Revathy: From On-Screen Mother to Real-Life Mom

One of the most celebrated moms in reel life, actress Revathy is a super mom in real life. We speak to the award-winning actress about her beautiful parenting journey. It's a ParentCircle exclusive

By Sindhu Sivalingam

Revathy: From On-Screen Mother to Real-Life Mom

Remember the path-breaking movie, Anjali? Nearly three decades have gone by, but we haven’t forgotten a single scene from the classic. Little Anjali’s mom Chitra (Revathy) gave a brilliant account of herself as an on-screen mother. From then to now, she has adorned numerous powerful mother roles becoming the face of the strong Indian mother. In real-life too, she is an exceptional mother, balancing her work and duties as a parent. In a candid conversation with ParentCircle, the talented actress talks about her parenting journey.  

Q. Mahi (daughter) is now four years old. But, her entry into your world wasn’t an easy one. Must have felt super special when she finally arrived…

A. It was like a gift from heaven, especially after such a long wait. I tried adoption, but they wouldn’t give me a newborn, so I chose IVF with a donor sperm. Her birth and our journey together makes every bit of the wait and hardship worthy. I do wonder how she’d receive it when I tell her about this, but I want to tell her the truth. My mother says, in her times, it will be easy for her to understand and I hope that’s true. (smiles)

Q. As a mother, what do you think is the most important thing you must do for your child?

A. Connection! Making that connection with your child is crucial. It is important that both of you understand what is right for each other. Mahi, in that way, can connect (with me) and understand me. Sometimes, I ask, “Kanna can you give Amma one hour’s nap?”, and she gives it to me. One hour later, if she is feeling bored, she will come and say, “Amma, can you please get up?” (laughs).

As a parent, when you make a promise, stand by it or don’t make one. Children could end up thinking Amma and Appa will say things but won’t do it. It is just us and the child. Connect with the child. Only when that little world is good, you will be able to do better in the world outside that space. When the mother and child are doing okay, the relationship between partners will also improve. If that doesn’t exist, every other connect may possibly shatter. That’s my opinion. And yes, keep the communication alive with your child as she grows.

Revathy: From On-Screen Mother to Real-Life Mom

Q. Communication and bonding are closely related…

A. Yes. Communication must happen every day. So, when the child talks, whatever else may be happening, listen. If you don’t, children will stop talking. This is something I learnt from a friend who shares a beautiful bond with her child. That’s the kind of relationship I aspire to have with Mahi. The mother needs to give the time. The child needs to feel valued and important. When you make things eventful, she will get that feeling.

Q. Although you’ve played the mother, read extensively and have rich experiences, was it still a roller-coaster ride when your child arrived?

A. (laughs) It was like starting from A. She is now 4.5 years old and it's still a challenge. On screen, I have played mother to almost all age-groups. But, playing the mother and being the mother are two different things. I always wanted a child but for some reason, it did not work out (when I wanted). And it finally worked out very late in my life. I wasn’t even sure if I was taking the right decision by having a child at this age – is it selfish of me? Will my child feel strange for having an old mother? I had all these questions and I still do. I’ll know the answers only as she grows up. For me, it was a life changer. It’s like a rebirth. Of course, the ride is bumpy. There are days when I think, “what was I thinking?” (laughs). But when the child smiles at you, it’s something else. Every little thing that she does is so fascinating. No book or film could have given me this experience. 

Q. So, what are the favourite things you do with her? Favourite moments in a day?

A. We co-sleep. In the middle of the night, she will search for me with those little hands of hers, pull closer, entwine her hands into mine and snuggle back to sleep. That just moves me! That’s when I feel so blessed. This mother-child affection is something amazing.

Q. It sure is. And so, when you must discipline your child, it becomes that much harder, right? For example, how do you control her gadget usage?

A. Mahi never asks me for my phone to watch anything. It’s never been given to her. I’ve clearly told her phone is for adults. Even to keep her occupied, I don’t give my phone.

As for TV, first I thought I must say ‘No’, but ‘No’ is very negative. Not everything we read can be applied. So, I give her some TV time. I’ve also learnt that I must have other creative activities available which excite her more than the TV. Little things like, ‘Kanna, would you like to plant the sapling?’ or ‘Do you want to go make a nice salad?’ can make a big difference. She will immediately come for anything that interests her and connects the two of us.

Initially, she used to eat in front of the TV, but I’m slowly weaning her off that. Now, we all sit together and eat, talk about the day. The dining table is our conversation point. So, my parents and I share about our days. She also tells us about hers. Although it sounds easy, the process wasn’t. It took me months. First, I had to come up with ideas, then understand how to handle her and then implement them.

