Monday, August 25, 2008

Das Kapital

Even though she does not speak the language, singer Vasundhara Das is acting in her third Malayalam film

By Shevlin Sebastian

A few years ago, Vasundhara Das flew to Kochi for the first time to act in Renjith’s ‘Ravana Prabhu’, opposite Mohan Lal.

“Ranjit told me that for my first scene -- the picturisation of the song, ‘Pottukuthedy’ -- I had to run, because I was escaping from somebody who had kidnapped me,” she says.

For five days, she ran and ran in places near Kochi. “It was such a beautiful experience,” she says. “I was looking at so much greenery, running in paddy fields. From a person who grew up in Bangalore, seeing so much of natural beauty was such an intoxicating feeling.”

‘Ravana Prabhu’ turned out to be a hit. And, for Vasundhara, the highlight of the movie was acting opposite legend Mohanlal. “His acting was so effortless, you did not see a different person off camera,” she says. “That is something very few people are capable of.”

She also enjoyed the fact that Mohan Lal did not take himself too seriously, despite his achievements. “It is so easy for someone in that position to go on an egoistic trip,” she says. “He also has a keen sense of humour and seems to make the most of every experience.”

Following ‘Ravana Prabhu’, she acted in ‘Vajram’ with Mammooty and now she is in Kochi to act in director Nizar’s ‘Boss’, which stars Suresh Gopi. In a sprawling bungalow at Vazhakala, Kochi, she notes down in Hindi the dialogues that an assistant director is explaining to her from a Malayalam script.

In this particular scene, in which she is wearing a white top and blue jeans, she sits on a chair, while Gopi’s friends in the film – Salim Kumar, Harishree Ashokan and Manuraj -- come to the house in search of her. Vasundhara does not have to do much. She has to pretend she is talking on the mobile phone, while the three friends rush into the room and she has to get up. It needs just three takes for the director to okay the shot.

Vasundhara says she chose the film because she liked the script. The story, penned by upcoming writers, Suresh Menon and Santosh K. Sivan, is about a heroine who is a star of Tamil and Telugu films, and comes to Fort Kochi for a shoot.

Director Nizar says he chose Vasundhara, because if he had selected a heroine from the Malayalam industry, to act as a Tamil star, it would have lacked authenticity. “So, I felt Vasundhara would be a good choice,” he says.

Even though Vasundhara does not know how to speak Malayalam, Nizar is all praise for her. “She is very cooperative and creates no problems at all,” he says. “She is focused on giving a proper performance.”

Vasundhara also has good words to say about her Malayali colleagues. “The most striking feature about the Malayalam film industry is that the units are very efficient. In all the different films I have worked, when they say the shooting will last for 25 days, it rarely overshoots the schedule.”

But communication is a problem, at times. She says she finds it difficult to speak with the spot boys and some of the technicians. “One reason is that they don’t know Hindi,” she says.

But she has no problem of communicating with the Malayali audience through her films. “Wherever I go, in the world, I always find someone from Kerala, who will come up to me and say, ‘Are you Vasundhara Das? I am a Malayali,’” she says, with a smile. “I have been adopted by God’s Own Country.”

The striking feature about God’s Own Girl is her luminous green eyes. And she says this is nothing to be surprised about. “All Hebbar Iyengar Brahmins, from Tamil Nadu, have light eyes and skin, and are beautiful and brainy,” says this Maths and Economics graduate from Mount Carmel College, Bangalore, with her tongue somewhere near her cheek.

Her initial dream was to be a singer. To fulfill it, Vasundhara received classical training from noted Hindustani vocalist Pandit Parmeshwar Hegde. But her turning point came when, at the age of 12, she went on a holiday to Phoenix, USA, and heard Elvis Presley singing Jailhouse Rock on TV.

“I had no idea who Elvis Presley was at that time,” she says. “And I was thinking to myself, ‘This is what I want to do.’” Thanks to her parents, who gave her full encouragement, she began concentrating on her singing.

She got her first break when she sang for music director A.R. Rahman for the Tamil film ‘Mudhalvan.’ Later, her acting career took off when actor Kamala Hasan gave her a role in ‘Hey Ram.’

Today, she continues to act and sing and is now basking in the appreciation of her two songs in ‘Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na’: ‘Pappu can’t dance saala!’ and ‘Kahi Tho Hogi Ho,’ a slow ballad with Rashid Ali, with music by Rehman.

More than movies, it is music that is her passion. “Very few people get to do what they truly love and earn a living from it,” she says. “So, I consider myself very lucky.”

(Copyright: The New Indian Express, Chennai)

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