Did you realise 30 years have passed since the release of Mouna Ragam?
I had no idea. Someone said nothing was being done about the anniversary. I said that as long as people are still watching the film, it doesn’t matter. Mouna Ragam still feels fresh. When I meet Mohan or Mr. Mani Ratnam, it still feels like we were shooting for the film only recently. Also, I did Mouna Ragam at a strange juncture in my life. It was just before my marriage.
Surely, you didn’t face the same tribulations that Divya (the lead character) does?
( Laughs) No. I married the person I fell in love with. But Divya believes in living life to the fullest, and I was like that too. There’s a scene that has her walking out of a conflict, mumbling to herself. I used to do that too! My mother always suspected that Mani Ratnam must have noticed me do that.
The film even begins with shots of your childhood photos.
I didn’t even know they had them! The first day of the shoot was at P. C. Sreeram’s house. I was arranging the room like Divya would, and looked up at the wall… to see my photos. My mother had given them to Thotta Tharani. But I didn’t mind. I understood everything about Divya, including her middle-class values. That’s why, in ‘Oho, Megam Vandhadho’, you’ll see that I’ve safeguarded my watch by tying a handkerchief around it. I felt Divya’d do that.
When you get as close to characters, do some traits rub off on you?
I think they remain as memories. For instance, the rural character from my first film, Mann Vasanai, was nothing like me. I grew up in cities. But today, if I have to live under a thatched roof and drink koozhu, I can do that. That’s because of that role. But Divya was practically me.
So, you must have sided by her choices always?
Not always. She tells her husband, “ Neenga thottaa kambilipoochi oorraa madhri irukku.” I didn’t think she needed to hurt him so much.
Mani Ratnam said that the line was based on how Divya would feel on her wedding night.
That’s what amazed me — that a man could think about these things. Even when my friends got married, I didn’t think about this. None of us do. We raise women by telling them, “ Sariyaa okaaru. Kazhuththa moodu.” And then, we ask them to suddenly go and spend a night with a strange man. I wasn’t sure how to do that scene. I was in love and about to get married, and I wouldn’t ever have thought about this, had it not been for Mouna Ragam.
Mani Ratnam has mentioned that Karthik’s character was a late addition to the film.
When I first read the script, his character wasn’t part of it, but I guess at the end of the day, you want people to see your film.
Who would you choose today?
I guess… Karthik. ( Laughs) Things change. You want your life to be an adventure with somebody.
Would you say there’s still a bit of Divya left in you?
No, she’s done. I’m a different person today. My career is also in a different place. I’m doing just a film or two every year. The 80s was a golden period when films were made because we had good scripts. I enjoyed doing films a lot more then. Suhasini, Radhika, Radha… all of us did powerful, women-centric films.
The songs were something else. Do you have a favourite?
Maybe ‘Mandram Vandha’? When Raja sir and I were watching Cheeni Kum, I noticed that he’d used the tune in the film. I asked him, “How could you give this song?” I was quite possessive about the songs.
When you think about Mouna Ragam, what comes to your mind immediately?
That Delhi house. It was in Kilpauk, actually. I still remember being awed by that door that swings on its pivot. Divya and the house evolve together. I also remember our one-day trip to Agra for the ‘Panivizhum Iravu’ song. Divya’s character also made it all enjoyable. As the years have gone by, I have realised the role’s value more and more.
Many actresses today would kill for such a role.
Well, what can I say? I’m sorry. I got it.