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Back to her first love

"Salangai is my most valuable property," says actress Jayabharathi who now turns to her passion — dance.


THOUGH PAST her prime, Jayabharathi has retained much of the looks that set the silver screen ablaze in the 1970s and 1980s. Yet behind the make-up and luxurious lifestyle is a woman who does not want to miss out on the ordinary pleasures of life, being a caring mother, a protective sister and a passionate artiste.

The once much-in-demand Malayalam actress (she has acted in Tamil movies too), who could shake a leg and emote before the camera with equal ease, is spirited as ever. Anxious to appear picture perfect to the world outside, she has her make-up man (he has been with her ever since her acting days) around to wipe the sweat and dab some powder and lipstick every other minute. Though she has almost called it quits on the acting front (she is not interested in mother roles), Jayabharathi appears as restive as she was during her eight shifts-a-day life. For, she is trying to get back to her first love — Bharatanatyam.

Dance school

"I want to do whatever little I can for the art that has given me all that I could have only dreamt of," she says, sitting in her sprawling house on Sterling Road, in an unmistakable Malayalam accent. Born in Erode, and having spent so many years in Chennai, she also speaks senthamizh.

The actress is busy these days with her dance school, Aswathi Arts Academy, which she runs from home. She is also starting another one in Coimbatore. "I want to encourage more and more youngsters to pursue this beautiful art form."

Like how modelling is a stepping-stone to cinema these days, acting was a natural progression for many classical dancers then. So after being trained since the age of five under Kalamandalam Natarajan, Rajaram (a student of Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai) and Vazhuvoor Samraj Pillai, Jayabharathi entered films as a teenager. Life revolved around film studios, dance rehearsals and stage performances. "Balancing two demanding professions meant no time to sleep, eat or socialise. I could not give up either. While one filled the family kitty, the other fulfilled my creative urge," says the actress nonchalantly. "I remember once during a recital in Kerala, water was oozing out of the blisters on my feet as I had been shooting that entire day in the hot sun for a folk dance in the Malayalam remake of "Alibaba and 40 Thieves", she continues, the pain still evident in her eyes. "I did all kinds of roles, sexy or sober, for economic reasons, but never compromised on discipline and hard work."

"What is your most valuable property," somebody had once asked her. And she replied, "Salangai". And to what she would like to be reborn as, the actress had said, "Jayabharathi's sister or brother." Her unpretentiousness is touching.

Her role model

Given a chance, she would like to model her career after Vyjayanthimala Bali. "Before the camera or on stage, she has always been magical. At this age, her agility and stamina are amazing. For the past two to three years, I have been attending all her performances during the December festival. I really get emotional watching her and visualise myself in her place." Two years back, Jayabharathi peformed in nine temples in and around Kerala. "But I have always wanted to perform in Chennai."

The actress is in a hurry to catch up with things she had missed out in life. For instance, sabha-hopping during Margazhi. This season every evening I was at some sabha or the other attending cutcheris."

She also enjoys pampering her college-going son. "I want to be there always for him till he finds his own space in this world. The best thing about him is he understands my struggle, my aspirations and my limitations."

CHITRA SWAMINATHAN

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