When I want to build a routine, be it for brushing teeth or having a bath, I make it a game. A song, rhyme or silly role-play. “Let’s brush at night or the germs are going to sing all night and not let us sleep” and then we laugh and go about the ritual! It’s not just fun, it’s effective too (laughs). But again, you need a lot of patience and it takes time.

Q. So, what is your secret weapon when it comes to handling tantrums?

A. Oh! All that you read about tantrums, you feel the hit only when it unfolds in front of you. But, I’ve decided and realised that there is no point in yelling. It is counter-productive. She cries, I get hurt and still, the issue doesn’t get resolved.

Once it happened in a supermarket. She wanted something and I said No. She sat down and started wailing. I told, “It’s okay Mahi. You can cry. I’ll wait for you. I cannot get this because it’s bad for you.” I went to the counter and stood firm. I did not care about what onlookers would think about me or my parenting. And because I took that stand of connecting with her directly, even today I can tell her, “Kanna, this is not good for you.” She listens. And sometimes I give in. She is, after all, a child. It can’t be about discipline all the time.

My point is - make your child understand you are the authority. Because until a certain age, children don’t have the maturity to take responsible decisions. They will listen to you only when they believe in your authority. But, first build the security of love. Don’t confuse it with discipline. When they believe in your authority, they will come to you when they have a problem.

Q. What are other activities you do together?

A. We cut vegetables, she helps me load the washing machine; we do gardening and play in the mud. When she goes to a birthday party and sees a muddy puddle and wants to sit there, I am fine. We sure can clean up, but she is having fun! I won’t be swayed by the judgements people pass at me. If I start worrying about it, I won’t ever make a connection with my child.

Q. Wow! In all the activities you speak about, I see no trace of the celebrity aura in your home.

A. Acting is only my profession(smiles). When I enter my home, I’m a normal person like anyone else. Its always been like that. My mother has taught me to look after my own needs and I do the same with my daughter.

For me acting is a profession, nothing more. Once I remove my chappal and go inside, that's it. Even in my friends' circle. That’s why I think I’m able to work with NGOs and they know me as a very normal person.

Q. Can you tell us about your work with non-profits?

A. I used to work with non-profits. For about 20-25 years I supported and helped in building organisations. But now I’ve taken a break to focus on my priority. They do know I’m around though and they can reach out to me anytime. But for now, it’s all about – me, my daughter, my parents and my career. I’ve put myself first because unless I’m good mentally and physically, I cannot take care of my child or my parents.

And I think the child needs the parent till a certain age. Until she knows to say yes and no to what she really wants. After that you can go and take care of the world. If you leave your child unattended and go after changing the world, there is no meaning. Because I’ve seen some children being ignored because the mother or father is taking care of the world. I don’t think it’s worth it.

Q. Even now, your work keeps you on your toes. How do you manage to make time?

A. Thankfully, I’m now in a position to decide that I will work only from Monday through Friday and not on weekends. We have our quality time, fun time then. And when I get back home from the shoot, I don’t know how, but even when I'm  tired, there is an extra energy I find on seeing her. Some days she is already asleep, and I am secretly thankful about it (laughs). Because when that fatigue gets to you, you get irritated and you don’t want to show it to your child. Sometimes when I go in a stern voice ‘Mahi, please do that’, she looks straight into my eyes and goes ‘Why are you shouting Amma? Did I shout? Am I crying? Then why?’ Then I realise I’m shouting for nothing! I’m mentally tired. A lot of learning and self-realisation happens when you have a child.

Q. Sometimes, a mother can feel very overwhelmed by the weight of things she has to handle…

A. Yes, and during those times I have a tool to pull myself together. I write. I put down in paper what my priorities are. Then I can realign my focus in that direction. I urge all mothers to get into this habit because it helps.

Q. How do you make time to replenish yourself?

A. Some days I’m so tired that I ask my mum if she can sleep with my daughter. Because when you are with your child you don’t get 100% sleep. I think it’s an instinctive protection mode that gets switched on in the brain. Every turn or sound, you want to make sure your baby is okay.

And my sister takes over sometimes so I can have some ‘me’ time. You needn’t even do anything great. Just a visit to a café, sipping some coffee by yourself will do. Your child also needs time away from you other than school and other things.

Q. How difficult is single parenting?

A. Yes, single parenting has its challenges. Mahi’s little friends ask her about her ‘dad’ and she says I have ‘Daddy Thaatha’ – that’s my dad. She calls him that. Sometimes, I wish I had someone to talk to about my child and to discuss important decisions (medicine, education, etc.,) A mother’s job cannot be explained. No book can ever sum it up. But I have my support system. From day one, my parents, who are thankfully healthy, have been with me to take care of Mahi. So, she is equally attached to them. My sister is also very involved when it comes to Mahi. She is my go-to person whenever I feel the need to discuss.

