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Timeless, ageless


Yesteryear actor Lakshmi is back on the Malayalam silver screen with ‘I.G.’

Today there is a huge dearth of female-oriented cinema.

Photo: R. Shivaji Rao.

Remarkable: Lakshmi has essayed some of the most memorable female roles in Malayalam.

From the sultry Julie, who pranced about the screen in ‘Chattakari’ to Amminikutty, the haughty wife and mother in ‘Karyam Nissaram,’ to the potent lawyer Rajalakshmi in ‘Thaalam Thettiya Thaarattu,’ to the acerbic mother-in-law who ruled her family with an iron fist in ‘Vannu Kandu Keezhadakki,’ Lakshmi’s name was once synonymous with some of the most remarkable and memorable female roles that Malayalam cinema has ever seen.

As the decades went by, Lakshmi appeared in only a handful of Malayalam films, preferring to concentrate more on her family and her career as a TV anchor in Tamil. Now, after a long gap, the veteran actor once again graces the silver screen in Malayalam with ‘I.G,’ directed by B. Unnikrishnan (of ‘Madambi’ fame) where she dons the role of mother to Suresh Gopi and Govind Padmasoorya. Excerpts from an interview…

Can you tell us a little about your role in ‘I.G’…

I loved the storyline that Unnikrishnan narrated to me. It is an out and out police story with a good deal of drama and an interesting climax. It’s been a while since I acted in a Malayalam film and the offer came along at the right time. In fact the other day when I asked what exactly my character’s name is in the movie and the director just said ‘Amma’ … such a powerful and emotional name, isn’t it?

You have worked with a lot of great actors and directors in the past who gave a lot of leeway for women-centered cinema. Is it the same with the new generation?

It all depended on the audience and still depends on them. Everything has changed in the industry and will keep changing. The likes of Prem Nazir and Madhu sir were totally different and a class apart. During their time when female-oriented roles were in prominence, they sometimes essayed supporting roles to my character. But all that was shaped according to the tastes of the audience because the story demanded it. Today there is a huge dearth of female-oriented cinema and a Suresh Gopi or a Mohanlal is what the audience wants; what it needs. So, naturally, they will be in prominence. The younger generation seems to have their finger on the pulse. I enjoy watching Malayalam movies, especially those of Dileep.

After an array of roles as heroine you started appearing in elderly roles such as in ‘Karyam Nisaaram,’ ‘Vandu Kandu Keezhadakki,’…

I did those roles because I enjoyed them. And that was when I was still a college student in Karnataka. (Laughs). I used to get royally ribbed by actor Satyaraj about those roles. All of them were experiences rather than movies. Every movie, every day and every shot was a learning experience.

You have been acting in films since you were 16. In your later career did you ever feel that you needed professional training in acting?

All of us are born actors. Just look at a child of two or three who is trying to hide something from his parents or trying to evade trouble, the kind of innocence laced with guilt that they manage to convey is prosaic. Or when we adults try to cover up something distasteful… When I started acting in 1968 there was no concept of professional training. You learnt about acting out of experience. It was up to you to apply your mind and refine your technique.

After the success of ‘Chattakari’ (1974) and its remake as ‘Julie’ in Hindi you were inundated with offers from Bollywood. Yet you did not pursue a career up north...

That was the time when I already had a happening career in the South. A lot of female-oriented films were being offered to me and to other South Indian heroines. I was not mad enough to ditch those kind of roles for that of a simpering, scantily clad woman who only had to shout “Bachao, mujhe bachao”! In retrospective I should have taken it up. But there were already enough good heroines in Bollywood and I did not want to fight for roles. Besides I was quite comfortable at home and with all four languages in the south.

Your avatar as a TV host for ‘Kathi alla Nijam’ and ‘Achamillai Achamillai,’ two shows on social issues and how different it was to acting…

Both were about the problems and experiences of ordinary people. It was tough work. Nobody tells the truth the moment he/she sits on the hot seat. I had to do a lot of homework and really understand the psychology behind each issue and subtly get the issues out of them. Acting is a piece of cake when compared to that. Sometimes it is as if I act to relax.

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