The Hill Palace was unusually crowded that morning. Bus loads of excited school children on a picnic, small groups of young boys and girls and the regular tourist groups led by animated guides virtually swarming the place.
Right from the time he stepped out of the car, Sarath Das was mobbed. First it was the women staff of the museum, then a bold bunch of children who broke away from the file, some of them who did not dare to break the line waved, called out and then a swarm of jeans-clad girls wanted to click pictures with the actor. A cheeky one amongst them even wanted Sarath to talk to her grandmother on her mobile.
Though Sarath looked a bit bewildered at the attention showered on him it was not surprising. For this young man dominates prime time television from 6.30 in the evening to late in the night. He is there as Lord Krishna, Alauddin and Niranjan.
After battling through a throng of adulators, we find a quiet corner to sit down and talk. “All this happened after I played Krishna in Sree Mahabhagavatham. This serial has gone beyond 550 episodes and the feedback has been tremendous. The recognition it has brought me is unbelievable. I get invitations to inaugurate events, mostly from temples, and some even ask me if I could come in the Krishna make-up,” says Sarath with that disarming smile.
On his father
For someone who chanced upon an acting career Sarath has certainly found his spurs. Son of the renowned Kathakali singer Venmani Haridas, Sarath was trained to be a musician. “I learnt to play the mridangam and violin. I was good enough to play the mridangam for a concert. But my father never asked me to sing. Perhaps he knew what I was good at. This was while I was studying at NSS School, Perunthanni, Thiruvananthapuram. Everything changed after I got to play a role in Shaji (Shaji N. Karun) Sir's ‘Swaham' in which my father played the role of a teashop owner.”
Sarath played Kannan the son of the teashop owner. The film did well in the national and international film festival circuits and Sarath came to be noticed. “The shoot was at Thenmala. With my father along it was fun.”
Sarath shared a special relationship with his father. “Looking back I came to realise quite late how great a singer he was. Very rarely did I accompany him to the Kathakali venues for he always said he was uncomfortable with us in the audience. I also feel the same way when my wife is around while acting. I don't think I ever discussed music seriously with my father. Only now, when he is not with us, do I realise how much I miss him.”
With an acting career opening up Sarath put studies on hold for a while. Films came his way and he was soon seen in films like ‘Sammohanam,' ‘Ennu Swantham Janakikutty,' ‘Pathram,' ‘Maduranombarakattu,' ‘Darling Darling,' ‘Indriyam,' ‘Devadoothan,' ‘Chakkaramuthu,' ‘July 4' and many others.
“Gradually these offers became scarce. This was the time when Malayalam films became very superstar-oriented and there were very few important roles for youngsters. It was almost at the same time that television really began to open up with immense possibilities. Instead of latching on to films I switched tracks. In between this I had acted in a couple of telefilms, did a couple of ad-films and most importantly completed my B.Com privately.”
Sarath found instant acceptance on the small screen. “The first ‘mega serial' I acted in was ‘Manasu.' And since then I must have acted in over 50 serials. At present I play pivotal roles in serials like ‘Sree Mahabhagavatham,' ‘Alauddinente Adbuthavilakku,' ‘Autograph,' and ‘Harichandanam.' And there are a couple of other projects on the anvil.” He also anchored popular television programmes like the campus-based competiton show ‘Rangoli' and a film-based programme ‘Zoom-In.'
Despite its limitations serials are still among the most engaging slots on television. “Almost all the serials are telecast after a thorough survey of the targeted audience and their preferences. This is good and bad. Good because there is a dedicated audience and a safe niche. The problem is that serials do not evolve. They tend to stick to the same, tested formulae. But I feel there is so much of scope, so much more room.”
Sarath has now happily settled down to a career in television. “There is good pay once you start doing well. Television pays well. Unfortunately, though there are so many good, really talented artistes in the television industry, they do not find favour with filmmakers. I hope this will change.”
Sarath's only link with cinema these days is dubbing. He is a much-sought after dubbing artiste whose work has found great appreciation. “For ‘Swaham' it was the noted Carnatic vocalist Trivandrum Krishnakumar who dubbed for me. I made my debut in this field lending my voice for Siddharth in the film ‘Nammal.' Since then I have lent my voice for many youngsters like Naren, Nishan etc.” Sarath even won the State award in this category in 2006 for ‘Achuvinte Amma.'
While not flitting from one studio to another, from one location to another, Sarath spends time reading and listening to music. “My choices in reading are mostly biographies and spiritual. I must have read the work ‘Living With the Himalayan Masters' so many times. I also ready anything that gives info on breath therapy. I have tried this and found it effective. Music has been part of my life. Though I listen mostly to Carnatic and Hindustani classical I'm open to any genre, any language.” And of course spending quality time with his little daughter Veda and audiologist wife Manju.