Sudha Chandran, the acclaimed classical dancer who broke the shackles of being physically-challenged to reach high pedestals in film and television, proved to be a class apart even in her college by choosing Arts over Science, in contrast to the common practice of those times. Sudha’s mother was a really good singer and her father was a lover of art, and the best of both was bestowed on their only child. “My father wanted to see me as a dancer from my childhood. But as it was an era of engineers and doctors, I was questioned for pursuing Arts in college,” she says.
Her father thought she would have to spend a lot of time in the lab if she took Science but with Arts she could create the space for dance. “I felt whatever decision my parents took for me was apt, so I never questioned them. But today unfortunately, kids question everything. If they ask fewer questions and work more, this place would be a better place to live,” she opines.
The dancer-turned-actor, who is currently in the city shooting for Solvathellam Unmai, a reality talk show, says now she is an absolute contrast to what she was in college. “I was into dancing, as a co-curricular activity. But academics was never put on the back-burner. Being from a South Indian family, I was very much an academically inclined girl. I did my BA from Mithibai College in Mumbai and followed it up with an MA in Economics. That year, I was the only student from my college and class, who got a first division.” In spite of belonging to a star-studded college being surrounded by celebrity kids in the hub of Juhu, the film city, Sudha admits she had never planned to make it to celluloid; it just happened.
The Convent-school alumna feels the first-year of college was an eye-opener. Rajesh Khanna, who was a heartthrob in those days, was her favourite star. Branding herself and her friends as film fanatics, she says they never missed a movie on Fridays. This, she did, careful to slip below her mother’s radar. However, one day, when she bunked college and went for a film, Love Story starring Kumar Gaurav and Vijeta Pandit, her mother got wind of her bunking episode, even before Sudha could cook up a story.
It was right after junior college that she met her biggest challenge in life. She fractured her right femur in a major accident, and a wrong diagnosis led to gangrene and ultimately to the amputation of her right leg. Sudha’s friends were a major support to her, shattered as she was by the devastating loss. She was in (then) Madras for six months but all her friends kept writing letters to her and made sure she didn’t miss Bombay. They updated her on the happenings in the city, and as a token of their companionship, stopped going to the movies on Fridays. They resumed only after her return to Bombay.
“I had finished my junior college at that time. Eight months later, I came to Bombay. The then principal of Mithibai College allowed me to join BA from the middle of the year,” she says.
Recalling their hangouts, Sudha says there was a sandwich shop opposite Mithibai College, where Sudha’s favourite was vada pav with chutney. Her friends and she also extended patronage to the golawala and pani puri wala around the college campus.
After college, Sudha got back to dancing. “A lot of journalists wrote the story of my come-back to dance in the papers. This caught the attention of filmmaker Ramoji Rao. Initially, he just wanted to make a film on my life-story, with some other girl as the heroine. Later, he and even director Srinivas Rao thought I myself should do the role. I sought some time. They obliged. For three months, I kept quiet. My friends kept telling me that I was letting a golden opportunity slip away. A few days later, I gave in. Without Srinivas Rao, there would also not have been the ‘Ramola Sikand’ of Kaahin Kisi Roz,” she reminisces.
It was through this famed daily soap, that her bold bindis and heavy ornaments made a style statement. “Even the way I outline my lipstick was being lapped up,” she says. Going by this, one would assume that she would have been among the top trendsetters in college. But she says she likes to keep it casual. “Although I am seen with heavy make-up and bold ornaments, I prefer to go without it and keep it simple.”
Nostalgic about college, she laughs saying she had a crush on one of her professors, Sunil Gupta. “I remember, he used to walk into class in white trousers and blue T shirt. At least 98 out of 100 girls in college fell head over heels for him,” she smiles.
Known as the quiet one in college, who would mind her own business, Sudha, contrary to the perception of her from her college days, went on to have a love marriage with Ravi Dang. “I had no boyfriends in college. Then I used to think that love was an absolute waste of time — daydreaming all through your classes and finally ending up with a broken heart. Although I had a love marriage, I didn’t understand what it was all about. For me, the relationship with my husband was a good friendship, which culminated in marriage.”