Over the years, we have seen children of prominent members of the film fraternity carry forth their legacy of acting, directing and producing, with practiced grace and charm. But of all, there was one such actor who did not want to foray into this surreal realm as she was in a world of her own. A self-confessed bookworm, she relates her life to a story written by Hans Christian Andersen, ‘The Ugly Duckling’. In a tête-à- tête with Radikaa Sarathkumar, we discover that she is more than just an accidental actor.
“I was an accidental actor”
Her father (the late M. R. Radha), was the famed villain of the cinema industry and her siblings had ventured into films as well; yet, Raadikaa was not interested in acting. “I used to go to the sets with my father and see him perform, but never gave it much thought. I used to sit in a corner and read books, I was in my own world,” she says. Nobody knew that she was the daughter of the legendary actor, not even the director who had cast her in her debut. She says, “Bharathiraja sir saw my picture at one of my neighbour’s house and wanted to cast me, but he didn’t know who I was. He asked me to act and I refused. My only thought was, “Who would see my film?” as I did not consider myself good-looking; but my mother convinced me. She said if I didn’t like it, I could always quit.” Only a few weeks into the shoot did Director Bharathiraja get to know who her father was, and was surprised that she hadn’t inherited any of his talent or knowledge of Tamil Cinema. “I didn’t know anything back then. But why would I? I had not planned on entering films. I was an accidental actor,” she smiles.
“Over the years, I have had the luxury of evolving into a better person and an actor”
From her first movie, Kizhakke Pogum Rail she has had a very memorable journey. “It was a lot of hard work. I was one of those rare species who was not interested in acting and I didn’t know anything about it. Luckily, I had entered the industry at a time, when there was scope to learn and over the years, I have had the luxury of evolving into a better person and an actor.”
“That is when I decided, if I become an actor, I will become like her”
Radikaa has been an inspiration to many who have chosen this career, but she has never had a role-model herself. Commenting on that, she says, “I never looked up to anyone in the industry, per se. I used to like Savitri a lot though, she was a versatile actor.” As a playful teenager though she never took acting seriously, her debut director was not ready to give up on her. “Bharathiraja sir wanted to make me one of the best actors in the industry. One day, he played a movie for me titled, Kai Kodutha Deivam. It was a K.S. Gopalakrishnan film, with Savitri as one of the leads. I loved her acting. That is when I decided, If I continue to be an actor, I will become like her. I was very honoured when I received the Savitri Ganesan award in 2013.”
“I didn’t fit in anywhere. So they made a slot for me in the Tamil industry—innocent roles”
In the film industry, people make presumptions and various assumptions about an actor and the kind of characters they can portray. Radikaa started off playing innocent roles, but over the years she started portraying powerful characters. Question her on the change and she says, “They had slots for each actor—Sridevi portrayed glamorous roles most of the time, while Sripriya would play strong and bold character and Sujata used to play all women-centric roles. I didn’t fit in anywhere. So they made a slot for me in the Tamil industry—innocent village girl roles. But, I wanted to do all kinds of roles. That is when Telugu offers came my way and I started doing very serious and bold roles there. That is when people from the Tamil film fraternity realised that I could actually act. They started casting me in complex and women-centric roles. I started molding myself to suit each character, and took on all the projects that came my way.”
“I started Radaan to be close to my daughter. I wanted to be in control of my career”
After many years in the film industry, Radikaa started her own company, Radaan, producing programs for television. “The moment I had my daughter, I knew I wouldn’t be cast as the lead. I would be doing stereotypical roles such as a sister or a mother. I didn’t want that for myself. I couldn’t imagine myself playing such characters at that point in time. That is when Radaan happened. I started this production house to be close to my daughter. I wanted to be in control of my career.” But as a woman and as a budding entrepreneur, she braved many challenges. “Everyone I knew was against it. But since I am a headstrong woman, I started it anyway. I faced a lot of criticism from known and unknown, but still, I fought my way to the top. As an actor, I was loved and respected by everybody; but, as a businesswoman, they just brushed me off. It was not easy to convince people. I used to sit at their offices for hours together and explain everything in detail, only to get rejected. Most of them felt that women actors make bad business decisions. It was a very difficult phase for me. But now, I am glad that the whole concept has changed and I took that first step. Nobody was willing to help me at that point in time. I was dejected and depressed. That is when I realized that I had to help myself. When I fall down, I have to get up on my own; nobody will pull me up. That is how a person becomes strong. That is how I became strong.”
“Honestly, making a movie is a lot less strenuous”
Cinema and television are two different realms. But is there much difference in terms of acting, directing and writing? She laughs and says, “There is a lot of difference. Honestly, making a movie is a lot less strenuous. The script is easier to write, the actors don’t have to shoot more than a few months and it entertains a person for less than three hours. A serial is not like that. The script needs to entertain a person for a year or two and there are no song sequences, unnecessary comedy or fight scenes to increase the duration of the daily soaps.” Commenting on the viewership, she adds, “The serials I make are for everybody—age no bar. I make sure that every serial I do entertains the viewer and has a moral and a social message too.”
“I want to spend as much time as possible with Sarath, Rayanne and Rahul”
Family life is as important as professional life for this versatile actor. Radikaa says, “My family is very important to me, I want to spend as much time as possible with Sarath, Rayanne and Rahul. Recently, we were in UK and drove around the British land for nearly 800 miles. Normally I am the sort who likes to venture out and Sharath likes to just chill when we go on our holidays. But this time he too enjoyed all the drives. It was great fun!” On a more serious note she says, “Apart from spending time with my children, I also make sure that they remain grounded and level-headed. Life is not a popularity contest, but if you win, it is great.”
“The greater your expectation from a person, the more disappointed you would be”
Talking about her success mantra, Radikaa says, “I do not expect anything from anybody. The greater your expectation from a person, the more disappointed you would be. I believe in myself and do not get put off by idle gossip—I know what it feels like, as I have had my, more than fare share of headlines. At the end of the day, It doesn’t matter if you are a big star. It is important to stay humble and not get carried away by success or failure—people who love you, will support you anyways. Best not to invest time on people who do not matter,’ she concludes.
Prabhu: He is my all-time- favourite co-star and such a cutie. I played his love interest in many of my Tamil films.
Chiranjeevi: A complete gentleman. I was paired with him for over 27 films in Telugu. We are good friends even today.
Sathyaraj: He is such a jovial person. He was always playing pranks on someone or the other, on the sets.
Rajinikanth: A smart and philosophical person. We used to discuss everything under the sun, including the sun.
Kamal Hasan: He is such a spontaneous actor. Sadly, I have done only two films with him.
Whom would you like to act with, today?
Vijay Sethupathi is an interesting actor. He is doing such off-beat films.
Ranbir Kapoor is a fabulous actor. I loved his performance in Barfi.
Amitabh Bachchan is such a charming person. Even if he was a 100 years old, I would act with him.
Alia Bhatt is superb. I liked her performance in Highway.