Actress Sadha, who is back in Tamil cinema after three years, makes an unconventional choice with her role in Torch Light. In an interview with us, she discusses the film, her career, the criticism that has come her way, and why she’s reluctant to use the name she was given at birth
In Jayam (2003), Sadha’s debut in Tamil, a definitive frame marked her arrival in the industry. Clad in a half sari, head bent, she had pointed ‘Jayam’ Ravi out, from wherever they were at the given time: the places differed; fields, temples, other arbitrary locations. But the image – and especially her gesture – became a thing of popular culture. Sadha played Sujatha, a young woman who elopes with her boyfriend; the film, typically, ends in war – a classic boyfriend vs betrothed climax. Right at the end, Sujatha would spur Ravi on to kill Raghu, her betrothed – with the same gesture. The film was a surprise hit at the box office, with both the director (Raja) and actor Ravi prefixing their names with ‘Jayam’. While ‘Jayam’ Ravi’s next commercial success arrived in the form of M Kumaran S/O Mahalakshmi a year later, for Sadha it was Shankar’s Anniyan in 2005. Her role in the Vikram-starrer wasn’t vastly different from Jayam, save for the setting – here too, she had ‘two’ suitors vying for her hand, but with a characteristic Shankar twist.
Fifteen years after her debut in Tamil, Sadha is part of what’s arguably the most complex film in her career. In Torch Light which is scheduled to release tomorrow, she plays a sex worker who finds romance. But director Majith, speaking to us just before our conversation with the actress, clarifies that “true love” is not on the cards for her character in the film. “Sex workers usually think that they are beyond redemption. I have met and had conversations with several of them in my attempt to understand the choices that led them here,” he says, “They’re ostracised from society, and many of them still find strength to soldier on. But when someone does offer them a different life, a chance at happiness, they are reluctant to take it up. They think that they cannot be redeemed by such a thing. That’s what I wanted to showcase in Torch Light.”
Sadha, who is the lead of the film, agrees. “I think that every person has a true chance at happiness. But, sex workers often walk away from that. My character is one such woman too. She has adapted to this new life, but is cautious when a man approaches her, and tells her he loves her.” The actress distinctly recalls the first time Majith approached her for the role. She was hesitant about it initially, but clarifies that it was not because she had to play a sex worker, but because it was a huge undertaking. “The content, the place that this film travels to – they are very complex. It takes a lot of courage to be in this film. And for me, I needed some space to try and figure out if I could handle this. My gut never lies, however, and it eventually brought me here.”
Sadha’s role in Torch Light is that of a woman who takes control of her own destiny; a little like Jayam where she hands a weapon to her beloved – but here, she has to fight her own battles. The actress could not tap into any of her previous works for reference. “Torch Light exists in a different world from Anniyan and Jayam,” she says, “It is the dark underbelly of our society. And, it is populated by women who cannot escape the system. They are not privileged. It took a while for me to understand the place they were in. I had to find my own way to play her (the character) onscreen.”
For the actress who is known to reject roles that make her feel uncomfortable, Torch Light, she reveals, was emotionally exhausting, and the unrelenting darkness of the life she portrayed onscreen, took its toll. “It demanded that kind of effort to make sure my portrayal was authentic. To a woman, her body is the most sacred of all. When you bargain with it, then it definitely makes an impact. I would remind myself that I had a life outside this movie, this role, to make sure that I did not lose touch with myself.”
Of course, for sex workers, the darkness is their reality, Sadha acknowledges. “While most of us women take pains to avoid being out at night, they do their work at night. They meet men who could very well be monsters. They place themselves in danger every time. Comparatively, I am from a position of privilege. I have been protected and am in a stage where I can protect myself and find the proper help where necessary.” The actress tells us that she would like the Government to do more to rehabilitate sex workers. “Several NGOs are leading the effort to make sure that alternate forms of employment are made available to the women. But, they just don’t have the necessary means to execute them well.”
Sadha, born Sadaf Mohammed Sayed, took an unofficial break in 2016 to focus on her television commitments, judging reality shows Dhee Juniors and Jodi Number One. They were opportunities to show her fans the real her, she says. “I think I connect more when I am on television. I am not reading scripted lines, and I am just being myself. Plus, I get to be on screen every week.” The actress also declares that she’s reluctant to use her original name “considering everything that’s happening now.” It’s just an alphabet that separates both, she shrugs, “and someday, I might go back to it, but not now.”
Her last big role in Tamil cinema was in the Jeeva directorial, Unnale Unnale (2007). Since then, film offers have been few and far between. She briefly appeared in Puli Vesham, along with Karthik Muthuraman and RK. That project failed commercially. “I did have a lot of hope that the movie would do well. I had a lot of offers after that, but they did not take off for one reason or another. I had been away from Tamil industry for close to six or seven years, when Eli came by. It was a great role, and full-length comedy is not something I have done in a long time. So, I took it on.”
For an actress who has worked with the leading actors of Tamil cinema, working with Vadivelu, a comic legend in his own right, was seen by many as a definite sign that her star had waned. “Yes, I heard those comments too. But, a role is a role. I have never judged myself based on the stars I’m cast opposite. I was not going to let that mar the role. I just closed my ears, and kept working.”
An actor is always given unsolicited advice, Sadha says. “My life is discussed in papers and magazines. They dissect my roles. Criticism surrounds me, as it does every other actor. Some of the criticism is true, and it takes a strong mind to turn it in your favour. That’s what I try to do, both personally and professionally.”
Anniyan, directed by Shankar, was supposed to be Sadha’s ticket to stardom. And for a brief while, it was. However, the sheer amount of time and effort Sadha dedicated to the film meant that she missed out on several opportunities. Does she regret it? The answer is a resounding no. “I have never been one to worry about things I lost. Perhaps my time is yet to begin. That’s how I choose to look at life. There are many that will write me off. But I think my story is just beginning.”
Torch Light releases tomorrow. Watch the trailer here.
The Sadha interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.