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Big time for li'l girl

BHUMIKA K.

Within a minute of talking to Radhika you disocver that she's still a kid. This teenager, still trying to find herself, has won the Best Actress award

Photo: Bhagya Prakash K.

DREAMS Radhika has now set her sight on the national award. She looks up to Jayamala and Tara who've made it big for Kannada

She's donned the sari, clutched a couple of children close to her bosom, mothered them, and moved many a susceptible heart with her tear-jerking performances as the pained daughter, the mother, and the ideal sister. That's on screen. But winner of the State award for the best actress of 2004, Radhika is just a cheery, wide-eyed, 18-year-old, comfy in her capris and straightened hair, and who comes across as a gullible teenager struck by early stardom.

When on New Year's Day friendly journos called to congratulate her on the award for her role in Taayi Illada Tabbali, Radhika suspected that someone was trying to fool her. "Everyone is so good with acting in Kannada films today, that I didn't expect the award would come to me. The film wasn't such a hit, but it has brought me good recognition," admits the lady of the hour.

Ninagaagi, with former child-star Vijay Raghavendra, her first release in Kannada, was a super-hit and so was Tavarige Baa Tangi with Shivarajkumar. Film-maker Yograj Bhatt's Mani offered her an unusual role where she played the daughter of a prostitute (Radhika hesitates to even utter the word), played by Umashri. The film brought them both critical acclaim and Umashri, the best supporting actress award. Rishi touched the elusive, 100-day mark and Radhika's all gleeful.

Looking higher

Not satisfied with just the State Award in her kitty, Radhika's already aiming for the big one - the national award. "At least once in my life, I want to take home the National Award," she says chirpily, with actors like Jayamala and Tara in mind, who've set standards and the path for the younger, newer crop of heroines. She'll wait for that ideal award-winning role, she says, and if that doesn't come her way, there may be chances that she'll produce such a film in keeping with the current trend. Even if it means playing a sentiment-soaked role of a mother, she's game, she laughs. Ambitious plans from a girl who started her acting career with Neela Megha Shama when she had barely completed her ninth standard. Roopatara's (a film magazine) editor B. Ganapathy in her hometown Mangalore insisted that she do a portfolio of pictures that would come in handy in the film industry. Radhika grew up on a staple of Malashri, Madhuri Dixit and Sreedevi films, wanting to be like them and even be able to do action films like Malashri. Her mother was eager and enthusiastic about Radhika being in films, and encouraged her, even approving of her daughter sporting bold modern clothes much to her father's dislike. When director Raj Kishore saw her pictures, he immediately zeroed in on her without even a screen test, she says with a winsome smile. So Radhika dropped school like a hot potato and arrived in Bangalore with stars in her eyes. That quite explains her naiveté, effortless thoughts, and her almost adolescent existence, happy that she's having a good time now.

Doesn't she miss not having completed school? Does she not want to study again? "I want to study. I have the interest. But now, I don't get enough sleep because I'm shooting all the time. So how will I study?" But doesn't she regret having had to quit school-life? "No not at all, because in fact, only after coming to the film industry do I have a life." Ask her what the worst part of playing "senti" roles is and Radhika has buckets to cry about. "We use glycerine and that makes my eyes swell and bulge out after some time. I did a song through which I had to continuously cry. It was shot over three days and then my eyes grew so fat that tears just wouldn't come!" she laughs helplessly. "But these are the characters that have life and bring an award," says Radhika, with an absolutely serious air. Point noted. "Look at Tara in Haseena," she presses on: "She wore no make up and has a dull look. But she got the award. People like it." Currently a hot topic of conversation is her film with Sunil Raoh, Masala. "A lot of people asked me why I did a galeej (dirty) film like Masala. But I didn't think it was vulgar. Yes, I did one song where I had to expose a bit, but the film required it." She says she wore a swimsuit in her earlier film Prema Kaidi and now again dons it in her forthcoming release Good Luck, where she plays the character of a model. Romping to an item number though, is a complete no-no, says Radhika. "I won't be able to walk on the road if I do one! In the Kannada film industry, we can't go to that extent ."

Radhika's looks have transformed dramatically with every film she's acted in. But that transformation has come from bowing down to pressures of tinsel town and the glamorous stereotype image actresses have to keep up with, going by her experience. When a lot of directors and film critics in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu started commenting on her plump looks, her bad hairstyle Radhika was worried. "There was a lot of pressure on me... My directors used to tease me saying that I would only get to play mothers' roles. So I took it as a challenge to shed weight." She bought herself all the gymming equipment and started working out at home. She limited her food intake. And even straightened and coloured her hair for the new Radhika look.

Radhika has made forays into other languages too. After a few good Kannada films, Radika admits she made some bad choices and was stuck with some non-films. When she bagged the Tamil film Iyarkai, her journey as "Kutty Radhika" began. She decided to make a comeback in Kannada when she got better offers. Kollywood already had a superstar in Radhika Sarathkumar. Many even mistook young Radhika for her daughter. "When I joined Tamil films, they asked me to change my name, but I didn't want to. Moreover, I had to wear really short dresses in my first film, and so everyone started calling me `kutty' (meaning small)." Varna Jaalam, Meesai Madhavan, and Sollattuma kept her busy. Telugu moviedom also beckoned her and she did Bhadradri Ramudu. Her next Kannada film set for release is Auto Shankar with Upendra.

As she wraps up the interview, Radhika tells me she's rushing off for a shoot. She won't reveal the name of the film, the hero or the location. "I've been told to keep it a suspense!" she says, quite happily amused with the idea herself.

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