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When the Joke is on You: The Vidyullekha Raman Interview

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vid3“I love making people laugh!” Vidyullekha Raman declares several times during our conversation.

Not just that, she also loves laughing at herself. “I can’t believe I wanted to become a doctor. Can you imagine?” she chuckles. “I also wanted to be the next Barkha Dutt. What was I thinking?”

Her laughter is infectious. When I join in, Vidyu suddenly turns serious.

“It takes a lot to be a comedienne, man.”

*****

Vidyullekha Raman’s tastefully furnished home in Alwarpet seems vaguely familiar. A vintage swing enjoys pride of place in the living room, and there are souvenirs aplenty. Bronze vessels, intricately carved wooden trunks and huge traditional lamps adorn every corner between the staircase and corridor; nothing is left untouched.

Our photographer, obviously, is quite thrilled.

Vidyu then clears the mystery. “Many shootings have taken place here,” she says, holding back the big golden retriever, Bailey, who apparently has a thing for bags. I am forewarned to drop my bag down as soon as possible.

After a few pictures of the house, and herself (“I can’t pose to save my life!”), we resume our conversation.

Bailey perks up his ears.

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream was the first play that Vidyu had watched. Her cousin Gitanjali Selvaraghavan had an integral role in the production. Vidyu remembers being enchanted by the performance of theatre artistes. She was 13.

She had no fascination for cinema or theatre till then, despite hailing from a family that’s got a lot to do with either. But, after her first play, she watched numerous others of her cousin. And, within a year, Vidyu joined the Landing Stage Youth Theatre Group, run by Aruna Ganeshram.

“I joined theatre because I wanted to know how it would feel to be applauded by hundreds of people. I also realized I enjoyed entertaining people,” she says.

She played an 87-year-old lady in her first play, Aladdin, and was Harry Potter’s cousin, Dudley Dursley in the next. “I still remember wearing shorts and suspenders, and pouncing on the artiste, who played my dad. My performance was a hit.” Vidyu also played the lead in Rumpelstiltskin. “The audience had a whale of a time watching me perform,” she laughs.

As a child, Vidyullekha had wanted to go to Broadway, “Theatre is not a profitable venture. But I had wanted to do it for the love of it.”
During the final year of her college, she auditioned for the role Jenny in Neethaane En Ponvasantham – through her theatre group. “So, I had to postpone my Broadway dreams,” she jokes.

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vid7Cinema, though, was a different game. Vidyu had to be less dramatic, and had to often remind herself that she’s performing to “a little black box called a camera and not to the old, deaf lady in the last row at a theatre.”

Cinema and theatre are polar opposites, she learnt on the first day. “I had to stop being dramatic and larger than life. I was used to throwing my voice in theatre. I had to adapt myself to this new medium.”

But then, that’s something that comes with practice.

On the first day of shoot, Vidyu recalls that Santhanam was “taken aback and Gautham Menon had a good laugh” when she performed. “I didn’t know that the boom microphone was picking everything up!”

“I would look like a clown if I overact in cinema,” she chuckles, “then again, I am a comedienne, so I think I can afford to overact a little to make people laugh.”

*****

Since her first release (Neethane En Ponvasantham) in December 2012, Vidyu has worked in 23 movies, including Tamil and Telugu. She’s recognized by fans, thanks to her debut, “but they also ask me why I do insignificant roles in some movies. It hurts when I face that question. However, I have been asked by seniors in the industry to not to turn down offers at this stage of my career. Irrespective of the scope, I have been signing up projects.” she confesses.

Some of the actresses, though have counselled Vidyu to be happy with what she gets. “They want me to feel content, for they don’t get meaty roles.”

On the other hand, writers in Telugu cinema have begun to think of Vidyu while penning certain characters. “When they see me trying to give my best in one film, they consider me for the next. I wish Tamil writers could also start thinking of character artistes like me during the scripting stage itself. It would help us employ our talent. We are ready to share the burden of the lead artistes,” she says.

“Everyone deserves a good chance.”

*****

Vidyu doesn’t relish humour that makes fun of one’s appearance. “Calling somebody fat, dark, and thin is not fun.” In films though, the jokes are on Vidyu. “I am a beginner, now, and I have learnt to embrace it. When a joke is on me, I have come to think that all the attention is on me. And, the irony is, that is what makes people laugh,” she opines. “So, I don’t see it as a personal blow. But, I’m not a big fan of such jokes.”

She might harbour dreams to become the next accomplished comedienne in Tamil cinema – like Kovai Sarala and Manorama, but Vidyu says she came into cinema to ‘act’, and not to do comedy. “I was made to do comedy. I get asked why I let myself be stereotyped. I certainly want to explore.” She aspires to reinvent herself and do powerful roles like Radikaa Sarathkumar.

*****

vid1When Vidyu chose cinema, her father, actor Mohan Raman heaved a sigh of relief. “I have someone to take after me now,” he had told her. And Vidyu’s mother watched Neethane En Ponvasantham eight times, just for her daughter. “Just because dad’s from the industry, I have not had to go through too much crap.”

But she quickly adds that his influence stops right there. One of her important ‘policies’ is to not use her dad as her wild card. “This is the only industry where you can be anyone’s child, but there is no guarantee to your success. You will win if the audience accepts you. Come on, our Superstar was a bus conductor!”

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Every morning, Vidyullekha sets a reminder to herself. It’s her personal alarm clock. “You have to be great at what you do!”
It’s a misconception that there cannot be another comedienne in the industry, she says, and wants to prove that wrong. “My ultimate aim is to revive that role. I am also practical enough to realize that it will happen in good time.”

At the same time, Vidyu also battles an inner conflict. “My climb to success is slow, there are possibilities of getting typecast, and the industry’s pay-scale is not good enough…”

But then, she also knows that “money is not relevant right now”. “I am here to leave a mark, and I must be dedicated.”

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Vidyullekha’s schedule is now erratic, for she flies Chennai-Hyderabad-Chennai every week. When her career stabilizes a little, the actress plans to pursue some of her other interests too. “I would like to set up a shop for cheese cakes. I might call it Cheese Cake Factory or something,” she laughs. And, when she begins to feel secure about work, Vidyu would also like to take a break for a couple of months to get back to her first love again. “Like how Naseeruddin Shah, Anupam Kher, and Konkana Sen Sharma work in theatre productions, I would want to do too. I am also toying with a couple of ideas for plays, which I would want to write myself.” It would be a comedy or would explore feminism, she says, but with a light-hearted approach. “It cannot not be dark, deep, and depressing!”

[quote align=’right’]”Calling somebody fat, dark, and thin is not fun. I am a beginner, now, and I have learnt to embrace it. But, I’m not a big fan of such jokes.”[/quote]

Besides her other passions, Ms Raman is also an avid traveller. “I told you I wanted to become a doctor and journalist right? I wanted to do a travel and living show too. Dreaming has its own perks, I suppose,” she laughs. Her wish to anchor a travel and living show was fulfilled when actor and producer David Rocco wanted a celebrity to take him around Chennai for his show on Fox Channel. “So, I took him in an auto, and gave him a taste of namma Chennai. I totally loved doing that. I wish I could do that too for the rest of my life.”

As I promise to watch it on YouTube, Vidyu hurriedly adds, “Oh. No. I am actually a little mortified about it. For some reason, I thought I should put on a fake accent while interacting with him… You will laugh at me!”

*****

The Vidyullekha Raman interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.

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