When people see Sadhana Venkatesh, they still remember her as the 10-year-old Chellamma from Thanga Meengal. “That’s all right, but I get angry when they call me ‘baby Sadhana’. I am 17 now,” she says with an impish smile.
After Thanga Meengal, Sadhana didn’t want to do another film but she couldn’t resist signing Peranbu. “Though offers were pouring in, I didn’t take up any. It’s difficult to say ‘no’ to Ram uncle as he is a father-figure. He is someone I am at complete ease with and his concern for me goes beyond films. One day he told me—‘Chellamma (that’s how Ram calls her) you are going to get another National Award. It’s a soulful film with Mammootty sir, and you are playing his daughter’. I stood in disbelief not knowing how to react,” she tells us.
What was on Sadhana’s mind after Ram narrated her the script? “I was quite sure I can’t pull off Paapa, but my parents believed in my abilities and encouraged me to pursue the role. I was extremely nervous because I am not a trained actor. I had to shed a lot of inhibitions to play a special child. Once I started shooting, I never looked at the monitor or camera, because I thought I would feel insecure about my looks,” she says.
Though Sadhana feels blessed to have played Paapa, she says the role was emotionally draining. “It was also physically-demanding because I had to keep my mouth, hands and legs in an abnormal position. But the whole journey was worth my pain and effort. Not every actor of my age gets an opportunity to act with the legendary Mammootty uncle. He is like a textbook of cinema and knows everything from framing shots, camera techniques to direction and lighting. Not only did this role open my eyes to the lives of children with special needs but it also made me a better individual. I got to spend many days with spastic children and we shot in real schools. I learned that they need acceptance and love; not sympathy,” she adds.
Sadhana thought she would get to wear colourful clothes in Peranbu. “To my disappointment, it was anything but that. I have asked Ram uncle to come up with another film where I can dress up well and wear more makeup,” she laughs.
Little did she imagine Thanga Meengal would fetch her the National Award in the Best Child Artiste category. “Around 100 girls were auditioned for the role before I was zeroed in on. I remember how Ram uncle used to describe every scene in detail to make sure I understood his requirements—though I was too young to understand what it meant to play a pivotal role in a film. He has always given me complete freedom to do whatever I wanted to,” Sadhana recalls with a sense of maturity that belies her age.
Sadhana says she never wanted to be in films, but she is grateful to Ram for having cast her in two memorable films that she is proud of. “I am not sure if I am a good actor,” she laughs, adding, “cinema happened by chance, but it is not something I am keen to pursue professionally. I am more interested in Bharatanatyam, and it means everything to me. I started learning dance since I was five from my mother, Lakshmi.”
Being a classical dancer, was it challenging for Sadhana to show variations in her expressions? “Acting and dance are two different things. While acting is about convincing the audience with emotions that you portray, dance is an expression of the soul, and it’s more of an individual journey. I am very expressive in nature, and Ram uncle kept telling me — ‘Chellamma, don’t act. Kammi pannu’,” she grins.
Though Sadhana is 17, she is clear about what she wants to do in films. “After featuring in Thanga Meengal and Peranbu, I don’t think I can do run-of-the-mill commercial cinema. I am not overly ambitious. I want to accept films that I feel are meaningful,” she says.
Does she have a dream role? “I would love to do an Indian version of the Karate Kid,” she signs off.