Some films entertain. Some preach. Some pass without leaving a trace. But there are others to which we lose our hearts – movies that remind us of the past, the smiles that didn’t fade, the people who stayed and walked away, and all the fun that was once had. In Flashback, we relive a few such classics by talking to artistes of the old.
Little things in life make Sachu happy. A few minutes into our conversation, she happily informs us that she now uses PowerPoint presentations to conduct acting workshops.
And then, she suddenly grows inquisitive. How do I access your website, Sachu asks curiously.
She also exclaims in delight quite often. Much like the 16-year-old that she was when Kadhalikka Neramillai was filmed. It still remains her best film to date.
She is 65 now.
[quote align=’left’]Have you watched The Roman Holiday? Kadhalikka Neramillai was that good! How could I say no?[/quote]I meet her at the 50th anniversary celebrations of Kadhalikka Neramillai. Clad in a neat silk saree, and visibly happy, she obliges as I request a quick interview with her. “It’s been 50 years, but the film hasn’t been forgotten,” she begins, “Sridhar was a gifted filmmaker. His movies will always be remembered.”
Kadhalikka Neramillai, a breezy romantic-comedy follows the lives of an estate landlord, his two daughters and a son, and their partners. Actor Balaiah played the estate owner while Kanchana and Rajasree donned the role of his daughters. Nagesh was his son, an aspiring filmmaker, with Sachu starring opposite him. And other than Balaiah, most of the actors weren’t seasoned. “It was a blockbuster because the audience loved the presentation. If the story is interesting, they wouldn’t really worry about the artistes,” Sachu observes. And, suddenly exclaims in delight, “Kadhalikka Neramillai was screened for more than 280 days!”
[quote align=’left’]Sridhar was also quite the hands-on director, for he designed Sachu’s clothes himself along with the cinematographer A Vincent. [/quote]There was a brief lull in her career before Kadhalikka Neramillai happened. The song Roja Malare Raaja Kumari was a huge hit then, being played multiple times on radio, and she had also been a part of critically-acclaimed films like Veera Thirumagan, Annai and Annai Illam. But Sachu was hoping to grow. Having been a child-artiste, “she wanted to establish herself as a heroine”. And those were the days when actresses worked in studios on monthly wages. “I was on a two-year contract with AVM Studios. They trained me well and I worked on many films with them. When I completed my contract, though, I was waiting to get opportunities,” she recalls.
Kadhalikka Neramillai was a turning point in her career. But when Sridhar approached her for the film, there were already two heroines it. How did she accept the offer then, I ask her curiously. “Have you watched the English film The Roman Holiday?” she asks me, referring to the 1953 romantic comedy featuring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn. “Kadhalikka Neramillai was that good! How could I say no?”
But it was also true that director Sridhar never slotted actresses: as comediennes or heroines. “I was treated the same way as Kanchana and Rajasree,” she remembers, “my scenes with Nagesh were aesthetically shot, and our dance number was a huge hit.” Sridhar was also quite the hands-on director, for he designed Sachu’s clothes himself along with the cinematographer A Vincent. The crew was also visibly excited about the project as it was the first Tamil film that was shot in Eastman Colour. “Sridhar’s taste was great. He used beautiful shades like light blue and pink for our clothes,” she exclaims.
She had to wear a lot of rettai pinnals in the film. And the occasional ponytail.
In Kadhalikka Neramillai, Nagesh, a struggling filmmaker , ropes in Sachu as his heroine. Nagesh’s film company – Oho Productions – has no money to produce a film; but he would stage rehearsals with her every day. “To act with Nagesh was tough, because his expressions were really funny. I burst into laughter many a time during filming.” Sachu admits that it was hard to do comedy. “I had to catch up with Nagesh. Even if I’m a second late with my reaction, the audiences would lose the punch. We had to be spontaneous,” she explains.
After Kadhalikka Neramillai, the duo teamed up for several other movies like Sivandha Mann, Motor Sundaram Pillai, Galatta Kalyanam, Urimai Kural and Sumathi En Sundari. Sachu clarifies that they were not stereotyped; the industry lacked young heroes then, so she had to continue the act. “I was too young and I had already worked with many other heroes as the sister. So it was hard to find a pair.,” she declares, “When Meena acted with Rajinikanth – despite working as a child artiste with him – audiences accepted. But our days were different.”
Kadhalikka Neramillai was celebrated by the audience. Cinemas were always full. And, Sachu watched the film in the theatre many times. “I used to wait at the entrance to receive feedback from the audience. I would wait after all the three shows. We were pleased with the response.”
She does harbor a grouse, though. Despite having watched the movie several times in the theatre, she wasn’t able to hear the iconic conversation between Balaiah and Nagesh – when the latter would narrate his film’s story to his father. “I would try to listen hard every time. But there would be deafening applause and laughter. I always loved that scene. Evergreen.”
After the movie’s release, Sachu recalls travelling to many places along with the crew to conduct success meets and felicitate artistes. “The A center viewers watch the film once. But it’s the B and C center people who watch it again and again. This gave us a chance to celebrate our victory with them”.
Sachu was also part of the grand 100th day celebration of the movie at Lal Bagh. “It was one of the most memorable days of my life,” she says, and adds, “The film was received well because it was a “proper family-entertainer. No violence. No vulgarity. It was just fun. And the movie-buffs were surprised to see a rom-com from Sridhar, who was known for his serious films. And remember the beautiful locations? I don’t think anybody else shot Marina beach like Sridhar did.”
MS Viswanathan-Ramamoorthy had composed music, and all the eight tracks from the film became super-hits. PB Sreenivas, KJ Yesudas, P Susheela, LR Eswari, MS Raju, and Sirkazhi Govindarajan lent their voices. “From casting to music, everything fell in place, and made the movie a classic. No remake can do justice to what we have now. It’s impossible to reprise what Balaiah and Nagesh had done,” she asserts.
“Anyway, I’m glad that Kadhalikka Neramillai is often screened on TV,” she laughs as we part. “I recently ran into a fan, who had watched the film on TV. She said I still look the same. Apparently, I haven’t aged a day. How can I still look 16?”
The Sachu Interview is a Silverscreen Exclusive.