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`We have our share of highs and lows'

SAILAJA, A versatile singer, has sung about 5,000 songs in Telugu, Tamil and Kannada films besides bringing out some devotional albums. She is back to singing in films with Swarabhishekam. Sudhakar, who started his career with K. Viswanath's Subhalekha (due to which he is known as `Subhalekha' Sudhakar), has acted in over 94 films. He is a busy star on the small screen today. The couple took ,M.L. Narasimham down memory lane.

Sudhakar: It is nice that you are back into playback singing. When we were married, both of us were busy with film assignments. But suddenly we were out of work. I was worried that I would not be able to provide you with the comforts. I sat at home for almost six years. Do you remember those trying times?

Sailaja: We have had our share of highs and lows like any normal couple. Offers from television have been a blessing in disguise.

Sudhakar: Of course, that's why I am concentrating on television serials. One in hand is better than two in the bush, so goes the saying (smiles). As far as my acting goes, you are my best and worst critic too.

Sailaja: Whether it is you or my brother (S.P. Balasubrahmanyam), since I watch you both in day-to-day life, I don't find much difference on the screen. I always complimented you when you gave an extraordinary performance, and when you faltered, I criticised. I still remember the preview arranged by Kamal Hassan for Drohi...

I am not contented as an actor. I have a long way to go. - Sudhakar

Sudhakar: I was the villain in the scene and a pistol was aimed at me. There was pin drop silence. You were sitting beside me and suddenly shouted `kill that... ' Everybody turned around to see who it was. It took 45 minutes for you to come out of it. You did not speak in the car while we were driving back. Then slowly you became normal. I took it as a compliment for my performance. I cherish it.

Sailaja: I saw the actor and not you in the scene. I dread to see it again. That's why I avoid watching the film whenever it is shown on television. I feel that soft negative roles suit you rather than comedy roles. I think you clicked in the television serials exactly for this reason.

Sudhakar: You may be right. In most tele-serials, starting from Idi Katha Kaadu that took me to great heights in television, I played negative roles. In films, I clicked mostly in comedy roles. (Teasingly) What made you say that I am suited to doing negative roles?

I would like to return with a perfermance-oriented role. - Sailaja

Sailaja: When you entered the industry, because of your lanky personality you have been taken for humour-based roles. Since Shiva, the image changed and people accepted you in sentimental roles too. But I feel that your baritone gives better depth for soft villainy.

Sudhakar: So this hero at home will be a better breadwinner by doing negative roles on screen (laughs and then turns serious). Comedy is all about timing. I like Sanjeev Kumar's polished comedy. Mine is a sober comedy catering to the balcony class and not much to the masses, maybe my upbringing might have something to do with it. In films, you have to cater to all sections of audience.

Sailaja: Even your all-time favourite Amitabh Bachchan carries comedy very well. Tell me how muchyou are influenced by Amitji?

Sudhakar: Lots, but I have not reached even an iota of `my boss's' achievement on screen. Watch him, he does not give a counter immediately, he takes a little pause and then answers. When I do it in some scenes in serials, the unit shouts, `ha, here comes the boss' (laughs). I know you are a great fan of S.V. Rangarao. As a singer, I found the influence of P. Susheela and S. Janaki in you.

Sailaja: My generation singers cannot escape the influence of the two stalwarts. I have grown up on their songs since childhood and also singing them on stage. Annayya too came under the magic spell of Md. Rafi. But he told me to maintain my identity as a singer. It was after singing Tamil songs I could get that identity and found my original voice (smiles). When I entered the industry, P. Susheela, S. Janaki and Vani Jairam were at their peak. But I was also busy.

Sudhakar: I feel you are good at soft melody. Unfortunately, most of the songs you were getting were high-pitched ones typecasting you in a particular mould. Why didn't you try experimenting with your voice like your brother?

Sailaja: First of all, I am not versatile like him. But a singer is also a kind of a mimic and an artiste. He or she gets into the skin of the character, imagines the scene and sings with expression. We do the acting within ourselves in the recording theatre while you do it on location in front of the camera.

Sudhakar: Your talk about acting reminds me of Sagarasangamam. I was one of the first to compliment you. How did you feel facing the camera then?

Sailaja: I went to the shoot rather reluctantly. Maybe that helped me to do well. Since K. Viswanath knows how to get the best out of his actors and shows what he wants by himself enacting the scene, I did not find the acting part difficult. But I found dancing the most difficult part in the film.

Sudhakar: You learnt classical dance and you say you found it difficult to perform in the film. But I knew nothing of acting or dancing when I came to films. Imagine my plight then...

Sailaja: (In mock seriousness) You wished to be an actor and you have to bear with it.

Sudhakar: Can you imagine how I must have felt when I was asked to dance in a duet on the first day of my shoot for Subhalekha. Dance director Seshu had a hell of a time with me (laughs). Much later when people compliment me for my dance movements I took it in my stride (laughs).

Sailaja: (Without warning she catches him off guard) I do not like two things in you. One is you buy the exercise kit but never use it. I have to dust it and keep it clean daily hoping you would use it. Second, I have been telling you to watch old Telugu movies regularly for that impeccable diction, the get-ups and improving the language. But you find some excuse or other to placate me.

Sudhakar: (Smiles) There is nothing I do not like in you except that you tend to get angry easily — that too without much reason. And it takes longer for you to come out of the mood.

Sailaja: (Trying to look serious) No one gets angry without reason.

Sudhakar: I know I do not help you in domestic chores. I want to be a small post to lean on but not the pillar itself. I want you to stay independent and learn doing it yourself. Are we not bringing up our son Srikar in the same way? Of course, I did try cooking once when you went to shoot for Sarigamalu. I tried doing bhendi fry which ended up with thick gravy. When I made an STD call for your advice on how to mend it not only did I receive brickbats for my culinary expertise but also for wasting money on the call. I know you would like to return to the silver screen. What type of roles do you want to play now?

Sailaja: I would like to return with a performance-oriented role. Like the one that Prakash Raj played in Antahpuram. The fascination of a successful career in big screen always remains an enigma with any actor. The kick we get out of it is something different. (Cautiously) Are you planning to produce a film?

Sudhakar: No. Never will I venture into film production. That is not my cup of coffee (he prefers coffee for tea). Why turn adventurous. God has been kind to us. For the past seven years I am into television working with greats like K. Balachander. I am happy. But not contented as an actor, there is still a long way to go.

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