Friday, October 30, 2015

Inspirations (18 of 25) – The late actress Srividya

At a recent Toastmasters Speaking Contest, I was asked by a fellow Toastmaster as to what inspires me the most.  I mentioned to him that it was people that demonstrated grace and dignity during times of adversity.  The people that I was thinking of in real life were the likes of Sheena Iyengar and the late Randy Pausch who battled health-related setbacks (loss of vision in Iyengar’s case and terminal cancer in Pausch’s case) to do some stellar, inspirational work in their own ways.  But outside of non-fiction, a huge source of motivation for me has been the movies.  I think that it takes a tremendous amount of skill for a creator to bring to life a story in a two-dimensional medium with three-dimensional characters that leap out of the screen directly into our consciousness.  If my earlier write-up on writer-director Vasanth was an example of a creator whose tales touched, moved and inspired me, my piece on Kamal Hassan was essentially a tribute to an artiste who could bring to life a character with amazing nuances and shades.  Actress Srividya, who unfortunately succumbed to cancer in 2006, falls in the latter camp as a performer who, with her eyes, voice and expressions, did more than full justice to the characters that she was entrusted with portraying on screen.  As trite as it may sound, she became those characters on a lot of occasions.

With due respect to the people that actually wrote her characters and the directors that helped shape her performances, I always found Srividya to be an actor who could make any character of hers completely grounded and realistic.  Despite having worked with a wide range of directors with varied tastes and qualities, Srividya was an amazingly consistent and reliable performer.  The reason she goes from being just an actor that I liked to an actor that I found “inspiring” was the way she portrayed pain on screen.  My simple reasoning is that for one to be moved or motivated by something that is inherently unreal - as cinema is- the performer has to behave as though the events (on screen) were happening right next to us or make us think of a person or event from our real lives.  Because good cinema has the power to make us think about the finer aspects of relationships and the meaningful ineffables of life such as sacrifice and selflessness.  And the way Srividya played her roles such as a pampering grandmother, stern-but-well-meaning mother, a doting spouse or a loving sister, there was no way you could not think of the women in your life and be respectful of their feelings, be thankful for their love, be acknowledging of their sacrifices and be sensitive to their pain.

From her rich and varied oeuvre, if I were to pick a half-a-dozen of her roles that I found to be the most unforgettable, it has to be “Aboorva RaagangaL”, “Aboorva SahodharargaL”, “Keladi Kanmani”, “Nee Paathi Naan Paathi”, “Kaadhaluku Mariyaadhai” and Suhasini’s Penn (a telefilm where she played Revathi’s mom).  As I look back at these movies, her screen time varied from probably 10 minutes to 100 minutes.  But the onscreen time that she needed in order to make an impact was never a significant factor because her eyes sometimes needed just a matter of seconds to arrest you.  The aforementioned "Penn" is a fine example.  In the course of a 25-min telefilm (superbly written by Suhasini), Srividya brought to life a Mom from her 30s to her 50s and showed how a Mom's feelings towards her daughter could change as they both age.  Given the number of times that I have watched this, I have never failed to tear up in the climactic sequence.  But more importantly, I have always spared a moment to think of how, in an argument, one's near and dear might mean well but their deep love for us might actually prevent them from expressing things in a saccharine sweet fashion that might hold momentary appeal.  Watch this video to see why I hold her in such high regard:


Another reason why I wanted to salute Srividya was because she thrived in an environment that really didn’t carve a niche market for older actors the way Hollywood does.  The fact that a Robert De Niro (aged 72) or a Meryl Streep (66) are able to get plum roles and the fact that a Revathy or a Srividya rarely got meaty roles beyond a certain age is as stark a contrast as you will ever find.  There was absolutely nothing lacking in talent in either of these Indian actors.  It is just that filmmakers (with rare exceptions like Balu Mahendra’s “Sandhya Raagam”) or maybe even the audience could not care less about watching seasoned thespians in meaningful lead roles and would rather watch ditzy girls from Mumbai prance around in skimpy costumes.  It is a testament to Srividya’s talent that she made a lasting impression despite being the odds stacked against her favor. 

From what I have read about Srividya, I also gather that her personal life left her many a scar, both physical and emotional.  Maybe in the movies she found an outlet to portray all the pain that she experienced as a person.  In one of those tragic ironies of life, it was probably her anguish and suffering that metamorphosed to something, even if on celluloid, that could actually make somebody a little more sensitive towards the pain and sensitivities of others.


24 comments:

Nandini said...

Srividya is a fabulous actor with fine acting skills. She plays the roles so naturally that makes us think acting is very easy. Excellent tribute to the actress. Kudos to you!!!!

Nandini said...

Srividya is a fabulous actor with fine acting skills. She plays the roles so naturally that makes us think acting is very easy. Excellent tribute to the actress. Kudos to you!!!!

Ravishanker said...

Ram Murali - Brilliant piece on Srividya. My favourite actress incidentally. I always thought I was plowing a lonely furrow as a Srividya fan but that was until i read this piece. Very grateful for this.

Ram Murali said...

Ravishanker - Thank you so much for your kind comment. Yes, I thought she was a fabulous actress.

ravishanker sunderam said...

