Savithri Sreedharan, who also won special mention at National Awards, speaks about familiarising herself with cinema, after decades of working in theatre.

Meet Savithri whose role as Jameela in Sudani from Nigeria won hearts and awardsLeft: Still from 'Sudani from Nigeria'; Right: Savithri with an award, courtesy: imdb.com
Flix Interview Sunday, August 25, 2019 - 16:26

Savithri Sreedharan’s tone is musical over the phone. Exactly like Jameela in the National Award-winning Malayalam film, Sudani from Nigeria, a role Savithri played in 2018. She received the State Award for the role some months ago, and now she’s won special mention at the National Awards, too. “I don’t really know how to speak for interviews,” she says shyly over the phone, from her house in Kozhikode.

She had been telling her interviewers she didn’t know much about acting in movies. She’s been a theatre actor for decades, working regularly with four troupes. “But there was a role I did in a movie many years ago. It was for MT Vasudevan Nair’s Kadavu (1991),” she says.

Her unfamiliarity with cinema has now become lesser. Filmmakers snatched her away for roles after roles, after Jameela left an ache in many hearts. She’d played the sweet and affectionate mother of a football manager in Sudani from Nigeria. Soubin played the son who seemed detached from his mother for marrying again after his father died. Savithri expressed her pain with minimum effort, a sob there, a gasp here.

“I think of Sudani with sadness. It touches your heart,” says Savithri, recalling a scene when Jameela's puyappla (a new husband) leaves without drinking his tea as the son walks into the house angrily. 

“Jameela asks him, ‘Didn’t you come to stay?’, to which he says, ‘Velayudhan (a colleague) is not well. Do you want money?’. She says ‘no’ and he walks away,” Savithri explains, remembering a scene she played with late actor KTC Abdulla. He passed away in November last year.

“I knew Abdullakka much before. I was extremely sad when he passed away,” she says. And in her voice is a genuineness that we also see in all her characters. As the Anglo Indian woman in Dakini, the mother of the first victim of Nipah in the film Virus, and more.

“At first, I found it difficult to wear dresses for the role in Dakini. I didn’t know it’d be frocks and skirts when I heard the film would be about four old women going on an adventure,” Savithri says. But she looks her cute self as Rosemary and dances around to slow music, or dozes off in the middle of a serious conversation in the film.

In Virus, she looked more like Jameela, playing a worried Muslim mother again. Interestingly, she played mother to Zakariya, director of Sudani. “I didn’t know any of them before. It is for Sudani that they had all come home to ask if I’d do the role.”

In all these movies, Sarasa, another theatre veteran, joined her – as Beeyumma in Sudani from Nigeria, as another adventurous churidhar-wearing woman in Dakini, and as a relative of Zakariya in Virus

They got their separate movies, too. Sarasa wasn’t in Mera Naam Shaji, another movie Savithri did recently. 

Savithri is now doing Pada, playing a poor woman with Alzheimer’s, whose son has died. In Mahi, another upcoming film, she plays a Christian woman.

Even with all the movies and new-found fame, Savithri still loves theatre. “I had stopped doing theatre in 2007 because there weren’t any roles coming my way,” says Savithri, who won the state award in 1993 for her role as a 15-year-old Muslim girl in the play Rajya Sabha

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