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Dramatis Persona - Personality

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By Teresa Rehman on the actress' likes and loves
  • Published 1.09.03

Vidya Rao

Age has not withered the charm, nor time her beauty. Lustrous tresses frame her still flawless face while her dark flashy eyes speak volumes. Seated in her cosy living room in her flat in Rehabari, Guwahati, veteran actress Vidya Rao is quite at ease discussing her life and loves. Her chiffon sari skims the right curves and she definitely doesn’t look the fact that she is a grandmother now.

With her friendly demeanour, she takes all questions in her stride, though a trifle bored with “some of the same old questions. Your questions are quite different and interesting,” she says.

Unlike other actresses who feign innocence and claim to be in this line purely for the love of it, Vidya makes no bones about her aspirations. “I always wanted to be a part of the glamour world and make a name for myself. I also wanted to earn a lot of money and enjoy the good things in life,” she says. “Whenever I went to watch films, I always bought tickets for the dress circle and I never travelled by bus,” she adds.

With a gene pool that crosses state boundaries, Vidya is a rare medley of cultures. Born to an Assamese mother and Maharashtrian father, she had a Malayali husband. Her late husband, M.P.N. Nair, a film producer and distributor, was the winner of the 32nd National Film Festival award for the film Son Maina.

With stardust in her eyes, she had also tried her luck in Bollywood. Her fluent Hindi and her unconventional looks brought her to the city of dreams with nothing but a lot of aspiration and a determination to succeed. “I had to come back after my marriage. But I have no regrets as I was quite successful as a heroine in Assam,” she says.

The actress, born in Dibrugarh and raised in Calcutta, took Assamese cinema by storm. She made her debut at the age of six, when she played a small role in the film Shakuntala, which incidentally won the National Film Award in 1961. There was no looking back and she acted in the films Lati Ghati and Araanya, which won national awards in 1965 and 1970 respectively. She is remembered for her roles in Sendoor, Ghar Sansar, Sarathi, Rag-Birag and Man Mandir. Her film Mukuta was the first film to celebrate 100 days and Ajali Nobou was a box-office hit that ran for 25 weeks.

“Bhupen Hazarika, whom I used to call Bhupen Mama, had first launched me as I was a good dancer,” she says. “I did Lati Ghati when I was 13 and I was scared when I had to do romantic films with my co-actor, Bijay Shankar,” she says.

After spending her heydays in Calcutta, she came back to settle in Assam in 1980. “I was more at home in Calcutta. I had acted in 20 Bengali films,” she says. “My husband had a distribution office in Guwahati and he was keen on coming back because Assam reminded him of Kerala,” she adds, looking at his photograph on the wall.

She points out: “My husband was older to me by 20 years. He was very supportive and mature and I found a safe sanctuary in him. In fact, I became a superstar only after my marriage.”

Death comes calling

Her husband’s death and thereafter her mother’s demise left her shattered. “I have seen death closely. I am a very emotional person and for someone like me who never ever did the household shopping, I had a tough time coping with everything all by myself. But I don’t carry my grief with me and in real life also I can switch on and off, as I do in my professional life,” says Vidya.

“I continued with my acting as I had to look after my son,” she says. Vidya, however, points out that she is a self-made person. “I have no godfather in the industry. I am completely on my own. But my constant source of support was my mother and my husband,” she says. Neither does she profess to have any “good friends” in the industry. “My relationship with all my colleagues is strictly professional,” she claims.

She also had a short stint in mobile theatre. “It was paying both professionally and personally. I had gained a lot of respect. I enjoyed every bit of it,” she says.

Though at first glance she looks very vivacious, Vidya claims that she is a very “private person” who “loves being with my family and close friends. Sometimes I feel like going on a long pilgrimage but I seem to find no way of retiring from life,” she says.

She has also recently acted with the new crop of actors in Prem Aru Prem and Jonaki Mon. But she feels that the new generation is a smarter lot. “We were also underpaid. The maximum remuneration that I ever got was between Rs 30,000 and Rs 40,000,” she says.

Waiting for perfection

She liked doing tragic roles and idolised Meena Kumari and Madhubala. “We used to do everything on the spot. We were scared to ask for glycerine for scenes where we had to cry. Whenever I had to do a tragic scene, I used to starve myself and tried to feel low. And since there were no dance directors, we used to spontaneously create steps to go with the music,” she remembers.

But she never bothered to go and watch her own films. “I used to see bits and pieces during the dubbing. I only saw some of the films when they were shown on television,” she says.

A God-fearing person, Vidya firmly believes that happiness has to be finally found within. She keeps herself healthy with yoga and meditation. “I am also a very good cook and can whip up all kind of dishes in no time,” she says.

Looking philosophical, she explains, “Nurturing oneself is a crucial dictum in self-growth and everything else is transitory.”

She adds, “Look at me, people have now forgotten me after all these years. But I have no complaints and am happy the way I am.”

Vidya is, however, longing for her “ultimate role” which would fetch her the best actress award.

With a misty look in her eyes, she says, “I am still waiting ...”