Ram Murali - With your permission I'd kike to share this with piece with my whatsapp groups.

ravishanker sunderam said...

Ram Murali - Hope you will not take offense at this. Would you consider changing the color scheme of your blog ? The white font against black background is not easy on the eyes and causes discomfort. (My son has also been chiding me to change the scheme of my blog :))). Please dont get me wrong. Your content deserves much better framing

Ram Murali said...

ravishanker - sure! Thank you for your feedback. Will change it today!

Ram Murali said...

Of course! I would love for more people to read my tribute.

ravishanker sunderam said...

Lovely !Lovely ! Thanks so much !

After sharing your article the "adidhadee" on my whatsapp groups has already begun :))

Ram Murali said...

"Adidhadee"-aa? Yaen?! Vanmurai vendaam makkale! LOL!

ravishanker sunderam said...

Ha Ha ! After Srividya discussion it digressed into a Balachander discussion and that always brings the knives out....

ravishanker sunderam said...

Ha Ha ! After Srividya discussion it digressed into a Balachander discussion and that always brings the knives out....

ravishanker sunderam said...

Just wanted to add - one movie where she gave a stand out performance was Rowdy Rakkamma where she plays a purveyor of black market cinema tickets. I was fortunate enough to watch a clip during a program with Srividya on Thirai Malar. Something like a candid camera day with a movie star. One of the best programs I've ever seen. She seemed to come across as a stridently jovial person with not a hint of her tragic circumstances. Maybe that was yet to come.......

Ram Murali said...

Thanks for that comment, Ravishanker. Would you by amy chance have a link to that program? Would love to watch it. I remember an interview of srividya by vivek (comedian) from the 90s. She was so sweet n courteous. Paavam...

ravishanker sunderam said...

You're welcome Ram ! Unfortunately the only link is in my pre-teen memory. I'd kill to get my hands on that link. It was SO good. The best interview with her ever. One of the few bright spots in the old Doordarshan. Thanks for leading me. to that memory

Uma said...

Great write up Ram. I have followed your comments on BR's blog. I know online negativity is so not worth it. Such a small world indeed that you work in the pharma industry and I work on some cancer immunotherapy trials myself.

Agree about Randy Paush. I have read all his blog entries, his book and everythong else about to him. Need to go back and watch his videos when I feel sorry for myself.

Glad I found your space.

ravishanker sunderam said...

Ram Murali : Really saddenned on your exit from BR's blog. Yours was one of the comments I always looked forward to and contributed a lot towards the camaraderie of the blog community. I'm not sure whether you could have decided anything different.

My wishes for your future. Time heals everything (and I fear will also harden your heart :) :)

Will keep in touch with you in this space

Ram Murali said...

Uma and Ravishanker - thank you both for your kind comments and support.

Uma - absolutely. Randy is one of my enduring, immortal inspirations.

Ravishanker - the truth is that I stopped enjoying my visits to BR's blog. Too many personal comments and too much negativity. His final comment directed to me in the "Comments, moderation, yada yada" post was the final straw that broke my back.

Glad that I have my own blog where I can write things in peace knowing that I have kind, courteous people that encourage me. Thank you for your support.

ravishanker sunderam said...

Ram Murali : My prayers for your going back up life's arc. I've been there and now 10 years later I look back on it with hard nosed eyes and wish I'd come out of it faster. Whatever you're going through is a consequence of your passion, which is in turn a mixture of anger and love. So, do go through your period of solitude, introspection and come out blazing. We are rooting for you !

Ram Murali said...

Ravishanker - thanks for your note.

I am sorry I didn't fully comprehend your comment. I don't know if you were referring to the miscarriage episode that I had shared on BR's blog. It actually happened 5 years ago and after that, we were blessed with a son a 3 1/2 years ago.
So, with regard to life's arc, I feel like I am in a peaceful place with my family. It's just that as I have grown older, I have become a little less tolerant of unfair, harsh words and try to distance myself from discordant issues.
Nevertheless, I appreciate your kind words.
And, if I misunderstood your comment, sorry. Could you clarify? Thanks. And, have a nice weekend.

ravishanker sunderam said...

Ram Murali : My bad. I was referring to both episodes. Glad to know that things are better at your end than I'd understood. Cherish the terrible three and halfs ! :) :) This time doesnt come again.

Ram Murali said...

No worries, Ravishanker. Yes, the three-and-a-halfs are absolutely a riot...in more ways than one! (Just thinking of the chaotic state of toys all over!)

Unknown said...

I heard about Srividya but did not watch any of her movies. My loss. Your writeup is heartfelt tribute to a great actress. It seems talented people's lives do not have fairy tale endings most of the time. Meena Kumari, Madhubala, Kalpana, Savitri etc.come to my mind.

Ram Murali said...

Thank you for your note. Oh, you must watch some of her movies. She was a FABULOUS, FABULOUS actress. Made heavy duty acting look so effortless with her pitch-perfect portrayals.
If time permits, watch the "Penn" video embedded above. She and Revathy are in top form. (This was written & directed by Suhasini, in case you didn't know.)