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anuja iyer


You would have seen her play Rajini's mother in 'Endhiran' / 'Robot' or the popular 'Cinema Kaaram Coffee' chat show or in many of K Balachander Sir's television serials. But just as any of you out there reading this piece, I met an actor who was much more than what we've seen till now on screen. Meet Mrs. Revathy Sankaran, a popular artist who's been around in the media space for about 35 years and still raring to go with her multi-faceted personality and who has worked with many bigwigs in the ad world right from Jayendra to Randy to PC Sriram to Rajeev Menon to Maanav Menon. But all that doesn't define who she is and here's a peek of that person beyond the small screen and silver screen.

Four years back I had the opportunity to go to Ilayaraja Sir's Navarathri Golu at his T-Nagar residence and there was this little over four feet tall woman dressed in a traditional nine yards silk saree in a Marathi style with a big round maroon 'pottu' with all their typical headgear, flowers surrounding her big round hair-bun, mixed with our traditional South Indian jewellery starting with an addigai worn closer to her neck followed by other longer layers of Kaasu Maalai, Muthu Maalai, dazzling earrings and Oddiyaanam at the waist. I went there hoping to catch a glimpse of Raja Sir, which I did when he briefly came down from his room in the first floor to greet us all but the part that I unexpectedly relished more than the Golu arrangements was this impeccable and entertaining rendition of 'Harikatha' to all the guests present there by 'Kalaimamani' Revathy Sankaran. It is a delight to watch her narrate the stories dressed in a traditional costume and listen to her 'purana kathaigal' as she sings along to make the narration livelier. And just a week back when I got the chance to spend a whole day with her on an ad shoot, I got a whiff of the extensive knowledge that she possesses including her penchant for Tamil literature, Indian epics, languages, songs and penning lyrics for Varnams in Bharathanatyam compositions.

She is a walking reference library for the ill-informed lot like me and just to give you a sample of that, there's this interesting capsule in one of the radio shows in Mirchi where she talks about the logic behind every ritual and tradition that our generation just blindly follows. As part of a Hindu-way of worshipping God at a temple or a puja at home, we witness the 'aarathi' shown to the deity, pray (which largely translates to asking God a million things on our list) and apply the 'viboothi' on our forehead. But have we ever questioned why we're given the 'Viboothi' or 'Thirumann' that is made of ash primarily? I was enlightened only after the explanation that Revathy-ma, as I'd like to address her, gave so poignantly on our way back from the shoot. Her thirst for knowledge is undying and her generous nature to share anything and everything that she has imbibed is from her multi-talented encyclopedia mother.

Like how we tend to draw our own sketch of a person's nature when we see them at the outset, she can easily fool your mind to think that she's a conservative 'maami' lifted straight out of a Visu film that usually has one elderly mother character who lives a domesticated life heavily dependent on the husband and gets subjugated by grown-up sons and immature daughters-in-law. But she is one of those women, despite belonging to another generation, who is completely independent, manages her work front (has been the editor of Mangayar Malar magazine besides being an actor) and handles the home front like a tigress when it comes to protecting her fort. Let alone being dependent on your own children for anything, she doesn't even employ a house keeper to do all the household chores. She doesn't like waiting for someone to come and clean up her house and considers it as her 'me-time' to keep the house spic and span. Her husband Sankaran, well beyond the platinum age, loves to eat and helps her in cutting vegetables, cooking or any other household work even today.

I wanted Revathy-ma to catch the on-going law firm series 'Dharmayudham' on Vijay TV and I told her she could catch it at 10 p.m every night. I wouldn't have been surprised had she told me that it's a late time slot to catch for someone her age but guess what, she very nonchalantly said 'Don't worry. I'll bring myself abreast right from the first two weeks' episodes' that I missed on youtube itself and catch the rest on the internet at any time. My eyes popped, jaws dropped and my hands reached for hers. She communicates with her son Jayanth on Skype and even has an email ID that she accesses once every day. If you want her to write copy or taglines for an ad, she'll record in her voice and send you the audio link options online for you to listen and shortlist. In fact we only know one way to sing the nursery rhyme 'Twinkle twinkle little star' to our little nieces and nephews. But her video of singing this simple rhyme in many styles of Abhang, Garba, Carnatic, Hindustani is available on youtube with more than 6 lakh views. Few days back, while I almost finished my dubbing for the ad we did together, Revathy-ma reached the studio just then and the director wanted me to hum a line that'll be used at an apt place in the ad. He asked me if I could sing. I said yes but you'll have to tell me the tune. Immediately Revathy-ma suggested a simple yet catchy tune that I could hum and it was recorded in a few seconds. That's her capability at doing things impromptu where art in any form just mellifluously flows from her like she has been generously blessed by Goddess Saraswati.

She may be playing mother to Rajini Sir who is just 7 years younger to her but she is age-defying in everything that she does where you can never slot her in a pre-internet 'antha kaalathu manusha' category. She can sing as much as a Doris Day / Cliff Richard's song to a Kannada film classic to an Aandal's Thiruppaavai. The famous 'Woodwards Gripewater' ad's line 'Ennachu? Kozhantha azhuthadhu' line was done in all possible regional languages and she dubbed the line in all the languages including Bengali, Kannada, Telugu, Malayalam, Tamizh, Hindi with the perfect accent without having to call a specific person for each language.

We discovered during our conversation on the shooting day that she too resided in Balaji Nagar 20 years back where I currently stay and happened to know my grandparents very well. Someone who had been a stranger to me until that morning suddenly was reminiscing her olden days and narrating me instances that even I didn't know about them and her memorable interactions with my thaatha, paatti, appa and athai two decades earlier. Life has its own ways of making people meet and this indeed reconnected two people who were two generations apart but with wavelengths that matched like pineapple & cheese.

There are only a few adjectives that would be apt to describe a person's energy level. But I'm bound to run short of words if I were to describe her springboard spirit to live life and enjoy every moment. Vivacious, effervescent, sparkling and all that you can fill in to describe a person with such contagious spirit and positive energy all the time. She played my 'Paatti' in the ad but by the time we were done with the shoot at night, I was tired and talking less while she was as energetic as a 'Duracell' bunny just as she was in the morning when we picked her up at 7 from her home. The logic behind applying the 'Viboothi' made so much sense as I saw her alight from the car and bidding goodbye to me with a warm hug and a hearty 'Sheeghrameva Vivaaha Praapthirasthu' blessing. She said, when you apply the 'Viboothi' on your forehead, it is a reminder to you and to the person who looks at your forehead that we are all going to become this ash one day. ' 'Thirumann' reminds you that we will all be a part of the 'Mann' (earth) one day and therefore it is so very important to live every moment and make your birth count by doing something meaningful before your time is up. My day with her ended but she taught me an important lesson in life that'll last a lifetime and keep me rejuvenated enough to go on.

Couple of days back I logged on to facebook and I saw a 'Friend request' sent to me from her ID. I gladly pressed 'Confirm friend'.

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