Marmadesam – a Naga TV serial that catapulted Devadrashini to fame – was quite the hit in the 90s. And the actress, who has since ventured successfully into films, is a staunch supporter of soaps. It’s like holding a 9-5 job, she says. Steady, solid work.
Devadarshini is one of the select few who successfully made the transition from the small screen to the big. Her decades-long experience with all things acting has led to many an award and quite a few iconic roles. Though she’s been around since 1997, her comic role in Kaanchana was the one that won her much acclaim. There’s been no looking back since.
“Acting was never the dream,” she says. I studied commerce in college. Anchoring and everything else was only a means for me to get pocket money. Nothing more.”
Her tryst with television began when she was in college. While anchoring popular shows, she was offered an opportunity to act, in a serial called Kanavugal Ilavasam that aired on Doordarshan. “When I began acting, DD was a big, big thing. It gave me major recognition. I thought I was the biggest actor in the world. I’d cry with glycerin, and then go home and enjoy my acting. I didn’t know what exactly I was doing back then. Now when I watch those episodes, I cringe.”
Her stint with Kanavugal… led to a role in the then hugely successful Marmadesam series. “It was a big turning point in my life. The show was already a major hit, and the second installment – Vidathu Karuppu – that I was a part of, established me in the industry.”
Naga, the showrunner, took her under his wing. It was on these sets that Devadarshini began taking acting seriously. “Naga sir is a stern taskmaster. His principle was simple: think about the situation and react to it. The stress was on the impromptu, on-the-spot performances. For me, this was a huge deal. I did not know that acting required this much work.”
It was also where she met Chetan, her future husband. “Five years after that, I married Chetan. It was amazing to find someone who supported my career. Because shortly after that I began working in films too.”
Following her marriage in 2002, film offers began pouring in. Though she’d received many a film role during the initial phase of her career, it was only after her wedding that they all worked. “Call it fate or whatever, but it was only after marriage that I began working on film offers. I’d been a part of many serials and the transition to films was not only natural, it had been coming for a long time.”
“The first project that came to me was Enakku 20 Unakku 18. The film’s director Jothi Krishna told me that he’d cast me and Archana Puran Singh in his debut because he loved our acting. That was a huge compliment!”
This was followed by Parthiban Kanavu and Kaakha Kaakha in quick succession. Her performance in the former garnered quite a bit of attention, eventually fetching her the State Award. “I was paired with Vivek sir in Parthiban Kanavu. Those days, vulgar dialogues were very much in vogue. I didn’t approve of them, though. When I won the award, my friends joked that the Government couldn’t find any other comedians to honour that year.”
She signed on to be a part of Kaakha Kaakha, once she heard that Suriya would be a part of it. “I don’t think I even listened to the narration. I just grabbed hold of the opportunity, because even then I was a major fan of Suriya.”
Once on sets, her friends gave her a very important task. “It was the time when speculations were rife that Suriya and Jyothika were in love. My friends kept asking me to find out if it was true. I couldn’t find anything because the two of them were extremely professional on sets. Chetan and I were also like that. It wasn’t till we got married that people figured out that we had been dating.”
Devadarshini still continues to play lead roles in tele-serials, but consistently gets only supporting roles in movies. A lesser actress might be irked by this dichotomy, but Devadarshini has made peace with it. “I have been offered mostly minor roles till now. I have played Akka, Anni to almost every rising star out there. I don’t mind anymore because it is solid work and something I quite enjoy doing.”
Serials, she says, is steady work. “Once you sign on a television project, you know you’ll have work every day. When it becomes a hit, the serials go on for years. It’s like holding a 9 to 5 job. With movies though, it’s a shorter commitment. They don’t take too much of your time. But the payoff is huge, in both.”
Tamil serials are universally panned for their dramatic story-lines and implausible plots, but finds a worthy advocate in Devadarshini. “I’m not defending them just because I’ve been working in television for a long time. I truly believe that the soaps do more good than damage. Films provide an escape from reality only every other weekend. Serials, on the other hand, provide them an escape every single day. That’s really something, right?”
That said, Devadarshini is heartened by the change in the kind of serials being made these days. “I remember a time when everybody made family serials and maamiyar marumagal storylines. But now is the time of change. A lot of directors have begun to experiment with bolder themes and characters. What’s more, audiences are also appreciating it.”
Comedy is what Devadarshini was drawn to from the very beginning. Be it Ramani Vs Ramani or Kaanchana, her talent for physical comedy has always drawn applause. The actress admits that she had no formal training in the genre. It just came naturally to her. “As they say, some things can’t be taught. Comic timing is very important in my field. I had to work hard. Talent comes and goes. It’s only through hard work that we achieve greatness.”
It was Naga who first urged Devadarshini to try comedy, when he cast her in his Ramani Vs Ramani Part 2. “He is my mentor in every way. He gave me pointers in every aspect of my performance. My body wouldn’t lend itself to acting now if it wasn’t for Naga sir’s help and guidance.” [quote align=’left’]”I truly believe that the soaps do more good than damage. Films provide an escape from reality only every other weekend. Serials, on the other hand, provide them an escape every single day. That’s really something, right?”[/quote]
Talent aside, the sheer volume of comedy films and serials speak of a more personal attachment to the genre. “I have a very simple theory when it comes to being part of comedy films. When you attempt humour, you take a piece of that feeling back with you. That’s a very good thing, right?”
Of course, that doesn’t mean she is not open to more diverse roles. “Actors have to be more careful than most, I think. They tend to lose themselves after years of trying to be someone else. Playing funny roles, though makes it easy to not lose sight of yourself. I would love to do more solid roles.”
At present, Devadarshini is awaiting the release of several films. She is also part of Idly, in which she will be seen in the role of a cop. “I play a police woman, but it is not a completely serious role. I’ve always loved Saranya Ponvannan and I get to see her up, close and personal in this one. I’m very excited.”
She also has her future completely mapped out. Devadarshini secured a Masters degree in Applied Psychology a few years ago, and is trying to make a career out of it. “I come from a very intellectual background. Both my parents are retired principals, my sister is a gold medallist. So you know that learning is a never ending journey for us.”
People like her need to have a fall-back option, says Devadarshini. “An actor can never retire. But still, the frequency of work is never the same. There are times when we work all thirty days and times when we work only five. When we are young, this erratic life is all fine. But once you get old, there’s need for something more. That’s what I’m preparing myself for.”
The Devadarshini interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.