Devi Chandana can easily slip into the roles of a seasoned dancer, actress or a comedian in a jiff. She became the darling of the mini screen audience with her unique talent to effortlessly pull off both humorous and serious roles. In a candid interview, Devi Chandana opens up about her career and passion for dance.
Entry into movies
“I must say that my entry into the entertainment industry was quite unexpected. I really liked dancing and wished to participate in the school youth festivals. But I was studying in a CBCE school then. Only the students of the state schools could take part in the youth festivals. So, my teacher RLV Anilkumar advised me to move to a state school. I did change the school when I was studying in class ten and participated in the state school youth festival. I was the kalathilakam in the sub district and district levels. Besides, I won prizes for kuchipudi and ottamthullal in the state youth festival as well. I got an offer to act after my photo appeared in the news paper. I essayed the role of actor Vijayaraghavan’s sister in the movie Bharyaveetil Paramasugam directed by Rajan Sithara,” says Devi.
She also acted as Shalini’s friend in the movie Kannukkul Nilavu directed by veteran film maker Faasil. As she too is a native of Alappuzha, the family knew Faasil already.
In fact, Fahadh Faasil and Devi had studied together. She then did minor roles in quite a few movies. Later, she began getting offers from television serials. Devi admits she never expected to become an actress.
“I didn’t have much idea about the industry when I made my debut. I accepted almost all the offers that came my way. I didn’t bother whether I was the lead actress. Moreover, there wasn’t anyone to guide me. I didn’t have any friends or acquaintances who had any experiences or contacts in the industry. I did what I was offered. Though I had acted in quite a lot of movies, very few got noticed. When I began doing comedy, most of the roles that I got were humorous. However, I am not disappointed about it. Whatever comes my way, I have always tried to do it as amazing as possible,” Devi makes her stand clear.
Devi has no doubts when she says that television serials had played a vital role in making her a household name. “I don’t think cinema has the same reach as television serials. Or you should be part of gigantic movies like Pulimurigan or Baahubali. In serials, the audience watches us every day. But the truth is that they would forget us that easily as well. I can still watch my first movie. However, I cannot watch my first serial even if I wish to,” observes the actress
She says serials are actually one time versions. Though it has tremendous reach it wouldn’t last forever. Her first TV serial was Manassu directed by AM Nazeer. Serials like Kudumbavilakku and Marubhoomiyil Pookkalam too got noticed.
Stint in dubbing
Barring her first two movies, Devi had dubbed for all her characters herself. It was in the movie Nariman that she had dubbed for someone else for the first time. Director K Madhu and some of the crew members were at the Chitranjali studio when Devi went there to dub for her portions. The director gave her a dialogue and asked her to try dubbing it. It was a court room scene in which Samyukta Varma was talking animatedly. “The dialogue didn’t come out well when I tried the first time. It is no easy task dubbing for someone else. The director asked me to try one more time before leaving. Later, he asked me to dub the remaining portions as well. However, it became an issue as I was a new person in the industry. Besides, I didn’t have membership either. Some people blew it out of proportion. Later, I completed dubbing after getting the membership,” recalls Devi.
Comedy and Mr and Mrs Panicker
Devi is someone who always loves exploring the genre of comedy. She used to perform mono acts in school. She says she loves humor and prefers watching comedy movies. She had joined the Cochin Guinness troupe as a dancer. When Prasad learned that Devi used to do mono act, he decided to plan a skit with her in it. Though Devi tried to evade, Prasad convinced her by saying that she only needs to move her lips in the pre recorded skit. That is when Devi tried her hands in comedy for the first time. Later, she was cast in the comedy program Mr and Mrs Panicker in a popular television channel.
“It was a novel show that discussed the current issues as well. It ran for almost thirteen years. Audience still remembers my character in it. My roles in the movies Kasthuriman and Vesham too had a humor touch. You could be selective only when you have more than one option at hand. Or else, you could do what you are offered,” notes Devi.
