In the spot­light

Un­de­terred by protests and the sedi­tion case against her over the com­ment that Pak­istan is not hell, ac­tress Ramya talks to Gargi Gupta about courage of con­vic­tion and be­ing fear­less She shud­ders at the thought of hav­ing to de­sign a mo­tif for some­one else

DNA Sunday (Mumbai) - - FRONT PAGE - Mar­isha. karwa@ dnain­dia. net @ Mar­ishaThakur

or some­one who is the tar­get of heated protests, Kan­nada ac­tress Ramya sounds quite re­laxed over the phone from Ban­ga­lore. “I think it’s ev­ery in­di­vid­ual’s right to speak and ex­press her­self freely,” she says ge­nially, adding, “but the un­der­ly­ing thing is to be fear­less and not al­low your­self to be bul­lied.”

Ramya, or Divya Span­dana, her real name, is re­fer­ring to her com­ment — “Pak­istan is not hell” — re­but­ting Union de­fence min­is­ter Manohar Par­riker’s re­cent com­ment that it was, and her re­fusal to apol­o­gise for say­ing so, de­spite the wave of protests and a sedi­tion case filed against her.

Re­it­er­at­ing that she will not apol­o­gise for her re­mark, the hero­ine of sev­eral hit Kan­nada and Tamil films and for­mer Congress mem­ber of Par­lia­ment says she’s had a lot of peo­ple ex­press­ing sup­port for her stand, on­line and off­line. “I just spent mid­night to 4am lik­ing all the Tweets as a way of show­ing my ap­pre­ci­a­tion for their sup­port,” she laughs.

But she also knows that many are up­set with her, and says she doesn’t mind apol­o­gis­ing to them. “If it makes them happy, I’m more than happy to apol­o­gise. At the end of the day, all I want is for peo­ple to be happy.”

De­spite the threats ( a mob threw eggs at her car on Thurs­day), the spunky ac­tress has turned down po­lice pro­tec­tion. “Even as an MP, I was not com­fort­able with it. In Mandya, my con­stituency, I have cam­paigned at night, in places that did not even have elec­tric­ity and I have never been so much as man­han­dled,” she says. So when two con­sta­bles dropped in on Tues­day night, she sent them away. “I gave them some sweets and told them I’m fine, please go. I don’t need se­cu­rity,” she says laugh­ing.

Shared ideas, val­ues

Iron­i­cally, since it has had just the op­po­site ef­fect and has fur­ther widened the schisms, Ramya’s speech in Is­lam­abad, her first visit to the coun­try to take part in the SAARC Young Par­lia­men­tar­i­ans Con­fer­ence, had been a pas­sion­ate plea for bet­ter re­la­tions and greater un­der­stand­ing be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan. “We must step away from the in­fight­ing and do­mes­tic ten­sions, and em­brace the power of the united front,” she’d said. And more:

R“We need a new silk road in our per­spec­tives, of fresh sense of unity and shared ideas… Ideas have to thrive not just in con­fer­ence rooms but in the world out­side, with reg­u­lar peo­ple.”

Ask her about her out­spo­ken­ness, her courage to speak up for her be­liefs, and Ramya cred­its her foster fa­ther RT Narayan for it. “My fa­ther gave me free­dom to think, to speak and do as I want to be­cause he wanted me to ex­pe­ri­ence and learn for my­self,” says the 33- year- old ac­tress, who de­scribes her­self as an “in­de­pen­dent woman who lives on her own with three dogs”.

It’s also fam­ily that ac­counts for Ramya’s en­try into pol­i­tics five years ago, at the height of her pop­u­lar­ity itu Ku­mar ut­ters the word ‘ mir­a­cle’ six times in a 50- minute con­ver­sa­tion. She is in­cred­u­lous — about her suc­cess as a fash­ion de­signer, about the ac­claim and lau­rels she’s re­ceived over the last four decades, about the fact that a tex­tile, khadi, came to be a sym­bol of a na­tion’s strug­gle for free­dom. But most of all, she mar­vels at the jour­ney of In­dian tex­tiles for strad­dling renown, ruin and re­vival. Ku­mar would know. Start­ing with a hum­ble set up in Cal­cutta in 1969 with four hand block print­ers, she has been in­stru­men­tal in restor­ing glory to craft and tex­tile tra­di­tions, and grow­ing as an epony­mous, indige­nous brand to­day. Over the years, the 71- year- old has trav­elled to the nooks and cran­nies of In­dia in search of crafts­men to re­pro­duce the magic of tra­di­tional weaves, dye­ing tech­niques and em­broi­deries. She knows in­ti­mately the in­tense and math­e­mat­i­cal ef­fort that goes into the weav­ing process, be it the spool­ing of yarn, the mak­ing of a jala or the work­ing of the warp and weft on the loom. She has trawled mu­se­ums and scoured through old col­lec­tions for sam­ples of old saris and swatches that she can take back to the masters, The re­sult, be it Be­narasi bro­cades, ajrakh prints, ikat weaves, zar­dosi, Luc­knowi or Kutchi em­broi­deries, re­flects in Ku­mar’s nu­mer­ous col­lec­tions in which she gives the prized fab­rics con­tem­po­rary form. “We designers are cat­a­lyst. We are peo­ple who bring things to­gether,” she says, mat­ter of factly. “I would shud­der to even start de­sign­ing a mo­tif for some­one else to weave. “We have amaz­ing ge­nius among the 16 mil­lion peo­ple who prac­tise tex­tiles on an ev­ery­day ba­sis, be it a weaver or a dyer or a naksha­bandh. The more you work with the crafts, the more you re­alise that you have very lit­tle to teach, and a lot to learn.”

