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Accolades all her way...

Sixty films in seven years is no mean achievement, given the unpredictable ways of filmdom. Meet Devayani, who after an insignificant stint in Mumbai has made it big in Chennai.

DEVAYANI IS one of the most successful Tamil heroines who has completed over 60 films in a span of seven years.

Like most of the top heroines in Tamil, Devayani too came down from Mumbai where she had done a few insignificant roles in Hindi films. After her debut in "Thotta Chinungi", she catapulted to fame through the National Award winning regional film "Kathal Kottai". Later she became a lucky mascot as her films like "Suryavamsam", "Marumalarchi", "Tenali" and "Friends" were all super hits. As an actress she won the State Award for her role in the film "Bharati" and had been widely appreciated in "Azagi" and "Guruvamma". At the peak of her career she fell in love with Rajakumaran, the director of "Nee Varuvayena" and later her marriage created a furore in the industry. Unlike heroines who fade out after marriage, Devayani, made of sterner stuff, has fought back successfully. Independent and very much her own person, she talks about her career moves.

Is Tamil cinema totally male-dominated?

Why only cinema, our society is male-dominated. In Tamil cinemas, all stories are written keeping the hero in mind as our box-office demands that. After all the audience come to the theatres to watch the hero. There are very few female-oriented roles in mainstream commercial cinema these days.

Why is it that there are no strong female-oriented films?

Today serials that glorify the empowerment of women, dominate our television. All our daily soaps have powerful female characters and a large section of women have shifted their loyalties from cinema to television. And hence heroines in films have become mere ornamental pieces. Recently I did a film "Guruvamma" where the protagonist was a pavement dweller. It was a female-oriented subject and the film got rave reviews. I can proudly say that I have arrived as an actress with "Guruvamma", where I have dubbed in my own voice.

Do you pick your roles after hearing the story?

No chance. Then I would be sitting at home. At times the role just falls in place like the meaty ones of Kamali in "Kathal Kottai" and Nandini of "Suryavamsam". Even in "Bharati" my role as the wife of the legend was well etched. But I try as much as possible to listen to the director about the story and my character so that I can improvise on the role. I received the maximum number of letters from my fans appreciating the role in "Suryavamsam". The film was a big hit and my role was an author-backed one, which got me a lot of accolades. The magic of doing family tearjerkers is that it reaches out to everybody, even in remote villages. In Kamal sirs "Panchatanthiram" I did a small comedy role for the first time, which was also appreciated by all.

Has the influx of Mumbai models and beauty queens affected the traditional Tamil heroines?

(Laughs) Perhaps Tamil industry is the only place that is hospitable to outsiders. I cannot comment on that as I too came down from Mumbai and made a name here through Tamil films. I do not see anything wrong in it as our commercial cinema, like I told you, depends on glamour.

You always had a reputation of being a sweet, goody-goody-girl image on screen. Please comment.

Well, that is the truth. Maybe my face and body language suits those characters. People in villages too like me as I have an image of an innocent and a girl-next-door type.

The industry feels that you lost out in the race to become the number one heroine due to your marriage...

A lot of my friends and people from the industry advised me to keep my marriage a secret. But I never thought so and I have no regrets about that even now. I believe that my image as a heroine and my personal life is totally different. Has marriage affected the popularity of Julia Roberts who is the top actress in the world?

But Tamil industry ostracised you for getting married and top heroes refused to act opposite you. Please comment.

Well that's the way it works in our male-dominated industry. But the truth is that I don't hold any grudges against anybody, as life is working out perfectly well for me. I am doing four films now and I am enjoying my married life. I couldn't possibly ask for more.

You are turning producer with your husband directing the film?

Yes, my husband Rajakumaran has written the story and is directing the film titled "Kadhaludan". Murali is the hero and it will be a family entertainer.

How do you manage to bag meaty roles, when there are a bevy of new girls willing to do glamorous roles?

I am a very sensible girl. I have worked very hard to reach here, and I have never allowed success to go into my head. I am still the sweet and humble Devayani that you always see on screen (Smiles).

So what are your future plans?

I believe in the theory that once an actress always an actress. Only acting gives me creative satisfaction. My role model is Manorama `Aatchi' who can do any role and has survived in the industry for over 40 years. So, all my life I want to be an actress. Someday I may move over to the small screen.

SREEDHAR PILLAI

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