From a popular film star to diva of the small screen, Radhika Sarathkumar has been in the limelight for more than three decades. The actor-cum-savvy businesswoman shares her success story with Malathi Rangarajan
Her first production had won the Indira Gandhi National Award. It was in the 1980s. Meendum Oru Kaadhal Kadhai was a story of a mentally-challenged couple. Surprisingly when the interviewer on Doordarshan asked her whether she would continue making films, she fielded it with an emphatic ‘No.’ Yet she soon plunged headlong into the business, producing films, television serials, and venturing into newer pastures such as the Celebrity Cricket League! At the moment her production house, besides other ventures, is into the Tamil remake of the Malayalam film, Traffic.
As I settle down for a chat with Radhika Sarathkumar in her office, in T. Nagar, I remind her of it. “Even now I’m not too comfortable making films, because it isn’t too organised a sector. Television isn’t so. Things are transparent and clear-cut norms are followed. But now that Radaan is a corporate house which is into the entertainment business and cinema is a major entertainment component, we have to keep doing it. CCL was my husband’s idea. It worked out so well that we’ve begun planning the next season,” she says. The shrewd businesswoman has had her slips but her sagacity and mental strength have helped her brave odds. Radhika looked shattered when her film, Jaggubhai, found its way to the Net weeks before its release. “We were stabbed in the back. But as the survivor in me works overtime I bounced back,” she laughs.
Whoever would have thought that the plump girl who entered tinsel town with Bharatiraaja’s Kizhakae Pogum Rayil more than three decades ago, would hone her skills, evolve as an actor, blossom into a popular heroine, taste sustained stardom, consolidate her position as the Numero Uno of the Tamil small screen and branch out into the entertainment business too?
“I’ve never been the ambitious kind. But the work I’m given, I do with sincerity. That, I believe, has brought me this far,” she says.
As she steps out to pose under a tree for a photo shoot, the smile that so spontaneously perches on her lips and the sincerity she evinces during those minutes, aware of but not distracted by the curious glances of the people on the terrace opposite, I realise the import of her words.
“Yesterday was my father’s anniversary and I was thinking of his words when I first donned the grease paint. ‘I hope my talent is passed on to you and stays with you always,’ he said. I think the blessing is the guiding force,” Radhika turns sentimental for a second. It’s a long time since her father, inimitable character actor M.R. Radha, passed away, but his legacy seems to live on.
From Chiththi to Chellamay, not forgetting Selvi and Arasi, in every mega her characters take challenges head-on and Radhika carries off the roles with conviction. The male protagonist is generally redundant in her serials! She laughs: “You must see viewers’ reactions to my roles. ‘Go ahead and beat up wrongdoers. Don’t spare them,’ they go on.” For them the lines between real and role play blur easily and the characters who parade the box become part of their lives!
But the more intriguing factor is that she doesn’t seem to tire acting in such roles.
“This is business. At the end of the day, we are catering to an audience for whom family values matter most and we give them what they want,” she says. She may have a point. When she set out to break the stereotype and began with playing a meek woman in Selvi, she had to beat a hasty retreat and return in a dual role as a tough cop. “My docility on the small screen doesn’t sell,” she smiles.
Radhika entered television when she was still busy in films. “People tried to dissuade me but I was sure it would work.” It has and how! For the past 13 years she has been a constant on the 9.30 p.m. slot on Sun TV. An unbeaten record! Not just Tamil, Radaan’s canopy has successfully spread to all the four languages of the South!
How did she feel when Thenmaerkku Paruvakaatru won the National Award for Saranya Ponvannan? The role had been offered to Radhika, and she had declined it because she couldn’t be away from family and business for long. “I was very happy for Saranya. She is a talented actor. My days are packed with work and home. Travelling for shoots and being away for days aren’t possible,” she explains. Husband, children, ailing mother-in-law, business and acting schedules — Radhika has her priorities chalked out.
Glimpsing at the copies of Media Voice, whose editor is Sarathkumar, I realise that Radhika is a columnist too! Multi-tasking on an incredible scale indeed! “I have somebody typing it out as I dictate,” she smiles, and sums up, “I’m always doing a lot of things, and it’s been a long innings.”
Long and still going strong!