Lakshmi Gopalaswamy, a big name in the world of classical dance and cinema, says she owes much to her parents who have always encouraged her artistic endeavours.
Born to M K Gopalaswamy and Dr Uma Gopalaswamy, Lakshmi grew up in Vishweshpura and Banashankari in Bengaluru. She has performed extensively as a dancer, worked as a model, and starred in big hits in Kannada and Malayalam.
Dance and childhood
Lakshmi’s mother Uma is a classical musician and musicologist. “Even as a child, she would teach me Kannada folk songs and I would sing and dance to them at social functions. My father encouraged my mother and always understood the dancer in me,” she says.
Lakshmi was under no pressure to make dance her bread and butter or even to earn fame from it. “I would hear music and create my own ‘mudras’ and my own dances as a child. I asked my parents to get me into a dance class. They must have thought it was a passing fancy,” she says.
‘Taught me to question’
Lakshmi studied at The Valley School. “My school is on a 100-acre campus, a true reflection of nature, with trees and streams. We were very few students and the school taught us to question things,” she says.
Childhood was not burdened with homework or the fear of examinations. “I recollect lots of giggling, singing, pottery sessions and drama. Every day was an event at school,” she says. The school assembly was never rigid and would include singing in different languages like Bengali and Marathi, besides Kannada songs.
Lakshmi went on to do her BA (English Literature, Economics and Psychology), and MA (in women’s studies) from NMKRV College in Jayanagar. “I felt nurtured there. I took part in a play for which I was lauded as the best actor and we got to perform at the National School of Drama,” she recalls.
Moment of revelation
When Lakshmi was in her seventh standard, she was taken to Rishi Valley School, Madanapalle, on an exchange programme. “I saw this stunning dance, ‘Odissi by Malavika’ (Malavika Sarukkai), and I was smitten. The next day, I missed breakfast and was waiting to see her come out of her cottage. We had an interaction with her later in the day and she asked the group who wanted to take up dance. I was too shy to raise my hand, but I knew instantly that dance was what I wanted to do,” she says.
Lakshmi’s first solo stage performance was at Alliance Francaise de Bangalore. “I was 12, this was before my ‘arangetram’. I remember there was a handwritten poster saying ‘Bharatanatyam by Lakshmi Gopalaswamy’ and I was so excited! I never had stage fright,” she says.
Gurus and training
Lakshmi trained under several dance gurus. “I started off with the late Padmini Rao who initiated me into dance. I did my ‘arangetram’ under the late Padmini Ramchandran and had a long stint with the late guru Narmada. I have learnt a fair bit from Prof M R Krishnamurthy,” she says. Padmini Ramachandran, she says, taught her students to be bright on the stage.
“Narmada aunty was a giving person and like a mother to me. I learnt about aesthetics and my foundation in dance was strengthened under Prof M R Krishnamurthy who is a disciplined, simple-living and high-thinking person,” she says.She says gurus teach more than just dance. “They show you a way of life,” she says. Lakshmi says she has learnt a lot from watching Chitra Visweswaran, Padma Subrahmanyam and Leela Samson. “I love Vyjayanthimala for her grace, dignity and solidity. I find Sujata Mohapatra a complete dancer in Odissi,” she says.
Big screen experience
Lakshmi debuted in films in 2000, and soon started enjoying the shooting. By then, she was also endorsing several products.
“My first shot for the Malayalam film ‘Arayannangalude Veedu’ with Mammotty is memorable. The scene had a simple line but the moment he looked at me, I would feel flustered. In dance, playing the love interest would be with a fictitious person and one had the liberty to express things any way. But having an actual person in front of you and emoting was different. Later on, I got used to it,” she says. Though dancing and acting stem from ‘abhinaya’, the genres are different: “To be a good dancer one needn’t be a great actor, and a great actor doesn’t always have to have dancing skills.”
Lakshmi was initially apprehensive about acting. “I love the glamour and dressing up in costumes, but I was scared. Director Blessy spotted an ad I was in and that’s how the whole process started. I’ve always taken one film at a time,” she says.
Her first two films ‘Arayannangalude Veedu’ and ‘Kochu Kochu Santhoshangal’ were instant audience favourites, but her personal favourite is ‘Thaniye’.
“’Some other films special to me are ‘Aruvi’, and films with Vishnuvardhan like ‘Aptharakshaka’. ‘Poorvapara’ was a beautiful attempt. ‘Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy’ was my first big budget film,” she says. ‘Vidaaya,’ directed by P Sheshadri was special for her as the subject was intense. “It rested on my shoulders and that was a great experience,” she says.
Lakshmi has acted with big stars like Mammootty, Jayaram, Suresh Gopi and Mohanlal in Malayalam, and Vishnuvardhan in Kannada.
“Vishnuji found my frankness endearing and entertaining. He would prod me to answer questions. He was a very spiritual person, I’m yet to meet someone that cultured. He had great affection for humanity,” she says.
She adds that the actor truly respected women. “Even in his film dialogues, he would never say ‘neenu’ to his wife’s character and would always say ‘neevu’,” she says. Lakshmi enjoyed working with Jayaram and remembers how he would imitate her reactions for different situations. “Working with Nedumudi Venu sir in ‘Thaniye’ was like being in a acting workshop, absolutely beautiful!” she says.
Dance and films
Lakshmi played a classical dancer in her second film ‘Kochu Kochu Santhoshangal’. “The film still plays regularly on some channels. I didn’t know there was something special to my dance or that I would get this kind of fame,” she says. A dancing role is always special. And that is why another favourite film is ‘Kambhoji’ with dancer-actor Vineeth.
The first time she walked into the sets, everything felt like a picnic and Lakshmi remembers she had a childlike curiosity.
Seeing the success of people from diverse backgrounds was life changing. “The film industry made me broad-minded,” she says. Travelling has also influenced Lakshmi in a big way. “Going to the Himalayas and Japan, which is a zen-like country, has changed many things,” she says.
She says she is always in search of ‘aha’ moments. “I am so at home with people, and have had so many enlightening conversations with people on a flight about things that would not be on my radar otherwise,” she says.
The actor loves organising things and cleaning, and believes she could have been a great house manager. She says, “The lockdown is a much-needed pause in my life."