comfort they would to anyone else. It helps; my son Akhil grew up playing with these kids.”

So, despite the access, exposure and awareness, why are we still battling a litany of issues? “Lack of equal opportunities. Exploitation happens when people are not aware of their rights. Education is the solution, as is implementing laws.”

For a person who's been straddling so much, what would be the most memorable experience? “Motherhood. You're constantly dipping into the wisdom of the world. When you think you've figured it, along comes a new experience. And, that connects me to ‘Super Mom' (the Vijay TV show she's judging)! I request working mothers to give their children undivided attention — because childhood won't wait!”

As I leave, I want to know how she cheated those 18 years. She chuckles: “Yoga, veganism and positive thinking.”

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