As a child, GV Sharada remembers praying to a mud shivalinga that some day, she would be a heroine in Bombay.
“That has come true – at the age of 72,” the veteran of Kannada cinema told Scroll.in at her Bengaluru residence. Sharada plays a grandmother in Iranian director Majid Majidi’s first Indian production Beyond The Clouds. Sharada’s character, Jhumpa, arrives in Mumbai along with her two grandchildren when she learns that her son Akshi (Goutam Ghose) has been hospitalised. There, she meets Amir (Ishaan Khatter), the brother of the woman whom Akshi tried to rape. Lost in a new city as they wait for answers, Jhumpa and her grandchildren have nowhere to live and nothing to eat, and despite himself, Amir ends up helping them.
Sharada’s role as as short as it is memorable, and her wonderfully expressive face conveys the turmoil in her heart.
Beyond the Clouds marks Sharada’s return to the screen after 15 years. Her credits include such films as Bala Nagamma (1965), Dudde Doddappa (1967), Upasane (1974) and Trimurti (1975). She has acted in over 50 Kannada films in a career spanning 40 years. “I was thrilled to be acting again,” said Sharada, who is the daughter-in-law of the legendary theatre icon Gubbi Veeranna. “I had missed all of it. Moreover, it had always been a dream to go to Bombay. This film fulfilled a childhood dream.”
Sharada made her screen debut at the age of 12 in GV Iyer’s acclaimed Post Master (1964). “I played the second heroine in the film, which was the role I was given in most films back then,” she said. “They’d also make me dance. There would always be a dance number for me in my films, be it Bala Nagamma or Upasane.” Work wasn’t frequent, but Sharada marked her presence in multi-starrers and commercial entertainers throughout the 1960s all the way up till the end of the ’90s.
An incident on the sets of her last film, Sadhu Kokila’s Raktakanneeru (2003), forced her to step away from the arc lights. “There’s a scene in the film where my character, a mother, tries to stop her son from going to a prostitute’s house a day after his wedding,” Sharada said. Upendra plays the son. “We discussed how the scene should play out. I felt it would be most effective and would bring out the son’s brutal nature if he were to kick his mother. Upendra ended up actually kicking me with force. I suffered a major injury in my ribs. Of course, it wasn’t done deliberately and we even took an X-ray immediately to rule out a fracture, but the impact of the fall was felt gradually.”
Her daughter, Panchami Gubbi, urged her to take a break. “Four of her ribs were severely injured,” said Panchami as Sharada slowly turned her frail body around to show the side that still hurt. “The thing is she gets too immersed in her role, a little too much.”
When Gubbi heard through casting director Honey Trehan that Majidi was looking for an elderly actor for Beyond the Clouds, she felt it was time for her mother to return to acting. “I knew she was yearning to get back,” Gubbi said. “We were in a village in Gangavati at that time and my mother had dyed her hair black. Since this was the role of an old woman, we quickly got some talcum powder, dabbed it on her head and clicked a photo. Trehan got back to us saying he wanted a better picture. We clicked another one, this time in a park in Hubli, which he liked. He called her for an audition.”
In her 50-year career, this was the first time that Sharada had given an audition. “It was the same hospital scene,” Sharada recalled. “The audition was inside an office. They told me that I was playing a character who is old and does not know Hindi. She is in a new city and is searching for her son. I didn’t have any inhibitions. I just did the scene based on what I understood of it.”
Majidi’s crew had reportedly auditioned several actors for the role, including, screen legends Leelavathi, Arundhati Nag and LV Sharada. “Apparently, they really liked my audition,” Sharada said. “Even Majidi sir felt that I fit the role perfectly.”
Having spent most of her life in Karnataka, Sharada is most comfortable in Kannada. In Beyond the Clouds, however, she plays a Tamilian. Majidi does not know either language or Hindi. Sharada’s Hindi is sketchy. How did they communicate on the sets?
“I had lived in Madras for about six or seven years when the film studios were there, so speaking in Tamil isn’t tough for me,” Sharada revealed. “I used to try to communicate with Majidi in broken Hindi. But what he understands best is the language of cinema, which transcends all language barriers.”
Sharada did not probe into why Jhumpa speaks Tamil. She quickly immersed herself in the role, took her cues from Majidi’s workshops with his actors and drew from her own experiences as a mother and a grandmother.
Meanwhile, Gubbi was curious about the character’s name. “Jhumpa isn’t a traditional Tamil name at all,” Gubbi pointed out. “When I asked, I was told that Majid likes the name a lot and hence the character was called that.”
Jhumpa was a tough role to play, Sharada said. She recalled a particular scene in which Jhumpa, after she learns the truth about her son, makes him own up to his crime. “Majidi sir said that Jhumpa is a strong woman and is not someone who will shy away from doing what is right,” Sharada said. “He also said that she does not shed tears in this scene. But I wasn’t convinced. I explained to him that no matter how strong she is, here’s a mother who is making her son admit to a crime as he is lying on his death bed. She forcibly takes his hand and gets the impression. Tears were inevitable.”
The scene worked out marvellously, Gubbi said. “My mother couldn’t stop crying even when she was convincing Majidi about Jhumpa’s tears.”
Sharada spent her formative years on tour with the Gubbi Shree Channa Basaveshwara Nataka Company, where her mother, Venkateshamma, worked as a theatre actor. As a child, she could often be found waiting in the wings or sitting among the audience, observing the actors. “I had the best mentors in the theatre company – Narasimharaju, Balakrishna, GV Iyer, BV Karanth and Rajkumar,” Sharada said. “I didn’t find it difficult to transition from the stage to the screen – both demanded a natural style. I used to love putting on make-up and wearing costumes. Cinema was all I ever thought about. I liken the efforts I put into my craft to a tapas. Unfortunately, I never got any recognition for my work and that hurts me immensely even today.”
Her favourite character (apart from Jhumpa) is from SKA Chari’s 1965 film Maavana Magalu. “There was dance, acting and glamour in that role,” she recalled with tears in her eyes. “Then, there was Dudde Doddappa in which I was the heroine. I have adapted myself as an actor from the days of black-and-white to colour and now to the latest technologies. But what did it all amount to? No one is there to appreciate moonlight in a forest.”