The volatile diva

The volatile diva

Kannada cinema

The volatile diva

Ramya is known not just for her versatile acting skills, but for her tendency to court controversies too. The star talks to S Nanda Kumar about her childhood, and her accidental entry into films

After her debut opposite Puneet Rajkumar in the film Abhi in 2003, Ramya has had a tumultuous decade in the Kannada film industry. She has been the focus of interest for the Kannada film audience, both for her work as an actor, as well as her tendency to be in the centre of controversies. This perhaps has a lot to do with her frank and outspoken nature, says the actor. Christened Divya Spandana at birth, Ramya, like many actors in the Indian film industry, opted for a screen name that she is now more popularly known by.

On a muggy afternoon in Bangalore, the volatile artiste said she was not known for being diplomatic. “I am not somebody who minces words. I say what I want. I am perfect for headlines, so the media loves me. I am extremely sensitive to what people write about me, so the minute they say something about me, they know I am going to react. I should have learnt not to get provoked,” she says animatedly, waving her hands about to make her point. She says she does not want to lose her identity during the course of her acting. “At the end of the day, when I come back home, I have to be me, to my family, to myself, to my friends. I don’t want to become the person who looks in the mirror and doesn’t recognise herself anymore, to not know the difference between when you’re acting and when you have stopped acting. I have always stood up for things, always voiced my opinion.”

Early independence

I mention her privileged childhood, and she cuts in to disagree. “It’s not true. My mom raised me single-handedly. I was in a boarding school at Ooty from when I was three. I still remember the first day at school — I was just three or four years old, I was holding on to my mother’s pallu, I did not want to let her go at all, I was crying and bawling…then my matron, Ms Rita, said, ‘Come I will show you your dorm. Here I was, holding on to my teddy bear. By the time I came back, my mother had left. I must thank my mom — being a single mother in those days. I was the only kid in my school who did not have two parents. But my mom never ever made me feel that. That was boarding school. I got used to it. I became fiercely independent. You learn different languages, because you meet people from all walks of life. I was not born with a silver spoon.”

A fierce breeze rips through the outdoor garden we are seated in, as she reminisced about her early life. “During the school holidays, my mom would take me around Karnataka. She did not want me to lose touch. She gave me Kannada tuitions. She taught me herself. I would crib and complain. It was of no use when I went back to school. Now I am so grateful. As one gets older, one wants to go back to one’s roots. I must thank her.”

She had never planned on pursuing a career in the movie industry, she says. Ramya had visited Raghavendra Rajkumar’s office to help out a friend. “I went to Raghanna’s office to show pictures of somebody else who was interested in acting. He called Appu (Puneet), and said we should take her for the movies. I explained that I was going to London soon to do my BA in Economics. But they insisted that I be the heroine in their next project. That’s how movies happened. I never asked for it, it just happened.”

Ramya became known in the industry for her insistence on being treated on par with the lead actor. She believes she helped change the equation for heroines in the Kannada film industry. “I am an only child. I do not know what sharing is like. I didn’t know why the hero should get more attention than me. It comes from the fact that one has had all the attention, it has just been you, and here you have someone who gets a caravan and you don’t. He gets paid more than you. Your dates have to revolve around his. I have always put my foot down. As much as an actor is a pivotal part of the film, so also is an actress.

And it’s also my upbringing. I am fiercely independent. I stand up for what is right. What you see is what you get. I don’t mince words. Which could have its advantages and disadvantages in the movie industry. I prefer to use it as an advantage, because at the end of the day, people know where they stand with me,” the actress explains.

She further says, “And I would tell them in front of the actor…why no special food for us, why no caravan, why do we have to go to random people’s houses to use the restroom… I will never allow the industry to change me, the rules to change me. Yes, I would change if it was for the right reasons, but I wouldn’t change because somebody claims this was the way things are done. I am happy today because actresses also get caravans; sometimes we get paid more than the co-stars. I am not saying that this is something to boast about, but times have changed.”

Tamil films & politics

Ramya also works in the Tamil film industry, and I ask her what the differences were between the two industries. “Industry people here tell me Kannada is a niche market, they cannot spend so much. I think if you make a film even with a Rs 50 lakh budget, if it is a good film, people will come and watch it. So, first get rid of that belief. Come up with original stories. So many remakes! That’s why I have decided that after eight or nine years in the industry, I will not do remakes. Because you are so caught up with remaking Tamil and Telugu films, you’re not giving opportunities to writers here who have the potential of coming up with good scripts. I remember thinking in those days Kannada films used to be re-made. Such beautiful films, the lyrics were so nice, the plot was so nice, and the heroine had equal importance, which is not there today. Most directors today love to boast about the fact that their film has a Rs10 crore budget; it doesn’t make sense, the producer is not going to get his money back. I have noticed in Tamil — it’s not about the budget; it’s not about the making; it’s about the script. It’s about the story, and it’s all original.”

She is serious about her future in politics, and campaigned actively for the Congress during the last state assembly elections (and quite predictably, had her share of controversies). She believes that to bring about a real change in the country, one needs to take an active part in politics. But the hurly-burly of politics seems to be a long way off, with Ramya being busy and very excited about her roles in four under production films — Aryan opposite Shivarajkumar (director: D Rajendra Babu), Dil ka Raja opposite Prajwal Devaraj (Somnath Patil), an untitled Kodi Ramakrishna project with Diganth, and Neer Dose opposite Jaggesh (Vijaya Prasad).

And as mosquitoes descend upon us, we discuss a recent Hindi film story in which a controversial heroine, followed by the media at every step, leaves to go and live her life in anonymity in Europe. “Sometimes I want to do that — like go to Spain and be a waitress…sometimes I want to go and live my life somewhere where nobody knows me.” It sounds good in a movie plot, but it certainly doesn’t seem as if this impulsive artiste is going anywhere in a hurry.