Cinema

Gautami: 19 years later…

It has been a long time since you last acted in a film.

Nineteen years to be exact. Though Sasanam released in 2006, it was shot in 1996. So, it has been close to two decades since I last acted.

What has brought the actress in you back after so long?

For the first few years of my daughter Subbulakshmi’s life, I was a single parent and I took a break as she was my priority despite my love for acting. It is a responsibility I love. That’s why I never understand when people exclaim at my dropping her in school. ‘Oh, you managed to make time from your busy schedule!’ Why is it a big deal? Interestingly, it was my daughter who suggested recently when she turned 15 that I return to acting. A woman, no matter how emancipated she feels when around her family, also has to do things for herself.

It must have been difficult for you to abandon fame and disappear into family.

Thankfully, I was never in films for fame. So long as my bills are paid and my basic needs met, I’m happy. I never was a fan of cutting ribbons and being a chief guest at an event. When I decided to stop acting, I eased my way back into everyday living by getting used to being in crowded places. I’d walk to the neighbourhood supermarket and buy vegetables.

You weren’t mobbed?

See, that’s the thing about people. When they see you trying to be a regular person, they let you be. If you throw attitude, you get different responses. I thank my family for keeping me grounded. Even when I was an actress, I made my own bed.

Your return to acting must have been doubly sweet with Kamal Haasan as co-star.

As an actor, he is fantastic to have around. He is a great team player. You can see that his commitment is the same regardless of whether he is directing or acting. He also has the rare quality of getting everybody to give their best. I have always believed that my performances have stood out when acting with him.

After this long gap, do you find things have changed for you as actor?

Not really. The way emotions are expressed continue to remain the same. I also see that some directors continue to treat female characters in a uni-dimensional way. There are rules to how a woman should cry, how she should express shock… It’s a pity that sometimes actors have to take the blame for a director’s fault. I got quite a few acting offers during my sabbatical. They weren’t exciting for some of the reasons I have just mentioned.

And this role in Papanasam excited you?

Yes. Believe it or not, I haven’t seen the original Malayalam Drishyam yet. I wanted to bring a new flavour to my role. I also enjoy the idea of remakes a lot. The beauty is that the makers are able to eliminate the imperfections of the original.

What did you like about the story?

Well, it’s a story that plays mind games. It is not a romance, not a family drama. It begins like an ordinary family subject, and suddenly transforms into something unexpected. The role I play is integral to the story. I also have great scope for performance, especially in one pivotal scene towards the middle.

Could you slide back to work seamlessly?

As I have been designing costumes for films, I haven’t been cut off from the industry. That said, it took me about two days to train myself to focus only on my performance. It was easy to get distracted by others. As a costume designer, my eyes had to be on everybody at once. An actor, however, needs tunnel vision.

Will Papanasam be a one-off film outing?

No, no. Subbulakshmi told me, ‘Amma, I hope you realise this is not just a one-off film as an actor.’ I agree with her. I’m excited by new filmmakers who are willing to break stereotypes. They should know that I’m very much willing to listen to their scripts.

On a different note, you are also referred today as a cancer survivor. Does it irk that it has come to define you in a way?

No. We are all defined by the important things we have seen in our lives. I consider this an important episode in my life. I don’t tire talking about it. If I’m able to help at least a few women get tested early for breast cancer, I will have succeeded. There are some women who refuse to confront the idea of mortality due to silly fears like potential hair loss! What’s hair if there is no head?

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Printable version | Oct 29, 2020 11:37:51 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/gautami-makes-a-comeback-after-19-long-years-with-the-kamalstarrer-papanasam/article6471390.ece

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