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Boon Chan
Saturday, Aug 9, 2014

Showbiz

Ranjini - the unknown Singapore star

The Straits Times | Boon Chan | Saturday, Aug 9, 2014

Singaporean actress Sasha Selvarajoo better known as Ranjini and co-star Mohan during the shooting of the 1986 film Paru Paru Pattanam Paru.

Singaporean actress Sasha Selvarajoo is a major movie star many of her countrymen probably do not know about.

Known by her performing name Ranjini, she was one of the shining stars of Malayalam and Tamil cinema from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s.

Her debut feature Muthal Mariyathai (1985) was a critically acclaimed and award-winning film by Tamil film-maker P. Bharathiraja, while her screwball comedy Chitram (1988) is reportedly one of the highest-grossing movies in Malayalam cinema of all time.

After a break of 23 years for studies and family, Selvarajoo, 43, finally made her big-screen comeback this year with action comedy Ring Master and mystery thriller Koothara.

Ring Master is centred on dogs and stars top actor Dileep. She picked it for her comeback, saying: "I thought this movie would attract people from all walks of life." The film is reportedly among the top-grossing Malayalam films this year so far.

It was her husband Pierre Kombara, 46, a Cochin-based businessman, who persuaded her to return from Britain, where she had studied, to India in 2008.

While she was standing in line at immigration in India, one of the officers asked: "You're Ranjini right? The actress who acted in Chitram."

She adds: "And when I walked out, everyone recognised me and I couldn't believe my eyes."

She did not rush back into the limelight. Instead, she set up an overseas education consultancy, Information Centre for Campus Abroad, in Cochin, where she is also based.

She kept turning down offers before finally appearing as a celebrity judge on television in 2010.

She says this was preferable to acting in a TV series because, as she puts it: "You meet ordinary people and you judge people on their, say, dancing skills or intelligence. I myself don't watch serials. There's always people crying or somebody torturing someone. I like to do something worthwhile and not conform to stereotypes."

Selvarajoo was born in Singapore and grew up in the Bendemeer area. She attended school at St Margaret's Primary and Christchurch Secondary.

Her parents, who distributed Tamil movies here, got to know some of the personalities in the industry. Top Indian director Bhagyaraj told them he was keen to cast their daughter in films but they turned him down.

Speaking over the telephone from Cochin, Selvarajoo recalls: "My parents said, 'No way, she's still young. We're not interested in movies and she's very keen on her studies'."

Thus ended what could have been her first brush with fame at the age of 13.

But Bhagyaraj had taken some photographs of her and these eventually made their way about two years later to Bharathiraja, who was impressed enough to make an overseas call to Singapore with a film offer.

Even then, Selvarajoo, the eldest of three children, was no eager wannabe with stars in her eyes. She says: "My mother and I were against it. We didn't know anyone in India and I was reluctant to go."

It was at the behest of her father that she and her mother ended up going to India for what they thought would be a "two-week break" from school.

That turned into two months of shooting, publicity commitments, more film offers and soon enough, Sasha Selvarajoo turned into Ranjini the movie star.

It was Barathiraja who directed her in her first movie, Muthal Mariyathai, and christened her Ranjini, which means light or joy in Sanskrit.

Her maiden film outing was not quite smooth- sailing. She says: "Everything was a shock, from the food to the culture. We speak a different kind of Tamil dialect in Singapore. They also speak Tamil but speak very fast and sometimes you can't even understand what they're saying.

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