Aparna’s voice has always made itself known. Soft, low and capable of outstanding enunciation, it has travelled along radio waves and through television to inform and entertain people for close to 3 decades.
Of late, it warns passengers on Namma Metro to ‘mind the gap before boarding and deboarding’, in Kannada. The voice has the distinction of anchoring more than 8,000 shows so far.
Aparna declares that anchoring, “the art that she absolutely loves,” will continue to be her “bread and butter.” She is in between a shooting on the sets of the comedy talk show Majaa Talkies at Kanteerava Studios, Bengaluru.
The artiste has expanded her sprawling artistic turf by playing the recurring character on the show, ‘the one and only’ Varalakshmi, or Varu, surprising everyone, including her. It’s not the actor’s return to the small screen that has surprised viewers (her performances have been in acclaimed serials like Moodala Mane and Mukta), but her choice of character.
Vain and boastful, the ever-single Varu’s deadly serious claims are of kinship with the likes of (Barack) Obama and Sallu (Salman Khan), but her earnest bluff is for everyone to see. Her poetic renditions and monologues are popular with the crowd, drawing much laughter from them, but are mocked by ‘brother-in-law’ and host of Majaa Talkies, Srujan Lokesh, or Sruja, as she calls him.
Aparna remembers “having a hearty laugh” when in late 2014, Srujan called her with the proposition to take on the role of Varu. “I wondered what I would do in a comedy show. Basically, I have an image of being serious, of taking on serious roles. It becomes a frame, and we are just there. Plus, nobody pushes us to take risks, sometimes we don’t venture. It took me some time to convince myself, with support from Sruja, to accept the offer.”
The once-sketchy character of Varu that “Sruja first brought to me and let me improvise” has had a dream run of completing 125 episodes on the show. “I’m fascinated by vain characters — the ‘I’ people. I love observing their behaviour. And, since I have studied Sociology, I love it all the more. Look around, such people are everywhere. So, I suggested to Sruja that we could bring in somebody who thinks she is best at everything; to take a shot at someone who is built on the ideals of seriousness and conviction, yet cannot be taken seriously. But I had also told him to kill my character if she didn’t connect with the audiences. I had self-doubt,” she laughs.
The trick behind successful entertainment is to uproot in viewers the comfortable knowledge of what to expect. So, when the actor, known for her serious and no-nonsensical voice, makes tall claims of fame and fortune as Varu, many have asked, “Why this?” And more importantly, “Why now?”
Aparna’s answer is a 2-word question, “Why not?” “As an actor, I want to experiment with all sorts of roles. But I can see confusion on people’s faces when they talk to me now. Because, as a show host, I’m just my serious self and reserved. They just can’t believe that this person has made them laugh.”
The silently spirited actor calls Bengaluru her home, and her childhood as the part of life actively guided by her father, Narayanaswamy, a journalist of repute.
“In my younger days, many Sunday evenings would mean visiting film sets with my father. At home, there were visitors from the Kannada film fraternity. I would listen to them, although the subjects they discussed were beyond me.” Just a conversation with the artistes would mean to learn the art of speaking coherently for young Aparna. “My father also encouraged my brother and me to go out, learn, and experience the world,” she remembers.
In a 2014 TV interview, she goes back in time (to the 90s), to the stint with AIR as an announcer, and recalls that her father’s reply to her successful presentation was pointing out a repetition in her announcement. She credits his well-meaning criticism over the years for her command over Kannada.
Aparna has dabbled in films as well, after her breakthrough in Puttanna Kanagal’s Masanada Hoovu in 1984. “I was there in around 10 films. But that’s about it. I didn’t get to play the roles I wanted. The roles I had in mind were based on the films my father made me watch — by the greats like Shyam Benegal and Satyajit Ray. Since I didn’t get such opportunities, I quit films. That’s when Doordarshan (DD) came as a blessing for me; for all 1-film wonders of the time, actually.”
As a TV presenter, Aparna has been part of all major productions on DD between 1990 and 2000, including the historic 8-hour continuous live quiz programme she conducted for Deepaavali in 1998, a first in Karnataka’s television history.
Now, the actor has clinched the centrestage again. “I feel an actor is successful when he is recognised by his character, not by his name. Varu has given me a lot of encouragement. She is loved by everyone. At an event where I was the host, the person who thanked the gathering began to introduce my name as ‘the one and only Varalakshmi’, by mistake, but soon changed it to Aparna!”