Suchitra was famed in the Malayalam cinema industry during the 1990s. Her beautiful face and large eyes earned Suchitra numerous fans. However, similar to many other actresses of that period, Suchitra too left cinema after her marriage and settled in the US.
Even though Suchitra gave life to numerous characters, she is still remembered as the heroine of ‘No 20 Madras Mail’, a popular film with superstars Mammootty and Mohanlal playing the main roles.
Currently, an IT professional in the US, Suchitra also conducts dance classes there. On International Women’s Day, Suchitra opens up on her career — particularly the impact of ‘No 20 Madras Mail’ — and family life. She also makes some bold statements on some issues related to the film sector.
Debut in ‘No 20 Madras Mail’
Even though officially ‘No 20 Madras Mail’ is my debut movie, I had faced the camera for the first time for a Hindi film, while studying in Class 9. It was a movie on NCC cadets in which I had a small role. A film magazine at that time published a story and my picture with the headline, ‘Malayali girl who debuted in a Hindi film.’ Director Joshiy saw the article and contacted me for casting in ‘No 20 Madras Mail’.
Clueless on story, cast
When Joshiy called me, I had no idea about the story of ‘No 20 Madras Mail’ or that it was a superstar movie. PRO Vazhoor Jose came to our house and handed over two flight tickets. He asked me to rush to Kochi and meet Joshiy. I went to Kochi with my father and spoke to Joshiy. There was no screen test for me in Kochi. Joshiy –a man of few words – only asked me whether I was interested in acting and I said 'yes'. My father was already a part of the film industry and Joshiy spoke to him about my roles as a child artist.
During the meeting with Joshiy, my screen test was fixed in Chennai. Even then, I did not know that I would be acting in the same film as Mammootty and Mohanlal.
Everyone knows that I was labelled as an actress with a pretty face and nothing more. It was my misfortune; but I have no regrets. In fact, I believe it was my fate. If I had become a big star, my life would have taken a different turn.
But, I am happy now. I don’t wish to believe that I was unlucky. The reality is that Malayalam cinema failed to utilise my talents. The reason for that was lack of a proper PRO for me who could choose suitable roles and scripts.
On missing tutelage of Balachandra Menon
Cinema proves lucky for some people and unlucky for others. In my case, the debut in the hyped-up blockbuster film ‘No 20 Madras Mail’ didn’t bring luck. Probably my fate would have been different if my first movie had been a usual Balachandra Menon movie that introduces a new heroine or some other ordinary Malayalam film. I still feel that the new heroine in ‘No 20 Madras Mail’ could have been given a little more importance. But when a movie has Mammootty and Mohanlal in the cast, its entire focus will be on both superstars. That isn’t anybody’s fault.
I can only complain about it.
Elusive offers after the debut
Before the release of ‘No 20 Madras Mail’, everyone told me that I would be a big star and become busy signing films. But, that was not the case. After the release of ‘No 20 Madras Mail’, I did not get even a single offer. Still without another movie two months after ‘No 20 Madras Mail’, I called Joshiy Sir. He told me not to worry and movies will come. Soon, I received an offer to act in a Tamil film. Again after the Tamil film, I had no work. I felt dejected.
A wrong choice
At this stage of my career, I got an offer to act in a particular movie, which I don’t wish to name. I now feel that I should have rejected that offer. But as I was feeling depressed at that time, I acted in two or three similar films. Those movies adversely affected my career. I felt later that I should have waited for some more time for good movies.
I was regretting doing ‘Mimics Parade’, but it became a hit and ran for 100 days in theatres. Another 10 films with the same team followed and I had no option but to act in them as I had no good offers. Movies such as ‘Mimics Parade’ and ‘Kasaragode Kaderbhai’ succeeded at the box office, giving a minimum guarantee to the producers.
As I had decided not to wait anymore for good offers, all the remaining movies in my acting career were of this genre.
Some months after the release of ‘No 20 Madras Mail’, I was invited to Madras (now Chennai) to act in the Tamil movie ‘Gopura Vaasal’ as the producers had decided to cast a new face as the heroine. While flying to Chennai, we met (filmmmaker) Priyadarshan and (film producer) Suresh at the airport. They knew my father and asked where we were travelling to. Father told them that I had a screen test for a Tamil film in Chennai. Priyadarshan had no idea that I was the heroine of his new movie.
