COLUMN: Spouse's Turn
Vani Viswanath talks about life with the actor Baburaj
By Shevlin Sebastian
Photo by Albin Mathew
One day, in October, 1998, Vani Viswanath got a call at her home in Chennai. The director J. Williams wanted to come and narrate a story. Vani said yes. But when Williams arrived, he was accompanied by Mollywood villain Baburaj.
Vani assumed that Williams would be narrating the story, but it turned out to be Baburaj who had written the script. Vani thought to herself, 'Does he have the capacity to narrate a story?'
But Vani got a surprise. “When he began speaking, I stopped listening to the story and was taken up by the way he was talking, the gestures he was making, and the smile on his face,” says Vani. “He was speaking in a much better way than most scriptwriters. I decided to say yes, just because of the way Baburaj was telling the story.”
The film was 'The Gang'. During the shoot, at Kochi, Vani suddenly panicked about whether she would get paid. So she sent a message to Baburaj, who was the producer. Immediately, he provided the payment.
But that same evening, Baburaj called Vani and said, “I need some money urgently. So can you give it back? I promise that I will pay it tomorrow morning.”
But Vani told him that she had already sent the money to her father at Thrissur. “Later, when we got close, he asked me whether I had actually given the money to my father. I said, 'Of course not,'” says Vani, with a laugh. “There was no way I would return money to a producer. Because I knew I would never get it back.”
Nevertheless, Vani and Baburaj acted in another film, a Tamil one called 'Jaya'. In this movie, the lovers, played by Vani and Baburaj, have a physical fight. “We were hitting each other and blood was coming out of our mouths,” says Vani.
However, in real life, the couple were falling in love. After two years of courtship, they decided to get married. There were objections from both families, because Vani is a Hindu while Baburaj is a Christian. Nevertheless, both stayed firm and the marriage took place on February 28, 2002, at the Tirupathi Temple.
“When the rituals were going on, I was thinking about the many marriages that I had taken part in Tamil and Malayalam movies” says Vani. “The only difference was that this time it was for real. And I would become a mother in future.”
Yes, indeed, she did become a mother, to Aarcha, 11, and Adhri, 6. “Baburaj is a far better father than husband,” says a frank Vani. “He gives them a lot of care and affection. For his son, he has filled his bedroom with posters and figures of ‘Hulk, ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Superman’, because Adhri likes them. For Aarcha, she likes small items like pens. So, Baburaj will buy expensive brands like Cross and Parker.”
Meanwhile, these 12 years have been a topsy-turvy ride for both of them. “Baburaj is a capable person,” says Vani. “Once we needed to put tiles on the floors of our house in Chennai, and he said, ‘What's so difficult about that? We can do it.’ If the TV set goes bad, he will repair it. Baburaj can do painting and electrical works. He is also a good cook and can make tasty chicken and fish curries.” So, it was no surprise that Baburaj’s breakout role was as a cook in the film, ‘Salt N’ Pepper’.
To Vani, Baburaj is a larger-than-life person. “When he gets angry, it is to the extreme,” she says. “But the next moment, he forgets everything. When I remind him, he will say, 'Did I say that? I don't remember'. When he is loving, he is overwhelming. And that is also the case when he is in a humourous mood.”
Incidentally, thanks to Baburaj, Vani has become a passionate cricket fan. One day, during their courtship, Vani asked Babu to rush her to the Chennai railway station. She needed to catch a train to Thrissur. Baburaj drove fast and furiously. After a while, he suddenly braked the car and went inside a shop, did not buy anything, and came back in a minute. Then he drove fast again. At the station Vani managed to get the train. Once the train left, a puzzled Vani called him on the mobile and asked him why he had stopped at the shop. He said, “Molle, India is playing a cricket match. I wanted to know the score.”
That was when Vani decided she had to know how the game is played. Once Baburaj explained the rules, Vani became a passionate fan. “I also love football and like Adriano the Brazilian footballer,” she says. “So I took the first half of the name, and named my son Adhri.”
Finally, when asked for tips on marriage, Vani says, “Between me and Baburaj, there were more than a thousand times when we could have divorced each other. We can divorce tomorrow, too. But the challenge is to remain together. It is not that everybody will get a good husband or wife. The wife might say my husband is a big problem. But maybe, the problem is with the wife. So you should learn to accept each other.”
(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)