Yesteryear actress Charmila looked barely recognizable, without her charming smile which floored the audience for many years or her thick black hair which gave her the quintessential look of the Malayali lass. However, one could easily spot the glimmer that is still in her eyes. Charmila invited us to her small apartment with just two rooms and meager facilities. A television that doesn’t work is the only luxury in the hall where two or three plastic chairs are placed. Her son’s books are neatly arranged on a table nearby.
Dogs could be heard barking from the room inside. “My son was adamant that he wanted dogs as pets. However, the land lord has strictly instructed us not to leave the dogs outside. So this is the only way we could have dogs. I would spread a mat and sleep here,” said Charmila pointing to the floor in the hall. Her mother Hyacinth and her son sleep at the adjoining room. That stuffy room and her grandchild have become the world for this mother, who is paralyzed. In flawless English she said, “Please save my daughter. She has no one but you.”
Charmila hopes to give her mother at least proper treatment and medication if not the luxurious life that she was used to. The actress mostly spoke about her miscalculated decisions that ruined her life. “I know that my son Jude Adonis doesn’t deserve to live like this. It is my inefficiency which destroyed his life as well. He is nine years old. His only happiness is the occasional pizza that his father orders for him online. It is because of Tamil actor Vishal’s mercy that his school fees are paid without dues,” Charmila broke down many times while speaking.
“I had romantic relationships at all the stages in my life. I failed to learn lessons from my experiences. After separating from Rajesh, I had no idea where to turn to. I roamed around a lot looking for a house on small rent. My land lord couldn’t believe when I said I was an actress. He still is doubtful when people come looking for me. He doesn’t like dogs. But we keep the dogs in one of the two rooms as I don’t want to make my son sad. They would be taken out once in a week to give a bath. We feed rice and curd to the dogs. I don’t have money to buy them dog food. I do get occasional offers to act. Things would run comfortably if I find work for ten continuous days in a month. I could earn a regular income if I get an opportunity to be the judge in reality shows,” said Charmila.
Political heavy weights and silver screen icons like Karunanidhi, Sivaji Ganesan, MN Nambiar, Balaji and Sheela had graced the occasion of Charmila’s naming ceremony. Her father Manohar was a noted veterinary doctor and also an advisor with the State Bank of India. It was he who regularly treated the pet animals of all the leading movie stars. He shared close friendships with many screen icons. However, his family deemed acting as an inferior profession.
Charmila made her debut as a child artist in the movie Nallathor Kudumbam. In that movie, she played the role of Sivaji Ganesan’s son. “Another kid was supposed to play that role. However, when she made mistakes while delivering the dialogues, Sivaji sir got angry. It was Balaji who spoke to him about me. I donned the role of a boy and did exactly what the director asked me to do. Sivaji sir too liked my acting. We visited Balaji sir’s house while we were shooting for the film. He introduced us to the young man who was engaged to his daughter. It was Mohanlal. Years later, I made my debut in Malayalam opposite him,” recalled Charmila.
Charmila was offered the role in Dhanam when she was just a class seven student. Her father was worried whether it would affect her education. However, she was adamant and he agreed. “I couldn’t believe even after Sibi Malayil assured me that I was the heroine. I thought I was one among many heroines. He would give me the dialogues the previous day, to by heart it. Though I would write it down and learn by heart, I often forgot them when the scene was shot. I became tensed and started crying. Then Mohanlal came to me and said, ‘Take your time to learn the dialogues. I will wait.’ I was really surprised when a superstar said that to a newcomer like me. Though I was initially told that I had to shoot for ten days, I was asked to leave on the eighth day. I became tensed again and cried thinking that they were firing me because my performance wasn’t good enough. But then Sibi Malayil came and said that my portions were completed in eight days because I did well. Those words were like award for me,” explained the actress.
She acted in Keli directed by the legendary film maker Bharathan during her vacation next year. Her performance in the movie was widely appreciated and won her many awards. The pretty actress then went on to star in many super hit movies like Kabooliwala and Uncle Bun.
Twist in life
Charmila reveals that it was similar tastes and interests in food which got her close to actor Babu Antony. Like Babu, Charmila too liked Chinese and Continental cuisines. On the movie sets, special food was served only for the male lead. However, Babu Antony had instructed his cook to bring food for Charmila as well. Soon the duo became close friends.
