Over dressed is the image that the mention of Sudha Chandran evokes, thanks to the many Ekta Kapoor serials she has appeared in. Ditto on Surya TV's ‘Kathaparayum Kavyanjali'.
But when an extremely soberly dressed Sudha Chandran, in white chikankaari salwar kurta, opens the door to her room at BTH it takes three seconds to process the fact it is her. She laughs at the inevitable question about her sartorial taste or rather sartorial statement.
“That is just for the serials. It is about being different; one gets noticed and that is important in this business.” The almost foot long earrings, the creativity defying blouses and the in-your-face make up is all for effect. Those who remember Ramola Sikand in ‘Kahin Kisi Roz' will agree that her popularity had to do with the way she dressed too.
Is she Malayali or a Tamilian? “I am a Malayali. My ancestors are from Tamil Nadu, but they settled in Irinjalakuda. I come here every year with my father, our family is here…my roots are here,” she says, laying to rest doubts about which part of the country she belongs. “Priyadarshan asked me during the shooting of ‘Maalamaal Weekly' ‘where are you from, Kerala or Tamil Nadu?' I told him ‘I am a Malayali just like you'.”
Sudha calls herself a ‘TRP actor', the actor who is brought in to prop sagging TRPs. “Say, Sudha Chandran is in a serial and bingo! TRPs just shoot up,” she claims. She, however, has put all that on a backburner for the time being. Setting up base in Chennai, even buying a house, Sudha is now intent on concentrating on the South. “Chennai seems to be the base for the South Indian film industry in general. Plus I did not want to delay giving the film industry a shot.”
Why come ‘down' now and not earlier? Sudha is philosophical and says that the time to come was now and therefore she is here, “there was no point delaying it any further. I want to have tried at least once and got out of my comfort zone in Mumbai. I know that Hindi serials are waiting for me there.” And the decision is paying off, to an extent she says. She has been doing Tamil serials (‘Arase', ‘Kalasam' etc), she is now acting in ‘Santhpottu' which will star Sibi Raj (Sathyaraj's son) in the lead role.
She was in Kochi wrapping up ‘Alexander the Great' with Mohanlal. The role she essays, according to her, is that of a young-ish mother to Bala. “It is a Suhasini or Revathy kind of role. There is lot of space to do those kinds of roles in the south Indian film industry.” Sudha disagrees with the notion that superstars (male of course!) are ageless or at least seem to be trying to defy age, “there are tailor made roles for actors (women) look at Suhasini or Revathy, the roles that they are doing. Things are changing.”
Dance appears to be her passion, so much so that she has extablished a dance academy in Mumbai, ‘Sudha Chandran Academy of Dance', which has branches all over Mumbai and Pune. Ravikumar Dang, Sudha's husband is the executive director of the school.
When she talks about her dancing her face lights up, more so when she talks about a ‘Jathra' (Bengali dance drama) that she is working on. The performances will start in September, it is broadly based on the concept of nine ‘devis' (forms of Godesses), nine regions and nine dance forms. She has an assistant who helps her with the choreography.
With all that she does, kinesis seems to be the defining principle. There was a time when even being able to walk seemed to be an impossibility. Sudha's right leg was amputated as the result of an accident. From walking with the Jaipur foot to dancing with one, has been chronicled (with filmi treatment) in ‘Nache Mayuri'.
Harping on the accident and the subsequent disability seems to be inappropriate given that it is no more what defines her but she is blasé. “I don't think about it unless someone brings it up. Then I rewind, otherwise…it's like people have forgotten about it too. During a shoot for a serial last week, the director asked me to run down around 12 steps and leap into a moving car. I thought he was joking and then I realised he hadn't remembered. So I, being me, didn't say anything and did as I was told. After the shot I asked the director, ‘Sandy what were you thinking when you conceived the shot?'. Even then he didn't realise it, and then it dawned on him. He had forgotten and I thought, ‘Good', people are forgetting that aspect.”
She is very proud of the fact that she has been able to make a mark, and that she has been able to be an inspiration to people like her. “I was a guest at an event where I saw dancers without two legs dancing on artificial legs,” says Sudha. She says when she danced with the help of her Jaipur foot she had told the doctors there that one Sudha Chandran was not enough there should be 25 more Sudha Chandrans. “They put a performance with 50 amputees and said, ‘you asked for 25 we are giving you 50'. That was such a wonderful moment.” She has been living with the Jaipur foot for the last 25 years and it is like another part of her, “I replace it depending on the wear and tear.” Sudha's triumph over travesty is part of the school syllabus in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal.