Flush with the success of Avan Ivan, veteran actor Ambika talks about the joy of breaking stereotypes and wielding the megaphone
2011 A special year for Ambika
If you grew up in the 1980s, you could not have missed Ambika's influence. It was everywhere – in people's hairstyles, in the way they draped their saris, in the sheer feminity of it all… And, why not? After all, she ruled the South Indian film industry in that decade, alongside younger sister Radha.
She made some path-breaking films too, but was equally happy playing a silent foil to the larger-than-life hero, merrily dancing in the meadows with colourful umbrellas for company.
Marriage and motherhood saw her take a break from the silver screen. She was back in the 1990s, but in roles that really did not offer much. For that, she had to wait until 2011, for Bala's Avan Ivan. Her abusive, beedi-smoking, ‘quarter-cutting' character of Maryamma has broken stereotypes like none other.
“This role is something I'll cherish all my life,” says Ambika. “Bala just had to offer me the role and I agreed. Who can refuse a Bala film?” she laughs. Her family was delighted at the opportunity that came her way.
Once shooting began, she immersed herself in the character. That of a first wife, ready to play a game of one-upmanship, but also rising to defend her son and his step-brother if the situation so demanded. That delineation came through beautifully on screen. “Bala noticed how we behaved on the sets, and used our real-life mannerisms to lend depth to our characters,” she recalls.
A lot of work went into the movie. “The first time I smoked a suruttu, I felt all light-headed. But, I was ready to give this role my all. I ended up using words I've never spoken all my life! I'm glad all that has paid off.”
Ambika rates Avan Ivan as one of her better films, along with Manakannakku, Engeyo Kaeta Kural and Vazhkai. She's equally fond of her “commercial” movies too. “There's a time for everything. When young, do roles that suit you. When older, you are freed of the trappings of commercial cinema and can experiment. That's when you can delve deep into a character. It's liberating,” says Ambika.
Now that she's broken free of stereotypes, the actor hopes more characters will be written for 40-plus female actors. “A film is not just about the hero, heroine, comedian and villain. You need a foundation and connecting lines too. I'm so glad for Saranya, who's won the National Award for Best Actress, 2010.”
This year is special, because Ambika makes her directorial debut too, in Malayalam. “The shooting of Annabella, a youth-oriented movie, is complete. I've always wanted to direct at least one movie. I'm happy now. But, acting remains my bread and butter!” she says.
The year 2011 also saw the debut of her niece Karthika in the smash hit Ko. Will Ambika's sons, Ram Keshav and Rishikesh, try their luck in tinseltown? “Well, they are good singers. They live in Los Angeles. Let's see what they want to do!” is all she says.
SUBHA J. RAO
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