At ‘Cyanide’ (2006) premiere at Urvashi theatre in Bengaluru, J Ranganath came happily running towards Tara. “It really felt I was seeing my wife on screen,” said the man who had provided shelter to LTTE militants Sivarasan, Subha and five others in Bengaluru in 1991.
Tara remembers Ranganath dialling his wife Mridula, who had left the theatre immediately after the show.
“You were perfect in playing me,” she told the actor. Tara remembers the incident with nostalgia. “It was the ultimate compliment,” she says.
The actor deserves every bit of praise for her terrific performance in AMR Ramesh’s film on the hunting down of Rajiv Gandhi assassins. As a petrified and innocent woman helplessly hosting the country’s most-wanted criminals, she makes you root for her.
Tara is a bankable actor in the retelling of real events and adaptations from classic novels. Having worked with auteurs like Girish Kasaravalli, Mani Ratnam and Girish Karnad, her cabinet is decorated with a National award, five State awards and two Filmfare honours.
Dance, Tara’s first love, led her to films at a young age. “I was doing stage shows under dance master PC Subramaniam sir. One day, we performed a ballet called ‘Sangya Balya’ at Ravindra Kalakshetra and filmmaker Vemagal Jagannath Rao was present. He wanted a child actor for his film ‘Thulasidala’ (1985) based on a Yandamuri Veerendranath story,” she says.
It took him many rounds of convincing Tara’s family, who were reluctant to send their child -- who had just finished her seventh standard exams – to the big, unknown world of cinema.
“My father M Thyagaraju, who retired as chief general manager at Agro Industries, and mother T Pushpa were hesitant to give permission since our family had no connection with the film industry,” she recalls.
“But I was thrilled about the offer. My aunt owns Sharada theatre (near Town Hall). So we would watch movies every weekend and I would imitate the actors. I loved the Sridevi-Kamal Haasan pair and enjoyed watching Charlie Chaplin. Eventually, my family agreed and my career took off. Never even in my dreams I had imagined becoming an actor,” she says. Karnad’s ‘Kanooru Heggadithi’ (1999) gave a big fillip to Tara’s career. Playing the rebellious lead, Tara was raw and expressive. “It was a challenging role for many reasons,” she says.
“The film was adapted from Kuvempu’s novel ‘Kanooru Subbamma Heggadithi’ so we had to be responsible in recreating the story on screen. The main character, studied in the college syllabus, was very popular. In fact, during the shoot, people in Thirthahalli called me ‘Heggadathamma,’ which is what I was in the film, and not Tara,” explains the 48-year-old.
She describes Karnad as a passionate filmmaker. “He would act and explain the scenes to us. He would get emotionally involved in the scenes, so much so that in scenes where he had to hit me, he would actually do it,” she says with a chuckle. Working under him opened her eyes to another school of thought from which, she says, she learnt a lot.
With Mani Ratnam, Tara acted in the Tamil cult-classic ‘Nayagan’ (1987) and blockbuster ‘Agni Natchathiram’ (1988). “Mani sir is easy to work with. He talks about a scene and leaves us to perform. He tells us to express ourselves confidently,” she says.
In 2005, Tara clinched the National award for Girish Kasaravalli’s hard-hitting drama ‘Hasina’ (2004), based on Banu Mushtaq’s story ‘Kari Nagaragalu’. She delivers a heartbreaking performance as a pregnant woman who breaks the shackles of patriarchy. She edged out big names like Konkana Sen and Aishwarya Rai for the prestigious award.
By striking a balance between melodramatic and subtle acting, Tara oozed great dignity to her commercial cinema roles in ‘Krama’ (1990) ‘Munjaneya Manju’ (1993) and ‘Ee Bandhana’ (2007).
Tara married ace cinematographer H C Venugopal (‘A’, ‘H20’, ‘Sparsha’, ‘Aa Dinagalu’) in 2005. “Prior to entering films, Venu was a photographer in the Kannada daily ‘Prajavani’. He used to come for photoshoots and we fell in love. He is a wonderful technician and I have immense respect for his talent,” she says. The couple’s son Shree Krishna is six.
She sees her entry into politics as an accidental development.
“I used to be part of campaigns of many noted actors from different parties. After I joined the BJP in 2009, party elders have treated me like their own daughter,” says Tara, who is now a member of the Legislative Council.
Schooling across state
Tara’s father had a transferable job, and so she did her primary schooling in Dharwad, Sirsi, Davangere, and Tumakaru. For high school, she joined RV Public School. She did her pre-university course at NMKRV College, Jayanagar. That is when she had to take permission and go shoot for Mani Ratnam’s ‘Nayagan’.