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Endearing actor

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H er name brings a smile to your face, thanks to the ease with which she handles comedy. However, the interesting fact is that Manju Pillai wanted to “become a lawyer or a journalist” and not an actor. Now with a two-decade-old career behind her and two State television awards in her kitty, the 35-year-old unassuming artiste, who happens to the grand-daughter of the legendary S.P. Pillai, continues to entertain sans any complaints about being labelled as a ‘comedy artiste’. Excerpts from an interview…

The beginning

Apparently, my debut was in a light and sound show by Soorya Krishnamoorthy, a close friend of my father, N.K.Narayana Pillai. I was in class 10 then and was actually a replacement. Also, since we stayed on rent at M. Krishnan Nair’s house for nearly 10 years, I got acquainted with all his assistants when they visited him. All those assistants went on to become famous directors. Among them was G.S.Vijayan who took a few photographs of mine for his movie Cheppadividya . Though I did not find a place in that movie, V.N.Mohandas who saw those photos cast me in his serial ‘Sathyavum Mithyayum’. Then came the teleserial ‘Thathamme Poocha Poocha’, which changed my life forever.

Television

Television has made me what I’m today. Although I’ve done quite a few films, it is on television that I’ve done all kinds of roles. I’ve even declined many films since you need to give continuous dates while working on serials. ‘Soumini’ was my first mega serial and then came ‘Sthree’ on Asianet, after which my television career took off in a big way.

I got some meaty roles in teleserials. R.Gopinath, who directed the serial ‘Scooter’, cast me in its sequel, ‘Seemantham’ and we’ve had a fruitful association in serials such as ‘Chila Kudumba Chitrangal’ (Kairali), its sequel, ‘Life is Beautiful’ (Asianet) and ‘Manassu Parayunna Karyangal’ (Mazhavil Manorama). I also cherish my two State awards for best supporting actress, for ‘Devaranjini’ and ‘Sethuvinte Kathakal’ (2000) and ‘Sundarikalum Sundaranmarum’ (2002).

Handling comedy

It was R. Gopinath who gave me the confidence to do comedy. ‘Instant Onam’, an Onam special programme he directed for Doordarshan, set things rolling. It was about Viswanathan (Siddique) and his wife Sulochana, two government employees. Later on, he worked around these two characters and came up with ‘Chila Kudumba Chitrangal’ and ‘Life is Beautiful’, which showed how Sulochana’s foolishness always landed the couple in trouble. Jagadeesh replaced Siddique in these serials.

Radhakrishnan Mangalath gave me opportunities to tap my potential for comedy, in ‘Sathi Leelavathi’ (Amrita TV) and ‘Indumukhi Chandramathi’ (Surya TV). Now I’m enjoying my outing on Mazhavil Manorama in ‘Thatteem Mutteem’, playing KPAC Lalitha’s daughter-in-law. Meanwhile, I did do a character with negative shade in ‘Kavyanjali’ (Asianet) directed by Kaladharan.

Favourites

There are few female actors who can handle comedy. Among the heroines, I love Urvashi. My all-time favourite is KPAC Lalitha. We have a great time ‘fighting’ in ‘Thatteem Mutteem’, since we are very close off-screen too. There is always a healthy competition between us when we face the camera. Comedy isn’t something that you can learn by heart and reproduce on screen. It should be spontaneous.

Films

My first movie was Galileo and I enjoyed my roles in films such as Golanthara Vartha, Mazhayethum Munpe, Irattakuttikalude Achan , Mr Butler and, of course, Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Naalu Pennungal and M.P.Sukumaran Nair’s Ramanam . Now I’m excited about Kaliyachan , directed by Farooq Abdul, in which I play Manoj K.Jayan’s mother. Unfortunately, I’d to decline certain offers, including one from Kannada, owing to my serials.

Athira M.


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