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Star then, a stoic now

MALATHI RANGARAJAN

Poignant moments with Kanchana, beautiful actor of the 1970s, who continues to face odds with grit.



AT THE HELM A FEW DECADES AGO: From MGR and Sivaji Ganesan to Muthuraman and Ravichandran, Kanchana has acted with all top heroes of her time.

Aging is inevitable. But when the scars of time leave an indelible mark on the visage and physique of a celebrity, it does disconcert you. Like when you see Kanchana, a beauty, who made young men fall flat for her four decades ago, with her debut film, `Kadhalikka Naeramillai,' walk towards you at the lobby of a hotel in Mylapore, with a quizzical look.

At first you are not too sure that it's the actor herself. "You have come to meet me have you not?" she asks. You nod in the affirmative and she smiles. The bright eyes and smile — attributes that haven't changed with time — are a giveaway!

Kanchana, the heroine of 150 films in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Hindi, in the 1970s, lives a life of seclusion in Bangalore today. Yet as you begin talking to her you realise that she needs no palliatives. She is capable of handling problems with placidity. As she has been doing for years now.

Actors rising to affluence, is common. But for one who was literally flying high (she was an air hostess when director Sridhar spotted her) to be brought down to the earth with a thud despite all the fame and fortune is rather rare.

Kanchana was in Chennai recently to receive the MGR Award for 2003.

Unique honour

Congratulate her for the award and her eyes light up. "I believe it is Adi Parashakti herself, who has chosen me for the unique award in the name of MGR. I've been away from the scene for too long for anyone to remember me. For the Chief Minister to have thought of me for this great honour is incredible." But why has she opted for such a reclusive lifestyle? "Nobody opts for anything. Things just happen. There's nothing in the material world I have not seen. But what's the point in worrying over matters you can do nothing about? I feel the Divine guiding me through all my tribulations. So I just move on as though nothing has happened."

A pious life

Kanchana lives in an apartment right opposite her sister's and spends her days in meditation, puja, bhajans and in chanting Rama Nama. "My sister and her husband take good care of me," she says.



A dream debut in `Kadhalikka Naeramillai.'

She never misses her morning walks and daily visits to the Gayatri Devi temple in Yellahanka, in Bangalore, where she lives.

Warily you mention the rumours that were floating around a few years ago about her living in penury. "That was utter falsehood. But I didn't want to go back to the magazine that published it and ask for an explanation. Already I have too many legal tangles to handle. Mentally I have renounced everything. But I still lead a materialistic life." Though she didn't spell it out, the reference may have been to the long-drawn property dispute with her parents.

The last time she stood before the camera was in the early 1980s.

She is not able to pinpoint the exact film. When you suggest the brief role in Mani Ratnam's `Mouna Ragam' as the last, she gives a puzzled look and concedes. "Probably it was. I don't remember. That was the period I was going to leave my house in Chennai for good. I also did a guest role in a film that starred Kamal Hassan. The name, I forget," she ponders and adds `Anandabhairavi,' a very good film in Kannada with Girish Karnad, was also made around the time."

Ask about the comedies she's done, including the inimitable `Bhama Vijayam' and evergreen `Uththaravindri Ullae Vaa,' and she goes into a reverie. "Serious acting is easy. Making people laugh is not. Sadagopu (`Chitralaya' Gopu) was wonderful at comic dialogue and the films were a treat for levity lovers," she commends.

About `Bhama Vijayam,' she says all credit goes to K. Balachander.

Is there a chance of her donning the grease paint again? "What was great once has become a mere shadow now. As of now, I'm not at inclined," she states.

Never mind, because the image of the captivating young woman of the past will remain in your mind's eye forever.

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