I'm a woman first...
says actress-director Suhasini Maniratnam who clearly has a mind of her own
Issues concerning children and women, especially in rural India, are close to Suhasini's heart Photo: K. Bhagya Prakash
NO, SHE isn't our childhood friend. But Suhasini Maniratnam talks to us scribes with candour and without airs. "I'm a woman first, human being only later!" she announces candidly, with a flash of her charmingly crooked smile. Just minutes before, a hearing-impaired woman had said: "We're people first. Disabled people only later."
Suhasini, the director-actress-cinematographer, was in Bangalore to participate in the CavinKare Ability Awards function. She was one of the judges who chose three awardees from over 170 nominees with disabilities from all over India. Looking gracious and svelte in a sequined sari, she spoke to us at a time when she had to rehearse for the awards function.
"I've been on the jury of various kinds. I've even judged air hostesses!" says the actress known for her sensible portrayals on the silver screen. Her association with Ability Foundation, a Chennai-based cross-disability umbrella organisation involved in the integration of persons with disabilities into the mainstream, speaks about her sensibilities. In fact, she played the role of a hearing-impaired person in Punnagai, a story based on the life of Jayashree Raveendran, who founded Ability Foundation.
"Even when it comes to disability, we tend to be partial. For example, we feel more sorry for a visually-impaired person than for a hearing-impaired person. But, it's terrible for the latter, because she is cut off totally from people," says Suhasini with a quiet empathy. For the past several years, all the films from her stable have been premiered only in aid of Ability Foundation.
"Probably I'd make a lot more money making serials with mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law, but we make serials like Penn and Ganesh-Vasanth," says the director who admits that issues concerning children and women, especially in rural India, are close to her heart. Busy with her schedules at Maniratnam's home production unit, Madras Talkies, the choosy star continues to act in a few films directed by exceptional directors.
So when does Maniratnam get to direct his wife? "Never! If one of us has to direct the other, it's me who'll direct him," says Suhasini, good-naturedly.
Movies, social work, and next? Politics? "I love politics. I'd love to be a politician. But I don't think I'll be one. It isn't as though I haven't been approached. Every party worth its name has invited me to enter politics. But I think I'm just a good actor, it's Mani who should be a politician he is so passionate about the country," says Suhasini.
Answering fluently in Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, and English, Suhasini says she has a special feeling for Bangalore. "My first film Nenjaththai Killadey was shot in Bangalore. I like the Telugu industry because it is here that I've done the maximum number of films. And I love the Malayalam films because they're so good, content-wise... Well, the older ones. In fact, it is Tamil movies that have disappointed me the most. Some of them are so clichéd."
And now to the clichéd question: how does the woman in Suhasini feel when there is talk about women's emancipation? "We aren't emancipated yet. Indian women are economically and socially quite independent. But when it comes to emotional support, we're still dependent on our parents, husband, brothers..." The multi-faceted Suhasini continues to do quality work be it compeering a show in aid of an NGO such as Ability Foundation, making serials for Doordarshan based on the lives of old people (Kaaichcha Maram), designing costumes for Maniratnam's films, working at her production house, or just providing moral support to her 12-year old son during his examination. The sequins in her sari and the crystal on her forehead dazzle one, but far more dazzling is the intelligence that shines through.
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