Phew! She sure spits fire
The free-spirited Malavika Avinash has a mind of her own, just like the iconic women she portrays
THE LADY CRACKLES Malavika Avinash: `In films you wear clothes you don't like, you do things you don't like, you're too young to protest' Photo: Murali Kumar K.
On the other side of our border, she was the ideal sister-in-law of the silver screen, the Anni. She's now playing a schizophrenic in Chidambara Rahasyam. On our side of the Cauvery, she is a strong policewoman battling corruption, and the polities of the day in Mukta. Cutting across borders, languages and people, silver screen's strongwoman Malavika Avinash has earned an iconic status for herself through Kannada and Tamil serials. Women sitting in front of their TVs over lunch and dinner look up to her, write fan mail saying she has empowered them to make bold decisions.
This cross-border actress started off as a child artiste who did Malayalam and Kannada films (though she dismisses her film career as of not much consequence) before deciding she didn't fit in and going on to graduate from the National Law School of India University. Only to make a comeback to acting on the telly in Tamil and Kannada serials with stalwart directors such as K. Balachander and T.N. Seetharam. She doesn't mince words when she says she's into serials for the big money.
She sounds disillusioned with her profession, and rails against the system (not just the industry), but says she's one of the few lucky TV stars like Smriti Irani to turn into an icon; otherwise there is no recognition or awards in TV. And, as cherry on top of the multi-tiered ice-cream , she aspires to make a serious future of being a politician! "I never intended to become an actress. In fact, in India, you begin your career as an actress when you are 17 or 18 because you don't have to be trained; you just have to look nice," is Malavika's effortless explanation for how she strayed into films.
She breaks up stardom for you into smaller atoms, in lawyer-like fashion: "If you are a child artiste, they wait for you to grow up. Film actresses age early because of the ordeals they go through. In cinema there's no in-between. You either play an 18-year-old or a 40-year-old," says the 29-year-old firebrand. "In films, you wear clothes you don't like, you do things you don't like, you're too young to protest. I did protest. So they threw me out. They don't like being questioned. Only people who don't ask questions survive."
Malavika Avinash is also representative of the innumerable Kannada actors who straddle both worlds of Tamil and Kannada TV and film industries. Some crossover that. Like her, there are others too with their feet firmly planted in these two worlds that are known to have strong undercurrents of animosity over matters filmi and non-filmi.
The big draw for Kannada actors in Chennai is money and the fame, she assures me. "I'm paid so phenomenally, I don't know whether actors deserve that kind of money." She also talks of another touchy issue adulation. "If you're an icon like Rajnikanth, you are worshipped. You'll never be worshipped in Karnataka like they're worshipped there. There is one Rajkumar and that is the end of it. Tamil Nadu had MGR, Rajnikanth, now Viyay... and he'll be followed by someone else. Who doesn't like sycophancy?"
Perceived often by audience, directors and the media as a feminist and a tough woman who fights for ideals on the screen and off it, Malavika defends both as simply a state of mind. "Feminism just sets in. It's a religion and you can't change it overnight. The intensity may wane. Once it sets in, you look at things with sensitivity."
Within two months after her graduation, ace director T.N. Seetharam's Kannada serial Mayamruga drew Malavika into its vortex. The serial made icons of both of them, with Malavika getting to play something close to life a lawyer working with NGOs. "The Balaji tamasha (Ekta Kapoor's K serials) promotes what they assume is Indian womanhood, which it's not. In the middle of all this, Seetharam gives you an opportunity to break away from that. And you want to grab it."
She quite prides herself in being a `Seetharam actress', and there is an obvious awe and appreciation for her director and a sharing of thought and ideals. "When you work with Seetharam it doesn't end with just acting. He opens you to other things art, politics, law, feminism. Your range of friendship is so different when you are a Seetharam actress. You're taken seriously even by people who don't watch TV otherwise. I do have differences with him. Somewhere deep down, he does make my character (in the serial) weak." So she carefully picks only progressive roles? "No, no. You must watch a Tamil serial of mine called Rajarajeshwari. It's a swami padam, Kotai Mariyamman kind of thing. It has jadoo, graphics, and me praying all the time. You could be doing rubbish, but if you are convinced, your audience will be convinced too. The serial has a 23 TRP! I often lament to my director B.R. Vijayalakshmi that in 2005, we are using satellite technology to say all these wrong and depressing things... like you get jaundice because Amman enters you!"
Then why do such meaningless roles? "Money. Beyond a point you realise ideology doesn't feed you. Moreover, I told you, I'm lost. I don't claim to belong to any ideology. I'm from the '90s generation. I didn't know whether to be a socialist or a capitalist. In this transition, I'm still looking for my ground."
Never say stop
Law and acting are both profitable professions. The choice wouldn't have been easy? "Practising law would be profitable 20 years from now if I start today. You can get into corporate law and make a lot of money. But that was not on my mind when I started studying. An interaction with people is what you look for when you want to practise law. The money and fame came faster here on TV. I started acting because there's money. Now I don't know how to get out of it. It's like the underworld."
If she doesn't like what she's doing what will she move on to next? "I'm seriously looking at politics." I'm grinning but she's dead serious. "I'm yet wondering where to start. You have to begin from the village where you belong. But I have no roots in Karnataka technically. So it's a harder way up. Politics is dirty everywhere."
After campaigning for actress Revathy, she says she's learnt that being an independent candidate or starting her own party is foolish.
"In India, you have to belong to some party big or small. In politics, like in cinema, what you need is a mentor. That mentor's who I'm looking for."
Send this article to Friends by
Chennai and Tamil Nadu