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Life beyond labels

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From being the pin-up girl of cinema to someone comfortable in her choices, Gautami has broken stereotypes, discovers Sudhish Kamath

When you go in to watch the most awaited film of the year made by people you admire, you’re not just excited but also scared that you may not like it.

Just as I was about to leave to watch the film a night before the official release at Rohini complex, I caught Gautami on chat. “You nervous?” I asked. “Not at all,” she typed back.

I was. More so, after she said: “Let me know what you think.” I saw the film twice in the next four days. When I meet Gautami later in the week at her office, we begin with the response generated. Is dumbing down an idea for the mass a necessary evil of commercial cinema? That’s when I realise Gautami does not like definitions.

“What’s a ‘class’ audience? Just because they pay a higher value for a ticket does not mean they have a higher level of awareness or aesthetics of cinema. I know factory workers from Tambaram who would pay 2,000 bucks to watch a film. People from the so-called class audience tell me they would have to see it a few times to understand it completely,” she says.

“I think the beauty of this film is that it has reached different people at different levels. Everybody finds something different to say.”

The element of surprise

Does hype affect how people see a film?

“That’s a huge part of the thrill of going to see a movie, not knowing what to expect. I like to go in with an open mind. I don’t like to read the reviews beforehand, I don’t like to read the story or the book or find out from my neighbour how it was. I think that defeats the purpose of entertainment. I would like the storyteller or the filmmaker to tell me the story in his/her own way. I like to form my opinion after I’ve seen the whole film.”

Gautami has seen the film grow in front of her eyesand with it, she grew as a technician.

“It has been an eye opener. We all don’t have to go out and make films. We can do anything.It’s about your endeavour for something above the ordinary and beyond the benchmarks you’ve set for yourself.”

She seems to enjoy her second innings.

In her first, Gautami was the hottest heroine on the block doing films with Rajnikant and Kamal Haasan. She giggles when you tell her that.

What happened between these two innings? “Life happened. I got married, I figured out how relationships work. I had a daughter, lost my parents. I understood that a relationship has to be participated with mutual respect and equal effort from both parties; if not, it’s not something I would like to spend my life on. So, I went about shaping my life with something I am happy with and with people I am comfortable with. Then, I fought cancer and I came out of that and did Dasavathaaram.”

No one else could’ve mentioned all of that and made it sound like it happens to everybody. Especially, fighting cancer and rebooting after life-altering changes.

When exactly did the ‘Ulaga Nayakan’ make an entry into her life? “Halfway through all that,” she says. “I had decided that I did not want a life with any kind of compromise. We live one life. If you are lucky, you live to 80, you have all your faculties intact and you have life, that’s great. But if you don’t, and if you just have today, how well do you live life? How honestly do you live it for yourself? I made all my decisions on my personal life, my marriage, based on that. My daughter needs to grow in an environment that is loving, wholesome, where there is no stress, where there is no kind of pressure of any kind…”

How did she fall in love with Kamal Haasan?

“He was Kamal Sir to me. He still is, but in a different way. He was one person I looked up to and thought the world of. With every level that I’ve gotten to know him, from the audience to star to his co-star to… I’ve seen him as a writer, I’ve seen him as a director, I’ve seen him on the sets, I’ve seen him with his kids, and my respect for him has only grown. He’s an immensely strong person, very, very compassionate. These are things that are never seen or heard because he never speaks of himself and people who know him don’t speak much. It is about sharing little joys, every moment, every day, it’s about the 24 hours… I think both of us felt that and it grew to the next stage.”

Is it a relationship that’s beyond marriage?

“No, I’m not going to classify my relationship. I don’t feel the need to define it.”

That’s Gautami. She does not believe in definitions.

On Kamal Haasan

I have learnt perseverance from him. I have seen him go through all kinds of issues. He’s never ever come home with work tension. The kids will be all over him, the dogs will be over him and he’ll be playing with them. He would’ve probably left behind something of great magnitude back at office… He knows to compartmentalise.

I don’t think cinema is the glue that holds us together. If you ask me, a couple should never work together. Also, I am very mindful of his taste. I have never ever thought of telling him what he should be doing… he’s the master craftsman. I think that’s the root of this admiration.

While we were putting Dasavathaaram together, we were focussing on the smaller parts and our individual contributions. So, we never knew how it would look when put together. When it was finally ready, as he was watching it and being critical of himself, I was in complete awe. He’s done something that will, years later, give people encouragement.

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