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Managing a mega show

Not many heroines can boast of sustained success in cinema dovetailing into another enviable stint on the small screen. But it has happened with Radhika. The actor talks to MALATHI RANGARAJAN about her new mega serial, "Selvi" and much more ...

Radhika ... always active and raring to go.

THE RADAAN office in T. Nagar, Chennai, is bustling with activity. Naturally. A big name in the television industry down South, more than three of Radaan TV's shows are already on air with another five in both Tamil and Telugu in the pipeline. Actor Radhika, who heads the organisation, is racing against time, meeting deadlines, discussing scripts of her TV megas, keeping up appointments, and winding up shooting schedules vis-à-vis "Annamalai," and beginning the launch of "Selvi," soon to begin on Sun. "We have to keep moving from one project to another because we've floated a company, we have a regular working staff and business has to go on. It's more like running a newspaper... whatever be the crunch or challenge the show has to be aired everyday... "

Besides these Radhika has a home and hearth to take care of — husband actor Sarath Kumar, newborn son Rahul and school going daughter Rayane.

Hectic, you could say. "It's maddening and I just about manage," she laughs. "My son, Rahul, is up at five, so I am with him till about 7, do my workouts and by then it's time for Sarath to get ready so I help him out. And after Rayane leaves for school, I get ready for the day's work. I catch up with her again during lunch break to spend some time with her. I started working just two months after delivery ... it is during the drive from my Kottivakkam home to T. Nagar that I complete all the telephone calls that have to be made, instructions to the office staff and other such chores. And come what may I don't shoot after 6 p.m., even if it is my own production." You could take a lesson or two on time management, from Radhika ...

The new saga

"Selvi" is the name and it will mark film actor Sarita's entry to the small screen. "We wanted her even for `Annamalai.' But she preferred another role than the one we offered her ... and I strongly believe that the actor should be fully convinced about the character she's playing. It happened with the serial `Udhayam' ... there was some confusion and the artiste had to be replaced ... " Radhika recalls.

Sarita, you hear, is very happy with the "Selvi" role. Of course, Radhika too has a solid role in the new mega. "I am Selvi," she smiles.

Sundar K. Vijayan, who took over "Annamalai" midway, will be directing "Selvi." Sundar has his team of technicians who will continue working in the new project. And the story is Radhika's. "I've done it before," is her response to the surprised look on your face.

Radhika's first television serial in Telugu, "Idhi Katha Kaadhu," and later "Siragugal" in Tamil were her stories. " `Selvi's strength will lie in characterisation ... it is about a family from Sri Lanka and the characters have been etched with care," informs a confident Radhika. (Earmarked to begin telecast in January, the unit is now in Sri Lanka for the shoot.)

"Chiththi" to "Selvi"

"Chiththi" was a phenomenal success and with it Radhika had arrived on the small screen. Though her foray into the tele-scene began with a serial on JJ TV, it was "Chiththi" that made her presence on the small screen formidable.

"Annamalai" probably was not so grandly received ... "Not at all ... " Radhika refutes the comment. "`Annamalai' is also doing very well. Initially I agree we did face some problem. After `Chiththi's stupendous success expectation soared. And when I did not appear in the first 100 episodes of `Annamalai,' viewers couldn't accept it. We realised that my absence proved costly and pulled out the segments we had shot, and reworked on the script. But after that there's been no looking back," she says.

When Radhika decided to turn to production, she assured the channel that if she was not able to deliver the goods she would bear the losses and move out.

Gumption goaded her to take up the business and has helped ride waves of success.

The television scenario is so TRP driven that compromises in the making of a mega are inevitable. "Ratings do matter. After all it is business and viability is a must ... " says Radhika.

But how fair is to make each and every serial a tearjerker, saying women viewers only want to sit before the TV box and weep?

"Melodrama is enjoyed everywhere, even in Hollywood. And if we overdo it a little on television it is only because ratings prove that clichés sell," is Radhika's argument. "See ... you and I may not find it interesting, but there's a whole crowd out there that likes it. Why only television? When the supermen of the big screen beat up a dozen bad men single-handedly, audience doesn't look for realism. In fact I can never sit and watch stunts but my husband enjoys it ... it is all a matter of taste and playing to the gallery. That's what we actors do."

Her reaction to criticism

Radhika feels that there's always another point of view and each is entitled to his opinion. "I've stopped reading what critics say, because my thought process is different. I listen to comments but make my own decisions. Otherwise you can't run the show... but definitely I am critical about our products and give my suggestions to the team." Yet she ensures that at Radaan the director has a free hand. "It is a learning process ... life itself is so. You learn from your mistakes ... " is her profound statement.

Story writing skills

"The subconscious habit of noticing, registering and imbibing the mannerisms of people have led to developing plots for stories and has also helped me in my portrayal of characters — the role in Bharatiraja's "Pasumpon" for example. The way I walked and talked in the film was exactly like what Bharatiraja's mother would do. `You are doing it so much like my mother,' he would remark. `Yeah ... that's what I'm trying to do,' I would laugh."

It was recently that she discovered that she had inherited her dad's (M. R. Radha) working style on the sets. "He was always very serious before a shot. The dialogue would be read out to him as the make - up was applied, because he could not read or write. He would close his eyes in total concentration. I found myself doing just that the other day ... listening to the dialogue with eyes closed as my face was being made up. It was a sense of déjà vu. `I've seen someone do this,' I said to myself. Then I realised it was my dad's habit," she smiles.

Heroine blossoms

She has acted opposite all big heroes in cinema and under the best directors. The young girl who looked gauche, was the debutante in Bharatiraja's "Kizhakkae Pogum Rayil."

The runaway hit led her to making strides in Tamil and Telugu and soon the rather rotund girl blossomed into a beautiful heroine with fine histrionic potential who would go on till she decided to call it a day.

"I was absolutely naïve and raw when I entered the industry. Cinema just happened," she reminisces. You remind her of Bhagyaraj's comment as soon as she got down from the train for the shooting of "Kizhakkae ... " He was Bharatiraja's assistant then. "Yes ... I was quite plump and he called me `Poosanikkai' (pumpkin) ... I still haven't forgiven him for that ... " she guffaws.

Later she acted as Bhagyaraj's heroine in a few films. "In fact from Sivaji Ganesan, Rajnikanth, Kamal Hassan, Bhagyaraj, Satyaraj, Prabhu and from Nageswara Rao in Telugu, I have rubbed shoulders with the greatest talents in the industry. And working with them have been enriching experiences."

From the beginning she never wished to be slotted. "I wished to do a variety of roles. I didn't mind playing the mother of a grown up daughter in "Nallavanukku Nallavan," at the peak of my career.

Similarly Radhika has worked with all top directors including Mani Ratnam and Shankar.

"When I accepted "Jeans" many dissuaded me. But I trusted Shankar and my hunch proved right ... "

Even today she gets a lot of film offers, "But where's the time?" she wonders. And with appealing candour she adds: "I have to accept that I can't do the roles that the young girls do. Anyway television offers enough scope and it is only an extension of cinema ... "

Politics doesn't interest Radhika. "I'm too outspoken," is her cryptic comment. Incidentally, you wouldn't have expected a serial like "Siva Mayam" from the house of Radaan. "It's about Siddhars ... I wanted to relate to religion in a different way ... we did a lot of analysis and in depth study." So is the lady religious ... "Probably not in the conventional sense. But I believe in a Supreme vibration above us ... "

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