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As charming as ever

For Jayachitra, who has completed 200 films, life has revolved round the arc lights ever since she was in school. Recently awarded by the Indian Television Academy, the actress-director-producer takes a pleasant trip down memory lane...


AS SOON as she walks into the room, you realise that the sparkle in her eyes has not dimmed. Her face still lights up when it breaks into a smile, as it did 25-odd years ago in "Korathi Magan".

For Jayachitra, actress, director and producer, life has revolved round the arc lights ever since she was a Class VII student in Vidyodaya School. Director K.S. Gopalakrishnan was on the lookout for a fresh face for his "Korathi Magan", he took one look at Rohini, rechristened her Jayachitra and yet another star was born on Tamil celluloid's horizon, who would make a mark with a style of her own.

The actress, known for her spontaneity on screen, with more than 200 movies to her credit in the South Indian languages, was recently honoured by the Indian Television Academy with the "Scroll of Honour Award" for her career on celluloid and television. The Virgo-born, who has an honorary doctorate from the International Parliament for Safety and Pace, USA, was enthusiastic to take a trip down memory lane and share some cherished memories.

On the award...

I think it is a blessing. I have got many awards before, including the State's Kalaimamani. This award is for my work as a film actress. I cherish the award, which has encouraged me a lot. The respect shown to South Indian artistes in Mumbai was an eye-opener. (She received the award from the Union Minister Shatrughan Sinha.) I take this opportunity to thank my producers, directors, fellow artistes and others for standing by me.

On her foray into television...

It began when I produced, directed and acted in the serial "Sumangali", for DD1. "Sumangali", with Sarat Babu and Prakash Raj, became a hit. Then "Alaigal" happened. The character of Savitri has many shades, offering wide scope for performance. By God's grace, I always manage to get roles that suit my age.

On her first film "Korathi Magan"...

I was in Class VII. A Telugu film titled "Beedala Paatlu" was being made for which director Vittalacharya was looking for a fresh face to play heroine opposite the legendary Nageswara Rao. He asked my mother (Jayashree, also an actress) if I would like to act. At that time I was not too taken up with cinema. I wanted to study. However, when I went for the screen test, I enjoyed it. The director felt I was too young for the role. Around the same time, K.S. Gopalakrishnan was looking for somebody to play the daughter-in-law in "Korathi Magan". He loved the way I delivered my dialogue. I was signed for three films under his banner.


The first time she faced the camera...

I was never really nervous. In fact, I vividly remember our present Chief Minister shooting on the next floor for the climax song "Varugavae Varugavae" of the film "Adiparasakthi" as I was taking my screen test. I had great respect for my co-stars, but on the sets they were just characters with whom I had to interact...whether it was MGR, Sivaji or Gemini Ganesan. When I put on make-up and got ready for a shot, I forgot who was on the sets with me.

On her co-stars...

I have been fortunate to work with some of the greatest actors of the Tamil screen. My first film with Sivaji Ganesan was "Bharata Vilas" when I was in Class XI. I was a big fan of his and had grown up watching his films. And there I was, acting with him. It was thrilling. I remember once, I was eating something in between a shot. Sivaji Ganesan who was watching me, called me and said, "When you are acting, just concentrate. Watch other artistes, you will learn a lot." It was a great lesson, which I've followed to this day. I worked with MGR in "Navarathnam". He treated me like an artiste, not a child. Both these actors encouraged me a lot. I did many movies with Sivakumar, Jaishankar, Rajnikanth and Kamal Hassan. We were good friends and enjoyed ourselves on the sets. There was a general sense of camaraderie all around.

On her directors...

KSG liked a scene to be more dramatic and loud. He felt every word needed emphasis. Both in "Korathi Magan" and my 100th film, "Nayakarin Magal", a historical, the accent was on dialogue delivery. As for K. Balachander, he prefers a casual approach. Mani Ratnam believes in everything being understated. Madhavan, Trilokchander, Dasari Narayan Rao... each had a particular style. I have learnt a lot from all of them.

Some unforgettable moments...

I have been lucky to have worked in some memorable films — "Ponnukku Thanga Manasu", "Vellikizhamai Viratham", "Sathyam", Kalyanamam Kalyanam", "Vandikaran Magan", "Cinema Payithiyam", "Sollathan Ninaikiraen", my 100th film, "Nayakarin Magal", "Pudhu Pudhu Arthangal", "Agni Nakshatram" ... each one has been a great experience. As for particular incidents, the snake scene in "Vellikizhamai... " is something I can never forget. The snake was a real one and nobody had a clue about how it would move. I just lay down still, shut my eyes tightly and told myself this was just a scene. The reptile suddenly slithered up to my face. I could feel it watching my eye, then my nose and finally my mouth. There was pin-drop silence in the studio. It was almost like everybody was silently praying for me.


Yet another time, I had to fight with a cheetah for a Telugu film. At that point, I had no fear. Only later when I saw it on the screen, did I realise the danger involved." (Incidentally, "Vellikizhamai... " was a kind of a forerunner to the present day genre of Amman films.)

On dialogue delivery...

I think timing is something that has come through learning classical dance. The sense of rhythm develops. I pick up the nuances as soon as I read a scene. I know where to highlight a dialogue or where to be subdued. Finally, it is how you imagine, improvise, modulate and deliver the dialogue.

Family...

I was brought up by my grandmother and was very close to her. My parents always encouraged me. I am married to Ganesh, a businessman, and have a son, Amresh, a Class VIII student. I love to shop and enjoy travelling. I am a very religious person.

SAVITHA GAUTAM

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