In re­vival­ist mode

That Ku­mar has been syn­ony­mous with In­dia’s tra­di­tional tex­tile crafts is ap­par­ent and suc­cess in her film ca­reer, and her be­lief in “sec­u­lar, in­clu­sive pol­i­tics” — her fa­ther was a per­sonal friend of for­mer Kar­nataka chief min­is­ter SM Kr­ishna and her mother Ran­jitha is a well- known Congress politi­cian in Kar­nataka. Even her grand­fa­ther was in the Congress. “I grew up see­ing politi­cians walk in and out of my home,” she says. In 2013, Ramya fought and won the by- polls of the Mandya Lok Sabha, but in the gen­eral elec­tions a year later, she lost to the Janata Dal ( Sec­u­lar) can­di­date.

Un­like pol­i­tics, her ca­reer in films hap­pened by chance, and de­spite her par­ents’ mur­murs. The story, as Ramya says it, is fairy- tale- like: her aunt Anila Anand, who ran a prom­i­nent mod­el­ling agency in Ban­ga­lore, had taken some pho­to­graphs of her while try­ing out a new cam­era. The cast­ing scouts for a new film star­ring Puneet Rajkumar, the son of Kan­nada su­per­hero Rajkumar, hap­pened to see them and in­sisted on cast­ing her. “My aunt told them she’d mis­tak­enly showed them the pho­to­graphs and I wasn’t in­ter­ested, but they in­sisted,” re­counts Ramya. The 2003 film, Abhi ended up be­ing a big hit.

“No­body is re­ally in con­trol of their lives, you just go with the flow. That is my be­lief,” says the ac­tress, whose film Na­gara­havu, a big bud­get fan­tasy- thriller comes out next month — her first re­lease since 2014.

What about pol­i­tics? Will she con­test in the next gen­eral elec­tion? “It’s a long way off and I don’t plan th­ese things,” con­cludes Ramya. from the many hon­ours she’s re­ceived. Be­fore be­ing de­clared a Padma Shri awardee in 2013, she had re­ceived the Indira Gandhi Priyadarshini award and had been be­stowed the hon­our of Knight of the Or­der of Arts and Let­ters by the French govern­ment. Ku­mar ac­cepts the lau­rels with a sur­prise and a surge of hap­pi­ness, and yet re­mains cir­cum­spect. “Wher­ever there’ve been suc­cess sto­ries, there’ve been some un­suc­cess­ful ones too. For in­stance, there’s no weav­ing left in Kash­mir,” she says.

It’d be safe to say that this won’t be the case for the Be­narasi sari, for which Ku­mar’s pas­sion has been par­tic­u­larly en­dur­ing. Two of her re­cent col­lec­tions fea­ture the wo­ven fab­ric, the Be­naras Col­lec­tion, and the Re­vival­ist Col­lec­tion, the lat­ter, a pret line that the de­signer show­cased on Satur­day at Lakme Fash­ion Week. “The trou­ble is the Be­narasi sari is no longer be­ing made the way it’s sup­posed to be,” says Ku­mar, re­veal­ing how the Be­narasi sari of to­day looks more like a “parch­ment” due to the use of mer­cerised yarn and me­tal­lic lurex over hand- spun yarn from Bha­galpur that was used in the 18th cen­tury. “As a re­sult, the saris don’t flow, don’t hug the fig­ure, don’t make you look at­trac­tive. And that’s the death knell of any tex­tile,” an­nounces Ku­mar, who roped in master naksh­bandhs and weavers in the holy city to recre­ate 11 saris as per their orig­i­nal form, over the last three years.

At the same time, she of­fers a wider plan for the Be­narasi weaves. “We don’t need to ask for alms for the Be­naras to sur­vive,” she en­thuses. “Thai­land has just one fab­ric, the Thai silk. And yet, no­body re­turns from Bangkok with­out a piece of one. Like­wise, if our govern­ment uses the Be­narasi sari as a sym­bol of what can be pro­duced in In­dia, in its most so­phis­ti­cated form, and run a cam­paign like they did for In­cred­i­ble In­dia, leav­ing the de­sign and the re­tail to the mar­ket forces, it’d be enough.”

That, cer­tainly, would be a mir­a­cle!

Gargi. gupta@ dnain­dia. net, @ tog­a­rgi

Mod­els in clothes from Ritu Ku­mar’s Re­vival­ist Col­lec­tion, which show­cases Be­naras, Ikat and Luc­knowi tra­di­tions

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