For old times' sake

For old times' sake

Veteran talks

For old times' sake

“How long will this interview take? My daughter’s lunch box has to be packed and I need to get her ready for school.” Does this sound like an everyday homemaker? Well, yes and no. Why? Because we are talking of veteran actress Lakshmi who asked me this question at the start of this interview and revealed that she was a mother as much as an actor. For someone who has been working in the field for 45 years now, balancing a home and career has been something she has done with rare aplomb.

Lakshmi started acting when she was only 16 and made her debut with the Tamil film Jeevanamsam in 1968. Incidentally, it was in the same year she acted in the Kannada film Goadalli CID 999 starring Rajkumar. With her body of work, I am curious to know if movies were on her mind while growing up. “My grandfather wanted me to be an advocate as in those days, in Brahmin households, accounting and law were considered the best professions. My grandfather wanted me to study law in London.

It’s another matter that I have played a judge in many of my films,” she smiles. “I never felt like pursuing higher studies as I was pampered on the sets. Moreover, there was no pressure at home, so it suited me fine that I was earning good money as a teenager.”

Speaking about her first Kannada movie, Lakshmi recollects that she was offered Rs 2,500 for the role. “I guess even then there was a need for a fresh face so I could act in all four South Indian industries at the same time.” In 1974, she made her Malayalam debut in Chattakari, which went on to become a huge blockbuster and earned her several awards as well. Incidentally, this movie was remade in Hindi as Julie. “When I started working in Malayalam films, I learnt a lot of acting nuances and was keen to explore them. After Julie, I did not focus on a career in Bollywood simply because I felt that there were too many heroines there and also there was a lack of heroine-oriented scripts then.”

Having worked in several languages, Lakshmi feels that commercial cinema is pretty much the same across all industries. “In Malayalam, things move fast and somehow that has not changed even now. The other industries are a little more relaxed,” she observes. Despite having won several awards, the actress is clear that she will appreciate a genuine award rather than lobby for one. She catches me off-guard when she says, “For me, this interview is an award; appreciation from my fans is an award; and also my director’s recognition of my acting after a particularly tough shot.”

The multi-faceted actress is also a well-known television personality, thanks to her stint as a host of two talk shows, including the Tamil talk show Achamillai, Achamillai and the hugely popular Kannada talk show Idu Kathe Alla Jeevana.

“I was hosting Kadhai Alla Nijam in Tamil and even when I got the offer, I was surprised and asked the makers why they wanted me. They explained that I could answer any tough question as I am a fighter, and hence I should host it. We had to face several court cases as part of the show. I believe it is important to fight for what is right.” She has also hosted a talk show in Kannada called Neena? Naana? and is also judging a Malayalam reality show Champions.

There is certainly no dearth of work for the actress and she chooses scripts that allow her to do something she has not tried before. “In my latest Malayalam release Ormayundo Ee Mukham, I play a hi-tech grandmother who encourages her grandson to find love. I had a lot of fun doing it.” She is currently working in a comedy film, Sharp Shooter, and says that she is getting several offers in the comedy genre. She is also looking forward to Vamshodharaka in Kannada.

Having worked in the movies for decades, she feels that today’s young talent is very clear and makes smart choices. “Also, today technological advances and bigger budgets have changed filmmaking all together. However, one issue that bothers me is piracy, which is a huge crime – they simply steal our work,” she laments.

However, she is clear that she will focus on acting as that is what she knows. “For me, my family is important and running a home, cooking and being able to enjoy my home is important. There is no point in making a home and a garden that you don’t use. Also, my daughter’s Board exams are around the corner, so I really have very less time for anything else. I love reading and today, thanks to the Internet, Google is my teacher and am glad I was not born earlier, as I would have missed all this. Also, for me, it is important to live and not simply exist, and I am happy doing that,” she signs off.

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