Intro: She may have hung up her acting boots, but even today, actress Gautami Tadimalla can turn heads and how! Slim, svelte and stunning, she looks as charming as ever. In her heyday, this talented artiste, who hails from Andhra Pradesh, acted with all the superstars of Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Hindi and Kannada films. Even after she stopped acting, her tryst with tinsel town continued. She got into costume designing and won awards in 2008 and 2009 for Best Costume Design for ‘Dasavathaaram’. She also hit the small screen with a talk show ‘Anbudan’ and played the lead role in ‘Abirami’, a TV serial.
Years ago, she battled breast cancer and has survived only to emerge stronger and wiser. At an event jointly organised by Ushalakshmi Breast Cancer Foundation and KIMS hospital in 2009, Gautami emotionally said, “It’s a great privilege to just be there… wake up in the morning and appreciate the fact that you are still there.” Today, Gautami is at peace with herself, and enjoys the very process of living…something that was almost snatched from her but which she fought bravely and with fortitude to win back. In a chat with Vinita Nayar, and an exclusive photoshoot for her second cover for RITZ, the actor opens up on a life paved with both milestones and roadblocks she’s fought all along the way.
Do you miss acting? The fame? The media glare?
Do I miss acting? Yes I do. The fame? The media glare? It never was about that for me. Of course, it’s lovely to be recognised and admired – human nature thrives on approval. I come from a family of academics where I was introduced to Richard Dawkins when I was about 8 or 9 years old by my father. He was a rationalist who had by then moved past strident atheism to a more understanding tolerance of people’s needs. ‘The Selfish Gene’ from my dad and Mikhail Sholokhov’s ‘And Quiet Flows the Don’ from my mother along with her Tagore poetry and novels with everything in between… is the world that I grew up in. And I have never left this world throughout my life. This is who I am. I am a homebody. My loved ones are very precious to me and are the glue that holds it all together for me. And one of those loved ones is Cinema.
When you look back on your acting career, which film or role would call the most memorable? Who was your favourite co-star?
There is no way I can answer that question honestly and not sound like the consummate diplomat! But all jokes aside, I came into this industry as a complete novice with absolutely no idea of what cinema and filmmaking even meant. But I had a powerful thirst to learn and I soaked up every experience I came in contact with. I guess time and experience along with my own sensibilities, helped me separate the wheat from the chaff and honed my understanding and approach.
I have enjoyed working with most of the people that I have worked with. I have managed to take away something from almost all of them – the Do’s AND the Don’ts! But some of the films that have been personal milestones are: ‘Apoorva Sahodarargal’, ‘Thevar Magan’, ‘Kurudhippunal’, ‘Nee Padhi Naan Padhi’, ‘Dharma Dorai’, ‘His Highness Abdullah’, ‘Sukrutham’… this list can actually go on for a while (she smiles) and I just realised that’s so cool!
How has fame changed you? What do you like and dislike about fame?
I entered this Industry when I was 16 and as that would have been the formative period of my life, I am who I am. We could speculate as to how I might have turned out had I lived another life but my life and my experiences have made me who I am. The greatest factor that has tempered and kept me grounded every step of my life is my family. There has been absolutely no difference in the way that I am treated by my family ‘before’ and ‘after’. My parents are no more today but up until the time they were with me, I was their baby girl. My brother, who is older than me by a couple of years, is the backbone of my life from my birth. He is the one I walked my first steps towards and has always been my Anna. And I know my daughter sees me as her mother first and last. Fame is an external derivative of effort and it is healthiest if it is maintained within that perspective.
Both you and Kamal Haasan have said you have no faith in marriage…why is that?
You would need to speak with Kamalji about his purported statement but to speak for myself… I have never said I have no faith in marriage. The loss of faith in something would indicate the existence of faith at some point. I have never been able to understand the strident emphasis that society places on this exercise. A marriage is in essence a union of two individuals who have a deep and mutual love and respect for each other and wish to make a commitment to each other. However, it is very saddening to see the state that this wonderful union of lives has been brought to in the society around us. The Institution that it has been developed into has created an overpowering atmosphere of stress and suspicion. Take for example pre-nuptial agreements. The ritual of marriage itself has been reduced to a situation of immeasurable financial, emotional and social stress. Post-wedding expectations of society on the couple are again such a burden, both directly and indirectly; it places tremendous pressure on two people who are already in a very sensitive situation. There are many issues that have arisen or have been built up out of this ‘Institution’ and all of them have served to obliterate for the most part, the fact that it is essentially about love and wanting to share your life with your loved one.
How would you describe your relationship with Kamal?
It is one based on mutual respect and regard.
You get on very well with Kamal’s children… how did you manage that?
Please do let me know if you have found the secret to ‘managing’ relationships! (She smiles) But jokes aside, relationships cannot be managed. They are defined by the individuals involved and when those individuals are warm and loving people, the relationships thrive.
You have talked openly about your battle with breast cancer… How did you find the courage to deal with it and what would your advice be to people diagnosed with cancer? Did you at any point feel like giving up?
Cancer is today, a lifestyle disease right on par with the old familiars like diabetes, hypertension, etc. The word ‘lifestyle’ goes a good way towards explaining the ‘Why’. Newton’s Third Law of physics states that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. So if we do something to put stress on our body, that body is going to shove right back. This stress could be wrong/excess food, excess weight, chemicals (through food, cosmetics, skin care products, soaps, etc), mental stress, lack of exercise…the list goes on and on. Advice? The smartest thing that people could do would be to be aware of themselves, their environment and try to live as chemical free and healthy as possible. We all know it. As Indian children going to school, we are all taught the fundamentals of healthy habits. But it seems like we forget them in the dazzling glamour of ‘Modern’ life. Fast foods and processed foods are one of the most vicious dangers we are living with. Make the right choices…for yourselves and your loved ones.
How did you get into costume designing? What do you like about it?
I took it up as a challenge to prove to myself that I could do this also. Another major factor in choosing this has been my interest to begin working behind the screen. Being a technician is a different dynamic from a star and it was essential for me to gain this understanding first-hand.
Define fashion according to you
Being elegant and comfortable in your own skin.
What is your dressing style? How fashion conscious are you? Do you follow the latest trends?
Comfortable. It is essential that I am comfortable in whatever I wear. I am aware of trends but do not feel terribly pressured to follow their dictates.
Name three people who have influenced the way you style, dress and carry yourself?
I will name one. My mother. The epitome of understated elegance.
An attire you wouldn’t be caught dead in?
I’m not that threatened by anything as yet
Your favourite accessory brand?
I am not a slave to brands. May the most appropriate one win!
Any fashion faux pas that you’ve committed?
Your favourite designers?
Rohit Bal. Rehane. Vera Wang.
Any favourite clothes?
Favorite material – pure cotton and pure silk.