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`Audience reaction is the award'

Shweta, who won her second National Award, this time for "Kutty", talks to CHITRA MAHESH revealing in the process she is still a child with her dreams intact.

SHE IS just a slip of a girl! Her shoulder length hair is tied up with a simple black band. She wears a skirt and blouse and it fits her so snugly that her frame seems painfully thin.

Her eyes are constantly smiling, even though she has just come back from school and is a wee bit tired. She sits demurely hands folded on her lap and is the epitome of angelic goodness. And she's just about to turn 12 in October.

She is Shweta, the artiste who recently won the National Award for the Best Child Artist for her convincing portrayal of the title role, "Kutty".

She prattles on like any other child full of what she does and what she likes. Her responses to queries are spontaneous, and her attention rarely wanders to other things.

She is quite a delight and is amazing for the depth of emotions she is able to portray on the screen. Excerpts from the interview:

So Shweta, what did all your friends in school say?

They are all very happy. The Principal, too. When my father came to the school and told me that I had won a National Award, I was thrilled. The Principal then distributed sweets. This is my second National Award.

The first one was for "Malli" wasn't it?

Yes in 1999.

So how does it feel to get so many awards?

I feel very happy. But the reason for getting these awards is because of the unit in which I worked — the directors, everybody. In "Malli", as well as in "Kutty".

How did you like the character in "Malli"? Did you like her or Kutty?

Actually "Kutty" is about child labour. Character-wise, I liked Malli better because it was that of a tribal. It was very difficult.

Was it? But you did so well.

No, it wasn't difficult to act. It's difficult to get a chance to act as a tribal girl.

So it was like a big challenge?

Yes.

How did you figure out your character? The director tells you and you follow or do you also have your own ideas about how it could be done?

The director tells me the sequence and the shot that is going to be taken. Everybody used to call me `Malli'. I changed into Malli in the 13 days of shooting. I kept thinking how it would be if I were that girl.

And in "Kutty"?

In "Kutty" too.

Did you feel sad for that girl?

Yes, I felt very, very sad.

So how did you feel doing that role?

Actually the director, Janaki Auntie, explained each scene as if she herself was a child labourer, like she had experienced it. Her way of explaining each scene made me act.

For instance, towards the end of the film when you had to cry and feel sad. Was it very difficult to do that?

(Thinks for a while). I did what the director expected and said that is all! There was very little effort of mine and a lot on the part of the director.

Would you like to play this kind of a character again or something else?

I would like to do different kinds (of roles). But if the story is about social welfare like "Kutty", I don't mind doing it again. The tribal character is very different. I would like to do different people like Malli.

What do you do when you get up in the morning?

I get up late, very late. I'm always going to school in a hurry. Whenever I get time, I sleep.

Any hobbies?

I like art. I like to do that when I have time. I love reading books. How is school?

School is very fine.

You like yours?

Yeah, I love my school, Holy Angels (Chennai). I can never think of even going to some other school.

Who are your friends in school?

I have a big gang.

Priyanka, Surya, Kavitha, Apoorva, Harini, Hema, Sandhya, Meenakshi, Praveena, Shruthi.

Do they encourage you a lot at school?

Yeah.

If you have to go for shooting, they don't mind?

No. Whenever they see me on television they come and tell me that I was very good. They all saw "Kutty" and they liked it very much.

What about studies? Do you have to work extra hard or can you tackle that easily?

Actually my school is very strict. They don't allow anybody to act in films or take leave. But when I joined the school in the third standard, they found that I was acting. So they said, ``You cannot act, you cannot take leave. If you do so, you will be given the TC.'' But when they saw my reports they didn't find any black marks so they had to allow me to do this work. They also started encouraging me.

What do you talk about with your friends?

We talk about all kinds of things.

We are planning to do something nice together.

Do you exchange friendship bands, cards and all that?

Yeah.

Do you like to sing and dance? Are you learning any of this?

No, but I am learning the veena from Shantha Viswanathan auntie.

What else do you do?

Play games on the computer.

Did you expect to get the award this time also?

Actually everybody told me that I had acted very well.

So, how did you feel when people were crying at the end of the film?

I think that is the first success for me. I went to Krishnaveni Theatre to see the audience's reaction. When I came out, nobody recognised me as Kutty. But one auto man came and asked me whether I played Kutty. When I said yes, he asked, ``Do you have any servant in your house?'' I said ``No, we do all the work ourselves.'' He asked me if we would employ a child as a servant in the future? I said certainly not. I will try to do all my work myself. Then he shook my hand, and said thank you. This is more than awards.

What did the other people tell you?

I saw a college girl. There was a poster outside the theatre. It had a picture of me and M. N. Rajam aunty. She was kicking it saying why are you treating that small girl so badly? This really happened. She was crying and everybody was looking at her.

How do you feel when you stand in front of the camera?

Quite casual. In fact the entire unit of "Kutty" was so free with me. I didn't ever feel that I was at a shooting.

Have you got any more offers after this? Have people asked you to do their films?

Yes. Shivakumar Uncle who made a film named "Ayesha". That has been selected in the Indian Panorama. I play Ayesha. Janaki aunty told me, ``I hope you get the National award for `Kutty'. If you get it, this will be the first time a child artiste is getting two National awards.'' I'm also going to do a Malayalam film.

Who chooses your films for you? Do people talk to you or to your parents?

They come and talk to both of us. We listen to the story and only if I say yes, my father says ok. He does not compel me to do any film. If I say I can do it and the shooting doesn't clash with examinations, my father says yes.

Do your parents encourage you?

Yes. Only because they encouraged me, I have come so far.

Are you the only child (of your parents)?

No, I have an elder brother. He is studying engineering. He has also done nine films. He has done "Iruvar," "Ullasam" and "Sundarapurushan" too.

And do you fight with him?

Yeah, that is my main hobby!

What do you fight about?

Everything. For each and everything, I make a big fuss. Suppose he takes my pencil without my permission, I start fighting.

He must be also very proud of you?

Yeah. I love him very much. He is a very good brother. Because I love him so much I fight with him.

Anybody you admire and would love to work with?

I admire so many of them. I like Mani Ratnam uncle, I would like to work with him.

So, what do you want to do in life, Shweta, apart from your studies and acting? You want to continue acting even later?

Only if very good roles come and it is not affecting my studies. But I want to become a doctor.

What do you want to do after you become a doctor? You want to serve the people?

I don't know about that, but my main aim is to become a doctor. But if I get very good offers I will also act.

Anything you want to tell children your age?

I do not know. Ah yes — have fun. To my friends I want to say don't obey your parents, don't study well.

But what do you do? You obey your parents, you study well?

No, not like that, I am also like my friends. I am a Libran. And they are very nice people. Very kind, very good.

What is your favourite food?

Gobi Manchurian and Butter Nan.

What about ice creams, pizzas?

Of course I love them.

Summing up very well that she is after all a child and still has her dreams intact.

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