"I vowed to become someone big"

Aclassic case of inner resolve, she overcame her disability with the help of a prosthetic 'Jaipur Foot' to become one of India's most highly acclaimed dancers.

Her public recital in Mumbai on 28 January , 1984, which heralded her comeback into the dancing arena after two years, was met with thunderous applause. Her success was followed by invitations for shows from all over the world, and she performed in several European countries, Canada and the Middle East. Films happened, and so did television. Today, she is the talk of the town, courtesy her innovative character of Ramola Sikand in Balaji Telefilms' late-night thriller Kaahin Kissii Roz.

This dancer-turned-actor believes each country has its own heroes who have never accepted defeat. "Like them, I have always believed in asking - 'What next?', rather than, 'Why me?' If Helen Keller could overcome her handicap, so can I. The seed of achievement lies in the human mind. When this realization comes, there is no looking back. Once I decided that my handicap was not going to stop me from dancing, that was it," begins Sudha Chandran, but quickly adds before the first question, "Please don't imitate Ramola Sikand too much in letter and spirit both. 'Thoda chalega' but within the parameters of law. She is a cold-blooded murderess and you can't break the law."

And for those who thought Kaahin...looked like it was winding up, here comes news that the serial has been given an extension.

Excerpts from an interview with Vickey Lalwani.


Was dancing your first love?
Yes. I was a lot into dancing as a co-curricular activity. But academics was never put on the backburner. Being from a South Indian family, I was very much an academic-minded girl. I did my B.A. from Mithibai College in Mumbai and followed it up with M.A. in Economics. That year, I was the only student from my college and class who got a first division.. (pauses).


Go on...
Before that, a major tragedy struck my life. My parents and I had gone for our yearly 'abhishek' to the South. We were returning and our bus met with an accident. I suffered a fracture in my right femur. Since it was an accident case, we were thrown into a government hospital. Call it the doctor's mistake or my misfortune; they put a plaster on my fracture and the toe started getting black. Since my parents too had been injured in the accident, there was no one handy to take a decision and look into my condition closely.

By the time my cousins came from Chennai, gangrene had set in. I was shifted to Vijaya Hospital in Chennai under the care of a leading orthopedic surgeon. He did his best for 20 days, but it became a question of life or limb. I had no other option but to get my right leg amputated. To change my mind, which obviously was almost shattered, I was taken for a holiday.

I had finished my junior college at that time. Eight months later, I came to Mumbai. The Principal of Mithibai College, (late) Mr. C.T.Bhastana, allowed me to join F.Y.B.A from the middle of the year.


Well, that was a tough time. The body had lost the mobility. It took me two full years to get back to dancing. My dance guruji and a physiotherapist combined to put me back in action. And of course, my parents backed me to the hilt. But deep down in their heart, they used to be very upset.

Believe it or not, my mother avoided going to the market simply because people would ask embarrassing questions about my future. Seeing all this, I felt terrible. I vowed to become someone big.

"There is no Shashikala or Bindu in Ramola Sikand"

Did you get into television to realize your vow?
No. I hadn't decided which field I would hit. Destiny smiled on me without any effort. I deserved that, didn't I? Initially, the media helped me quite a bit. When I got back to dancing, a lot of journalists wrote my fight-back story in the papers. This caught the attention of filmmaker Ramoji Rao. He contacted the USIS in Chennai. They sent a fax to my father who was working for the same company in Mumbai.

We flew down to Hyderabad. Initially, he just wanted to make a film on my life-story, with some other girl as the heroine. Later, he and even the director Srinivas thought that I should do the role.


And you grabbed the offer?
No. In fact, I asked for some time. They obliged. For three months, I kept quiet. My friends kept telling me that I was letting a golden opportunity slip away. A few days later, I gave in. Without Srinivas Rao, there would have been no Ramola Sikand.


That man is a genius. The moment he started directing me, I turned into wet clay. I learnt acting from him. He was my maker. The film did not do well in the first week but started picking up rapidly in the second. Initially, it was made in Telugu. Later it was dubbed in Malayalam and Tamil. Finally, it was remade in Hindi under the title Nache Mayuri.


How did television happen?
Television was never on my agenda, initially. After Nache Mayuri, I got films like Pati Parmeshwar, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, Qaid Mein Hai Bulbul and some others, but was reduced to playing sister and 'bhabhi' roles. Most of these bombed. Suddenly, there was a lull. I was jobless.

I shifted my attention down South. I did a few Telugu films which too were no great shakes. Then I met Sunil Mehta, owner of Cinevista Communications. I explained my predicament to him. He promised to call me after 15 days. I thought this was just one of those promises which was meant to be broken. But he cast me in a TV serial Saahil wherein I got noticed once again.

From there, I went on to anchor the Adhikaris' show Shriman Shrimati directed by Rajan Wagdhare. Rajan was impressed by my wacky sense of humour and he repeated me in another serial Kabhi Idhar Kabhi Udhar opposite Shekhar Suman. Then came a stream of serials- Manish Goswami's Chashme Buddoor, Satte Shourie's Kaise Kahoon... Touch wood.

"Even the way I outline my lipstick is being lapped up! "

How did 'Kaahin Kissii Roz' happen?
Balaji Telefilms was calling me for Kkusum and Kutumb. But I was very skeptical signing on their dotted line. I had heard a lot about their unprofessional delays in shooting schedules. The executive producer of Kaahin ..., Meetu, rang me to say, "Ekta is impressed with your acting in Kaise.... and she has a very exciting offer for you in one of her forthcoming serials Kaahin ...."

