The actress endorsed by Kamal

There are two ways to be different. One can either have a genuinely different view of things or one can deliberately adopt a radically different view just for the sake of standing apart from the others and getting noticed. After reading this you might be inclined to think that I am of the second kind. But, please be assured that I am not writing this just because I want to say something different or grab some attention. This is in genuine appreciation of an artiste whom I have admired for many years as an actress of great versatility.

When asked about one’s favorite actress each one of us is bound to have a different choice. It might start with Saroja Devi for the old timers and come down to Asin or any of her contemporaries for the current generation. But the actress I am referring to might not figure as any one’s favorite simply because she is not what one would call a heroine. She has always been an actress who could bring out roles in a manner that would make us feel that it would fit no one else.

When we talk about actresses (non-heroine) who have had a great impact on Tamil cinema and are highly respected in the industry one’s mind will naturally thing about Manorama. No doubt, this actress is a legend in her own right and the above description holds true for her too. But, my choice for all time favorite is different. No Tamil cinema lover could have possibly not watched Padhinaaru Vayadhinile and if you have watched the movie it is also hard to forget the actress who played Sridevi’s mother. I am talking about Gandhimathi.

If the first response that you had on seeing the name was a smirk, you are not alone. I have received similar responses from many people before. But, I feel that Gandhimathi has not been duly recognized for her talents and contributions to Tamil cinema. Yes, she has not acted in a huge number of movies or won a lot of awards but the few roles that she did play are etched in our memories. Small or big, major or insignificant, her presence always lent a lot of weight to a role, like the one in Kizhakke Pogum Rail. While many have associated her only with the village lady type of roles which involve loud dialogues and the customary ‘opparis’, what has gone unnoticed is the other side of the actress. Watching movies like Chinna Thambi Periya Thambi will give you an insight into the lighter side of the actress. Of course, the most noticeable aspect of the roles that she played was the ‘Enna pettha rasa’ kind of dialogues, but that is not the beginning and end of Gandhimathi, the actress.

More than the actress, I also have great respect for the person that Gandhimathi is. The roles that she played might belie the person within. She was a social thinker, a communist at heart and has acted in many short films to promote the communist movement. For such a person to transform herself into the illiterate lady of villages in movies is indeed praiseworthy. The proof of her acting skills perhaps can be found in the endorsement of two greats of our times, Kamal Haasan and Bharathiraja. These are people who have a special eye to pick talent. Gandhimathi has featured in many of the movies of these two greats. Whilst she was a Bharathiraja regular at one time, Kamal always wanted her in at least a small role in any movie that he made with a village as its premise, Devar magan and Virummandi. This is perhaps the greatest recognition that she has received, a recognition that has not been recognized by many others.

(By Sudhakar, with inputs from Arun.)

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