She is the only female actor in Malayalam to have bagged the Kerala state awards thrice in a row—' Mazhavil Kavadi’ and ‘Varthamanakalam’ (1989), ‘Thalayanamanthram’ (1990), ‘Kadinjool Kalyanam’, ‘Kakkathollayiram’, ‘Mukachithram’ and ‘Bharatham’ in 1991. Though she was the top contender for the best actress award in the 1992 Kerala State Awards, Jury had to request Urvashi to give the awards a break that year, which she accepted. But two years later she was again declared the best actress for ‘Kazhakam’. She is currently acting in her 700th film. The Tamil film ‘Appatha’, coincidentally, is directed by Priyadarshan. Urvashi talks to Manorama online about her selection process, younger generation of actors, and the welcoming trend of female-centric films.
Has there been a change in your selection process now?
Then and now I was always adamant that my character should have an important presence in the film. Earlier I was called by those who were familiar with me. And I was never fussy about my remuneration. In fact, at a time when I was doing films simultaneously, I didn’t even know for which films I got paid or never got money! Remuneration was always secondary for me. But now, things are different. I am careful about such things. Though even today when it comes to picking characters, my priority remains the same. Even if it is for a scene, that should stand out.
What she thinks of the younger generation of actors in Malayalam cinema
I can see so many actors in Malayalam today who act as if they are unaware of the presence of the camera in front of them. Anushree is one actor who can do some of my earlier characters. Grace Antony is also promising. I can see a change in their behaviour on the sets too. There was a time when the younger lot had to show reverence to seniors by holding their hands and smiling when they come on the sets. Now they just say Hi! That’s how flexible things are now.
About transitioning into mature roles
I have changed. My perspective about life has changed. What I used to think at the age of 18 is not what I would think now. Therefore as I age, my characters also need to change. The changes we have in us will be reflected in our characters, our profession, and our life. We have to accept that. Our biggest enemy is our mind that refuses to accept and learn to enjoy our age. I am not really worried about playing my age.
Was that long break needed?
That was deliberate. And I don’t regret it as I felt I needed to give more time to my family and child. Even during my second coming, I do take breaks. Whenever I feel that I am being offered the same kind of characters in Malayalam, I briefly shift to Tamil and Telugu films. And when I get some good role, I will be back here. It’s that simple and natural.
What happened to Urvashi the writer who penned for ‘Ulsavamelam’ and ‘Pidakozhi Koovunna Nootandu’?
First thing is first, I didn’t “write” the script of both films. Some kind souls wrote whatever I told them and formed the story for these films. There was no time to write scripts in peace back then. Actually, we all have so many stories in mind. Even at home, we discuss potential movie stories a lot. Those will be conveyed to writers I was close to and later converted into films. A script is more difficult to put together than a novel. I don’t have the patience for that anymore. Having said that I do give my opinion about scripts and offer my inputs.
Why did I discard the role of a film producer?
That’s because I realised that I was unfit for that role. Film production is one hell of a responsibility. It’s not just about having loads of money; you need a different skill set for that. ‘Pidakozhi Koovunna Nootandu’ was a box office hit but I never received my profits for that film. Neither did I persist with my pending payments. You can’t really trust your money with outsiders, for that you need to create a solid team to take care of that.
It’s impossible to explain what she means to me. I will always miss her. She has left a void in my life that no one can fill. As an actor too there isn’t anyone who can replace her even to this day. As long as she lived, she spread love around and she was loved by all. When you think of so many people who live and die in anonymity, Kalpana was lucky. At least that’s how I like to think about her.
About more women-centric films coming
That’s something which gives me so much happiness. I can see actors doing a lot of homework today than in our time. They are getting scripts in advance and practicing dialogues. I never had the time or opportunity for such things back then. They would be briefing me about the character after they call for the shot. The Cinema industry will only profit with the intervention of talented artists. Be it OTT or theatre, there will always be a crowd to watch good films.
To think that I have finished 700 films
I was surprised when Priyadarshan pointed it out to me. I had a list of my 400 films. But stopped counting after that. At this moment, I am reminded of what my mother told me. She said this was a profession that would give you wealth and fame and as long as you keep that in mind, you can sustain yourself in this profession. But the minute you are under the delusion that you are cinema, and you are the reason behind the existence of cinema, you should stop this profession. Then there is no point in continuing for a long time. This was a lesson I always kept in my mind.
Memories of ‘Midhunam’ film
‘Midhunam’ was supposed to be a film scripted by Sreenivasan in which he played the hero initially. Pallisery was expected to produce it. But that project didn’t happen. Soon Priyadarshan came on board as a director and Mohanlal as the hero. Since it was a story, I had heard before, I was quite happy, and I had even byhearted the scenes. Most importantly it was a familiar team. I am missing so many of those great actors today. Just the fact that I won’t be able to share screen space with them is such a distressing thought.
That famous elopement scene
It was a scene we did with so much enjoyment as well as tension. Lalettan (Mohanlal) and Sreeniyettan’s (Sreenivasan) height and weight are so different. To make sure my head was fine, it was agreed that Lalettan will hold that side and Sreeniyettan took care of the tail end. In between Sreeniyettan would jokingly ask me from which shop I was getting my rations. I was worried whether I would fall in that scene where they are running through the field holding me because of their height difference. “Laletta, don’t throw me,” I would implore him. Sreeniyettan would tell me that if I didn’t listen to them, they would easily toss me away. Truth is that it was not Sethu telling Sulochana to keep quiet (“Mindathiri Koche”!), it was Mohanlal telling Urvashi. Most of the dialogues I utter in that scene came out of my fear than what was there in the script. That was something new for me too.
Why did I not dub initially?
Back then most of the dubbing was done in Chennai. I didn’t have the time to take a flight to Chennai to dub. But heroes would find time and attend dubbing. Besides during the earlier days, my voice was thin and sensitive. So much so that while doing emotional or serious scenes my voice would be as shrill as that of a schoolgirl’s. But once the satellite channels started, the audience understood my real voice through my interviews. That’s how I started dubbing for myself.
Is there anything left to do in cinema?
If you are hinting at direction, let me assure you that I have no such plans. I am not capable of handling such a huge responsibility. My biggest joy is to head straight home after shooting. But I do offer my suggestions for the betterment of cinema. I don’t regret not directing a film. I am eagerly awaiting more and more good characters coming my way.