Surabhi Lakshmi: An Indian movie star is born
She’s a household name for millions of Malayalis. Recently, Surabhi Lakshmi won the 64th National Film Award for the film Minnaminungu. We pinned her down for a little chat
Moosa’s Pathu has finally come of age. The witty housewife in the M80 Moosa television family, who entertained 35 million Malayalis with her quintessential Malabar lingo, is no more just a serial actor. She has been crowned queen of acting at the 64th National Film Awards for her role in the low-budget film Minnaminungu (The Firefly). M80 Moosa and Pathu have been a household name for the last three years. Sugar-coated with satire, the comedy series dealt with the dilemmas of a lower middle class family standing at the gateway to modernity. On the sidelines, Surabhi Lakshmi, who portrayed Pathu, did smaller roles in over 40 films. And one day a little firefly came and lit up her path to fame and glory.
A recipient of the Jawaharlal Nehru Scholarship for Best Student, Surabhi’s is a story of hard work and commitment. Hailing from Narikkuni in Kozhikode, Surabhi came on stage after a dazzling academic performance: She passed her BA in Bharathanatyam with a first rank and did her MA in Theatre Arts with a merit scholarship. She gained her Master of Philosophy (MPhil) in Performing Arts before pursuing research at the Kaladi Sree Sankaracharya University.
Khaleej Times catches up with the actress for a chat:
Congratulations on your stunning performance and win. How do you feel?
It’s jubilation all the way! It’s the celebration of my village folks, rather than mine. In this extreme summer heat, they carried me all around, miles and miles. There were men and women; young and old; rich and poor. I am really touched by the overwhelming display of happiness on everyone’s face. More than my winning, this is the celebration of the love and innocence of an entire village.
How do you feel about your life’s journey, from little girl in Narikkuni to actress — and now national award winning one...
It’s my village people who discovered my talent as a dancer. They tipped off my family who said, “Really?” And the rest is history. My family wholeheartedly supported my journey as an artiste. So I had been studying dance from a very young age. After vocational higher secondary education, I found out that the Kaladi Sree Sankaracharya University offers both BA and MA courses in Bharathanatyam. There has been no looking back since.
How did you go from dancer to theatre artiste?
Even in dance, I took keen interest in acting-oriented forms. I loved acting and, fortunately, the theatre department was right next to our dance class in the university... When I got to know theatre, I loved it and enrolled for an MA in Theatre Arts. To keep the sense of rhythm in acting, I still hold dance close to my heart.
How did you end up in television from theatre?
I did films parallel to my theatre classes. When I joined MPhil, I got the opportunity to act in KK Rajeev’s serial Kathayile Rajakumari. It went on for three years and by the time I completed my course, the serial also wound up.
How do you balance work and study?
The shoots for M80 Moosa last six days a week and four days are for dubbing. But I am finding it difficult to complete my PhD. I need to personally go to collect data. People who do so regularly, can submit their thesis in three years. I might take a bit longer, maybe 4-5 years.
Do you enjoy theatre more or films?
I enjoy both. Theatre is like the making of a sand castle. Your involvement begins from the ground level. An actor gets to lay his or her hands on the work at every stage of the production. Being a comparatively smaller space, theatre offers a wholesome involvement. In contrast, a film is made in bits and pieces. You have no role beyond what you are hired to do. You only reach the set on the days you have a scene. Both theatre and film have their own tricks of the trade. But the basic purpose of both is storytelling, and their underlying force is acting. It’s like pouring the same liquid into two bottles of different shapes and sizes. The content is the same.
How do you think the award changed your life?
National awards typically went to experienced artistes, which I am not. I guess this award would make me more responsible. I am a toddler in the industry and I need to shoulder the responsibilities that come with a National award. I need the blessings, guidance and motivation of the industry’s stalwarts. Only then can I survive and dedicate myself. I want to be a flexible artiste who could mould herself to match the director’s requirements, be it tragedy or comedy, or be it cinema, theatre or TV shows. I want to be a flexible and versatile actor — not a star, and not a heroine. That’s my dream.
What about Minnaminungu (the film)?
I am assaying the role of a widow who portrays family-oriented women in India. A proud and intelligent housewife who is determined to feed her family by doing any number of decent jobs. During the making of the film, I never thought the firefly would light up my path to fame and glory. I am heavily indebted to writer Manoj Ramsingh and director Anil Thomas.
Where is Malayalam cinema headed?
My job is to act. As an actor, I am just a tool in the hands of my directors. I am not here to revolutionse the industry. I feel change is inevitable over time... but I hope Malayalam cinema will keep its soul.
Is Malayalam cinema male-oriented, unlike Bollywood and Tollywood which also have strong roles for women?
Male domination is not confined to a particular industry. It’s omnipresent. It’s an extension of our patriarchal past. But changes are taking place. In Hindi and Tamil, changes don’t happen overnight. We too have super heroines like Manju Warrier and Parvathy. Don’t forget Shobana, too. It’s just that we don’t call them by that honorific.
What do you feel about the casting couch allegations (actor) Parvathy made recently?
She is a leading artiste. You need to be a heroine to understand the difficulties they go through. Since I am not one, I am not in a position to answer this. Fortunately, I haven’t experienced such things.
What’s your philosophy for life?
There is no shortcut to success. And there is no alternative to hard work. Your deeds are your thoughts. Your actions personify who you are. So whatever you do, do it with utmost devotion.
In theatre, your involvement begins from the ground level. An actor gets to lay his or her hands on the work at every stage of the production. Theatre offers a wholesome involvement. In film, you have no role beyond what you are hired to do. You only reach the set on the days you have a scene. But the basic purpose of both is storytelling, and their underlying force is acting.