Way back in 1998, Rediff had called her ‘Tamil cinema’s top female draws’.
With 50 odd films predominantly in Tamil, she was the reigning queen of the marquee for more than a decade. A career graph dotted with more hits than any actress in the history of Tamil cinema. Paired with every top hero down South barring Rajnikanth. An actress who celebrated glamour. An actress who grew up in Tamil cinema. An actress who had fans writing her name in blood.
It’s hard to forget her.
Oddly enough, the first thing I did by way of research was look for “Simran songs” on YouTube. And there was a significant list; starting with a compilation of 18 of her hit films songs – from Minnal Oru Kodi (VIP) and Vaali to my personal favourite from Udhaya. Is there any other actress who has literally danced her way to the top than Simran? Her dancing grew from awkward and ambiguous to gracefully stylish and confident. Everything was defiantly glamourous.
I googled for “Simran interviews.” A few video interviews and fewer in print and online. The ones I read ranged from the actress rating her favourite co-stars to detailing her troublesome low phase in her career. It was the time she packed her bags and moved to Mumbai. She had chosen her words with utmost care during these interviews. In journalistic lingo, dreadfully politically correct. It’s something characteristic of a Mumbai actress. A Mumbai actress who has moved down South. In fact, that’s one thing besides glamour which has been traditionally passed on.
Of course, the glorious exception to this rule is Khushboo. A former colleague at The New Indian Express who had once interviewed Simran (in 2006) recalled how she had an exasperating time trying to make her talk. It was impossible to make Simran shed her mask. When told bluntly that there was hardly anything for her to make a cover story out of the interview, the actress blinked for a moment, and told her – “But why? This is all I can tell you. I am being honest, not diplomatic. Trust me.”
Recalling all this, I enter Tryst Café in Neelankarai. Simran is the first person I spot; dressed casually in jeans and a long-sleeved top, hair combed back in a plain knot. There is no make-up. Up close, I realise she is even better looking than on screen. When I tell her that, she is pleased; but quickly points to a few strands of grey in her hair. “What about this?”
She is in the middle of canning a TV show for her new production house. Without much preamble, I switch on the recorder.
“When are you coming back?”
It’s a question she hears on a daily basis at traffic signals, shopping malls and restaurants. “I keep telling them next year. But the truth is, I don’t know. Or maybe, I don’t want to ask myself that question,” she smiles faintly.
Being a mother is a full-time responsibility. You can’t possibly juggle a film career with it, shrugs the actress.
But that doesn’t mean she will take up the staid ‘mommy or sister roles’. “I don’t deny that I get such offers. I know this is a male-dominated industry. But it doesn’t work for me that way. They will make me look old, man. They would rather see me shaking a leg with the heroes even today,” she guffaws.
Simran misses being “tremendously busy”. The time when she used to shoot round the clock, travel extensively, and party with barely any time to think. “I didn’t realise it then as I was too young and immersed in my work. So much success. I didn’t realise who I was, the value of Simran. I was just going with the flow,” she says.
Now, when she is in her late 30s, she wants to be back on the sets, dance to Althotta Bhoopathy (Youth) and act in Panchathanthiram and Priyamanavaley. All over again. “I guess it happens to everyone, right?”
Simran also recalls the time when she would hop on back-to-back flights, and shoot till the wee hours of the morning. She would also stay abroad for over three months during filming. A middle-class girl from Mumbai who nurtured dreams of being a fashion designer, Simran had a mother who used to call her “beautiful” all the time. Which also made her wonder why she was never pursued back in college. Simran thought she was ‘dark and ordinary’. “Perhaps I look different on screen, I don’t know. But then, once you are a success, your minuses automatically become positive,” she states philosophically.
Mumbai is home. Having said that, she also loves being called a Tamilian. “18 years in Mumbai and 18 years in Chennai. I am what I am because of South cinema,” she says proudly.
