The 80’s witnessed a renewed approach towards Tamil cinema making way for fresh faces in the industry, who we remember till date. It was a time when heroines where all-rounders – it was not all about running around the trees and lip-syncing the songs, they were great actors and dancers and they oozed glamour when they had to. One such performer was Amala Akkineni, who was a league apart in the industry for her “girl-next-door” persona and her breath-taking dancing skills. Today, she lives for a cause and has nurtured her passion for animals into a movement. In a chat, she talks about her journey in cinema, marrying the man of her dreams, motherhood, animal welfare activism and more.
She married Telugu Superstar Nagarjuna who she starred with her in two hit films “Siva” and “Nirnayam”. Today, when we think of animal welfare, Amala is the first name that comes to all our minds. A passionate animal lover, she has been a welfare activist for animals and is also the co-founder of Blue Cross, Hyderabad. A successful artist back in the day, a dotting wife and mother now and an ardent animal lover and philanthropist, she is now in the midst of becoming the Honorary Director of Annapurna International School of Film and Media. Her smile, ever so charming, takes us back through a nostalgic trip to the 80’s. Sweet and understated, she hasn’t changed a bit and still remains the girl-next-door who her fans fell in love with.
She hails from an armed forces background and has grown up in a very disciplined and practical environment. From such a background, she landed up into the world of glitz and glamour. “Dad was in the Army and therefore we used to move around a lot. My mom is a social worker and she would be rescuing abused women, orphaned kids finding the right NGO to support them. So that’s the environment I grew up in. I grew up with a well-rounded exposure to India and a great respect for Indian culture. I have a flair for languages because when we moved into a new state, I had to learn the new language and I had to make new friends in school. With my mom being socially conscious, all our conversations over the dining table would be on social issues. We had heated debates, arguments, points of opinion and we were all encouraged to have an opinion and respect each other’s opinion.
Owing to her passion for dancing, Amala joined the prestigious Kalakshetra to hone her skills as a dancer. Her talent was spotted in Kalakshetra and her first opportunity in films began at the backstage, after her performance. “I discovered I loved dancing when I was 14. Mom and dad agreed to send me to Kalakshetra and my education as well as grooming in dance happened there as I stayed at the campus for 8 years till my graduation. Life then was all about rehearsals, exams and travelling. At some point in my final year in Kalakshetra, directors from different industries used to come backstage after performance and used to offer me roles in films. I hadn’t considered them till then but just when I looked at my options after my graduation, Mr T. Rajendran approached me with his wife and sister Swarnalata and offered me a role in Mythili Ennai Kadali. That’s when I took up acting seriously and thought it’s just not about performing, I should think of my profession also.”
At a very young age, she entered a rather competitive industry. However, at that time, acting was still not a preferred profession. But Amala looked at it very differently. “I was naive and I guess that’s what worked for me. When I was offered MEK, I felt it was promising, because the movie is about dancing and Rajendran sir wanted a pure classical dancer. I thought “let me give it a try” and then there was no looking back. I also had the opportunity to learn acting as I had the privilege of working with seasoned actors like Srividya. Radhika was another great support too. One day, she stormed into my makeup van and said “don’t allow this makeup man to ruin your skin.” She gave me makeup tips which I follow till date. She has been very encouraging. So, with such wonderful people around there was never any inhibition or fear.”
The fact that she was from a simple background and travelled through her career on her own is an achievement in itself. With a sense of confidence, she shares her mantra for sustaining in the show biz, “I would say the discipline of armed forces helped me a lot. Most of my producers and directors appreciated that I am punctual and independent. I was a one woman army, everything was done on time without fuss. I guess everyone appreciated the professionalism. I have always been like a horse with blinkers. I just kept to my things and there was no room for anything else. So I was absolutely oblivious to any other thought or conversation about the film industry. However later on of course, I did become aware of “yellow journalism” which used to write something ridiculous. However, as I couldn’t read the regional languages, I did not understand and someone had to tell me and I used to pay least attention. Also, leisure time was always spent reading books or doing exercise.”
With back to back hits like Shiva and more, she was at the peak of her career when she decided to marry Nagarjuna. With a blush on her face and glitter in her eyes, she shares her sweet little love story, “Well like movies, love and marriage also happened. Nag surprised me out of the blue and asked me to marry him. After all the euphoria and excitement subsided, I asked him, “Will we move to Hyderabad??” He said, “Yes.” I said, “I don’t have to rush to work?” He said, “If you don’t want to you need not my dear. You can do whatever you like to do.” I was so excited at that thought. I was tired of continuously working and living life out of a suitcase. About 50 films in 8 years is a lot, so I was really exhausted. When Nag proposed to me, I felt like I was going into a long holiday and it lasted for 20 years. It’s just been a beautiful journey.”
Nagarjuna: My love
Your favorite holiday destination: Maldives
If Shiva was remade, who do you think can be the lead pair? I can’t think of anyone in Nag’s place. Let classics be remembered as they are!
Your favorite Nagarjuna movie? That’s a tough one. Manam.
Your mantra to happiness? Take success and failure in the same spirit: There’s something to improve even when you have success and there’s a great lesson to learn when you fail. I’ve learnt that hard work pays off without fail. One may not know, but failure is a blessing in disguise, a great opportunity to learn. So never be afraid that things don’t turn out the way you want them to.