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Exclusive! Yashoda actress Madhurima Narla: Directors Hari and Harish are two bodies and one mind, they think alike

After making a comeback with Shatamanam Bhavati, the performer is back in action with a slew of releases, including Boyapati Srinu’s next with Ram Pothineni

Exclusive! Yashoda actress Madhurima Narla: Directors Hari and Harish are two bodies and one mind, they think alike
Madhurima Narla
  • Srivathsan Nadadhur

Last Updated: 09.00 AM, Nov 11, 2022

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Dance and cinema are the two lifelines in the career of Madhurima Narla and both these dimensions have contributed immensely to her growth as a performer and an individual. If films gave her a taste of fame, dance took that a step further and also proved to be her spiritual anchor. Films came to her when she was as young as 15, thanks to EVV Satyanarayana’s 420 and after having established herself as a lead across four languages, she was keen on pushing her dancing pursuits forward.

After a sabbatical, she returned to cinema with Shatamanam Bhavati and Stand Up Rahul and has as many as three films lined up for release soon. The first of them to hit the screens is the Samantha starrer Yashoda, directed by Hari Shankar and Harish Narayan. In this chat with OTTplay.com, the multi-faceted artiste takes us through her approach to art and tells us what cinema means to her.

Madhurima Narla
Madhurima Narla

On being picky with her roles even after a success like Shatamanam Bhavati

The fact that Shatamanam Bhavati brought a national award to Telugu cinema and was a huge commercial success makes me feel very proud. As a lead actress, I’ve been a part of four industries and when I planned my comeback with Shatamanam.., I thought of it as a re-launch but it didn’t pan out the way I imagined. I felt I had to take some time to pick the right projects. I was busy with my commitments as a dancer in the US too (with my dance academy). I kept postponing the idea but it was my dad’s wish to watch me in movies (he’d passed away recently) and it pushed me to take up projects regularly. I am now back with greater enthusiasm and drive.

Her transformation and evolution over the years, from 420 to Yashoda - what changed?

I entered films when I was 15. I skipped my board exams for my film debut and EVV Satyanarayana launched me as a lead. I didn’t know anything in life then - my goals, priorities, what I sought from my career. There was a lot of innocence and I merely followed the instructions of my master. It brought me fame, recognition and money. My family has had a long association with art - dance and films. When I look back at life, I realised I’ve been a performer all along. I try to win hearts with my dance performances and felt ‘why can’t I do it on the big screen too?’ From S Narayan to Sathyan Anthikad to Bharathiraja and EVV garu, I’ve worked with so many stalwarts.

At every point, the universe drives you towards your larger purpose. On a visit to London, a vendor had come to me and asked if I was an actress and complimented me on my looks. He gifted me a bunch of silver strings, and a bracelet and told ‘you made my day gorgeous lady!’ and felt that I was destined to be in films. I still have them with me. It takes a while to realise the purpose behind your existence - over the years, I believe I’m around to educate and entertain. Not everyone can make it big in life and I cherish the opportunities I’ve got. This time around, there’s an awareness that I was born for this.

On her upcoming projects and what they mean to her?

I am doing three films now - Yashoda, a film with Rakesh Varre (Crazy Ants Productions) and Boyapati Srinu’s next with Ram Pothineni, all of them are as different as chalk and cheese. I can say with assurance that the filmmakers picked me only because they felt I could do justice to my role. I must thank casting director Pushpa Bhaskar for helping me in my cause. Storytellers of this generation are thinking of middle-aged characters in a different light these days - a mother isn’t the one who dons a silk sari with flowers pinned to her bun and makes coffee alone. Those days are gone for good.

The woman of today is modern, liberated and has her own identity. Times have changed and I think I’ve updated myself accordingly. I have no complaints at all. For Yashoda, even before I heard the characters, the makers informed me that I was their only choice. With Stand Up Rahul, Santo told me that he looked for over 200 choices for that role and finalised me immediately when he saw my picture. I think I’ve fit their idea of a modern-day woman.

