This interview first appeared on May 12, 2017 in Rightlog.in under the same title. The link to the site is here: (Click to read)
Malavika Avinash is many people rolled into one – actor, dancer, lawyer, columnist, politician, co-spokesperson of Karnataka BJP, and a governing Board member of Kalakshetra foundation.
We spoke to her about her many interests, her politics, and what drives her. Read on to get an insight into her personality and her passion to work for the people of Karnataka.
This interview was conducted via email and validated through a telephonic conversation
Rightlog (RL): You certainly have your fingers in several pies – actor, dancer, lawyer, columnist, and spokesperson for Karnataka BJP – have I left out anything? Do you really find the time to pursue all of these?
Malavika Avinash (MA): I hail from a traditional Iyer family so perhaps the flair for classical arts came naturally, though I must say my parents ensured that an education in fine arts received the same importance as conventional education right from my formative years. As for acting, it stemmed from my dance. I, in fact, started as a child artiste at the age of 8. It became a full-fledged profession after college. I studied law to become a politician because when I peep into my farthest memory, I have always wanted to be a politician. So I can say, Politics is by design, acting by accident. My father though hoped that I’d be the first Woman Chief Justice of the SC of India. Now, more than ever before Politics (my first love) has become the mainstay while all other activities are complimentary.
RL: Politically you shot into the limelight when you campaigned for the BJP in Bellary during the high-profile contest between Sonia Gandhi and Sushma Swaraj. Was that your first foray into politics? Tell us how that experience was.
MA: When I was a child, listening to “Desh Raag” made me emotional. This may sound metaphorical but I don’t know how else to decode my strong sense of Nationalism…So, when (an Italian born) Sonia Gandhi arrived on our soil, in my State Karnataka to fight an election in 1999, the first thought was to do whatever little, alilu seve* (as they say in Kannada) to prevent her victory & help a nationalist like Sushmaji win. I was already a popular actor by then… but I will always cherish the electrifying experience of campaigning with and for a leader as tall & inspiring as Sushmaji so early in life! I was barely 23 years old. Subsequently, I also campaigned for the BJP in 2004.
*A reference to the squirrel in the Ramayana which did its bit, helping Rama in building the Rama-Setu – the bridge to Lanka
RL: You also had a brief stint with the JDS. How was that experience and what made you shift to the BJP?
MA: I will draw a corollary for you. Say, you are unhappy about something your mother said, or did, or heard so from someone that she did. You get angry, upset & go to your next door aunt’s house who offers you coffee. After an hour, good sense prevails & you go back home. JD(S) was technically 6-8 months but in my mind & heart, it was over & done with, within a month. I never belonged there.
RL: Coming to the BJP, there has been a lot of dirty linen that has been washed in public – something that is rare to see in a cadre-based party like the BJP. I am referring to the public spat between your two top state leaders – Yeddyurappa and Eshwarappa. What are your thoughts? Is the Central leadership working on a patch-up?
MA: BJP is a party that stands for both discipline and internal democracy. Our Prime Minister has also many a time reminded us, the cadre that they should not speak out of turn.
RL: We have been hearing a lot about your probable candidacy from the K.R. Nagar Constituency. In fact, the local press was full of this news, running banner headlines last week. So, tell us should we expect to see you as a Candidate, an MLA, a Minister perhaps in 2018?
