Malashree is iconic of woman power in the Kannada film world. Her Kannadada Kiran Bedi has yet again fuelled the imagination of women, dreaming of themselves in her shoes
‘I can’t be a size zero and be beating up the bad men… it won’t be realistic
When she punches a goon good in his face, gnashing her teeth, sending him flying in the air before he falls thud at her feet, women cheer her on and wish they had done that to men who wronged them. She’s the rightful avenger. And through her on-screen power, she gives expression to what many women have re-lived in their minds a hundred times over — an articulation of anger, otherwise curbed by a chauvinistic society.
It’s undisputable that Malashree is iconic of woman power — the muscular kind — in Kannada filmdom. No other actress has perhaps donned a policewoman’s gear as often as she has, and with as much conviction. And no other Kannada actress has had as many action-packed scenes. So it’s no surprise that Malashree’s chosen to make a comeback after a five-year hiatus with a cop movie yet again — “Kannadada Kiran Bedi”. It comes in the 20th year of her adult acting career that started with “Nanjundi Kalyana” in 1989 (not many recall her successful stint as a child actor). With family audiences thronging the film, Malashree is feeling vindicated with her comeback choice. “It’s very surprising that even now I get the same opening, zeal and appreciation as before. It gives me great confidence that people still like to see me on screen, especially as a cop. They come and tell me: ‘I want to be like you. I want to fight for justice.’ Housewives say they find me an inspiration and feel like getting out of the house and achieving something,” she says over the telephone from Mysore. Malashree agrees that when a heroine takes on society, and fights for justice, she gets an enthusiastic audience. “Every woman has it in her… some anger — sometimes just confiding in others takes so much off her chest and she feels freed. So when she sees a fight played out on screen, she feels good.” She also insists that her kind of fight scenes do not inspire violence, because they are not cruel. “They are enjoyable for children,” she says, before adding how earlier parents would tell her their kid danced like her, till they started telling her how they “did fighting” like her.
Heroines tend to get stereotyped and stuck in the same kind of role. But Malashree was able to move quickly and successfully between family-tearjerkers, comedies and action flicks. “I guess I was lucky that I could do justice to tomboy characters and homey ones. Moreover, my directors had the confidence that I could do it. My body language and my personality was a plus… now whether I’m married or have kids, people still want me to be the same.” She concedes that a more glamorous heroine may need to watch her figure or may just be reduced in popular imagination to the girl-next-door, sans glamour. But she argues her case: “My personality is larger and it’s also acceptable because I beat up 10 men at once in my films. I can’t be a size zero and be beating them up…it won’t be realistic.” Malashree starts laughing telling me how her image works wonders at home too — she just needs to raise her voice a bit with her kids Ananya (8) and Aryan (4), to get them to behave. “They’ve seen my films so many times, that they get scared just imagining the fight scenes!” she laughs heartily.
Born and raised in Chennai, Malashree says, while she was at school, she either wanted to be a homemaker or a pilot. But the film world drew her in and by the time she was in her fourth standard, she had acted in about 30 Tamil and Telugu films like “Neelamalargal”, “Himayam”. “In nearly 80 per cent of the films I was cast as a boy…with an Amitabh Bachchan-like haircut,” she laughs.
When she was detained in class four because she didn’t do her exams, she decided she wanted to study seriously. And so it was, till she was 15 and started enjoying her shoots, and “Nanjundi Kalyana” was offered. It was the beginning of a series of hits including “Gajapati Garvabhanga”, “Policina Hendathi”, “Belli Kalungura”, “Hrudaya Haaditu”, “Ramachari”. Comedies like “Readymade Ganda”, “Malashri Mamashri”, “Rani Maharani” followed. Of course, she is most remembered for her action flicks “SP Bhargavi”, “Lady Commissioner”, “Chamundi”, and “Bhavani IPS”.
While plans are on for her next film, Malashree does concede that not many heroine-oriented films are being made today, unlike in her heyday. Her debut film has one of the most popular and audacious songs tailored for a heroine — “Olage seridare gundu” sung by Manjula Gururaj. “I’m still blank when I wonder what really made that song such a hit. I went to the theatres twice just to see how the audience reacted to it. I think the credit should go to Manjula Gururaj’s singing, the catchy lyrics, the dance master and the director. But it’s come to me!” Malashree recalls. “To prepare for this song, I tried to remember all of Amitabh’s drunk scenes and his mannerisms in them,” she says, quite amused with herself.