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A dauntless spirit showcased

MALATHI RANGARAJAN

Veteran actor Sowcar Janaki takes a stroll down memory lane.

PHOTO: K. V. SRINIVASAN

WALKING TALL: Shantakumari and Janaki in Shaukaru and Sowcar Janaki (below) now.

Never mind if she wasn't the tall, buxom kind. On screen or off it, Sowcar Janaki has always walked tall, commanding respect with her demeanour and diction. Encapsulating the yesteryear heroine's experiences in a few hundred words is a daunting task — myriad in hues they are, with an extra dash of the grey. Meet the septuagenarian, steeled by the odds that have greeted her at almost every turn, but still full of life.

Own terms

"I love life," she laughs aloud. "I learnt to convert my inferiority complex into a superior one, long ago." Janaki was one of those rare heroines who entered the film industry with a three-month old baby and still made a success of her career, on her own terms!

"I've never compromised and yet managed to survive," she says. Thus career wasn't a cakewalk for her. "I have built my life on failures," she crosses her legs and continues, "Waiting between roles was agony. The ecstasy came later with acclaim." That's one reason why she didn't want either her son or her two daughters to take up cinema as a career.


Those were the times when acting was stigmatised by society. "True. But it was a question of survival. My parents were enraged," Janaki pensively states andadds, "I'm a rebel and I do what I think is right. To this day, I make decisions just like that (she snaps her fingers) and they've generally proved right."

Fiercely independent

A gutsy person like her going into hibernation all of a sudden and allowing wild rumours that she had renounced everything and was alone and in penury (Her large and lovely fourth storey apartment and the alluring greenery in the patio tell a totally different tale.) to circulate, was strange! "I shied away because osteoporosis had almost crippled me. But after the surgery I'm raring to go. And if I live alone it's out of choice. I hate being dependent even on my children. To this day I cook my food. I spend hours in my farm in Bangalore everyday. My blessings are my children, who have always respected my decisions," she casts an affectionate glance at her daughter.

Why did she have to be a part of so many glycerine-laced tales? "Honestly, watching me weep non-stop exasperated me. I was stagnating. That was when Sivaji Ganesan offered me `Pudhiya Paravai' and I grabbed it. Director Dada Mirasi was not convinced but Sivaji stood his ground." Finally when the `vamp' made a grand entry with the `Paartha Gnabagam Illaiyo' number, Mirasi conceded she had won.

Taste of comedy

K. Balachander offered her comedy, first on stage (`Edhir Neechal') and then on the big screen. "I enjoyed it. Even today people call me up whenever `Thillu Mullu' is telecast," she laughs. With MGR she did `Panam Padaithavan' and `Oli Vilakku.' "He would refer to me as a seasoned actress ," she says. Janaki also fondly remembers her association with AVM and S.S.Vasan, stalwarts. ``In Telugu, I feel I ought to have got better roles," she says.

An understanding mom, a proud grandmother and a doting great grandma, Janaki is a picture of contentment today. "I do have my bouts of lows. I miss intellectual company," she confesses. Her last Tamil film was `Thodarum' — an indication that she could still continue in cinema? "If I get a worthwhile role, why not? It's no more for the money, just for the pleasure of acting," she smiles as she gaily walks up with you to the elevator.

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