MA: I honestly am not aware of how & where from the news originated. All I remember is receiving a copy of the Kannada Prabha two weeks ago which did a screaming headline on the subject. Actually, 2013 is when I commenced full-time work for the party and since then, I have been the official spokeswoman besides being a star campaigner in the General elections, MLC elections, local body elections & by-elections touring the entire State for several months. None of the official responsibilities that I render now was sought by me. I simply perform to my fullest capacity and as directed by the leadership. If the party leadership believes that I should be fielded, I will be more than happy to represent the party. After all, the prospect of being a people’s representative is every karyakarta’s dream. Also, Mysuru being the cultural capital of the State has a rich heritage and a solid foundation of Governance laid down by the Royals. However, KR Constituency in particular & Mysuru, in general, have been let down by the incumbent Congress MLA, Somshekhar & this Government. This is despite the fact that CM Siddaramaiah hails from Mysuru. Tourism which is Mysuru’s pride deserves to be viewed from a modern & development-oriented perspective. Slipping from the top position to number 5 in cleanliness (this year) is a clear pointer to what has gone wrong. Forget large projects, even an easily implementable & much required Dasara Abhivrudhdhi Pradhikara still remains on paper. Since Avinash my husband hails from Mysuru, in my 15 years of marriage, no month has gone by when we haven’t visited Mysuru to meet with family members. If fielded, Mysuru’s culture & tradition is such that I am confident the people will welcome Mysuru’s Sose (daughter-in-law) with open arms. Having said that, my being fielded or not will in no way determine my sincerity or commitment to the party which shall remain perpetual. The leadership is the best judge of how a karyakarta’s talent is to be utilised for the betterment of the party.
RL: You continue to be active in Movies and Television. You also write a column for Vijaya Karnataka. Has your political affiliation at any time come in the way of you expressing your opinions freely or in choosing projects to work on?
MA: Initially I was very choosy about the characters I portrayed on television. In this I was fortunate to have mentors like TN Seetaram who offered me memorable characters like Malavika in Mayamruga or Gargi in Manvantara, or Madhavi Patel – IPS in Mukta and K. Balachander who cast me in and as “Anni” – all characters strong protagonists who became role models for society. I have walked out of projects and argued with directors when I felt that the character or lines were anti-women. I vividly remember cops saluting me on the street when I was playing the role of an IPS officer and an elderly gentlemen asking, “I do know you are a lawyer, when did you complete your IPS?” Such was the impact of TN Seetaram’s series, that even senior Judges and reigning politicians were avid viewers.
The late CM of TN Jayalalithaaji, (although CM at that time) would watch my “Anni” each night before retiring for the day. Although I have played the role of a villain and also tried my hand at comedy, I believe that I am most respected for the idealistic characters I have played. No one writes such characters for TV anymore. Most satisfying however has been “Baduku Jataka Bandi”, the longest running reality show that evolved with time into an Alternate Dispute Resolution Forum for domestic issues and as a platform for discussing burning social issues, which brought together all the three that are close to my heart – women, law & media, not to mention a forum where I could be myself.
As for writing, somehow my editors have been very accommodative and do not edit a word of what I write which has mostly dwelt on the interface between women, law, and media with Hindu Nationalism at its core.
RL: Your husband Avinash is himself a very popular actor both in movies/theatre and a veteran in South Indian Cinema. Do dinner-time conversations revolve around politics at all or is it art that dominates your conversation?
MA: Avinash became a Swayam Sevak at the age of 8 or 9, his formative years being spent in the shadow of stalwarts during the Emergency Movement like Yadav Rao Joshiji, Su Ramanna, H.V.Sheshadriji, Narahariji, Jagannath Rao Joshiji. He fondly recalls memories of drawing the “Deepa Or Lamp” the erstwhile Bharatiya Janasangh’s symbol, all night on the streets & walls of Mysuru at the behest of his brother, Yelandur Ranganath (who at 79 is still an active Swayam Sevak) knowing fully well that their candidate may not even get back his deposit. He is as fierce a nationalist as I am if not more and a keen follower of our PM. He and my entire family were very troubled with my flirting with JD(S) and relieved when I returned “home”. Although he has never been interested in joining politics, invariably the news channels blare through the evening at home. But our day invariably ends with us watching one or two classics of world cinema each night. This is a practice we have followed since the day of our marriage.
RL: The Siddaramaiah government is going to be completing 5 years in office. What is your assessment of his and the Congress’ tenure?