Q. Do you read to Mahi? Do you want her to be reader? Any favourite children’s books for the both of you?

A. I sure want her to be a reader. I want her to write and express as well. Now, it’s Dr Seuss’ books. Because they rhyme, the books are silly and fun to read. It’s like a tongue twister for her. So, she loves them. And I have bought some Tamil books that my house help reads to Mahi when I’m not around. So, she would tell me those stories when I get back home. She is now able to pick up on the language. I’m also telling my dad to read Malayalam content to her, so she gets better exposure to multiple languages.

And stories are very important for a child. Because when the child wants to tell us something, she is able to articulate better. Mahi makes up her own little stories with all of us playing characters. It’s so much fun.

Q. How is your relationship with your parents?

A. If you ask my mother about me – she will say – “Oh, she has ruined her life and is just now standing up.” Because whatever hurt you go through, hurts your parents as well. Yes, I have hurt them a lot. But, they have supported me through all my decisions in life. You know, they would've warned me against some of my decisions and I wouldn’t have listened to them. But, whenever I took a blow and came back to them and said I’m sorry, they’ve taken me in again. They are always there for me. The security that Amma and Appa give me is what I’d like to give Mahi. As a mother, I will never judge her no matter what the world says.

Q. Do you travel with her?

A. I’m an adventurous person. I want Mahi to enjoy that spirit. So, I’ve started taking her on drives. We recently went to Kerala and Mahi and I did a 3-hour road trip there. I’ve taught her Google maps and she’d navigate, “Amma, you are not on the blue line” and things like that. We also do Pondy trips very often. Just the two of us. Sometimes I put a story CD. She will suddenly have a question and we’d pause and discuss. By the end of the drive, I’d be so tired but I know this is an investment I’m making towards building a great relationship with my child. And I want it more than anything else.

Q. And you want her to be a strong independent woman.

A. Absolutely, because by the time she grows up I’m going to be too old (laughs). I want her to be able to stand on her own feet with independent thinking. I don’t want her to be academically strong. For me, I want her to be a person who can tell the truth to herself. If you can tell the truth looking at your reflection in the mirror – then I think you’re saved. It took me so many years to be able to do that. Because I was put on a platform when I was just 17 years old. That star status, with a tag that says, “whatever she says or does is right.” But real life is different. Here, you make mistakes, you fall, you get up, you fall again and you get up again… So, It’s important to tell the truth to herself and stand up for whatever she does. I want to help her not be afraid of failures. 

Q. Do you have parental anxieties?

A. Nothing! Only thing I do is plan. I plan about my career, so I have enough when she needs to take up higher education. If she suddenly wants to do medicine at someplace abroad, I’d like to be able to give it to her. If I can’t, I will say, “Kanna, you can do it here. You cannot do it there. And for that, I’m planning – financial planning.” Otherwise no anxieties.

And she and I will have the connection and relationship in which we will be able to face anything together - she will accept me and I will accept her.

I believe It’s all about how you treat them, how you connect to them. Children are very intelligent and very absorbent. And they are a pleasure to be around. I earnestly pray to God, to guide me in knowing her calling. I don’t want her to become anything. I want to understand what she has come here to do. I will give her the exposure and support her in her interest. And thankfully, I’m at a point where I have the freedom and ability to do that. 

Q. Let’s end our conversation with two of your on-screen characters that are my personal favourites, two strong and impactful mother roles – Chitra in Anjali and Shubhangini in Margarita with a Straw. Please tell us about these roles. 

A. Hmm. Both roles were very strongly built and beautifully etched. In both movies, I donned a mother of a child with disability. Anjali was practically the first time I played a mother. I began my homework by watching video footage of a child named Esther from the the Spastics Society of Tamil Nadu. She was the model child for the movie. And somehow, I was naturally drawn to visit Vidya Sagar (an organisation for children with cerebral palsy). I saw mothers there and realised that there can’t be a bigger blessing, than to have a mother who is there for you whenever you need her. Mani Ratnam had envisioned the character Chitra so beautifully. While it was easy to fall into the character, I must admit a natural motherly instinct kicked in while I played her.

By the time I worked in Margarita with a Straw, I had matured over the years. It was exactly 20 years later. I think my personal experience of having worked in the field of differently-abled children and seeing the mothers there helped me fall into the character. Those mothers are very strong and amazing. Most mothers, after they get over the shock that their child has an issue, connect with the child at a normal level. Their love is unconditional. You see such mothers more in real-life and not so much on screen. Hats off to Shonali Bose to have brought that spirit alive.

Q. Your message to parents?

A. Connect with your child – that’s the key. Hug your children as much as you can. Don’t stop hugging even as they grow up. It is so important! And don’t feel guilty about making time for yourself. You need to find safe places or people to engage your child while you can get some ‘me’ time to relax. It can just be drinking coffee all by yourself in a café for half an hour. But you need that.

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