“He displayed great caring for me. While we were shooting at Kuttikanam, the geyser in my room stopped working. Babu filled hot water in a bucket at his own room and carried it to mine. But my father was enraged seeing this and he struck the bucket down. Later, we were shooting at some interior location and the sky was getting cloudy. When Babu saw that my car was getting late, he offered to drop us in his car. But my father didn’t allow me to go with him in the same car. Then Babu got down from his car and asked us to leave in it. All these drew me close to Babu Antony. I was touched that he was suffering all these for my sake,” revealed Charmila.
She admits that it was her father’s rigid attitude that prompted her to be close to Babu Antony. She said, “Had my father tried to explain things with love, I wouldn’t have ended up in that relationship. Instead he tried to protect me. As a daughter, I am a total failure. I wouldn’t have had this fate if I had said ‘yes’ to the marriage alliance that was brought by my father.”
Problems do not end
After going through a rough patch following her breakup with Babu Antony, Charmila returned to the silver screen with the movie Adivaaram. It was at the sets of this movie that she met Kishore Sathya who was an assistant director there. “I was going through a phase of depression and Kishore would talk to me lovingly. Soon we became close to each other. We got married while I was getting lots of acting opportunities in the movies. Kishore asked me to quit movies post wedding. In the meantime, Kishore went to Sharjah. I rejected the offer to act in the movie Sethu opposite Vikram thinking that Kishore wouldn’t like it. For four years, he lived there and I here. Later I met him at Dubai when I went there for a show. He then told me that he wasn’t interested to continue this relationship,” revealed Charmila.
Marriage with Rajesh
Rajesh who was a software engineer at Nokia was Charmila’s sister’s friend. He was a regular visitor at their home and soon the friendship blossomed into love. Charmila says that Rajesh was an easy goIng youngster who was four years younger to her. “He agreed to the marriage after knowing everything about my past. Rajesh’s family, however, didn’t agree to the relationship as both of us belong to different religions. After marriage, we lived in my flat. As I was undergoing treatment for thyroid, it was difficult for me to conceive. Rajesh was fine about it. We enjoyed our life very much. We flew to different overseas destinations after wrapping up every movie. I splurged money on trips and shopping. Expensive branded makeup products were my weakness,” admits Charmila.
One day, while shooting for the television program ‘Jodi No 1’, Charmila fell unconscious on the sets. She was immediately taken to the hospital and the doctors said she was four months pregnant. “Rajesh was shocked initially when he knew about it. After the birth of my son, Rajesh’s parents too came and stayed with us. So I sold the single bedroom flat that was in my name and all of us moved to a rented flat. But, his parents, who didn’t like my profession, created rift between me and Rajesh. They moved to another place with my child. I couldn’t even see my son for around 8 months. I had to fight a case in court in order to gain my son’s custody. They stated in the court that since I had taken a break after child birth I didn’t have the sufficient income to raise my child. To prove them wrong, I agreed for a divorce without demanding alimony or monthly expenses. Rajesh is still a good friend. He quit his job and is currently doing nothing. So he can’t help us financially,” explained Charmila.
Friends in the industry
Charmila says yesteryear actress Mohini had visited her often with food while she was pregnant with her son. “Even though she was a vegetarian, she would cook non vegetarian dishes for me. I am close to actress Kanakalatha as well. She acted as my mother in the movie Kalamaserriyil Kalyana Yogam. She occasionally calls me even now. Unni Mary is a great source of strength for me. I am still alive because of all of them,” noted the actress.
Charmila is awaiting the release of four films in Malayalam. She had acted in the roles of mothers in two Tamil movies as well. The actress will be next seen in the Tamil remake of Kattapanayile Rithik Roshan. “Malayalam cinema has changed a lot. Recently, while I was working in a movie, the three young producers came into my room and talked indecently. I had to get out of there with my assistant, that night itself, as I wasn’t ready to submit to their ‘wishes’. I had to borrow money for the train tickets. I have never had such experiences even while I was working as a top heroine. I was upset thinking why things have changed so much. I was a member of AMMA earlier. But I haven’t been able to renew my membership. I don’t think I can renew it by paying all the dues,” concludes Charmila.