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‘Our film is a tribute to Balu Mahendra’

I have always wanted to do strong woman-centric roles, says actor Archana.

I have always wanted to do strong woman-centric roles, says actor Archana.  

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The prodigious Archana returns to the big screen with an ode to her mentor, interestingly titled 'Azhiyatha Kolangal'

She has been one of India’s most versatile and accomplished actors, having worked not just in all the south Indian languages but in Hindi and Bengali as well. She won the national award twice, for Veedu ( House, Tamil) and Daasi ( The Courtesan, Telugu) and has worked with a range of respected directors— from Shaji N. Karun and B. Narsing Rao to Buddhadeb Dasgupta. Yet, Archana’s closest artistic collaboration had been with Balu Mahendra, who she regards as her mentor. An actor who prefers to wait for a good role, she returns, after nearly 10 years, with Azhiyatha Kolangal ( Enduring Patterns) — also the title of one of Mahendra’s films. Ahead of her mentor’s second death anniversary on February 13, the reclusive actor speaks to The Hindu.

Since your last film, Onbathu Roobai Nottu in 2007, you virtually vanished from the industry.

Before Onbathu Roobai Nottu and after, I have taken long breaks, only because I have not found interesting scripts. I can honestly say that I have not missed the arc lights. I knew the right script will come to me at the right time for a comeback — it is now happening with Azhiyatha Kolangal.

I have always wanted to do a meaningful film as an ode to my guru. Recently, we — my friend M.R. Bharathi and I — happened to watch a Bengali film directed by Souvik Mitra. This resulted in an idea and following the necessary approvals, Bharathi came up with a whole new script aimed at the Tamil audience. That’s how Azhiyatha Kolangal happened.

What is Azhiyatha Kolangal all about?

Balu Mahendra’s Azhiyatha Kolangal was a highly acclaimed film. However, the similarities end there. Our film is an ode, a tribute to the one film-maker who has been an inspiration for all of us. The story revolves around the lives of two women — played by Revathy and me. Prakash Raj also plays a pivotal role. It is a film about women, for women. It is a story about emotions, sensibilities and relationships. Balu Mahendra would have been proud of this film had he been amidst us.

You were introduced to films by Balu Mahendra. How did that happen?

I did a course in acting at the Film Institute where there was a workshop conducted by an American director William Greaves, an American director. I was then known by my real name, Sudha. Greaves introduced me to Balu Mahendra and I got my debut film Neengal Kettavai.

You have done several films with Balu Mahendra, the most with any one director…

While I have done interesting films under directors like Shaji N. Karun , Bharat Gopi, Padmakumar and Buddhadeb Dasgupta, the most creatively satisfying work has come with Balu Mahendra. I was a rejected face till he discovered me. He knew the kind of roles I was capable of doing, and, with him, all I had to do was just follow instructions.

What has been his influence on you?

Professionally, he used to set a very high benchmark — that rubbed off on me as well. In hindsight, I feel that may have been detrimental to a flourishing career. However, I have no regrets. I have been very choosy and have always wanted to do strong woman-centric roles — hard to come by those days.

Two National awards and the resultant attention — what impact did they have on your career?

National awards are recognition for one’s talent and hard work by the government. As actors we should capitalise on it to do more meaningful cinema. It gives us leverage to choose the best scripts and directors, for satisfying our inner thirst to do good films. In my case, I got slotted into an ‘art-film image’, and was seen as a successful actor in parallel cinema.

(Nikhil Raghavan is a freelance writer and columnist.)

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 3:42:30 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/actor-archana-talks-about-azhiyatha-kolangal/article8229440.ece

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