Amala Akkineni Interview: I’m glad that there is a rise in women-fronted films
Ahead of the release of Kanam/Oke Oka Jeevitham, Amala speaks about her comeback to Tamil films after 31 years, working in the bi-lingual feature, managing the film school and more
A new generation of journalists like me have not had the opportunity of watching Amala Akkineni on the big screen. Of course, we had heard stories about her charisma and charm. If some swooned about her sophistication in films like Agni Natchathiram (Shiva for Telugu) and Pesum Padam/Pushpaka Vimanam, some others vouched for her elegance in Sathya (Prema Yuddham in Telugu) and Velaikkaran (Chinna Babu for Telugu). And then, there were those who loved her in films like Mella Thirandhadhu Kadhavu (Nirnayam for Telugu) and Mounam Sammadham (Raja Vikramarka for Telugu). Strangely, Amala’s career is only bolstered by the rather limited years she was on screen. This might be a commentary on the cinema of that era, but there is no doubt that in the case of Amala, absence added to her allure.
The last time Amala graced Tamil screens, it was for Fazil’s Karpoora Mullai, a Malayalam-Tamil bilingual reliant on the theme of mother sentiment. Three decades later, she is back with yet another bilingual, which is, well… a mother sentiment film too. This time around though, the tables have turned, and Amala, who played the daughter in the 1991 film, plays the mother here in Kanam/Oke Oka Jeevitham.
Backed by SR Prabhu, Kanam marks the directorial debut of Shree Karthick, and Amala reveals that it was at the former’s insistence that she listened to the narration. “The fact that Prabhu placed his trust in a young filmmaker was enough for me to give him a chance to narrate the script. What started as a 40-minute narration went on for a couple of hours, and I loved his way of storytelling. In fact, I haven’t seen a narrator like him!" says a smiling Amala, who reminisces about how the filmmaker came with his own re-recording while explaining the scenes.
Shree Karthick apparently told her that the script was written with her in mind. When asked if it served as validation for an actor who has largely remained away from the arc lights in the past three decades, she flashes that famous, charismatic smile. “I am pragmatic by nature, and I’ve been in the industry long enough to know these statements shouldn’t be allowed to make you vain. However, while working in Kanam, I realised why Shree Karthick had me in mind. There is a sense of authenticity in him, and his honesty speaks through his work,” says the actor, who is using her time away from the camera to take care of the Annapurna College of Film and Media. She also makes it a point to reiterate that being away from the camera doesn’t mean she has been away from cinema. “We help young people learn how to make films, and I keep myself aware of what is happening in the industry. I’m glad that there is a rise in women-fronted films, and it is but the way to go forward if our filmmakers want women to come and watch their films.”
This pragmatism also comes through with her approach to script selection. She has no qualms in accepting that green-lighting an acting opportunity as an academician is completely different from when she was only an actor. “Earlier, accepting a film was easier because it was enough for me to convince myself and my belief system. However, now, I have to be doubly careful about the kind of films I do because I am also an academician. I must do films my students can be proud of, and I am careful to not do anything that can affect my students.”
Interestingly, Amala is not the only actor from the Akkineni family to have a release this September 9. Her husband and superstar Nagarjuna’s pan-Indian film, Brahmastra, which also stars Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt, is hitting the screens on the same day. Not keen to pick one over the other, Amala, with that wide smile again, asserts that Kanam is an honest and heartwarming film. “In fact, more than us, the conundrum is for our son, Akhil. Whose film will he watch first?” asks Amala, with a laugh that lights up the room.
The bigger question, however, is whether people would turn up to watch films in the theatres. Although accepting that it is indeed a problem, Amala shares that this isn’t a new issue for Tamil cinema. “We had a similar issue in the mid-to-late 80s when cable networks came into existence. In fact, many call it the golden period of cinema where it became imperative that cinema content had to be better than what could be consumed in the comfort of our homes. We pushed for great content then, and now, we are facing a similar challenge. When a film is really good, audience will throng theatres. The responsibility is on us to deliver good content, and fight to be at the top of the wide range of choices that are available to them.”
Despite being away from Tamil cinema for 31 years, Amala understands the kind of stardom she continues to have. Walking away at the end of the interview, she stops just for a minute, turns around, and says, “Do watch the film in theatres.” Well… of course, I will not let be letting up this opportunity to watch this actor on the big screen. It's a course correction long overdue for an entire generation.