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IN CONVERSATION

Mature portrayal

From light fluffy roles to serious ones, Meera Jasmine has come a long way with a national award for best actress for "Padom Onnu; Oru Vilapam". K.K. GOPALAKRISHNAN talks to her.

KADER KOCHANNUR

Meera Jasmine (right) as a teenage single mother in "Padom Onnu; Oru Vilapam".

SHE came, conquered — is perhaps the best description of Meera Jasmine, the south Indian actor who won the national award this year for her role in the Malayalam film "Padom Onnu; Oru Vilapam" (Lesson One; A Wail) directed by T.V. Chandran.

(T.V. Chandran narrowly missed his second national award as the best director. As there was a tie, the casting vote of the Chairman of jury went to Bengali director Goutam Ghosh.)

The noted Malayalam film director and scriptwriter Lohitadas discovered Meera Jasmine a couple of years ago. On seeing her photograph, Lohitadas — then in search of a new face — gave her the role of Shivani, a north Indian teenager fated to live in a brothel, in his film "Soothradaran". Though the film was not a commercial success, the industry, especially in Tamil Nadu, noticed Meera's debut.

Sudden offer

"I was an ordinary girl in Elanthoor village of Thiruvalla (Pathanamthitta district), Kerala with a conservative Christian background. I was preparing for the joint entrance examination for a medical college seat, when I got the offer," says a jubilant Meera, who is one of the top heroines in the South after her first Tamil film "Run" became a mega hit.

Her family has little artistic background. "I was not trained in dance or music unlike other children," admits Meera, the fourth of five children of Mr. Joseph, a local contractor and Mrs. Aleyamma Joseph. Her mentor Lohitadas changed her name Jasmine Mary Joseph to Meera Jasmine.

She is now acting in "Perumazhakkalam", with four others ahead. She has acted in seven Malayalam and Tamil films each, including Mani Ratnam's "Aayutha Ezhuthu", and two Telugu films. She is also shooting for a Kannada movie. While acting in Lohitadas' "Kasturiman", T.V. Chandran approached her with the central role in "Padom Onnu; Oru Vilapam". It was a film with a shoestring budget, produced by Aryadan Showkath based on his own short story "Shahina". Meera agreed readily.

Since T.V. Chandran's previous films have won several awards, the media arrived at their own conclusions about Meera acting in a low budget film. "I was not aiming for an award; I liked the character. It was a real challenge to me to portray Shahina, and so I accepted the role despite other financially attractive call-sheets. It's a matter of self-satisfaction for an artiste, which money alone cannot bring. I think I am sensible enough as far as my career is concerned and know my needs," explains Meera.

High expectations

"But, after the shooting, many including T.V. Chandran and others told me there was a chance for a national award", admits Meera. State and national award had made Meera more mature. She is aware that both the industry and the viewers have higher expectations from her.

"There are more talented people in the industry. Unfortunately they didn't get the right role or the right director. Fortunately, I got a few good roles and directors and so I am here today. I think it's only luck and God's grace that brought me this far," she says, preferring to give credit to T.V. Chandran.

"Padom Onnu; Oru Vilapam" tells the travails of teenage Muslim girls in the interior villages of Malappuram, a district in Kerala with a predominantly Muslim population. Girls from poor families are forced to marry elderly men when hardly in their teens violating their fundamental rights for education and freedom. Such weddings often last only for a brief period. Yet, parents thank the almighty for providing legitimate children to their girls.

The film develops through Shahina (the character played by Meera Jasmine) a girl of 14 who is doing well in school. Shahina's mother, Safiya, is a divorced woman in her late twenties who struggles to make ends meet. Due to socio-religious compulsions, Shahina is forcibly married off to Razak, an already married man.

One more single mother

Shahina's unwanted wedding breaks up after her husband rapes her and she is sent back. When Safiya realises that her daughter's fate is the same as hers, she dies of shock and Shahina is one more in the number of teenage single mothers in the community.

"I met several single mothers at the village where the shooting was arranged. I never knew that things were so bad when Chandran Sir told me the story line. Interactions with them and the instructions of the director helped me portray Safiya," says Meera. "While we were shooting in a hospital, some one told me that a teenaged mother had committed suicide a few days ago."

"Understanding others' concern as one's own experience is an essential quality for an artiste," she says. She has decided to donate the money from her award to the Sneham Charitable Trust in Kollengode of Palakkad district (Kerala), an orphanage that takes care of 73 AIDS patients majority of whom are abandoned children.

Whenever she gets time, Meera visits the centre to spend time with the children. "I am always thankful for being able to see from their shoes too", says Meera.

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