Interview: Jayaprada

‘It is a moment to cherish for Indian cinema’

Print edition : May 26, 2017

Rishi Kapoor and Jayaprada in "Sargam".

Interview with the actor Jayaprada.

ON K. Viswanath being honoured with the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, the film star Jayaprada said it could not have gone to a better person. Walking down memory lane, she talked to Frontline about the time when she was an integral part of his multilingual cinema. Excerpts:

There are people who believe that the Dadasaheb Phalke Award could not have been given to a more deserving person. Do you agree?

He is the best person to get it. It is late but at least justice has been done. It is a moment of pride for all of us. He is a true “kala tapasvi”. It is a moment to cherish for Indian cinema, whatever the language. I would like to thank the jury for choosing him.

Viswanathji does not hanker after awards. So I feel thrilled with this award for him. Right from Dilip Kumar saab to Raj Kapoor to Nageshwarji and D. Ramanaiduji, it is a dream for anyone in the field to get such a coveted award. I am sure we can learn a lot from their journeys.

Talking of journeys, you have had a long one with Viswanathji, going back to the 1970s.

I feel blessed to be associated with his cinema. I feel particularly happy as a student. My journey with him goes back to the Sagara Sangamam and Siri Siri Muvva days. It has been a great opportunity for me to learn from him. Thanks to him, I got to do some of the most meaningful roles of my career. I cannot thank him enough.

In many ways, he groomed you.

That is true. He is my guru. I have no other guru among the directors though I have learned from most of them.

Back then, when I started, there were no acting academies. Viswanathji was my acting academy. He taught me, he made me so strong. He taught me to approach each character differently and not shy away from taking risks. Due to him I never get scared of doing any role. Every movie was a learning experience.

I remember I was in school when he chose me for Siri Siri Muvva. When he started narrating the script, I had no idea what a script was. I was totally raw and had no idea of acting. I had no clue about what I was expected to do. When he told me the role, I told him I could not do it. He laughed and told me he was with me. He had a unique way of enacting the scene. Viswanathji had faith in me. He groomed me. He was my guide.

How helpful was he when you played a deaf-mute in “Siri Siri Muvva”/“Sargam”?

I was totally blank when he asked me to play the character of a girl who could not speak or hear. I could not understand a thing. Viswanathji took me to a deaf and dumb school. I spent a lot of time there. He made me experience their life. Thanks to his prodding, I learned something new. Then, when I finally faced the camera, I was ready.

I used to keep the ghunghroos [dancing bells] on the daf ( dafli) and imagine them to be my beau. So that when the camera rolled, I would imagine a lover there. When the film completed a hundred days, Dilip Kumar saab came to Viswanathji and said this girl will be a big star. And many students from the deaf and dumb school started interacting with me in sign language.

I cannot thank him enough for picking me for Sagara Sangamam. He helped me take the first steps in the Telugu industry. He also introduced me to the Bombay film industry. I can never forget Sagara Sangamam. It is like a lifetime achievement award for me.

Unlike many other directors, Viswanath is known as a calm man.

I would not say he never got angry, but yes, he seldom got angry. He would be angry one moment, next moment he would be calm and normal. On the sets he used to be a taskmaster. He would come dressed in khaki pants with a hat. He had a unique way of dressing. He would expect everybody to be disciplined.

But he had his other side too. Once during the shooting of Sargam, I fell unconscious due to extreme heat. He gave me glucose, treated me with a lot of love and affection, not bothering about the shooting schedule. When I look back at those days, I feel fortunate. The Dadasaheb Phalke Award is an award for him alone, but it is a blessing for all those who have worked with him.

Viswanath is known to make films steeped in Indian classical music and typical middle-class Hindu family values.

Yes, he would always focus on the family, our culture, our ancestral values. He also knows his music well. Importantly, even when he drew from the scriptures, it would blend with the story, with the character. Nothing would appear forced. Also, not many people give him enough credit, but Viswanathji has always had an eye for nature. If you look carefully, his films had moments of silence, time when he let the quiet in things speak. He also used leaves and birds to communicate with the audience.

He also took on the evils of the caste system.

Yes, he did. He had his own way of trying to change the bad things in our society. For instance, in Sur Sangam, the girl who adores the guru is a victim of society’s bad treatment. She is held guilty for her origin. And Viswanathji handled the character with great restraint. I was lucky to do that film. It is probably every artist’s dream to do something like that. I consider my films like Sargam, Sagara Sangamam and Sanjog to be milestones in my career, and in my association with Viswanath gaaru.

Viswanathji has not made a film for a long time now. The only time he showed up at your show, Jayapradam, he asked you to direct him. Will you now not request him to try for one last shot?

Of course, I requested him to make a film again. I pray that God gives him all happiness and health. If he makes another film, I would love to do it. Even if he does not, we all know what blessings he has given us with his films.

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