It was with a lot of expectations that I started to read Didi Damodaran‘s biographical take on Seema‘s life and times entitled ” Vishudha Shanthi” – a tongue-in-cheek pun on her maiden name and the role that made her the actress that we know her in Malayalam cinema.The narrative flows as this extended and warm conversation between Seema and Didi Damodaran, frank, forthright and brutally honest on the questions that seem to manage to just about touch the fringes of a legacy few can equal in professional Malayalam Cinema.
If only, she had sat through a dozen more of similar conversations ! Now, that would have resulted in something that any Malayalam Cinema fan would have deliriously dived in and would have really taken his/her own time to come up for air. In between the brutally frank insights on her career that shines with frankness and at times an impersonal demeanor, there are little gems that seem to make you smile. You just can’t stop smiling as she speaks about how Kamalhassan has stored her name in his cell-phone directory as ‘Vandhi Shanthi‘ – a reminder of the days enroute to becoming the popular dancer/dance choreographer Shanthi in Tamil and Malayalam Films, where she used to blissfully puke consistently out of exhaustion from the rigorous dance routines. Kamalhassan was Thankappan Master‘s trusted ‘lieutenant’ who used to guide them with the complicated dance moves !
The major part of the narrative/conversation is taken up by the transistion from Dancer Shanthi to Actress Seema and the production that made it all possible – IV Sasi’s seminal Avaludey Raavukal ( Her Nights), a movie which the popular media of the times thankfully reduced to soft-porn, and then sheepishly repented afterwards, humbled by the way the average Malayalam movie fan allowed himself/herself to be carried away with the bold perspective on the human faces around a body that was mainly used as a commercial sex tool.
Seema recalls that more than the gravitas of the role, she was more worried about the 4 figure remuneration she was promised for the project ( which was duly forgotten during the shooting) and how she had to literally force IV Sasi to write her a cheque for Rs 1000 which became her first payout as a lead actress for a film! Seema, in my humble opinion, is the only Actress ( or Actor, whichever way you want to call it) who was fortunate enough to find herself in roles that were on par with the testosterone-dripping macho lead characters of her times, be it Soman, Sukumaran, Jayan, Mammootty, Mohnalal or whoever. She was the one who gave us this refreshing concept of a role done by a female lead that exuded power, daring and simple courage. True, there were her moments of pure kitsch on screen, but that seems a miniscule when one considers the characters (and the amazing diversity) that she brought to life on screen in Malayalam Cinema.
Much like her characters, it is this incredible sense of forthrightness and honesty that permeates all through the ‘interview’ with Didi, some thing so rare in these times of cultivated and paid-for PR exercises. I also found a mention of Lohithadas scripted Mahayanam (1989), directed by Joshy (which also won Mammootty a State Award for that year for Best Actor), which she counted amongst her favorites and memorable performances. Hey, its one of mine too!🙂 It was also her ‘comeback’ ( I really feel she didn’t need one, ever) of sorts, if you can call that, and more than Mammootty’s role of the truck-driver who comes in with a dead body to the village and leaves it with another, it was the role of Seema’s Rajamma ( the local teashop woman) who stayed with you. Atleast for me, it was.
A Clip from Mahayanam (1989)
Even though she did the maximum lead-paired roles with Sukumaran (another factoid from the book), I love her roles with Mammootty, specially the ones scripted by MT Vasudevan Nair and T Damodaran, directed by her illustrious husband IV Sasi, cast against Mammootty onscreen in the 80’s. Together, they brought a sense of maturity onscreen without overdoing it, and though Mammootty went overboard at times bowing to the ‘hero-pressures’ that the film demanded, Seema’s characters always held their ground, much like her personality in real life, that effortlessly comes through the entire conversation. Think Aksharangal (1984), Alkoottathil Thaniye (1984), Anubandham (1985) and you know what I mean.
A clip from Anubandham (1985).
Vishudha Shanthi | Seemayudey Cinemayum Jeevithavum, priced ar Rs.40, published by Mathrubhoomi Books and is a keepsake, if not for the density and depth, but for the very fact that it is always being involved in a conversation, how ever brief it is, with a consummate actor called Seema. ( How I wish again that it was a bit more longer)