Devi, who has been in the field for around two decades thinks that the new generation of artists are extremely lucky as they could achieve in just ten seconds what she had achieved in ten years. “That is the advantage of social media. It is good and bad. Even if we express a harmless comment or opinion about an issue, it would be altered and made viral in ways we hardly imagine. It is only when I browse through the various online pages and sites that I realize that there are countless incredibly talented editors here. Recently, I spoke about shedding body weight in the TV program Annie’s Kitchen. From next day onwards, people began calling me to enquire whether I was alright. It was only later that I saw a few news links that hinted as if I was depressed. If you read them you would feel as if I had tried to kill myself,” says the actress.
However, Devi credits the social media for giving maximum exposure to talented artists. Earlier, the print media was the lone medium for promotion. Getting your face printed on a magazine cover was the biggest exposure that one could get. Devi says everything is swift these days and the new generation takes advantages of it. “Moreover, they are smart enough to use this privilege for marketing themselves,” observes Devi.
“Though lots of new faces are entering the industry, there are very few who are incredibly passionate about dance and acting. I am not someone who wished to be an actress. But I have always wished and strived to become a good artist. Nowadays, actors make their entry mostly through screen tests or auditions. They would do a movie and be in the lime light for some time. They wouldn’t be interesting in following their dreams after that. I don’t think they are even sad about leaving the industry after a short stint. Everything is just easy for them. There are very few who come with genuine passion. They wouldn’t be able to sing a song or dance impromptu while attending a function; though it is not compulsory,” Devi says.
The actress observes that legendary artists like late Sukumari, who was in the field for decades, never hesitated for a second if she were asked to sing a song on stage. Be it character roles or humor roles, these timeless and legendary artists would give their best. “They were sportive and incredibly dedicated as well. They are always ready to update to do justice to their art and their careers. Only such people would survive forever,” says Devi.
Safety in movies
Devi is emphatic when she states that the movie industry is one of the safest and comfortable work spaces. She asks which other job allows one to take their parents or helper to their work spaces. She is convinced that the cinema industry always maintains a safe zone. “If you want to tread the undesirable path, it is not necessary that you are from the film industry. Homemakers elope or mothers abandon their kids not because they have acted in movies. There are lots of artists who manage their careers and family effortlessly. If one person does something, the entire industry would be blamed. People would be interested especially since we are from the entertainment industry. Besides, we too need to be careful about a lot of things. Today, the youngsters are financially independent. Earlier, we had to ask our father if we needed hundred rupees. Most problems could be solved if we too respect the values of the society. In my experience, cinema offers one of the most peaceful work environments,” Devi adds.
Though dance has always been a part of Devi’s life, she didn’t pursue it academically as she wasn’t interested in staying in hostels. However, her younger brother studied Koodiyattam at Kalamandalam and is currently a research scholar there.
Devi did her master’s degree in English literature. It was only after her marriage that she trained intensively in dance. She completed BA Bharatnatyam from St. Theresa’s College and then went on to do the master’s at RLV College. Devi Chandana has been running a dance academy called Nripalaya in Alappuzha for the last ten years.
Devi’s father Vasudevan Pillai is a retired teacher. He is a writer as well who publishes under the pen name Aryad Vasudevan. Her mother Jalaja worked at the State Bank of India. Her brother’s name is Charu Agara. Devi says it was her father who chose their unique names. He was particular that his kids’ names shouldn’t have any initials. “As per the legends, Chandan (sandalwood) and akil (cedar) are trees in the devalokam or the world of gods. Agaru is the root name of the akil tree. So, I was named Devi Chandana and my brother is Charu Agaru. Our ancestral home is called Athenium, after Athene, the goddess of arts. Our house at Ernakulam, where dance and music merges, is named Nripalayam. Every name has my father’s special touch. My husband Kishore Vrama is a singer. It was a love marriage. His father Prabahakara Varma is a doctor and mother Chandrika is a homemaker,” Devi signs off.