Deepavali is family time for Udaya
She acts, sings and hosts, but in spite of her accomplishments in the public sphere, Vasantham artiste Udaya Soundari is a family girl who just wants to make her loved ones proud.
That’s why the 25-year-old Vasantham Star 2007 contestant is thankful that the festival of lights is just around the corner.
“Deepavali is the only time I get to be with my family in the morning. I rarely get to see them,” she said. “My sister goes to work. My mum’s always at home but my dad — it’s very rare that we see each other because (he works shifts).
“Deepavali morning is one of those rare mornings that we all get to be at home. And then we just watch TV. You don’t do anything — just sit and watch TV and have all the goodies. I think that’s quite fun.”
Udaya comes from a Hindu family that observes Deepavali traditions, such as “the oil bath and the washing and the food and the prayers in the morning”. Personally, though, the festival is an excuse for her to indulge.
“On that day itself we’re quite lazy — we only visit my grandparents. In the following weeks, it’s friends’ houses and chicken and mutton and curry and (eating) everything that’s alive. After that you feel like a deathbed, with all the animals inside you. You always feel that in the second week of Deepavali,” she smiled.
Even though family time means gathering in front of the television, Udaya’s family will be studiously avoiding the programmes that she appears in, like the Deepavali countdown on Nov 1, or the telemovie Thaathavin Deepavali.
“We have a very awkward silence whenever my programmes are shown on TV,” she said.
That’s because back in 2007, she joined the Vasantham Star talent competition without her parents’ permission. “My dad wanted me to be an accountant or a banker,” she explained. “I had to rebel and go against my parents’ wishes and be a wart for the family. Now my parents have come to accept it, lah. But still, when they watch my programmes, they go unusually quiet. So I’m like, ‘Okay, awkward. Can we change the channel?’”
But in true Asian-parent fashion, they have grown quietly supportive of their daughter’s chosen career path, she said, and they record her programmes and watch them when she’s not around.
“(It’s) quite cute, actually. My dad has this tendency to watch my programmes late at night, when I’m asleep and nobody’s around at night. And then he’ll tell my mother, ‘This one — she did a good job’. But he won’t tell me. My mum then tells me, ‘Dad said that’. Why can’t he tell me that himself?”
“After that, I realised that if I can get my parents to agree to what I do, I don’t think anybody else should be telling me what to do. So, I think when it comes to rules, if they go against what you want, break them — but have your moral compass in place.”
And yet, despite having risen to become one of Vasantham’s most popular faces, when asked how she envisioned her future, the Veethi Varai actress said: “I think I’m just going to end up being a banker! Just to make my father happy. ‘Now that I’ve gotten what I wanted, now that I’m doing it peacefully — I think I’ll do what you wanted. You wanted me to study banking and finance, right? I think I will’.”
(Udaya has taken up a part-time course with the University of London programme at the Singapore Institute of Management.)
STICKS AND STONES
That contrarian impulse is reflected in her personality, too. “People think I’m very loud, like, ‘She’s very bold with her words’. I’m not,” she said. “Actually, I’m a very shy person. I am quite socially awkward.”
That was why, when Udaya entered the industry, her colleagues thought she was “snobbish and arrogant”, because she only spoke “when somebody spoke to me”, she said. Her second year in show business saw a sharp spike in her exposure on Vasantham. But with that came the naysayers as well.
“It comes as a package. There was a point in time I thought I was the most hated being in the world,” she recounted. “Women looked at me as if I was going to steal their boyfriends and guys looked at me like, ‘Who does she think she is?’”
It took a while, but audiences have come to embrace her. “After that massive, sad, horrible, depressing period, now, I’m just thankful for the way things have turned out. Now, thankfully, things that I do, even when I think it’s not good enough, people tend to appreciate them,” she said.
And she, too, has come to appreciate her audience. “For the Indians, we tend to take things very personally, whatever we see on TV. When I go out, aunties will come up to me and pinch my cheeks and say, ‘Take care! You’re like my daughter!’ And they’re so warm.
“But because they take so many liberties with you, when they’re angry, they show it the same way. So, as much as they love you, if they have to hate you, they will. I think that’s something we’ll have to get used to.
“I think, over time, people will realise that it’s TV and it’s not real.”
What: Amarkala Deepavali (the Deepavali countdown show)
When: Nov 1, 10pm on Vasantham.
Catch Udaya in the info-ed programme Rayil Sneham on Mondays at 9pm; the drama Nallathor Veenai, premiers on Nov 11, and will air every Monday to Thursday at 10.30pm; and the variety programme Enna Nadakuthu Series 3 will debut on Jan 13 at 9pm.
Photos: Jason Ho
Hair and makeup: Joanna Ang (96953772)