Suhasini’s ‘Antaram’ celebrates challenges & victory of women

Suhasini Maniratnam
suhasini maniratnam web
Suhasini Maniratnam

Suhasini Maniratnam is an Indian actress/ director known for her works in Tamil, Kannada, Telugu and Malayalam films. She won the National Film Award for Best Actress for Sindhu Bhairavi in 1986. She has received two Kerala State Film Awards, four Filmfare Awards for Best Actress in Kannada, one Filmfare Award for Best Actress in Telugu and Tamil Nadu State Film Awards, Nandi Awards.

She also supports many social causes and is the founder of “Naam Foundation” to empower single women from underprivileged backgrounds

Articulate, bright and chirpy, she tells Vidya Sethuraman about her work Antaram, politics and charitable activities.

How did the idea of “Antaram” evolve and what is its main purpose?

The idea is from Mohiniattam dancer Gopika Varma, married into the royal family of Travancore. We were in an event and discussing about the poor audience for classical dance performances as against movies, and I suggested about directing a concept for her. After few months, Gopika called me and narrated about the dance/drama in which three immortal/divine women from different states of South India (Andal from Tamil Nadu, Vasavi from Telangana and Kanagi from Kerala) play the main role and their stories are depicted in respective dance forms.

She wanted me to be part of the play and thus conceived the idea of Rambha, Srilankan scholar and dancer. I have played Rambha, 15th century scholar-dancer from Sri Lanka. She becomes the beloved of Emperor Mohammed Adil Shah, is immortalized in Bijapur’s Gol Gumbaz. She is the consummate woman who embodies the dynamism and strength of these iconic characters. Though both Rambha and Emperor Adil Shah were no more, but the structure Gol Gumbaz still stands tall and silently recites their story of love. I wanted contemporary connect to the stories. Things don’t change, generations change, issues, trauma, solutions still remain the same.

Purpose of the same is “Women Empowerment”. This play explains the greatness of women in 8th, 10th century. Women in those centuries were totally empowered.

Tell us about the team behind this theatrical marvel
There is a huge, highly talented team behind my part starting from AR Rahman for music, Choreographer Kala, Radhika Surujith, choreographer (Bharatnatyam), Senthil, Choreagrapher and Back stage help. I had to put in lots of practice for timing my narration and flying act (which we do in India, due to logistics issue we couldn’t do it here).

Your team started performing the play/dance production in 2014. Has the script remained the same or has changed in years?
We started performing end of 2014. The script remains the same, except we improvise and talk in the language which the audience feels comfortable. In US, the narration is in English as against Malayalam in Kerala.

What do you think of the issues faced by women today? Your production makes us feel that women had a better position during B.C.

Four of us in the play are women. We see women around us, challenges faced by us and the victory achieved at the end. That makes us strong. Women are stronger today, and we face lot of challenges compared to the centuries before.

The term “women’s economic empowerment” has been used more recently. What does it mean to be an empowered female?

Women empowerment has to be wholesome, it has to have all components of mental, physical, emotional, economic and social. Economic empowerment helps, but it cannot buy respect and security. To empower on a whole we should concentrate on all the aspects and grow ourselves as a better individuals.

Empowerment means liberty to do what you want to do, which makes a difference to people around you and yourself. Women should participate in social, political, religious and emotional decisions, rather than just economic achievement.

What is the best way in which you see women helping women reach empowerment?
Only women can help other women to become empowered as she knows the struggles and pains which she must have faced. Women can be the biggest force to empower other women – more than men.

Your take on current political situation of India as a whole and Tamil Nadu as well?
Tamil Nadu is going through major political turmoil. I have huge respect for the current and former leaders, but we are looking for the right person, whom the entire state whole-heartedly accepts and is positive about.

Can we expect you to plunge into politics?
I don’t think so. My son is very much interested in politics. If he gets into it, I will be behind him and set the stage for him. I would be behind the screen and make a difference for the community.

I run a nonprofit organization Naam Foundation started in 2010 to empower single women from underprivileged backgrounds. We take care of single women (widowed) and are working on building our center. Our center is a place where we empower women and strives to fulfill the dreams and aspirations of underprivileged women.

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