Why does one need to watch Yashoda?

Woman plays an important role in our society and the upbringing of an entire generation is in her hands. She is a form of shakti and it’s rare for a mainstream film to discuss the spirit of womanhood or motherhood. It’s important to celebrate the power of femininity in cinema and that’s the reason you should watch Yashoda. If not now, when? There are various ways to look at women and it’s interesting to know how two young male directors discuss the power of womanhood in society. A strong male perspective towards womanhood is very essential to producing quality cinema and Yashoda offers you that viewpoint.

On the experience of being directed by two filmmakers for Yashoda

Hari and Harish are one mind with two bodies. I still can’t identify each of them by their names when they come together. Just like their names, they think similarly. The communication was clear and I never heard any contrasting opinions from them. If one says action, the other says cut and there’s beautiful coordination between the two. They are the coolest set of directors I’ve ever worked with. They didn’t look like newcomers at all. You need a lot of experience to handle a dense subject like Yashoda and an ensemble cast.

When films were earlier made by a single director, the vision wasn’t one person’s alone and the inputs came from various departments - cinematographer, art director, costume designer and others. The decision on a set was collective though the director was still the captain of the ship. There are two sides to filmmaking - you need to work with the mind and the heart at the same time. When it’s only one person who steers the ship, it’s not possible to be objective about your work and presume everything’s fine. Not all accept their mistakes. When there are two directors, there’s an alternative perspective and it’s easier to balance the heart and the mind. Hari and Harish were the stars of the set and they added so much finesse to the final result.

Madhurima Narla
Madhurima Narla

Reinventing oneself as a performer from film to film

While the inputs surrounding the look, body language and costumes are offered by the team, an actor needs to alter themselves psychologically on the set of every film. For instance, the way you behave at home and the approach with which you go to work are different - you mould yourself accordingly and that’s what works with characters too. With Yashoda, I was initially supposed to work for only 10 days but the scope of the role increased with time and I ended up shooting for 28 days. Once I donned the suit in the film, the makers’ perspective of my part changed and they felt it deserved more establishment.

Thoughts on working with a new generation of actors, directors in cinema

The world wasn’t in our palms back when I made my debut. When something didn’t work, we had to wait, get back, research and learn and there was a lot of fun in this process. Our lives were more or less the same too. There’s a solution to everything these days and everybody goes to Google for answers. When we didn’t have the luxury then, everyone used to think differently and all of them had their own identity. We had to assemble the little details for answers before and this generation gets everything on a platter.

On the contrary, there’s more scope for discussion on set today and you needn’t be apprehensive about asking a question and ego isn’t even an issue. There’s more democracy and we couldn’t think of this before. Changing clothes was a herculean task in remote locations two decades ago and now, it’s not at all a big deal with a vanity van. There are so many ways to reach your destination now but how you go about it defines you as a person and your ethical values. The path towards the top is largely decided by your upbringing.

On her understanding of art - cinema and dance from her various tours across the globe as a performer, teacher

Art has this magnetic ability to evoke reactions from nature - the trees, flora and fauna are no exception to it. Cinema can make you go teary-eyed even when you don’t understand the language. Human is gifted with the power to express what art means to us. Art frees us from limitations and can take us to any part of the globe. When you’re ready, the universe is ready to help and there are so many great minds to be associated with.

Keeping the student in her alive

As a dancer, I entertain, and educate a viewer through my art, while encapsulating the essence of Natyasastra in my performances and teaching them to students. Had I stopped learning, I wouldn’t have progressed this far. I realised the importance of taking my art to the globe, worked with locals in various countries and tried to make it more accessible to the common public in a mainstream format.

I still have a lot to achieve through cinema and dance. It’s important not to draw lines in life and be open to opportunities. I like to travel, I value culture, spirituality, music, and food. We don’t know what’s in store for us. The universe is always ready to surprise you. Are you ready to listen? I cherish everything from a cup of filter coffee to teaching my students and the sunrise. I don’t want to miss out on anything.

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