'I rely on my friends who are my unpaid therapists'

In a yellow salwar kameez and ponytail, Sarika is free of make-up and radiant (“I don’t wear makeup even for my films”) when we pay her a visit. Among the first things she says is, “I hate to be slotted.” Even if she remains an underutilised actress, we ask. She stops sipping her black coffee and quips, “Ah, that’s an observation, not a slot.” Sarika does everything with archetypal passion -- she gets so engrossed in the conversation that she doesn’t notice when her expensive cellphone falls off the table. She discusses her new film, Club 60, her daughters, her years as a child actor, her state of career... and mind.

Sarika would like to do at least three good films a year but she says roles are hard to come by for women her age

Why was Farooque Sheikh not paired with you when you were both younger?
We were doing different cinema. He was doing Sai Paranjpye films. And honestly, I think Sai never liked me (laughs).

Both Sai and you belong to the light-eyed club. There should have been an affinity.
Agar aankhon se career chalte, toh phir kya baat thi. (It would be great if careers were made by eyes)

Do you play a 60-year-old in Club 60? You are still several years away from that milestone!
No. The film has two tracks. Farooque Sheikh and I play a couple whose marriage threatens to fall apart because he finds it more difficult to deal with the death of their young son than I do. The other track is about Club 60 whose senior members have a riot and help Farooq come to terms with his emotional problems. It’s a happy film that says one must celebrate life despite all adversities.

Do you agree?
I absolutely share this philosophy.

In real life, would you join a club to handle an emotional crisis?
No. I would rather rely on my friends who are my unpaid therapists.

We are all familiar with loss. Which loss is more difficult to handle -- one caused by death or one caused by voluntary separation, when someone moves out of your life?
Death makes you feel helpless because the person is not going to be physically present hereafter. It snatches away someone you loved and that really hurts. But you can’t do anything about it. The loss of someone moving away from your life is more difficult to cope with because if one were to just pick up the phone and says, “Let it be,” it would make a big difference. Unfortunately, our ego stops us. The person you are today is because of your collective past experiences. When someone moves away, it leaves pain in its wake.

Has your personality been shaped by the fact that you began acting at the age of four?
Tremendously! It was traumatic; it still is for child actors. You are exposing the child to emotions that are irregular. In Humraaz, I was a toddler who witnesses a murder. The feelings associated with the experience have stayed with me. Ideally, one should counsel child actors and see whether they have the emotional capability to deal with the roles they enact.

How do you look back on your years as a young actress in the 1970s and ‘80s?
I remember a few choice films like Geet Gaata Chal, Anpadh and Basu Bhattacharya’s Grihapravesh.

Then, you didn’t have the luxury of choosing your roles; unlike today. But even after the National Award win, you remain underutilised.
It’s wonderful to have the ability to choose. I would love to do three good films in a year but there are talented actresses aplenty. It may be politically incorrect to say this, but we are still a male-dominated industry. There is a paucity of roles for women my age.

So acting remains important to you?
It’s integral… like my books though I have had no formal education. Just the other day, I was sharing with my daughter, Akshara: “Everybody may come and go in your life but you always have your work.” For 18 years I chose to work behind the camera. But when I came back to face the camera, my work smiled and said, “See, I am the one who gives you happiness.”

Both of your daughters have now turned to acting.
For a long time, my daughter Akshara didn’t want to act, though I knew she would make a very good actress. However, now she has decided to do R Balki’s film. Shruti is a good actress and is doing well; and she is blessed when it comes to singing.

In Club 60, Farooque eventually comments that he finds the noise of the city bearable now. Have your inner noises been quelled?
If any actor says there are no voices in his head, he is lying. We do become a tad crazy. While shooting, there are two voices in your head -- the onscreen character’s and your own. But when you return home, you have to learn to shush that voice.

What’s a typical day in your life like?
If Akshara wakes up late, she sees me cooking. And if she wakes up on time, she sees me doing jhaadu pota (sweeping) before the maid arrives. But I also need my own time. In the morning when I wake up, I read, I write. I don’t like talking to anyone before I have had my six cups of tea.

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