Bring on the laughs

‘Kovai’ Sarala in Kanchana-2.  

About 30 years ago, a teenager with acting dreams made her theatre debut in her hometown Coimbatore. It was a nightmare. She forgot her lines and ended up giggling in front of a bemused audience. Over the years, she’s never missed a line, but the giggles and loud laughter have remained.

Even now, ‘Kovai’ Sarala has people rolling about with laughter watching her antics as an over-the-top mother in Kanchana-2, a box-office winner. Two weeks ago, she impressed as a relatively quiet mother in another hit, Komban. “These roles were in stark contrast. I’m delighted both have done well. Today, with films rarely becoming hits, being part of two consecutive successes feels like a thiruvizha,” she says.

She attributes the success of these films to the directors. “Muthaiah ( Komban) was particular about my look during shooting, and my accent while dubbing. He had a certain look in mind, which went down well with the audience. In Kanchana-2, Raghava Lawrence gave me great scope to perform. After Kanchana, I was surprised to see that children enjoyed my antics on screen. So, for the sequel, I decided to go all out to please them. Cartoon-a maaritaenga,” she bursts out laughing. “I had to exaggerate every action, but it gelled with the character.”

There was a time when Sarala was part of almost every successful movie — she’s done about 750 films in Tamil so far. “Those days, it was common for films to run for 100, 200 and even 300 days,” she looks back wistfully. But, about 15 years ago, offers dried up. “I never understood why. Luckily, I found a foothold in Telugu films. And, Lawrence brought me back with Kanchana. What a lovely role it was!”

Though she laughs with ease, Sarala does not hide her disappointment at how the industry treats comediennes (“there is limited scope”), and how scenes are cut without reason. “For a while, I stopped watching films, because all that work went waste,” she says.

Sarala looks back at her career with equanimity, but some films remain special. She recalls Chinna Veedu, her second film, where she played a 55-year-old. “I was still a teenager and everyone wondered who this woman was!” Then, there’s Karagattakaran, Kaalam Maari Pochu, Periya Manushan, where she played the love interest of Sathyaraj, and then, the unforgettable role of Palani, Kamal Haasan’s wife in Balu Mahendra’s Sathi Leelavathi. She was roped in after great debate. Kamal wanted her in, but Balu Mahendra was not sure. “It was a class film, featuring people who made only classy films. And then, there was me! Balu sir’s sets were quiet, and I was very loud. But, I am so grateful that Kamal sir waited for me for six months. It was gratifying when Balu sir told me after the movie’s release that he was delighted I was part of the movie and that he felt bad for doubting my ability.”Even after stupendous success, Sarala has never taken on too much work. “I’ve always worked at a steady pace, listening to my heart. Even when low-brow comedy ruled, I ensured my lines were not vulgar,” she says.

Now, she has five films in various stages of production. “I’m working out the characters, and trying to make them as different as I can.” Sarala honed her acting skills in Coimbatore’s theatre groups, working with K.S. Krishnan and Kovai Anuradha, before she came to Madras with a dream — people in Coimbatore must know who she is. Dream fulfilled, that’s the city she heads to even today to unwind, and be herself.For, once the make-up comes off, ‘Kovai’ Sarala is just Sarala. “I love cooking. I prepare kolambu, maintain the house… just like anyone else.”

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Printable version | Nov 27, 2021 4:12:24 AM |

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