CHENNAI: You give her an inch of stage space and she will take a yard out of it. That had been the refrain of stage directors R Giridharan, V Srivathson and K Vivek Shankar, under whom actress Preethi Hari blossomed. All three had lavish praise of Preethi with the consensus that it is worth going a mile when Preethi is in the act.
Around 25 plays in a span of two decades may not be a feat meriting a mention. But then, Preethi had to take a seven-year sabbatical when she was in the Gulf tending to her two daughters. “When my husband found a job to his liking, the shift was inevitable. Even then, the directors Giridharan and Srivathson (Dummies Drama) ensured that I had a small part in the plays of Dummies during the compulsory one-month annual trip to Chennai,” she shares.
CA to stage
Initially, Preethi was reluctant to take the plunge in the world of dramas. During her Chartered Accountancy articleship days with Srivathson, the actor-director casually remarked that she had a face to fit in any role. “Honestly, there was a desire deep inside me to give it a shot but there was the small matter of convincing my parents. It took a lot of cajoling to get the green signal, but once in, I knew that the doors of a new world had opened,” she says.
Preethi vividly remembers the time when she donned the make-up to slip into the character of Vani in Vinodhaya Chitham. “The instructions were loud and clear from director Giridharan to be Vani, and momentarily forget the mindset of an aspiring CA in me. He gave me the licence to add sheen to the middle-class girl in the style I desired. A debutant could not have asked for more. True, I had my debut blues as the character had so much of life and the audience having quickly lapped up the offering. Once I had the feel of the stage and the thunderous claps from the ones which mattered, it was as simple as sipping the second dose of a morning coffee,” she says.
Another character who lingers with Preethi is Aparna, whom she played “so astutely and imaginatively,” as the media had summed up. For Preethi, it was a special feeling, coming so early in her innings in her second play Payanam which harboured on the feelings of a homemaker caught in the quagmire of the IT field. “The play had a solid round all over Tamil Nadu and I could connect with scores of homemakers. There were Aparnas all around, which hit me hard and convinced me that stage is an effective medium to home in pertinent messages,” she notes.
There is a school of thought that in Dummies, the scripts are male-centric subjects and the female characters meant to fill in the gaps. Far from it, says Preethi, happy with the footage. “Over the years, Dummies has become a huge brand name. In my view, an artiste should have the abilities to leave a mark even in a miniscule role. Both Giridharan and Srivathson believed in the flow of characters in the script to do all the talking. In scripts which are winners, the artistes have their task cut out. Dialogues had been the core essence of such pivotal plays. Much like in director Visu’s movies, the female characters in Dummies do get their moments with the added luxury of giving it a tweak in the individual’s style,” she shares.
Testing genres, she has also been a part of a horror thriller, Thodarum helmed by Vivek Shankar. Preethi says the character of a film actress possessed by an evil spirit was an out-of-the-world experience. “Vivek sir took my opinion on how the character could take wings and explode at the right time when the audience least expected that. It worked wonders. A docile character on the face of it, going hammer and tongs at the finale was the icing. My co-actor Afzal was the pillar of support and he guided me right through to give the added fillip to the head-strong cine artiste, lured by the monetary aspects of the tinsel world,” she says.
Acting and more
Fumbles and tumbles are a part of life in theatre. Recalling a poignant moment in a stage play where her co-artiste fumbled with the lines, Preethi shares, “In a flash, I remembered his lines and spelt it out, slipping my own line that this was what he intended to convey. The audience could not make it out, warmly earning a pat from the director at the end of the show. These are the little snippets an artiste will remember long after the stage days. It pays to remember that even the best of the ones could have an off-day and the onus is on the others to pull that off in that scene.”
For Preethi, speed is the essence of any play and as an audience, she loves to view plays which give no breathing time. “The audience has a penchant for long dialogues and it is up to the director to keep them hooked on that. The monotony creeps with few characters in a play but again that is inevitable in historical and mythological plays with the focus on just the pivotal characters,” she notes.
Apart from acting, Preethi has a keen interest in make-up. Sometimes she has taken on the role behind the stage. When the make-up man failed to turn up for a play, the job was entrusted to her by Srivathson. “Possibly, I surprised myself in the way I could handle the moustache and beard of a man. So impressed was Srivathson that he entrusted the job of make-up to me in the latest play Naraikodi,” she adds. A defining moment in her career lines, Preethi notes it was a huge responsibility as the fantasy play had a fleet of 24 female dancers along with six males. “I too had an important role as a witch and could play around in the make-up with little restrictions to dampen the creative aspects.”
In her two-decade-long stint, Shyamalam is one play which has stayed close to her heart for reasons more than one. “There is an ancestral property which the family members desire to sell for monetary aspects. As a daughter-in-law, I make them understand the pains with which it had been set up. Having been part of the family for a length of time, the character was more of a daughter. The emotions got the better of me in the execution act. A box full of memories and emotions, as the media surmised my character,” she shares.
Back in Bengaluru for good, Preethi’s doors are open for all drama troupes. You remind her of the tag of making the most out of an inch, and Preethi laughs it off. “At this stage of my life, the creative juices are overflowing. Just the desire to be on the mindset of a superman with no care for the morrow and only the support of his hands to take wings,” she signs off.