MA: Siddaramaiah was perceived to be a torch-bearer of Lohiawaada by the media and intelligentsia, not so much a typical Congressman. But in his 4 years as CM, he has proved to be more Congressman than any traditional congressman, with his Bhagya “brand” of appeasement politics. Be it the display of arrogance of power when it comes to dealing with even senior officials or the callousness with which he is handling the drought situation – farmer suicides are the worst the State has faced in 30 years… and he has been shifting the blame entirely onto the Central Govt. Instead, his Government should have dealt with it on a war footing including the drought and acute water crisis… but instead he blames his officials while he chooses to watch 2 films back-to-back – Bahubali at ₹1050 a ticket.
The failure of Law & order is a hard reality; criminals and mafia are on the loose. We have had 6,400 murders in 4 years including 18 political killings of BJP & RSS workers, so much so that even IAS officers like DC Priyanka Mary Francis & AC Shilpa Nag of Udupi face physical attacks on their lives from the sand mafia, not to mention the humungous corruption…landing Karnataka with the no 1 rank on the most corrupt state chart, enormous cash recoveries from ED raids on his ministers, furthermore he conveniently chooses to hand over all cases of corruption against his ministers to the ACB (Anti-corruption bureau) functioning under himself. He has not only fooled the people with his Bhagya schemes, he has denied the people of the State their due by scuttling central schemes, by not disbursing the ₹1,748 crore drought relief package among others, being a reluctant participant in the Niti Aayog and at a personal level, attacking the PM and using unacceptable language. The Congress Government in Karnataka since 2013 for the average Kannadiga is a seamless continuation of the UPA (I-II) misrule along with corruption at a micro-level.
RL: Most political pundits were predicting a BJP win in 2018. The twin debacles in Nanjangud and Gundlupet seem to have recalibrated their views. How confident are you of a BJP victory and is the 150-seat mark still an achievable target?
MA: The by-election for an opposition party in any State is always an unequal battle with all the weight of the Government machinery behind the ruling party. BJP however, achieved resounding victories in Hebbal & Devadurga by-elections. Plus, considering that we have never won elections in Nanjangud & Gundlupet, our vote share this time has increased sizeably. These elections are not pointers to the general elections. Given the failures of the present State Government, commendable work rendered by the 2008-2013 BJP Government in the State, the path-breaking work of the Modi Government at the centre, and with BS Yeddyurappa’s dynamic leadership we are sure to come back to power in Karnataka. One must also give due credence to the meticulousness with which our PM and Party National President have planned and executed various elections since 2014 – nearly 70% of the land mass in the country is ruled by either the BJP or the BJP in coalition with another party and this is no mean achievement.
RL: You are also on the Governing Board of Kalakshetra, Chennai. Tell us how that came about and what are your responsibilities as a member?
MA: The Kalakshetra Foundation which was established 80 years ago in Chennai by Smt. Rukmini Devi Arundale is recognised by the Government of India as an institution of National importance. It houses two Higher Secondary Schools, a full-fledged weaving & crafts unit, and the world famous Rukmini Devi College of Fine Arts spread over 100 acres.
Our Governing Board is presently chaired by the Former CEC, Sri. N.Gopalaswami and for a dancer like me it’s an honour to have been appointed to the board by the Ministry of Culture, GOI. The disheartening part though is that the UPA’s corruption has managed to rub off even on institutions of culture and arts. As you may be aware, Kalakshetra was embroiled in various cases of corruption & maladministration during the tenure of the UPA-appointed director Lela Samson against whom now the CAG has instituted an inquiry. So, since Nov 2015 when our Board was appointed we have been actively engaged in returning this great institution back to its lost glory.
RL: Finally any thoughts, message for the people of Karnataka?
MA: Ours is the state that represents the legacy of Basavanna whose Anubhava Mantapa was perhaps the earliest Democratic Parliament that mankind has known providing equal participation to the downtrodden and the learned, to every community and most importantly to women in Governance. Kannada is a language with 8 Jnanapith awardees in its kitty and has also been conferred with the status of a classical language.