CHENNAI: She was one of the few child artistes in the ‘50s who later played the lead in Veerathirumagan (1962). Known for her chirpy, effervescent nature, the roja malar and rajakumari of several hearts — Sachu aka Saraswathi — tells City Express about her life as a artist in cinema, television and theatre.
Born into an orthodox family, cinema happened by accident to Sachu, who was barely four years old. “We were staying at Mylapore with my grandmother. K N Dhandayudhapani, the renowned Bharatanatyam exponent, was my sister’s guru. He had contacts in the film industry and one of them was A C Sami. While casting my sister for a classic dance number in his movie, I accompanied her to Central Studio, Coimbatore,” she recalls.
Sami wanted a child artiste to play the younger role of Banumathi in Rani (1953), and to her surprise, Sachu was cast for the role. “The child, who was supposed to play the role was sick and I had to fill in. Due to my clear diction and extroverted nature, he thought I was perfect,” she shares. After a lot of persuasion, Sachu’s grandmother allowed her to make her debut. “I didn’t understand anything. I just acted as I was told to! I was just a happy kid showered with chocolates and made to act,” she chuckles.
A natural performer, Sachu successfully filmed her first shot, in which she was asked to cry (a bit of pinching helped). “I couldn’t cry and a few gimmicks had to be done,” she smiles.
Talking about child artists in the ‘50s, she says Baby Saroja and Padma Subramanian were among the few child artists then. “These days, child artists are intuitive and extremely intelligent. They even improvise on their own,” she smiles.
After her first film, Sachu shot to fame. Before she knew it, she was already a part of classics like Devadas (1953), Avvaiyar (1953) and Maya Bazaar (1957). Recollecting an incident from the shooting of Avvaiyar, she says, “There was this shot for which we were asked to draw water from a pond. Since I was the focus, the director explained, ‘This is the last step; once you fill the vessel, look at the camera’. But, the daredevil in me didn’t pay heed. I took the extra step and fell into the pond,” she laughs.
After playing younger roles of stars like Bhanumathi, Padmini, Savithri and Madhubala, she landed her first lead role in Veera Thirumagan (1962). “That movie established me as an actor. I worked with everyone including Sivaji Ganesan, MGR, Gemini Ganesan, Savithri, Padmini and Banumathi,” she says.
Two years later, she signed a movie that gave her a new face in cinema — Kadhalika Neramilai (1964). Sachu says the rom-com entertainer, which is still talked about for its storyline and cast, introduced her to comedy. “I was very young and most movies were family-oriented. I couldn’t relate to them. So when Kadhalika Neramillai came by, I readily agreed. What was shot as a time-pass film became a benchmark!” she smiles.
Since then, Sachu has been cast alongside comedians like Nagesh, Cho, Thaengai Srinivasan and Suruli Rajan. “Those days, pairing for comedy was very important. I have been paired with every male comedian and the understanding we had was incredible. We would give each other the space to perform and the humour would be subtle and sophisticated,” she says, citing modern comedy flicks that objectify women, have double entendres and vulgarity. “Back then, if there were double-meaning dialogues, or something offensive to women, I would walk away. It wasn’t much, but movies these days thrive on vulgar jokes,” says the Kalaimamani recipient.
She took to the stage in the ‘70s and made her debut with PVR’s Neerottam. Talking about the importance of being in theatre, she says, “That’s where you get immediate feedback. It teaches you about timing and dialogue delivery. It’s where you hone your skills.” Having starred in over 500 films, Sachu says she can never memorise a script. “I can act, but if you ask me to memorize a script, I won’t be able to!” she laughs.
She started acting for TV in the 2000s and says she got to play roles that she couldn’t in films. “In TV, I portrayed roles that were difficult to do in movies. It was a great phase,” she says. Who can forget her as the Palakkad Tamil-speaking mother in the serial, Veetuku Veedu Looty! Sachu has also starred in Manbumigu Mayor, Ananda Bhavan, Costly Mappilay and Dinesh Ganesh.
She has played supporting roles in films alongside Kamal Hassan, Rajinikanth, and Venkatesh. Not only was Sachu a sought-after artist until the ‘90s, but she has held her stand as a character artiste till date.
“I still do films. I play mother and grandmother roles. But I’m a quirky and fun grandmother,” she giggles. The actor is now filming for Kodi, Chennai 28 – 2 and Kadavul Irukaru Kumaru.
“We need more female comedians who can balance the men. Also, directors and writers should write creative scripts that have space for both. That’s the only way to bring back what we had in our period — the best period!” Sachu exclaims.