Dignity and elegance are the two words that come to mind as Amala Akkineni enters the lobby of the hotel, dressed in a coral pink saree. In Kochi for the promotion of her Malayalam film C/o Saira Banu, she shares screen space with Manju Warrier. It is after a long hiatus of 26 years that Amala is returning to the Mollywood marquee.
The feisty Maya Vinodini of Ente Sooryaputhrikku and the possessive Reshma of Ulladakkam are the characters she is best remembered for. Amala philosophises, “A whole generation has gone by and cinema has grown and evolved and become something amazing and I am honoured to be still connected with the medium.” She continues, “I have very fond memories of the Malayalam film industry and the audiences who are very welcoming and appreciative of whatever work I have done. I am at an age where one doesn’t find that many meaningful roles and wherever I find one that seems interesting, I take it.”
The director of C/o Saira Banu, Antony Sony, had visited Amala in Hyderabad and narrated the script to her. She says, “When he said that Manju Warrier was there, my interest was aroused. I have seen Manju’s films and when he said I would be having an equal role in the film where Manju plays the lead, I was quite excited. She is an extremely talented artiste and I have met her personally and found her to be a wonderful human being.” Amala plays a lawyer Adv Annie John Tharavadi in the film.
Though the chance of returning to Mollywood after a long while excited Amala, there were also some reservations regarding the language barrier. She confesses, “Since it had been a while since I spoke Malayalam dialogues, I was hesitant. Then I thought that a little discomfort in learning the language should not make me miss the opportunity of doing this film.” Amala asked and got a dialogue coach to help her with the language.
She recalls getting up at 5 am for Skype lessons with her coach Soumya, in the midst of a fully packed schedule comprising of her role as the director of Annapurna International School of Film and Media in Hyderabad as well as having an animal hospital to run along with managing her family. Amala would tape the dialogues and listen to them walking around.
Meanwhile she had asked the makers for a week to decide. She continues, “Within a week, the sounds became a language and I was able to say the words with ease and then I decided to sign on the dotted line.” Amala used to go incognito to watch Malayalam movies and she names Dulquer Salmaan, Nivin Pauly, Prithviraj and Rajini Chandy as her favourites.
Films aside, Amala lends her presence as a celebrity to various causes especially the ones related to women. For the past 25 years, Amala has been involved in various capacities for various causes and had been recently awarded the ‘Nari Shakti Puraskhar’ by the President. She adds, “When I was short listing what I have served of significance in the last 25 years, there have been about 25 different organisations that I have served. When you gain expertise in one area, you just have to replicate that.” Animal welfare is a cause she holds very close to her heart.
Amala’s strongest pillars of support have been her family. “I have a wonderful family who are so independent! My husband makes his own coffee in the morning and he does not expect anyone to slave over him and he is happy to do things himself. My boys are just the same — Chai (Naga Chaitanya) has moved out and lives on his own and Akhil is also extremely independent travelling around.” While on the subject of Akhil, there was an episode of her crying when he left for Perth for his studies. She smiles, “Which mother would not? But I never cry in front of him. In his presence I am this tough, cool mom! They all take such pride in me and Nag is my patron supporter and he finances so many passions that I have. ”
Fitness of the body and mind is not something Amala takes lightly. She is a follower of the Vipassana meditation for the last 24 years. She says, “When I hit my forties, I was dealing with the changes in my body and I thought I must study Yoga under some wonderful teachers.” As a part of her training, Amala also taught Yoga for five years. She continues, “Vipassana is something I continue to do; I discovered this when I was starting my work for Blue Cross when a sea of misery was coming at me and overwhelming me and I lost my centre and balance and I looked for something to help me and discovered Vipassana.”