Cinema

Chellamma chronicles Actress Tulasi

Tulasi  

Tulasi was barely 90 days old when she faced the camera for the Telugu film Bharya in 1967. Decades later, the actress is still madly in love with the arc lights. She’s been a child star, a heroine, a second lead and a character actor, lending each her finesse. “I had too many restrictions. I would not expose, I would not take up glamorous roles… but despite that, I managed to land good films,” says Tulasi, who will soon be seen in GNR Kumaravelan’s Vikram Prabhu-starrer Wagah. In the past two years, she’s been on a roll in Tamil, with her slice-of-life portrayals in Aadhalal Kadhal Seiveer and Pannaiya rum Padminiyum.

She now enjoys the same level of adoration she did as a child star. Everyone on the set used to treat her like a daughter. But an incident changed Tulasi’s outlook. “I was 16 then, and very trusting. A photographer abused my innocence and got me to pose awkwardly. I was shattered when those on the set told me it was unnecessary for the film. I felt cheated that despite being a child of cinema, someone took me for a ride. Something changed with that. I decided to move away from lead roles and take up roles of substance, even if they were minor. Luckily, I ended up with the best lines,” recalls the actress who worked in superhits such as Nallavanukku Nallavan and Sakalakala Vallavan in Tamil and Subhalekha in Telugu. “Everyone understood my stand. Once they knew I was firm, no one forced me. Your personality determines how people treat you,” she says.

Even as she made a name for herself in films, she was to star in the biggest role of her life. Kannada director Shivamani had approached her for a role and she met him one morning in Bangalore. In the evening, they got married. “I just felt it was the right thing to do. He was the kind of man I wanted to be with; he was so real and I came from a world that was so unreal.”

And then, Tulasi focussed on family and raised her son. She took up some dubbing opportunities in Telugu, including for some Mani Ratnam movies, and was content. Then, offers came knocking again. “I got some great scripts where I played my age. It was Siddhalingaiah sir (late actor Murali’s father) who insisted I could play a mother effortlessly.” Then came Tamil films such as Pillaiyar Theru Kadaisi Veedu, Easan and Aadhalal…. “Ah, Aadhalal… I loved the role and director Suseenthiran was delighted I agreed for a no make-up look.” She took up minor roles in Mankatha and Pandiya Naadu before signing up for the film that would bring her laurels like none other — Arun’s Pannaiya rum Padminiyum. A film about an ageing, affectionate yet bickering couple, a battered Padmini car and a faithful driver.

“When director Arun saw me, he simply said: ‘Idhu Thaan En Chellamma’,” laughs Tulasi. “I usually wear a sari and sport a big bindi. Arun loved that look. He said Chellamma was close to his heart and he wanted me to portray a woman who could get angry often, but had the heart of a child.”

Though many films came her way, she decided to pick and choose. “ Wagah touched a chord in me. Kumaravelan is a gem; it takes courage to make commercially viable films that are also sensitive. Vikram Prabhu is a well-behaved actor who believes in subtlety. Directors are responsible for good actors. They must hold your hand and push you into a zone where you become the character.”

Tulasi is also doing three films in Telugu — Srimanthudu with Mahesh Babu; an untitled one directed by Dil Raju ; and Ammayitho O Abbayi where she teams up with Mohan and Naga Shaurya. In Malayalam, she did the recent hit Oru Vadakkan Selfie and has signed on to play an important role in a Vineeth Sreenivasan film which explores the relationship between a couple.

“I’m excited to be back at a time like this. Directors now appreciate nuances. And, it’s a great chance for me to showcase a craft I’ve picked up all my life from various film sets,” she smiles.

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Printable version | Apr 26, 2021 5:09:44 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/chellamma-chronicles-actress-tulasi/article7188335.ece

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