A conscious change

REGIONAL CINEMA

Silverscreen has beckoned many. Some have landed here after a lot of planning and preparation, while some have landed here owing to circumstances, learnt to stay afloat and then, with sheer determination, have made the best use of it. The national award winning actress Umashree who belongs to the second category of silverscreen survivors, feels she has turned into a ‘heroine’ at 52, when most people prepare to retire and lead a leisurely life. Her profound performance in renowned director Girish Kasaravalli’s Gulabi Talkies won her accolades.

Adept at performing on both platforms with ease, Umashree is remembered till date for her portrayal of an 80-year-old ‘Sakavva’ in the play ‘Odalaala’, a poor Dalit woman and her turbulances as against the system. Then came films, where she had to start all over again, prove herself at every step and rebuild her own ‘image’, whenever she felt she was getting stereotyped.

Excerpts from an interview with Umashree:

Starting from the naughty Umashree who mouthed ‘double meaning’ dialogues to a national award winning actress... how did the metamorphosis happen?


Firstly, I did not start out as an actress who only did roles which conveyed ‘double meaning’. My mannerisms in my films were not always ‘suggestive’ or leaned towards indecency. I did small roles, starting from director Puttanna Kanagal’s Amruta Ghalige. By then, I was already a familiar face in theatre circles in Bangalore and was travelling all over the state for stage shows. But yes, gradually, roles which were not particularly about a decent woman started falling into my lap. After my pairing up with comedian and writer N S Rao, such roles only increased. There were times when we had become a necessity of sorts for any film which wanted to drive audience to the theatres. Somewhere along the way, I wanted to change. I decided to do something about my choice of roles. So I told the directors and producers that I was not willing to do suggestive roles anymore. Without mincing words, I conveyed to the script writers that my dialogues should be devoid of verbal perversions. I could decide this after working for 15 years in the industry. As a result, I went without work for nearly one year.

How did you manage without work during that time?

That one year was bad in terms of work. However, in terms of being economically independent, I had braced myself for it. I acted in stage plays, much like cinema shoots (in shifts), rehearsing for two to three plays at a time and performing almost all the time. I was busy reading texts and sub-texts of some play or the other during this time. I travelled extensively, learning to be a better actress from all kinds of plays. Amateur theatre taught me how to read the subtext, while rural theatre taught me the art of entertaining.

All along, theatre kept my home and hearth warm. My well-wishers in media and theatre circles kept me in good stead. The period ended with me being offered a role in Golmal Radhakrishna by Sai Prakash. With the film being successful in the market, the actual shift took place in my career. Films that followed saw a different Umashree. Putnanja by Ravichandran happened in 1994. My role left an indelible impression on people’s minds. On several occasions, many of the heroes, directors and scriptwriters I have worked with, have been extremely supportive of my growth than scuttling it.

You forayed into politics after a long career in films. How do you see your future in this field?

Politics happened to me and I didn’t resist it when it did. Today when I look back, I think it was destined to happen. Whenever I have been desperate enough for a change, things have just fallen into place with the support of friends and well wishers. I didn’t come to any of these fields with the help of godfathers. Different people have supported me at different times. In this case, God has been my only godfather. All others have been friends who have cared enough and more for me.

Have you thought of turning into a director?

Perhaps not. I like to act and money is not something that has come easily to me. Hence, I am petrified of losing this comfort level if I put my earnings into something that does not guarantee me adequate returns. Hmm...what’s ahead? Work and more work! I am a restless soul. I yearn to work and add more creative energy into this world. This award is a comma, not a full stop.

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