It’s well-known that she was spotted by Jaya Bachchan while anchoring a popular show on DD 2. Two Hindi films later, she was signed by Madras Talkies for Vasanth’s Nerukku Ner. “Everything happened too fast. For a middle class girl, an offer from Mani Ratnam was big. I didn’t think twice before picking the Tamil films that were offered to me. I knew Kamal Haasan. And we all know Rajinikanth, yaar!” [quote align=’left’]”I do like the current movies. But, they are not something I would want to watch in a theatre to unwind. That’s routine life. I want to see jhatkas and matkas, comedy, horror and great fights.”[/quote]
She was already familiar with the dubbed films of Mani Ratnam and Shankar. Kadhalan still holds a lot of value for her. Prabhu Deva remains a favourite.
What’s her survival technique in an industry that prides itself on being male-centric? Simran pauses for a while. There is a distant look on her face. “I just continued working, yaar. I was not bothered about number games then. I just did everything with a lot of interest and dedication. I am not a trained dancer. I learnt all techniques from cinema,” she manages that much.
Simran was also very good at convincing people to do what she wanted. She also knew where to draw the line. That helped.
The actress can be credited for introducing (to some extent) ‘the slim revolution’ down south. Also, better fashion sense. Garish, glittery overcoats stopped making the rounds since then. “My costumes are evergreen. They were never stuck in a time warp. And, I always wanted to be slim and fit. Since then, all actresses have followed that trend. Now you see so many slimming centres.”
Girls give up too soon, she observes when I query about the shelf-life of an actress in Indian cinema. Yes, the boys who acted with her are still around.
“I never thought of competing with my male actors. Probably, that worked for me. I was always secure being myself. I don’t think there should be full stops in an actress’s career.”
Of course, she is delighted with her choice of films. Proud of her glam doll image. “It’s boring to do the same kind of films. An actor has to be versatile. If I had started with sari roles, I would have been trapped there. I worked mostly with new directors and it seldom worked against me.”
Simran had never planned her career. And, despite everything, she loves Tamil cinema. “Trust me sweetheart, I am dying to work in Tamil cinema. I had left so many Hindi films to work for Tamil back then. It’s such an organised and professional industry. And, (has) superb technicians.”
Post Vaali (1999), she became “alert in her choice of films.” She credits SJ Suryah for that. “He is a fantastic director. He used to convince me to do all the scenes. He will act them out. I used to love going to the sets. He was very clear about what he wanted.”
She sums up most of her co-actors as “nice guys” and admits to have never felt any chauvinism on the sets. “I was treated like a star right from my first film.” She reserves the maximum words of praise for Prabhu Deva, though. “Very sensible, simple and sombre. He doesn’t discriminate.”
Telugu cinema with its loud, massy folk songs in rich orange, pink and dirty yellow was a huge stress-buster for her. “But then, even there you can never see me in just a couple of songs or scenes. I never did anything I was uncomfortable in.”
Her priority had always been the story. Neither the hero, the director or the production house figured on her list.
Her one-year-old reality show – Dance Tamizha – is a huge crowd puller. The actress, who is on the judging panel, shows off another side; the usually polite Simran is seen ticking off contestants mercilessly.
She is also planning to venture into film production next year.
Those larger-than-life, mass entertainers are not made anymore, Simran says. “I do like the current movies. But, they are not something I would want to watch in a theatre to unwind. That’s routine life. I want to see jhatkas and matkas, comedy, horror and great fights,” she chortles.
Ideally, she would want to do films that she would like to see herself in. “Kannathil Muthamittal was gratifying as an actress. But maybe not as a producer.”
Simran doesn’t like the word “serial”, she prefers “short-films”. “Daily soaps are very tiring. Spouting dialogues with glycerine is not what I am here for. I don’t want to earn money by crying like that. I don’t want to be that busy. I want to relax between shots,” she laughs.
Attitude, she declares, speaks louder than words in this profession.
And finally, is there anything she would want to change from the past? “Why will I change anything? I am happy and I intend to remain so,” is the defiant reply.
The Simran interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.