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

Khaleej Times - - FRONT PAGE - Suresh Pat­tali [email protected]­j­times.com Suresh is Se­nior Ed­i­tor. His phi­los­o­phy is heav­ily in­flu­enced by Ulysses: ‘I can­not rest from travel: I will drink. Life to the lees’

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.

PAGE 18

FACE OF A STAR: Surabhi Lak­shmi’s ver­satil­ity as an ac­tor has won her ac­co­lades

POW­ER­HOUSE PER­FORMER: Surabhi Lak­shmi, who por­trayed Pathu, has as­sayed smaller roles in over 40 films

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