Last week, the versatile Chennai based Shobana won her second 'Best Actress' National Award for Mitr-My Friend. The first National Award came her way in 1994. Acting runs in her family, her aunts were the great Travancore sisters Lalitha, Padmini and Ragini. Shobana made her debut at the tender age of nine, and won an award too. At 14, she acted in a Malayalam film April 18, the super hit, which established her as a heroine. She went on to act in over 100 films in all the Southern languages.
Excerpts from an exclusive interview to sify.com.
Q: What is your reaction to winning the National Award the second time? Did you expect this award for Mitr?
A: There were friends calling me much before the official announcement to say that I had won the award; it came as a pleasant surprise as I didn’t really know whether they would consider the performance as the film was officially in English. But this is also an encouragement to experimental films for which I thank the jury.
Q: Your comment on sharing the award with Tabu?
A: This goes to show that competition need not necessarily result in failure, it also proves that no one performance is alike or can be compared.
Q: Tell us something about the role you played in Mitr-My Friend as Lakshmi, the housewife. How did you accept to play the mother of a teenage girl?
A: The character Lakshmi represented a certain middle class, which is not often addressed in cinema. We have a large middle class not only in India but also around the world who have stories to tell and this is one such story. It showed the loneliness of a woman with cultural dislocation. I have done a range of roles and yet it was the first time, I played a mother of a teenager. Whether you agree or not, such women exist...it was different working with a woman director of my own generation, it obviously had a different thrust, usually films etched out by women, have an obvious sense of feminism, usually making a strong feministic statement. Here was a woman director who boldly allowed her heroine, to have weak moments.
Q: Which was the more difficult role? Lakshmi of Mitror Ganga of
A: In Manichitratazhu, Fazil directed me very competently. In the film I was the spirit of a dancer and I have the spirit of dance in me. In Mitr Revathy took extra time to speak to me at length about the role. Mitr was a film where the characters and the situations were very realistic, so to just be myself was very difficult especially if you don’t have a teenage daughter. I have travelled to the US and worked with a lot of kids where I conduct workshops for Bharatanatyam. I have interacted to a great extent with the families who live abroad. I think this has also helped. Dubbing for Mitr was exceedingly difficult as I had to slowly change and not change the south-Indian English accent, which gets slightly Americanised as time goes by.
Q: Why have you been not seen in films these days? Are you being choosy about the subjects or are you taking a break?
A: Being choosy sounds very arrogant. Lets just say that I love films too much to lose interest in them. To keep the passion alive I have to slow down the number of films that I do. Any artiste will want to explore the widest possible range anyway. I have other commitments such as a small dance school that is now slowly beginning to come to life as well as an eternal curiosity about the Indian dance forms.
Q: You have played heroine to all superstars like Rajnikanth, Kamalhassan, Chiranjeevi and Mohanlal. But acting opposite these veterans you showed your mettle. How was the experience?
A: I have worked with stalwarts both in the films as well as the classical art forms. The outcome from these experiences has been more of learning than of peer pressure. There is saying in Tamil which when translated says: - “The thread that ties the flowers together becomes fragrant as well”. I have had the great fortune to work with directors like Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Aravindan, K Balachander, Fazil, Mani Ratnam, Priyadarsan and many more brilliant directors in Malayalam. I would like to mention that bringing life to their thoughts has made me have a bird’s eye view on sensitivity in general like most good artistes.
Q: What are you more passionate about- acting or dancing?
A: I can never really separate the two or the three or the many facets to me. All this combined is what I am as a person. It is a habit in me to be passionate about dancing, a habit that I cultivated from my guru Chitra Visweswaran. I learnt from her the commitment, the need to be immersed by factors that would be conducive for the growth of arts. I learnt from her to be curious as well to teach my students to think and be self sufficient. If I am able to open the minds of my young dance students I will be happy.