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Small-screen "Anni" thinks big

Playing the role of a lovable sister-in-law who does not shy away from speaking her mind, Malavika Avinash stepped into the hearts of millions of TV viewers through "Anni". In a free-wheeling interview to SUBHA J RAO, she speaks about her life, dreams and the kind of person she is.

MALAVIKA AVINASH looks starkly different from her avatar on the small screen as "Angayarkanni". You wonder if this girl, with her tresses left loose and wearing heels, is the same "Anni" who stole millions of hearts as the sensible and do-gooder sister-in-law in the serial bearing her name.

Once she starts talking, however, you are able to visualise how the character came to life. Close your eyes and it's quite easy to forget you are sitting in a suite in the city's Heritage Inn hotel talking to the girl who played the lead role in a mega serial that did not bank on tears as its USP (Unique Selling Proposition).

Three months after she finished shooting for the serial that came her way after the names of Bhanupriya, Jayasudha and Kannada actress Shruti had been considered for the role, Malavika is yet to sign for another venture. She is now playing the role of Nanjamma in "Grihabhanga", a Kannada tele-serial set in the 1930s and directed by Girish Kasaravalli.

"I am still unable to say yes to anyone for another serial, including K. Balachander's Min Bimbangal, which produced `Anni'. In television, there is the problem of over-exposure and I am scared of that," admits Malavika, who was in town recently to take part in Woman Today, organised by Newdeal Events and Advertising.

She is one of the many actresses who have effortlessly made the transition from the big screen to television. Malavika acted in Kannada and Malayalam films nearly a decade ago. She says opting out of that field was her choice. "I did not like the stress involved and I was not happy with the kind of roles I was getting. I don't blame cinema for it. And, at 18, you are too idealistic. It would have been different if I were a school drop-out looking to make a career in movies. I was in a position where I could make other choices."

Small-screen "Anni" thinks big

She exercised that choice and went on to graduate in law. However, television soon beckoned and it was goodbye to the court.

This Thanjavur Tamilian, who has stayed in Bangalore for the major part of her life, is fluent in both Kannada and Tamil, something that contributed to her effective dialogue delivery in Anni. Her debut in Kannada television took place five years ago with "Maya Mriga", directed by T. N. Seetharam, "who can be called the KB of Karnataka". "There is similarity in the way they handle women."

Malavika says Maya Mriga had a tremendous social impact and helped women take decisions.

Is she as patient as "Anni" in real life? "No righteous woman can be that patient." The experience of working in that serial was good, she says. And, since she studied to be a lawyer, she could contribute to the dialogues and ensure there were no legal bloopers.

Listening to her speak, you realise she will not take things lying down. Does she exercise her right everywhere? "I am a serious person. I cannot mouth certain dialogues because they are there. I am blunt and so, am branded an interventionist. I feel what I utter reflects on other women. And, I came to television to say the things I want to. I am here with a larger purpose."

Malavika also anchored "Agni" on ETV Kannada, the frontrunner of "Kathayalla Nijam", currently being beamed on STAR Vijay. "We helped showcase the problems of people. You can't really solve all their troubles," she remarks.

Being a lawyer, what does she think of women in the court rooms? "Talking generally, women are not able to give their all to any profession because of the myriad roles they end up playing. Barring a few, women tend to fare badly as advocates because they have to juggle time between home and office. Being a lawyer is not a 9-5 job. How many Indira Jaisinghs can we boast of?"

"Marriage does not help pursue your career. I say this knowing my husband - Avinash, the Kannada actor -- might read this. You are pulled in too many directions," she avers.

Small-screen "Anni" thinks big

Any ego clashes since she has married someone from the same field? "No!" she says happily. "He was popular long before I became. He focusses on movies while I am into television." Avinash, who has acted in the award-winning "Dweepa", is now acting in K. Balachander's latest Tamil flick.

Hundreds of fans were worried when Malavika suddenly shed weight towards the fag end of `Anni'. "That was because I had started shooting for Grihabhanga. And since I play the role of a woman who lives in misery, I could not have possibly been my chubby self," she explains.

She cites the instance to drive home the point about how TV actresses are looked upon like daughters by most viewers. "Popularity in TV comes with lot of respect. In cinema, they admire the actresses, but they don't want their women to be like that. Film stars suffer from a slight disadvantage that way. We, TV actresses, generally don't get mobbed and are allowed to live our own lives. The fact that I stay in Bangalore is an added advantage," she adds.

The actress says there is a lot of segregation between cinema and television in Tamil Nadu. "I am not approached for certain roles in films because I have been introduced to the people via TV. It suits me too since I prefer TV as a medium.

"The roles I get in films? People think it is a matter of great honour for me to play sister-in-law to actors my age. Because of the age of my character in Anni, they tend to think I am old in real life and want me to fill the slot of the missing mother."

One thing that irks her is that directors prefer deglamourising film stars to suit arty roles than go in for those who can essay them with panache. "They tend to assume we won't work in films or that acceptance will pose a problem."

Now, the dusky actress is waiting to choose from one of the three offers in hand - made by actress Sripriya, Sundar K. Vijayan and Min Bimbangal. "I have never worked with a woman director and the subject interests me. If I don't choose one of those roles, I will turn producer," she says.

Malavika says she would love a chance to play a role like the one essayed by Angelina Jolie in "Gia". A big fan of Hollywood films, she tries to catch at least three films a day.

And, her long-term goal? "May be, I will become a politician," she says in all earnestness. "I don't know how I will fare, though." As for her avatar as a lawyer, Malavika does not see herself donning the black gown in the courts in the near future. "For now, we discuss only cinema at home," she quips.

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