'Life can't get fairer'

 This is one bouquet that was long overdue in Umashree’s career. The National Award for Best Actress for her performance in Girish Kasaravalli’s Gulabi Talkies, in fact, is a vindication of the fact that Umashree is one of most the versatile actresses in the country.

Profusely accepting the greetings that were pouring in on the phone, Umashree told Metrolife that she is enjoying every moment that she has been basking in the national limelight. “Yes, I initially felt bad that I had never been given the lead role and whatever I did, I was just a supporting actress. But this award now fulfills everything for me as an actress. Life can never be fairer to me than this,” she says.

Umashree said the National Award owed a lot to the role which, she feels, is real in form and content. “The character is symbolic of any woman. One must learn to love and respect one another. It is one character under whose skin I got under,” she says and adds, “this woman drowns her sorrows and pains in the joy of serving others.”
The award to Umashree also proves that even in the personality cult-oriented Indian cinema, nothing can smother talent. In her nearly three decade career, Umashree has essayed every conceivable role, barring the glamourous heroine. But the actress in her never gave up.

Whether it was the bawdy roles that she was initially famous for or the old woman’s roles that she was later believed to execute to perfection, Umashree sent one clear on-screen message: She was primarily a power house of talent.

She admits that while comedy always excited her, she could slip into any role with ease. “If it’s comedy I laugh my heart out and if it’s tragedy, I can be just as tragedy-struck as the character I play,” she says.

Having essayed different roles in Kannada, Telugu and Tamil cinema, Umashree feels there is a sea change in how roles are being chiselled. “Yes, it isn’t easy to make a hero of a comedian overnight and a comedian out of a hero in the blink of an eye. There was a time when characters and roles were hermetically-sealed, but now it’s all mixed up,” she says. Commenting on the state of the Kannada film industry, Umashree observes that the industry has been sticking to the same success formulae for too long. “It is a tad repetitive,” she says.

She feels most new age film-makers have had no exposure to the rich tradition of novels in Kannada. “They merely watch other films and either replicate the same with an addition here and a deletion there to pass of as original,” she explains and adds, “Yes, there’s no movie that truly portrays our culture. A lot of values have been compromised.”

What next after the National Award? Umashree has signed up for Kasaravalli’s next film Kanasina Kudareya Benneri. But whatever cinema may give her, she is clear about one thing: “Nothing is more satisfying than theatre and drama. It has a soul and life all of its own.”

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