Whenever her grey eyes moistened, our hearts turned heavy and each time she flashed those dimples it gladdened our hearts. Be it the gentle Sophie in ‘Namukku Parkkaan Munthirithoppukal’, the fiery Sali in ‘Deshadanakili Karayarilla’, or the quiet dance teacher in ‘Ponmuttayidunna Tharaavu’ it didn’t take much time for Shari to be the collective darling of the Malayalee population in the glorious 80s. Though she disappeared from the silver screen post-marriage, Shari made sporadic appearances on screen.
Shari was welcomed back warmly by the Malayalees, and her lore was even narrated to the next generation. They revisited ‘Namukku Parkkaan Munthirithoppukal’ and realised the intensity of her eyes and the beauty of her dimples. Shari has completed over 100 films and 4 decades in South Indian cinema. She is back in Malayalam cinema after 7 years with ‘Jana Gana Mana’. She talks to Manorama online about her journey so far and of course ‘Jana Gana Mana’.
Tell us about your character in ‘Jana Gana Mana’?
I am doing this strong character called Shahana in the film. Though a lot of filmmakers approached me before, I didn’t take it up as the roles weren’t exciting. I wanted my comeback to be memorable. Shahana is a bold teacher and mother. I am hopeful that the film will be welcomed warmly by the family as well as the youth.
The trailer was much discussed…
The film is socially relevant. It has powerful dialogues. What you saw in the trailer is the film’s second part. In the current film, that scene isn’t there.
Yet another Prithviraj film after ‘Chocolate’…
I think Prithviraj has evolved tremendously as an actor. The college boy in ‘Chocolate’ has evolved into an actor who is capable of doing any kind of role. I feel super happy when I see his films.
What are the changes you see in Malayalam cinema now?
I think there is a major change in execution and technology in cinema. Even the stories reflect that organic change. During my time, we didn't have this kind of facilities. We would search for a shade tree to rest once the director calls for a break and chat or take a nap on the floor. Today most actors have a caravan.
Why this break?
I took a break to take care of my daughter. Now she has got a job and I have more time on my hands. So I think I am ready to accept interesting characters that come my way. Even at home, I try to watch films during my spare time. I think I used to see at least 2-3 films a day during the lockdown.
You were Padmarajan’s favourite heroine...
When he came to see me at my Chennai home, the first thing he said was that he needed my eyes for his character. He said it was not because there wasn’t a scarcity of heroines in Malayalam, just that he felt my eyes could do all the acting. A lot of people have told me that my eyes are my good luck charm. I remember him every single day of my life. I am indebted to him for my fame and fortune. I just did what he told me. Nothing more, nothing less. Even now during a shot, I try to think of the things he would have told me. That blessing is all that I need.
Are you planning more films in Malayalam?
I have done over 75 films in Malayalam. I debuted in 1982 in the Tamil film ‘Hitler Udayanath’ as a supporting actor and later debuted as a heroine in the 1984 film ‘Nenjathe Allitha’. I got better offers from Malayalam and over the course of time learned the language.
Have you wished for a different climax for ‘Deshadanakili Karayarilla’?
They had to commit suicide due to the socio-political environment back then. We hadn’t really developed as a society to absorb their audacity back then. I don’t think if the film was made today, it would have been that climax because our society has really moved forward from there.
Is it because most established heroines didn’t get equal footage that they took early retirement during your time?
I think this is a phenomenon prevalent in world cinema, not just Malayalam. After marriage and children, it is difficult for a woman to continue in this profession. I agree that the hero gets more prominence, but it is also true that there are strong roles for women. When Manju Warrier came back, she got author-backed roles. Nayanthara and Urvashi are also getting well-written roles.
'Deshadanakili…' also talks about friendships. Are you still in touch with Karthika?
Yes. We do call each other frequently.
What are your hopes for this second innings?
I have an OTT release called ‘Viddikalude Mashu’ next. I am fine with a small role as long as it is significant in the film. Malayalees have always showered me with love and I am hopeful that it will continue in the future too.