The good, bad and funny




Harini, who played heroine, vamp and comedienne with aplomb, believes there is good talent among the young today

Fourteen-year-old Harini was constantly teased on the sets of Jaganmohini: "You won't be able to watch your own film if the Censors issue an Adults Only certificate for this!" Released in 1951, Jaganmohini created a record by running for 36 uninterrupted weeks. When she was shooting in Calcutta for her next film in which she played a comedy role, Ratna Dweep (made in Tamil and Hindi by well-known Bengali director Devaki Bose), she heard stories of how someone in Davanagere had sold his buffaloes to watch Jaganmohini and how someone else had gone mad watching the film over and over again. Now 70, Harini sounds amused as she recalls those days. "I would get fan mails by the cartload which completely baffled me." Harini wasn't the "heroine" of Jaganmohini in the conventional sense. On the contrary, she was the evil Mohini who troubles a lily-white pativrata, who of course, triumphs at the end. But Harini had more screen time and shone in contrast to the insipid pativrata in a role that was colourful and bold for those times. "I wore a swimsuit in this film and was the first Kannada actor to do so," laughs Harini. "But by today's standards it was more like wearing a vest and bermudas!"

No cozy slot

In fact, what's interesting about Harini's career graph is the sheer variety of roles she played without settling down into any cosy slot. She was just five when she played her first role as young Hari in Haridas. The family had shifted from hometown Udupi to Madurai where she was spotted by a director. "My father Srinivasa Upadhyaya Paniyadi was a scholar and a Gandhian. He had quit his job as a librarian in Baroda University because he didn't want to work for the colonial masters," she recalls. He ran a printing press and a magazine in Udupi which faced huge financial losses, forcing them to relocate. Harini can distinctly recall those child-artiste days in Madurai when trick scenes had to be shot at night and the directors often specially appointed people to keep her awake! In 1949, the family moved again, this time to Madras, hoping for better prospects. It was here that she got her big break, Jaganmohini. How did it feel to wear a swimsuit and create a stir? "I was too young to understand its implications then. I was happy to play in water!" says Harini. "But following the film's success, I got the `sexy artiste' image." Once she was old enough to understand what it means to be stuck with such a tag in the film industry, she started declining roles in the same mould. "Our financial position was not great. But my father never forced me to accept anything that was against my conscience."That was when her horizon began to broaden. She played a good number of vamp and comedy roles besides the regular heroine roles "which cry throughout and make the viewers cry with them". In Kanyadana, she daubed soot on her face and played a harassed, dark-complexioned woman. Asha Sundari had her playing the role of a girl who can't accept her closest friend wanting to get married and lead her own life and does all she can to stall it. She played a prostitute in Pativrata and a young girl who is married off to an old man in Halli Hudugi. Her Vichitra Prapancha had a rather unusual claim to fame — well-known poet Da.Ra. Bendre had written the script, dialogues and songs for the film under the name Datta Kumara.Harini's best-remembered films are, of course, Naandi and Nandadeepa, made by her actor-producer brother, the late Vadiraj. Naandi, by well-known director N. Lakshminarayan, had her playing the deaf-mute wife of Rajkumar. The landmark film had the distinction of being the first Kannada film to be shown in an international film festival. "We used to go to a school for the dumb and deaf to watch how they communicate and had some teachers on the sets to make sure we got things right," recalls Harini. Two films in which she acted in lead roles — Nandadeepa and Mangala Muhurta — won best regional film awards in 1963 and 1964. Those were days when actors didn't go to acting schools to hone their skills. But with her father and her brothers Vadiraj and Jawahar, she watched all good films of the day, which was an education in itself. "A film society in Madras showed foreign films once and year and I can still remember those fascinating Polish films I saw."

Saying goodbye

And then, when Harini was doing quite well and had about 50 films to her credit, she surprised everyone by quitting the industry after the release of Sati Sukanya in 1968. "I wanted to retire when I could still play heroine. And in our industry you can be heroine only when you are young enough to run around trees!" She continued to be associated with the family's production house for some more time, though. Namma Makkalu, produced by her in 1971, won the Filmfare award, the first for any Kannada film. After her marriage in 1972 and her 12-year stay in Saudi Arabia where her husband was on a U.N. mission, Harini's association with the films was severed completely. "Not that my husband told me not to act or anything. But I had had my fill!" These days Harini doesn't even watch films. "I watch serials and am glad I am not acting now." And just as you get set to hear about how the entertainment industry has gone to dogs, she surprises you with: "They all act so well, I wouldn't have stood a chance!" She is all praise for the "professional approach" of today's youngsters and believes that nostalgia for the "perfect past" owes much to the tendency to forget all that was not-so-perfect back then. "I remember I once went on the set after chewing paan. It didn't occur to even the director to tell me my teeth looked awful. Can you imagine any of the youngsters today doing that?" She feels "lucky", though, when a young girl in a big shopping mall in Bangalore recognises her and gushes over her role in Naandi. "That's when I think maybe I've done a good job somewhere... Maybe!"

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