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March 12, 1998


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Director's dream

Ch Sushil Kumar

Indraja. Click for bigger pic!
Outgoing, boisterous, chatty, and approachable, Indraja quickly endears herself to people. But it was neither attitude nor pulchritude that finally made her a name in Telugu cinema -- it was talent.

Audiences were surprised by her role in Yamaleela, in which the debutante with a girl-next-door image showed a range of expression that a veteran would be proud of. And her fame grew as hit followed hit. Soon, despite strong competition, she quickly established herself in her field, prompting the uncharitable to claim it was due to her alacrity with which she dropped her clothes that made her popular.

Indraja doesn't mind these barbs. And for those who claim she is exposing her way to the top, she has this to say, "Why would the director ask me to expose if it was not needed for the scene? Okay even if I do expose more than necessary -- as some people claim -- don't we have the censors to take care of that?"

With that kind of attitude, Indraja definitely is a director's dream. And film journalists love her for her quotable quotes. But that could have something do with the fact that she was preparing to be a journalist when the arclights beckoned.

Meeting her is easy, but speaking to her isn't. She is distracted by everyone around, jumping out of a seat to wave down every possible acquaintance to start a conversation until the interviewer flags her down again.

With Ramesh Babu in Bhooloke Rambha. Click for bigger pic!
It was director-actor-composer S V Krishna Reddy who discovered Indraja. He saw her doing an insignificant role in Janthar Manthar and felt there was potential bubbling beneath somewhere. He cast her in Yamaleela and her performance had audiences applauding. Hardly had they got over that, came Sogasuchoodatharama, with another splendid performance from Indraja. With that, she truly established herself.

"Films are where I've decided to be, and I'm thoroughly enjoying acting," she says. "I've not been to acting school. I don't need one either. I am my own teacher," she claims, a trifle grandly.

But such remarks don't mean that Indraja doesn't know what the industry is like. She had a shrewd idea that talent alone would not keep her afloat. And so she began exposing, justifying her move by claiming that if the scene called for it, she would do it. Naturally, many of the scenes she did began demanding it too.

And over time many a camera slowly ran over that pert figure, minimally encumbered by clothing. And the actress is also proud of her body. If you have it, flaunt it, is her credo.

"If I have any reservations about exposing, I have no business to be in the film industry. There is no point being fussy about it, making an issue of it. There are, of course, limits to what extent one can go and I know where to stop," says Indraja. Of course, if she doesn't, the censors will snip off the offending bits.

She is very sniffish of those who balk at exposing on screen. "There are those who criticise even if a heroine who is playing a college-going girl in the films wears midis," she says. And then she defends her directors, claiming they aren't all out to take advantage of her.

With Jagpathi Babu. Click for bigger pic!
"It is wrong to say that they always want their heroines to shed clothes. There have been times when directors themselves suggested that it would be better if I was clothed more properly." There have been other starlets who exposed to get up the ladder but then faded out.

"Ultimately," says Indraja, "it is talent that counts," her own success being proof of the validity of her theory.

With her kind of gregariousness, Indraja is one of the few actresses to have a fan club like her male counterparts. And while she was shooting for a film recently, members of the All-India Charming Girl Indraja Fans Association trooped on to the sets of one of the sets where she was working and stuffed her with sweets. How does such adulation affect her?

The usually quick actress makes no reply but just hands over a sweet and insists that I eat it.

"How was it?" she asks, forcing one to give the obvious answer, "Sweet."

"That's how I feel when my fans take all the trouble to come and meet me or when they appreciate me," she says with a smug smile.

And truly, the gallery is very important for Indraja. "By watching the audience react to my presence on screen, I try to improve myself," she says.

Any accountant in a film starring Indraja can save some money on the glycerine. For she can make her eyes swell with years without artificial ingredients. "Once in front of the camera," she says, " I forget my original self. I become my character. I get so involved that I can only describe my acting as 'spontaneous'."

But when she is not before the character Indraja can become a bit of a pest.

Click for bigger pic!
"When she's around, except when the camera is rolling, you never know silence on the sets," says a photographer with the film unit.

Actress Madhoo had a particularly hard time on the sets of Chilkkottudu. It took her only one sentence to set Indraja off.

"Do you look like Bhanupriya?" Madhoo asked her innocently when both were waiting for director E V V Satyanarayana to call them for the next shot.

And Indraja took the cue and began chattering away brightly about Madhoo's great role in Roja, dealing with the subject with such familiarity that Madhoo had doubts if it was the same film they were discussing. Though it was all very positive, Madhoo found she could not even make conversation with another co-star. She was very happy when she got a chance to leave. Madhoo never went back.

And so while Indraja was between acquaintances, we managed to edge in a last question: What was her dream role?

"I've played a variety of roles but I wanted to play a classical dancer. I've got such a role now and the film revolves around me..." Then she catches sight of another friend... And that's when we gave up.

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