Strength of a woman – Namrata Shirodkar
When you think Namrata, the word Ideal comes to mind – Ideal star wife and Ideal mother… Most of the perceptions are based on her public persona, the one that is captured by the media during her rare appearances. Rarer are her superstar husband’s off screen glimpses but even in those few and far between appearances he makes, she is always by his side holding her own with simplicity and dignity. That she has an intelligent mind inside that pretty head is a foregone conclusion. But we’re not talking of the brightness of the brain; we’re talking of the activity on the right side of it – the creativity and the emotional quotient that are nestled in abundant measures there. Now you know why we chose the stunner – inside and out – Ghattamaneni Namrata Shirodkar to adorn our much coveted cover of the special women’s issue to speak on all things feminine and fair. Excerpts from the conversation with the First Lady of Tollywood…
The fear of fading into insignificance next to the overshadowing stardom of your other half can be daunting. Especially, if you’ve been there and done that on a larger platform! But, she stands there with her head held high, subtle smile in place, looking like a million bucks and yet not taking the limelight away from her superstar husband! How, on earth, does she do it? Especially, for somebody like her who dazzled the world with her Miss India crown, sashayed on the world’s best ramps, endorsed reputed brand names, what would it take to stay on the sidelines? And the beauty of it all is that she has been no silent spectator to her husband’s meteoric rise. On the contrary, she has had a major role to play in it. The recent blockbuster, Srimanthudu, the all time hit of Mahesh Babu’s career, is a shining example of her active involvement in its promos.
“I admire my mother the most,” says Namrata setting the tone for our conversation, “Purely because of the way she led her life and the way she raised us. She loved us unconditionally. She was a working woman but never let us feel neglected or lost. She was always around when we needed her. My sister Shilpa and I are what we are because of her. I miss her deeply. I see a lot of her in my sister.”
Incidentally, her mother Vinita Shirodkar, who passed away in 2008, was a professional model and the only reason she couldn’t enter Miss India contest was because she was married. A desire that her daughter, Namrata, fulfilled! “It was my mum’s dream to see me up there and I did it,” she reminisces, “The Miss India crown was my gift to my parents. It was something I did for them. In retrospect, I thinking winning the pageant was the biggest challenge for me.”
The days of her financial independence began quite early. Life did give her the best but she did her bit to get to where she reached. “I started working at the age of 16,” narrates Namrata letting us have a glimpse of lesser known facts of her life, “I was just out of school and I had it real easy right from my first modelling assignment. From there to movies was a smooth transition. I lived life on my terms and made my own choices.” With such drop dead good looks and acting talent, we aren’t quite surprised that things came to her easily. But we do doff our hats to the years of sheer hard work that went into her career in the industry where glamour is the queen and talent is the key.
With humility firmly ingrained in her upbringing, she never let showbiz glamour get the better of her. She is known to be steadfast in her friendships and relationships, a fact that several of her contemporaries from her Mumbai days vouch for. “My parents instilled down-to-earth values in us. We were very grounded and reality was presented to us as it is,” she explains, “That’s the value system I try to pass on to my kids too. The real world is always a challenge for most kids and they need to be ready to face it with a strong mind. More importantly, with the heart in the right place and humility at all times.”
So what’s her advice to women who give up their individual aspirations for the collective good of the family? “There is no advice, really,” she says convincingly, “I did it because I wanted to. I love being at home with my husband and kids. That’s what makes me happy. The main thing here is, you have to be happy doing what you are doing. And not many people get to do that. Love makes the world go round and I believe that if you truly find love in your life, you will find happiness and in turn succeed in everything you do.”
Is it that simple? “It takes immense inner strength for wives of superstars to support their spouses in the background and yet retain their identity. It’s not easy but it’s enriching when love is the driving factor,” she states.
In a world where relationships are sinking like half-baked cookies, Namrata and Mahesh have become the icons of a lasting marriage. What gives? “Marriage is a beautiful blend of two people finding their happiness at various levels,” she holds forth, “It has its plus and minus but overall it’s a fulfilling journey and I highly recommend it.” It must have been tough for her to adjust to a different culture. “I moved to Hyderabad from Mumbai where I was born and brought up. But honestly, Mahesh and his family never made me feel I was away from home. They welcomed me with open arms and they are my family now. In fact, the only family I have.”
On the professional front, she’s credited with branding Mahesh as Tollywood’s only superstar. Apparently, all those brands he endorses and the uber stylish look he sports of late is thanks to her careful strategy.
“I am very proud of Mahesh’s success and where he has reached today, because he’s done it all on his own. I admire the way he’s handled himself at home and outside. And my only contribution to all this would be the balance I have tried to provide in his life. I don’t physically sit at a studio to decide his look, or go to his dress trials. When everything is put together, I might make a suggestion or two.
People think I am involved in everything Mahesh does, only because he is not so accessible. He is a shy person; he doesn’t carry his phone to the sets. So, those who want to reach him, end up speaking to me. But how he’s shaped his career, the choices he’s made, are all his own. But his endorsements are something I’m actively involved in. It was our mutual decision and we took a conscious step to build his brand as a national brand. I worked towards it and set the ball rolling, and it worked out well.”
Namrata manages all of Mahesh’s endorsements and talks to the agencies regarding all aspects of the contract – from the creatives to the execution and the right stills and his clothes – on his behalf. There are 12 brands that Mahesh endorses “I believe that it is important to keep yourself busy doing something that you like,” she says. They have also turned producers with Srimanthudu which makes them a formidable team. What prompted the decision and what is her role in the company?
