She's a big girl now!
She was the golden goose, the one thing certain in an uncertain industry. Put Baby Shalini in any movie, the wisdom went, and you would have a hit. Which was why she went on to become the top child heroine in Malayalam, doing even double roles. Two Shalinis = double the profits, producers calculated.
Shalini. Click for bigger pic!
And then one day she disappeared from the filmi scene. And movie-goers looked forward to the day she'd return.
And return she did, brought back by the same Fazil who launched her first at a tender three-and-a-half in Ente Mamattikuttiyammakku. Mind you, it isn't often that child stars grow up to similar star status. But her comeback vehicle, Aniyathipravu, became the biggest hit of 1997 and, additionally, the biggest grosser in Malayalam cinema. It was remade in Tamil as Kadalukku Maryadai and is still running to full houses across Tamil Nadu.
So what would you expect of someone who takes success almost for granted, who is feted and feasted everywhere? You might perhaps consider a little arrogance understandable, a little superciliousness inevitable.
Not so. It was a pleasant surprise for Shobha Warrier to meet a star who looked and behaved like most teenagers. With water dripping off her uncombed hair, she looked a far cry from the successful star that she is. Friendly, unassuming and talkative, she's quite a revelation.
I know you were a very small girl when you did your first film, Ente Mamattikuttiyammakku. But do you remember anything about the movie?
It was in 1984 and I was just three or three-and-a-half then. So, I can't say I remember everything. Memories of the film come only in flashes. Yes, pictures of the first few days of shooting are there in my mind but vaguely, like a long lost faded dream.
I remember Fazil uncle asking me to do something, but what it was I do not know. Now, after a long gap, when I went to shoot for the same group, all of them started telling me, "My God, you were so naughty in those days."
In your films, you looked very naughty. So, in real life also, you were naughty.
That's what they say. Now when I see my old movies, I feel, what a cute baby she is! How naughty she is! I don't feel that it was I who was acting in those movies. It was as if I was watching some cute little girl's movie! It is funny, isn't it?
Did you enjoy acting as a baby? Or, was it difficult?
Of course, I did. I don't feel any difference as a baby then and now as a heroine. So many people have asked me, 'How do you feel coming back as a heroine?' The truth is, I don't feel any difference. It is with the same group of people that I am working now. I feel I just took a break in between and now I have come back to continue my work. I really enjoy this work.
Baby Shalini. Click for bigger pic!
You began working at three-and-a-half. When babies of your age were playing, you moved from one set to another. Do you feel you missed something in your childhood?
I don't think I missed anything. When kids of my age were going to school, I was also going to school. The only difference is, I was acting too. Just because I went shooting, my education did not suffer at all. I could manage both. No, I haven't missed anything in my childhood.
We feel very bad when small children are made to work...
But I enjoyed my work. I got used to my work then itself. Yes, sometimes I had to work day and night. Then I used to feel tired. But it did not create any problems for me. See, a small child has to carry a big load of books on her back, she has to do a lot of homework, she has to study a lot. Studying itself is hard work for a child now. I don't think my work was heavier than all that.
I have heard that many kids are pushed into films by their over-ambitious parents. Was it like that for you?
No, not at all. I was not pushed into acting at all. It was like a hobby for me then. I never had any problem. In fact, I enjoyed those years.
Do you know how your first film came about?
I was too small to understand all that. But my father keeps telling me the story. One of my father's friends told him that Fazil uncle was looking for a young girl for his new film, and then my father gave him my picture. Later on my father took me there.
Even now they keep telling me that I created a commotion there by being naughty. Usually kids of that age would be very shy of strangers. But I was very smart and naughty! Maybe Fazil uncle was impressed by my naughtiness. He took me for his film and it became a huge hit.
Of course, I know that. After which a lot of your movies hit the screen. Did you know that you were the most important ingredient in commercial movies in those days?
I don't know whether I knew about it. Mammotty and myself were the regular father and daughter team in those days. The formula, they say was, Mammotty, Baby Shalini, brief case and a Benz car. Together we produced quite a few big hits.
Shalini with Kunchacko Boban. Click for bigger pic!
In most of your movies, you were very precocious. Your actions and dialogues were not those of a child's.
The children of today also talk like adults. They don't talk like children anymore.
But I felt you were made to act like a precocious child and not a normal one.
I think the directors might have wanted it that way.
How many films did you do as a child?
Eighty... 82 films. In Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada and Hindi.
You said you were also going to school. How were you treated in school? Like a star?
Not at all. In school, I was just another schoolgirl. There was no difference between me and the other children. In those days, my friends rarely commented on my films, very rarely. May be because they were small. Now it is not like that. My friends take keen interest in my films. They come for the premiere and, my God! They tear me apart after that. They tell me that I am not good in some scenes, my dress is not good, my make up is not good, etc. etc. They tease me and make fun of me a lot.
When did you stop acting as a child star?
When I was ten, I stopped acting.
Was it your decision? Or, was it because of the changes that were taking place in you?
Changes, yes, but only to some extent. The decision to stop acting was mainly because shooting started affecting my studies.
Were you very much interested in studies?
Yes, of course. Even now, I give first preference to my studies only. I am preparing for my Plus Two exams now. Since I had to go to Kerala for Fazil uncle's new film's shooting, I took my tuition teacher also with me. I don't want my exams to suffer. Acting never was that important to me. It is not my life. But I feel education should be the most important thing in everyone's life.
Baby Shalini in a double role. Click for bigger pic!
What are your plans? Don't you want to take acting as your profession?
I have taken commerce, economics, accounts and advanced English for my Plus Two.
I really do not know what I am going to do next. I have not decided anything. My friends always used to say that one day I would take up acting as a career and become a big heroine. I said, never. I had no interest at all in coming to movies. Okay, as a small girl, I acted quite a lot. I thought enough was enough.
You mean you had no intention at all in returning to the movies again.
Never. If I say I had no intention, I am expressing my feelings mildly. The truth is, I did not want to act at all.
I don't know. I did not want to act at all. My earlier plan was to do my MBA, then I decided to study hotel management. Of course, modelling was my hobby. Like many youngsters, my ambition used to waver, depending upon the people who influence me.
But films? No, it was never in my list of ideas. After I grew up, so many people came and asked me to start acting again. That was because as a child, I had acted in a lot of movies. Naturally they start wondering
why isn't this girl acting again. I told all of them, No, I want to study.
You had no difficulty in saying 'no' to all of them?
No, I had no difficulty at all because I was truly interested in studies and I was least interested in acting. I told them also the truth that I had no interest at all to come back. The main reason why I stopped acting was, after the 5th standard, when you have physics, chemistry, biology etc, I found it very difficult to manage both acting and studies.
Did you tell your father that?
Yes. He said, okay, fine. After that we said 'no' to all offers. Last year, when I was doing my 11th that Fazil uncle called me again. I still remember the day. I was just back home after a fashion show.
Were you quite serious about modelling?
No, not at all. Modelling was my hobby, that's all. Because it was Fazil uncle who called me, I went and met him. He was shocked to see me. See, he last saw me was when I was this small, and I was in a frock.
'People like whatever a child does. But as an adult, one has to work hard to be appreciated.'