Mentioning just her name may not ring a bell. Neither would the surname, Sukesh, help much. But precede it with the soft drink brand and your eyes are bound to sparkle with recognition. ‘Pepsi’, that first irreplaceably stuck to Uma some two decades ago, catapulted her to dizzying heights of popularity when she began to anchor Ungal Choice, a phone-in show on Sun TV. Ungal Choice powered by Pepsi may have faded into oblivion after an unparalleled 18-year run, but ‘Pepsi’ Uma is here to stay.
The lady is back on Jaya TV’s one-hour weekly show, Album. Even more gratifying is the fact that the geniality and warmth she exuded on screen are intact. Veterans from various walks of life, not just cinema, share their photographs and experiences with viewers on Album. Uma is its cheerful facilitator. As actor Prabhu poignantly noted, the show helps veterans traverse the corridors of their past along with the viewers.
Age sits lightly on Uma. “I drink plenty of water. It could be a reason for the age factor not affecting my skin much. Otherwise frequenting beauty parlours isn’t my cup of tea,” she says.
Ungal Choice set a record for being on air for the longest period of time, with the same anchor. Neither her marriage nor pregnancy saw a change in the presenter ever. Every dial-in voice invariably began with complimenting her for her looks. Viewers went crazy when talking to her and matters came to such a pass that they began to build a temple for her! It was supposed to be built at Kumili.
“I was terribly embarrassed. I called them over to my place and advised them to stop it immediately.” Adverse comments from many added to her discomfiture. “ “I lose my cool when I’m unfairly targeted.”
Uma was the producer of Star Show on Sun TV, which had Uma and Gangai Amaran discussing an issue every week with film personalities. “It went like a breeze for 11 years,” she recalls. “Simultaneously I was presenting Ungal Choice.” Today, with a Masters in Business Administration she is the director of a firm. “My husband and I are into construction as well,” says Uma.
But why did she refuse that ad with Sachin Tendulkar? After all, she had been modelling for several products at the time! “The costume given to me was the only problem,” is her candid take.
Uma is impressed with the way Album is conceived and created. “Everything from production to execution is professionally handled. That Album’s rating is soaring makes me doubly happy,” she says.
Husband Sukesh had been a model too. “In fact, it was at an ad shoot that we first met. He was 18 and I, 17. Religion and language didn’t come in the way of our feelings for each other.” Sukesh is from Punjab. “Forget the films that came to me. Sukesh had offers from some top filmmakers, which he refused. It’s just a matter of mindset,” Uma observes.
Having been a trained classical dancer who gave performances and a student who has won several competitions at school and college, Uma has never been camera shy. Yet she refused every film that came to her. Subash Ghai was very keen that he cast her opposite Shah Rukh Khan, and so were many Tamil directors. “Ghai saw me at A.R. Rahman’s Studio and called me with the offer. ‘I’m coming down to your house now. Give me 20 minutes and I’ll convince you,’ he said. At the end of the meeting it was I who convinced him that I can’t do films,” she laughs. “People said I was mad. But I knew I’m not cut out for acting. Money is important in life but money alone won’t do. It’s the same with popularity. That’s why I chose to be away from the media when no worthy assignments came up. I’m a diehard fatalist. What has to come my way will.”