“Mahesh always felt that he wanted to be part of films that were close to his heart in some way, a little more than just an actor. He always wanted to give all he can to the canvas of a film. And by being a producer all the technical aspects and the budgets are in his control. When your lead actor is also the co-producer, the budget automatically lessens. This really helps the actual producer who is funding the film. So the film does not go into impossible numbers. When an actor comes on board as co-producer you can spend on the film the way you need to spend and the actor probably sits back and says at the end of it, when the film is released, let me become a part of the profits. But not many people can afford to do that. It only happens with bigger stars, that is the basic concept,” she says giving us a glimpse or two of her business acumen.
Their production house may have debuted with a film starring Mahesh Babu, but Namrata says, “It does not mean we are going to only produce our own films, he is going to lend his name to movies he really wants to be part of and he will continue to do films with outside banners too.”
What’s her role in all this? “I am looking into the marketing side of the films. It is a very commanding, demanding job, but is exciting as I have time to do it. My kids are older and this is a way to keep myself busy and add a little bit to the film.”
Nobody knows him better than her. So what does she think of him as an actor? “I am an unabashed Mahesh Babu fan. I don’t think there is anyone in today’s industry who is more talented or better than him. And that’s what pushes him to do better. I want our industry to move forward, and I think it always takes a Mahesh to push the envelope at different points in his career. In fact, I watch only Mahesh Babu films,” she says proudly.
Considering the fact that they ideate together, how do they deal with competition?
“Mahesh has no competition. He is way, way ahead of his contemporaries. Even when I married him, I thought he was the best, even though there may have been better ranked stars back then,” she says smugly. It’s not just singing praises of her husband that she is good at; we heard that Namrata is a good singer otherwise too. “Yes, I sing to my kids. The latest song that I sing for my daughter Sitara is `Let it go’ from Frozen. We do a little dance too. She likes Rama, Rama too and for my son Gautam, I sing songs from Mahesh’s films.”
Srimanthudu was a super duper hit and consolidated Mahesh’s position as the Numero Uno. He may at a high now but there was a time soon after their marriage when he took a 3-year sabbatical to sort out things in his head. It must have been tough to deal with the situation. In spite of all they went through, the spark between them is quite evident even after a decade.
“If you say there’s a spark, then it’s only love. When marriages fall apart, I feel it could be because love is missing. That leads to a lot of insecurity. I don’t feel insecure because Mahesh doesn’t give me any reason to feel so. I am lucky that he is different from the rest. He needs his home, his family, his kids, and he needs me. He maintains that balance beautifully. That said, it is not a fairytale. It is a regular marriage with kids, his work and everything. We’ve been through our lows and highs. Our most challenging period was three years post marriage. He was on a long career break, I had lost my parents and he had lost his grandmother, who he was closest to. Plus, he was in this whole dilemma of what movie to sign next. But that period made us stronger as a couple, and as individuals. Our foundation today is more solid thanks to that phase — we became one strong unit. I look back at all of it as a blessing. Gautam was just about a year-plus at that time. Mahesh literally watched him grow up and his whole connect with Gautam has become so strong that today he is like a fish out of water without his father. That’s such a rare thing, especially with fathers who work all the time. Though we try our best to give Sitara the same kind of time, it might not really happen again the same way,” she holds forth.
Both the kids are exceptionally well behaved but what we don’t get to see, are the challenges she has had to face bringing them up. “There is this complete paranoia when you have a baby but you learn to manoeuvre your way through. Gautam, was a premature child, born at eight months so he was underweight. The first year went in fattening him up. I had no time to worry about my weight or looks or anything. And Sitara was unwell during her first month and I had to be with her all the time till she got well.” Interestingly, Gautam, who was barely 6 when his sister was born, gave her the name Sitara, which means Star. Talk of clarity!
Namrata has evolved with motherhood. Her fulfilment with the whole experience is evident when she shares, “It is a whole new phase – this tiny baby growing magically within you, the miracle of birth, the wonder of looking after them… Motherhood makes you selfless. Before the kids are born, we tend to be self-absorbed, but after you have a child, you become more giving, less self oriented. For Mahesh and me, becoming parents has been a beautiful experience. Nothing comes even close to it. All the fame, money and success in the world pales in comparison,” she says.
The superstars make a sincere effort to keep their kids down to earth. “Both Mahesh and I try to instil as much good as we can in our kids. For us, what matters most is being good human beings. We tell them to respect every individual, elders and women, especially. As far as career choices are concerned, every parent has aspirations and hopes for their kids. We are no different. But we’ll never impose our decisions on them if they have different options,” she says.
A strong woman who knows where she wants to go and how to get there, Namrata has pearls of wisdom to share with the fairer gender… “If you’re a single woman, make a name. You’re important, so just go out there and make a difference. And all you married women, lead your life with love as its root. You’ll see how beautiful the journey is… And mothers like me, always be who you are. Be a figure of immense strength for your kids. It’s the best phase of being a woman. Celebrate it,” she advises.
According to her, “A woman’s strength is the love she has and feels towards the people who matter most to her. Confidence, strength and will power, stem from love. With these three strengths, she can win the world.” One woman from history she admires most is, “Jackie Onassis for her simplicity and sheer class; the way she handled her family and the pressures of being the first lady with such finesse and complete ease.”
About the youngest lady from her own family, she says, “Sitara is already a fiercely independent girl with a mind of her own. She’s very focussed, very social and extremely affectionate.” She is talking of a 4-year old, mind you! But then what do they say about a chip off the old block? True that!