A niche, all her own

Dynamic Artist

A niche, all her own

The very pretty and bubbly Lakshmi was the star of the class. But what endeared her to all was her easy camaraderie. Two decades down the line, it is the same lively and sparkling person one sees, despite being an award-winning actress in Malayalam cinema, and a highly successful, globe-trotting celebrity Bharatanatyam dancer, model, and TV star.

Breaks between shooting schedules invariably bring her to Bangalore, her home town, to catch up on her dance practice with the stringent yet benign M R Krishnamurthy of Kalakshithi, and to relax with her parents. A certain naivete surrounds her, even as she is animated about everyday life.

It is perhaps this unaffected attitude that accounts for her spontaneity in dance and natural emoting on screen, and is as much the secret of her radiance. Lakshmi has always danced with gay abandon, her exuberance at the sheer joy of dancing being the hallmark of her recitals.   

Her film outings have been comparatively sober affairs, but not without her stamp of identity on them. Some 15 of her 30 films have been award winners. She herself has gathered two Kerala state awards for best actress in a supporting role and the best actress award of the Kerala State Critics’ Association, besides several private recognitions.

However, Lakshmi holds the Sangitya Aasthana award that she received for her contribution to the art form of dance in Karnataka very dear to her heart. The Aryabhata award is the other recognition. But, every role she has
essayed has reinforced her girl-next-door image.   

“I have been able to hold my own. No character has been ordinary. I have been a feminist in a very subtle way,” says Lakshmi, who, for all her middle-class upbringing, is a jet-setting cultural ambassador. She is as comfortable swinging to film songs in live shows, albeit with a classy touch, as she is in portraying a lovelorn Radha in a Bharatanatyam recital.

She traverses between two disparate worlds of classical dance — while one is steeped in tradition, the other is the glitzy world of cinema, which sets its own norms of behaviour. Lakshmi is identifiable as an elegant actress, a star and an accomplished dancer.

This is a rare distinction she has created for herself as many actresses have not been established dancers before entering films, and their star value being their main claim to fame as dancers, post films. Lakshmi has always been cued to dance — her recital at the Kinkini Dance Festival recently revealed a journey of self-discovery vis a vis abhinaya and chaste nritta. “I try to elevate dance from mere physicality to the spiritual. I enjoy composing dance because I go into the interpretative aspects deeply now,” she says.

These varied experiences have led to Yatra Thodarunnu (Journey Begins), her latest Malayalam film where, as the traumatised wife of a HIV patient, she deals with the situation in a humane and practical fashion. “It is an inspiring character to play. If I were faced with such a situation in real life, I would like to be like her.” This statement reflects the conviction Lakshmi looks out for in the characters she performs. But no movies have beckoned her on the Kannada film horizon after Aapta Rakshaka with Vishnuvardhan.

Although film offers from the South came to her long back, she took the plunge only in 1999 with Arayanangalude Veedu, opposite Mammooty, which catapulted her to fame and got her the Asianet best new face award.

“It was a cowardly decision because what made it a safe project was that I was the mother of two kids in the film,” she confesses. Kochu Kochu Santosangal was the one film where she is a dancer and which got its choreographer the national award for its classicism. “Dance has lent beauty, dignity and integrity to my life. I am put off by the fragmentation of a woman’s body in the picturisation of song sequences in films. It is so unaesthetic.”  

Is emoting before the camera different from abhinaya in dance? “Certainly. The exaggerated eye movements of dance have to be toned down for films, where the camera comes to you. In dance, the expressions are more animated and you have to reach out to the audience.”

Her maiden Bollywood film, Dhuaan, which is yet to be released, will be screened at the Tokyo and Chicago film festivals. “I have no ambition to move to Mumbai because I am committed to dance.” She reveals that the Tamil film industry has a parochial approach to casting. “After crossing 30, I have been getting only maternal roles,” says Lakshmi, who made a mark in several Tamil TV serials.

Her recent recital for the prestigious Music Academy, Madras, her continued performances for Soorya International in India and abroad, especially her inaugural recital for the Rome and Vienna chapters, are outings she cherishes. Her post-graduation in women’s studies has given her “a wider perspective on art and women.”

Lakshmi’s current fascination is mythology. “I am into Hindu iconography, which will help me give a larger dimension to my choreography.” As the first dancer from Karnataka to win the MGR Best Youth Dancer Award from the Music Academy, and with several central government dance scholarships in her kitty, dance is what continues to beckon her.
Jyothi Raghuram

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