Maathu is synonymous with rustic Keralite beauty for Mollywood audience. Her charming smile and adorable screen-presence that carried both the citybred and rural characters effortlessly, made Maathu a nostalgic face from the 1980s. No movie-buff can forget Radha from Mammootty's classic Amaram who deceived the dreams of her ambitious father. Maathu has given life to some out-of-the-box characters in Malayalam cinema ditching the accepted codes of morality and conduct. Born and raised as a Telugu girl, Maathu was never a guest to Malayalam cinema but a daughter.
The actress, who was active in cinema till the end of 1990s, suddenly disappeared from the silverscreen without leaving a clue where she was. 19 years later, she is back in the industry with a bang. Prior to the release of her upcoming flick Aniyan Kunjinum Thannalayath' Maathu reveals about her career, professional regrets and family in a candid chat with Onmanorama.
You are back facing the camera after long 19 years. How do you feel?
I am very excited as I am returning to Malayalam cinema after a long break. I realize how much I missed cinema all these years. Never mind, I'll go forward and do some good roles. My audience will watch me on big screen soon again.
What is your character in Aniyan kunjum Thannalayath?
In Aniyan kunjum Thannalayath' I play the role of one of the four sisters of the protaginost Aniyan Kunju, played by Kian Kishore. My character shares a very beautiful bond with her younger brother. There are instances where the duo share their thoughts, concerns over relationships and dreams with each other. It is a good movie that talks a lot about the love between siblings.
You have played some out-of-the-box characters in Malayalam cinema in an age when morality was highly valued. Indu of Kuttettan and Sobha of Ayushkalam are certain roles leading heroines of the time would have been apprehensive about. How did you choose your characters so wisely in such a young age?
It was in 1990s. The peculiarity you sense is not just about the characters I played but the stories that came out then. It was a time when audience welcomed out-of-the-box stories and filmmakers passionately took up such topics. In my case, it is not my brain that worked behind character selection. I was too young to distinguish between two or more characters that came before me. My mother chose characters for me. I was rather lucky to have played those roles.
You were truly the heartthrobe of youth during late 1980s and 1990s. What message do you have for your old fans?
It is all because of the movie Amaram. The film was a turning point in my life. With that single movie, I elevated to the next level in my career. People still recognize me as Amaram girl. Some even call me Amaram Maathu. I believe Amaram is a divine gift that came to me. I still cherish my association with director Bharathan sir, Mammootty and Cameraman Madhu Ambatt during the filming of Amaram. It was them who presented me so gracefully in that movie.
I was very young. I just emoted everything Bharathan sir asked me to. I wasn't proactive on the location. I didn't even add a single detail to my character in addition to what the filmmaker asked me to. Bharathan sir had good clarity about my character. It made a very big impact on big screen.
Why did you choose Malayalam film industry over your Telugu despite the latter being your mother industry?
The reason is that I got good opportunities in Malayalam. At the same time, Malayalam cinema demands natural acting which I am comfortable with. Telugu cinema demads putting on layers of make-up, flashy dance performances and faking or exaggerating expressions. I am a good dancer, I know that. I prefer natural acting to pretential acting. More over, I got really heavy, intense characters in Malayalam cinema. That's why I stuck to Malayalam leaving behind Telugu.
Which Malayalam movie do you keep close to your heart and what is the reason behind it?
Sadayam is my personal favorite among the movies I have done in Malayalam more or less because the story-line of Sadayam still chills me. The second one is Vachalam. I played the character of a mischevious girl in that movie. But Sadayam is still my most personal favorite.
How did you start aspiring to be a movie actor?
My parents are from Andhra Pradesh. They settled down in estwhile Madras for professional reasons. My father Venkit was a movie-buff. He used to watch all the movies that hit the theaters and visit shooting locations in the locality. I also used to accompany him. One day, on our visit to the location of a Kannada movie Sanadiyappana' the filmmaker spotted me and offered the role of a child artist in that movie. I ended up winning the state award for that character. I was taken aback. It was a sign that there is a fire in me. I recognized my calling. That is how I ended up as an actor.
Have you played a character that was initially decided for another actress?
Of course, it is Amaram. Bharathan sir wanted a fresh face to play the role of 'Radha.' I came to know about the project when I was doing another movie. I had already done two-three movies by then, like Kuttettan and Pooram. I was disappointed to have missed such a fantastic story. Bharathan sir had already decided another girl to play the role. Ashokan's character was also assigned to another junior actor at that time. However, the two junior actors cancelled their contract for the movie following some issue on the location. The role eventually came to me. I was so excited that I left the sets of the movie that I was acting in and joined Amaram crew right away.
About the support from your children on your comeback....
They are very supportive of my acting skills now. They even ask me to act in the Hollywood. I doubt whether they know enough about Hollywood (laughs.) They even promise me to take care of themselves when I am out for shooting.
What change do you notice in Malayalam cinema when you come back after a long break?
There are a lot of changes. General social progress is the base of changes I see in the stories. During my time, most of the movies were based in the villages. Slums, socially backward areas etc were premises for the stories. Now, the movies show middle-class working parents and school-going children. Colleges and campuses are popular premises for stories. There are very positive changes.
Technologically, filmmaking has become very effortless now. During my golden times, we used to get scolded for wasting film rolls. “Oh you ate a full roll and didn't give us your best. Didn't you eat your breakfast today,” directors of then used to tease us so. I used to be very anxious on the sets. Now, there is no such space restrictions. Young directors encourage us to improvise our acting my going for n number of takes.
What is your biggest regret in your life?
I regret the way I left the film industry and career in a very young age. Audience seem to be very receptive in my second innings. I guess they are not angry with me. I will not ponder on my loss but move forward optimistically.
Do you have any close friends in Malayalam cinema?
I don't have friends in my age group. I used to talk to TR Omana who played the role of my mother in many movies. Geetha is also one of my close friends. She visits India very often. We used to call each other very frequently.
You look exactly the same as you looked in your old Malayalam movies. How do you maintain your appearance and physique despite settling down in the US?
I don't embrace other cultures easily. Deep in my mind, I am still the old, rural woman. I like to look more Indian than an American. That might be the reason you don't notice any change in me.