It was Priyadarshan’s as well as my first Tamil movie. The producer was M Karunanidhi and Priyadarshan was surprised to see me on the sets. Karthik was the hero and cameraman P C Sriram created magic with frames in the movie.
Spurning glamorous roles
After ‘Gopura Vaasal’, I received two more offers from Tamil. But, I had to wear swimsuits and I rejected those roles. I had no interest in doing glamorous roles.
I wished to do meaningful characters in Malayalam, but I did not get even one such offer. My only gains from my acting career were that I was part of the golden age of Malayalam cinema and that I earned some good friends. I also met some great people.
I was my father’s favourite daughter and he wished to realize his dreams through me. My father started planning my career even as a baby. During vaccination, my father told the doctor that injections for vaccination should be taken in the upper part of the arm as the scar should not be visible. “She will have to wear sleeveless clothes as a movie actress,” my father said. It was my mother who told me about this incident.
My father was so keen to see me as an actress. He wanted me to debut in a Balachandra Menon movie like Karthika and Parvathy in the 1980s. Later, I did act in a few films by Menon Sir, but not as a heroine.
First female member of AMMA
Menon Sir urged me to join AMMA (Association of Malayalam Movie Artists) and I became its first female member. He told me that I could become an excellent administrator. I was the eldest child in our family and being the daughter of a military officer, I had discipline in everything I did from a young age. Menon Sir believed that these qualities would help me manage an office.
Past is past
Many actresses continue to live in India after marriage. But, I not only left the country but also drifted far away from the movie sector. My acting career is now similar to a dream from some past life.
I have developed huge cultural gap as my husband has been living in the US for a long time and I did not visit Kerala frequently to take part in various shows.
Life in America is entirely different. The culture and even the English language have no connection with Kerala.
After the birth of our daughter, I was busy with her till she was four. Later, I had plenty of free time and started dance classes and programmes.
I had some regrets over not completing my studies in India and joined a certificate course in the US. With my husband’s help I took up an IT course and immediately afterwards started working.
Juggling two professions
Along with my IT job, I conducted dance classes during weekends. When we shifted from Philadelphia to Dallas, the number of students grew and three dance studios were opened. But the work became heavy and I couldn’t manage everything. I soon reduced the dance classes and focused totally on IT.
I have never felt that balancing family and profession was tough. Everything boils down to time management, without which we cannot survive. In the US, we can make a plan and implement it completely.
Still, I find the role of a mother the toughest. Parenthood is no easy job. In a profession, your duties end after a 9-5 shift. However, being a parent is a lifelong commitment.
I have never felt complete as a mother. Nothing we do for our children could be considered a benchmark. Parenting is a lifelong challenge.
Now I am a keen follower of Malayalam movies. Even in the US, I watch Malayalam films in theatre as well as those streamed OTT. There is a theatre close to my house and I watch almost all movies screened there.
Earlier, while watching some movies, I used to feel that I could take up that role. I was even offered some roles but I didn’t accept them as I couldn’t travel to India. But, over the last three years, I don’t even dream of returning to films. I have become so busy in the US and there is no space for movies.
These days, an actress needs some skills in acting or proper training to get a role. If I had received such training, I could have approached roles with more maturity. While I was acting, no facilities were provided to women at the locations. However, everyone shared a close bond. But now, nobody is close to anybody. The people in the film industry now tell me that times have changed and everything has become professional.
At the same time, women are provided all facilities these days. They need privacy and the environment to work comfortably. Actresses of my generation never questioned anyone. These days, actresses are different.
No bad experiences
I came to movies with the backing of my father, who knew everyone in the industry. So, I was treated as a daughter or a family member. There was no opportunity for bad treatment. As I enjoyed the protection of my father, I faced no ugly situation as an actress.
Ill-treatment of women exists not only in cinema but also in all other sectors. I have asked my daughter to react strongly whenever she feels something is wrong.
Lack of equality for women is a problem plaguing America also. I have carried out businesses in the US and male superiority is a reality there too. We cannot also easily overcome issues such as race and colour.