I heard them out. I was surprised that they wanted me to play a hi-fi manipulative industrialist. In Kaise ...which they'd liked, I had played a down-market Muslim girl. I thought that Ekta was miscasting me. I told her that I needed some time to think over. She obliged. Later I told Meetu that I won't be able to work day and night as Balaji Telefilms do. I had heard about the long hours at Balaji Telefilms. Meetu squashed all my fears saying that those were all rumours, the truth is that they work on a 12-hour basis for three months, bank the serials in the process and then hit.


So, life took a new turn?
Dramatic turn! Fantastic turn! Like I was lucky to get Srinivas Rao teaching me to act in films, I was lucky again to get another genius, Homi Wadia, teaching me to act in TV serials. Wadia is the pioneer of the look, style and attitude of Ramola Sikand that people talk about today. Also, Shobha Kapoor's sister Nim Sood, the creative stylist at Balaji Telefilms, contributed a lot. Wadia directed the first 15 episodes of the serial. As days rolled by, we improvised.

The special, queer 'bindis' and ornaments were not an original part of the look. Today, the same 'bindis' and jewellery have acquired the names of counters in many hi-fi shopping malls- Ramola Sikand 'bindi' counter, Ramola Sikand jewellery counter.! Even the way I outline my lipstick is being lapped up! Sarees are being sold under the brand name of 'Ramola Sikand'! Latest, husbands want their wives and children want their moms to look like Ramola!

I am very proud of the fact that for the first time in India, a negative character is being followed so lovingly. Today, I am the talk at beauty parlours, kitty parties and even fashion shows. It's an author-backed role alright.


What do you think has made this character tick?
One, the fact that I am not wearing any garish make-up and mouthing dirty language; there is not an iota of cheapness in this character unlike that in the characters of vamps in films. Candidly speaking, there is no Shashikala or Bindu in Ramola Sikand.

Two, the fact that I am a very flat character who expresses mainly through eyes; she doesn't get excited when she is happy, she doesn't get sad when her ruse fails, she doesn't get nervous before doing anything major.

Three, the character has loads of sophistication and poise; I am very elegantly draped in chiffons and crepes. Four, the fact that this role is so different from what the people have read about me; my earlier real life projects me as a character who needs to be sympathized, and here I am making the others dance to my tunes. Five, there is a Ramola Sikand inside every human being who wants to be successful.

"Working conditions in telly are good but not as luxurious as in films."

Are you a spontaneous or method actor?
Thankfully, spontaneous. I don't think that a method artiste can go far. You have to surrender yourself to the director; you ought to deliver his requirement as an output, then and there. Does he have time for the so-called methods? You will struggle if you are a method artiste if and when the director changes. Like, we have had three directors in Kaahin... far. We started with Homi Wadia, then we had Santaram Varma, now we have Naresh Khanna. The pace of thinking is different in all three.


What is your USP?
I can learn my lines in a very short period of time. I can give a very long shot without a mistake in reciting my dialogues. This plays a big role in enhancing my performance. Since I am not going to err on the words, I can concentrate fully on the expressions and body language. If you fumble, you are a candidate for retakes.


What draws you to the script?
Till now, I never had a choice. I signed whatever came to me. Not so long ago, I was struggling. But now, yes, I will be choosy. I certainly do not want to do another Ramola Sikand. Being repetitive on TV can be hazardous; you look stale. In films, it's just the opposite; you need an image to make a mark. If you experiment in films, you dig your grave. Strange, but true.

Are you game to playing a goody-goody Tulsi or Parvati?
Why not? Like Ramola Sikand, even those are author-backed roles. Thanks to Kaahin Kissii Roz, I am a very confident actor today. At the end of every day, I thank Balaji telefilms for helping me to regain my status as an actress. I can emote the positive emotions with equal ease and conviction. As an actress, I want to go through a gamut of emotions.
Do you improvise on your scenes?
When I rush back to see my scenes on the monitor, I have never felt dissatisfied with my performance. But if ever I am, I will never tell the director that he needs to take another shot. I am looking at the scene from an actor's point of view. He is looking at it from a director's point of view. Who is superior? Naturally, the director. He is the captain. I have no right to direct him. I have no right to trample on his ego. In fact, I must have blind faith in him. I don't even intervene on my lines. I am of the firm belief that every professional is here because he deserves to be.

Is working on television easy?
It's very difficult. Haven't we seen many actresses from the celluloid trying their hand on the tube and walking out in very bad shape? The deadline for submission of cassettes, every now and then, is very tough to abide by. Else, the channels don't take it lightly. We have to work 12 hours at least every day. We rarely take Sundays off. At times, this disturbs our family life.

Working conditions are good but not as luxurious as in films. Stars walk into film shootings only when they are required. One scene can stretch to even three days. There is no Damocles' sword of a deadline hanging over your head. Besides, they sit in air-conditioned vans and take long breaks after virtually every shot. TV stars don't have time to laze and fool around; they have to be alert and quick. Everything is strictly work-oriented. Unlike film stars, TV artistes cannot be unprofessional.

What's the biggest compliment you received on Ramola Sikand?
Ramesh Sippy once told me, "The anxiety on the faces of the people when they see Ramola Sikand on television is similar to what they experienced when looking at Gabbar Singh in Sholay."
What else are you up to?
I am doing a play Kamaal Karte Ho Aap Bhi written by Imtiaz Patel. All those who have seen this play say I am like the Sweetie of Hum Paanch, a little less of 'pauli' in the head (smiles). Also, my husband Ravi Dang and I are producing a TV serial Waqt Ka Dariya directed by Ramoji Rao.

He brought me to cinema and I share a special bond with him. Furthermore, we are planning a daily soap with Rao which should start rolling soon.

Has dancing taken a slight backseat?
Yes. Acting takes away quite a lot of time. But still I perform whenever I can.

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