TWB: As an actress, you have acted mostly in mainstream cinema, but your first directorial debut was “Mitthai Mane”, an offbeat film.
Arathi: It was the biggest mistake I made, but my daughter Yeshaswini, who wrote the script for the film, insisted that I steer clear from commercializing the idea of child labor, which is the central theme of Mitthai Mane. The idea first germinated in our mind when I returned to India along with my daughter, and saw how people were so insensitive towards child labor. Many of the children who work as domestic helps and servants are treated with contempt, especially young girls who are not allowed to go to school. In many cases, they continue to work as domestic help till they get married and later, their children too join them. These things do not happen in the US, which is what triggered the idea of a story based on child labor in my daughter’s mind.
When the movie was completed not a single exhibitor came forward to release the film, as it was not a commercial film.
TWB: Tell us about how you got into film industry, who introduced you, etc?
Arathi: It was by sheer accident that I got into the industry. Puttana Kanagal gave me a 5-minute role in Gejja Pooje, where I was the younger sister of the hero, Govardhan. With my middle class background, my family was totally against my acting in movies…
TWB: Heroines of your period like Jayaprada, Jayamala, Vanishree, etc continue to act in character roles in movies or in TV serials, whereas you vanished from the scene, and went away to US. Aren’t you interested in acting anymore?
Arathi: It’s a question I am asked wherever I go. The point is, I am not interested in doing these mother/mother-in-law roles and in hero-oriented films. I am certainly interested in acting – if I get a good role of a strong character in a film with a unique theme.
TWB: In your period, heroines were role-oriented, whereas today, the present day heroines mainly rely on exposing. As a veteran actor of the past, what are you feelings about this?
Arathi: I feel very sad bout it. When I spoke to some producers about this negative trend, they defended saying this is what the audience wants to see, but the people say there are very few good films today. All this emphasis on sex may appeal only to the younger generation, but is certain to drive away the families from watching films.
TWB: Looking back at an illustrious career, what is the most satisfying thing for you?
Arathi: I feel very happy that even after a gap of nearly 18 years, people remember me for the roles I essayed. They don’t recognize me as Arathi, but as the actor who played that role in for example, Ranganayaki, Yedakallu Guddadamele, Bili Hendthi, Nagarahavu and so on and so forth. I was fortunate that a majority of the 125 films I acted in were women-oriented and so had the space to explore my talent.
TWB: What is your advice to the filmmakers of today?
Arathi: I would say combine entertainment with a social message, like Aamir Khan’s Rang De Basanti, which I liked very much.
TWB: You have worked as a co-star with most of the big guns of your time like Dr Rajkumar, Vishnuvardhan, Srinath, Ambarish, Anant Nag, etc. What was it like to work with all these top stars?
Arathi: I am very proud that I have acted with all the top heroes of my time and have pleasant memories of those days. Though Dr Rajkumar knew that he was the unquestioned superstar of Kannada cinema, he was very down to earth in his behaviour. He was truly amazing in that he did justice to all kinds of roles – historical, Bond, action hero, social drama, etc. There will never be a more humble person than Rajkumar. As for Vishnuvardhan, he used to be always quiet and kept his own counsel, while Srinath was more jovial and an extrovert.
TWB: Which is your favorite movie?
Arathi: Munithayee directed by Puttanna Kanagal, where I play the tragic role of a blind girl who dies in the end. The film was based on a real life story. I also liked Ranganayaki, Premada Kanike, Shubha Mangala and Hombisilu.
TWB: Your favorite hero and heroine?
Arathi: I have no personal favorites. For me, the character you play is the hero/heroine, not the actor who plays the role and his/her personality.
TWB: What about your role model?
Arathi: Mahatma Gandhi. I have been reading books on Gandhi for the last 17 years, even though I have studied only up to SSLC.
TWB: You have worked closely with the legendary Kannada director Puttana Kanagal. What are your recollections about him?
Arathi: Kanagal will be always remembered by many, as he had a penchant for introducing new faces and many people who are big names today in Kannada industry owe their success to him. I have acted more than ten films with him which was an unforgettable experience for me. Kanagal was also among first to introduce outdoor shooting in Karnataka, and had an uncanny eye for spotting the most beautiful locales.
TWB: What about your present plans and future?
Arathi: I am happy being a wife, mother and taking care of my family.
TWB: You have been in the US for long. How would you describe the difference in culture between US and India?
Arathi: (laughs) Actually there isn’t much of a difference if you are talking about the India that lives in Brigade Road/Commercial Street! America has a very well developed infrastructure, and the Americans really believe in the dignity of labour. Whether you are a sweeper or the President, they respect your job.
TWB: If you were to be born again what would you like to be born as?
Arathi: I don’t believe in rebirth…But if there’s another birth, I would like to be a singer, because you only have to face the mike, unlike an actor who has to act before more than 40-50 people all the time. All a singer needs is a mike and a good voice to win the hearts of millions.
TWB: Your message to our readers.
Arathi: Let’s make Bangalore Beautiful. It calls for a collective effort and is not in Government’s hands alone.