Revathy made her debut in 1983 with the Tamil film Mann Vasanai. Nearly four decades after that, she continues to remain a familiar face in south India, having acted in innumerable films and popular TV serials. She has also made her presence felt as one of the few women directors in the country.
The actor-director is awaiting the release of her new Tamil film Jackpot, where she plays a conwoman along with Jyothika. Directed by Kalyaan, the promos of the film show the two women having a blast together on screen, mouthing dialogues and performing actions that are usually reserved for male stars.
TNM caught up with Revathy for a chat on Jackpot, her views on cinema and politics, and how she has evaded being stereotyped in mommy roles.
Jackpot looks like a lot of fun. Can you tell us about your role?
Kalyaan is the writer-director of the film, and he has very interesting ideas. The film has about five tracks and he converges them all together. He has also done Gulebagavali in which I'd acted and I liked his style of humour. It is slapstick, there's no logical reasoning, and sometimes I think those kind of films are nice. I'm again playing a conwoman. Jyothika and I did things we've never done before (laughs), whether it is expressions or actions. I don't think I should say more; it's just instances put together.
You did a really cool role in Gulebagavali. Did you enjoy doing such a mass role?
Absolutely. I've always enjoyed doing comedy but for some reason, I've never got to do much comedy. Good comedy where you're not hurting anyone, calling people names, and having double meaning dialogues. I'm not very happy about the other kind of comedies. That's why I like Kalyaan. He has just pure comedy and there's absolutely no hitting, kicking, or calling names. I've always liked this genre but only Kalyaan seems to be giving me such films. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Most women actors get sidelined into playing mommy roles after a certain age, but you have escaped that stereotyping. Do people not approach you for such roles or have you been saying no?
I've been saying no to them! Everybody has approached me to play mother to everybody. There's not a single person to whom they don't want me to play mother. I don't want to do something that I don't enjoy.
It's not about mommy roles. In Anjali also I played mother. It's not the mother per se, but the role has to have something. Not just be mollycoddling, cajoling, crying. I don't want to be the stereotyped mother. If there's something interesting in it, I would do it. But they don't write such roles.
You acted in Virus which had a lot of people from the Women in Cinema Collective (WCC) and those who consider themselves as allies. What was the working experience on the sets like?
Virus was a very serious film. There very serious moments and especially all my scenes were full of serious moments. So it was a very quiet set and you hardly heard anybody talk. But it was an absolutely cool set. I didn't feel I was working. For me, most of my scenes were in what was supposedly the Collector's office. I was working with some of the coolest people in the industry, from Aashiq Abu to Rajiv and...everybody! They know their jobs and it's so nice to work with people like that.
When you're making a film like that, there could be issues with the script because it needs to be logical and every word needs to make sense. But it's never an issue with Aashiq Abu because he does enough research and his writers are excellent. They made me comfortable with the language also.
There's been some criticism about the TV serials you've acted in, some of which promote regressive ideas when it comes to women. How do you address that, being a WCC member?
With serials, the issue is when you watch a scene out of context, it might look totally not the kind of things that I talk about. But if you see it on the whole, the characters Vijay and I are playing are not regressive roles (in Azhagu). There was a beautiful dialogue in a couple of episodes back where Vijay (who plays a retired teacher) says, "As an educated person if you ask me if I believe in some of these traditional ideas, I would say no. But as a father, sentiment takes over and I want you to be safe." Here, with regard to Azhagu (her character in the serial) and Palanisamy (Vijay's character), they're very normal people from a village near Kumbakonam and they're behaving the way they're behaving because of who they are.
If you ask TV serial regulars who watch Azhagu, they will never say that Azhagu or Palanisamy are regressive characters. The criticism was about the daughter-in-law in the serial. But the daughter-in-law is her own sister-in-law's daughter whom she has brought up from childhood. So she has all the rights to ask her to shut up. It's not a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law dynamic but an aunt and niece one. Almost like a mother giving a piece of her mind to the child.
This is the background that many may not know because the serial has never-ending causes and has been going on for two years. So if you see a one-off episode, it can look extremely regressive. There, I'm Azhagu and I don't have the mindset of Revathy. I'm playing a totally uneducated woman who doesn't even read the newspaper but the husband was a teacher. So we're playing these characters and the possibilities are limited by it.
There's now a trend to make women actors do "mass" things on screen like Jyothika has done in Jackpot. Is there any old film where you'd like to reprise the male star's role in a remake?
I've always wanted to do a film like Amitabh Bachchan's Sarkar. I would love to do something like that. The power is so interesting to portray and you never find that kind of role written for women. And there are women like that! There are these women dons in Mumbai and I've met a couple of them. They exude power. I met a trans woman don who once told me, "Revathyma, I really adore you. You just let me know if anybody hurts you, I will see to it that the person will be knocked off." At that moment, there was a sense of pride and fear in me that a woman could be so powerful! She spoke in Tamil to me and said, "Yaaravudhu ungala edhavaudhu senja, naanga vandhu pottoduvom!" (laughs). I was amazed. I was standing in front of her wide-eyed.
What was working with Jyothika like?
Jyothika is a thorough professional and a pleasure to work with. She is also a very, very warm person. She has so much respect for talent and work. Whether it is the director, cameraman, production assistant or me, she would say, "Oh look at the way they are working!" She has so much heart. It's a pleasure to see such people.
You recently signed a letter condemning lynchings in the name of Jai Shri Ram...
The letter is written and I would like to leave it for the PM to respond, and I trust he will.
When are we going to see your next directorial?
I don't know! For some reason it's just getting delayed and delayed. When I sign all my cast, that day I will tell you. I'm waiting for the universe to help me start it.