You can never be too old to chase your dreams.
For 30 years now, Lakshmy has been nursing a dream. To share stories and take people into a world of fantasy.
When her debut feature film ‘Aarohanam’ hits the screens on July 27, Lakshmy Ramakrishnan’s dream would turn into a fairytale!
Aarohanam, that features strong, spirited women and tackles domestic issues with unprecedented sensitivity, is easily one of the finest Tamil films in years and probably the best you will see this year. We caught it at a private screening and the early buzz includes director K.Balachander himself showering the film with praise for her conviction and experiments with linearity.
Lakshmy has subverted every cliche Tamil cinema has been infested with over the last two decades and turns it into a celebration. Mothers will weep and the film is sure to sweep you off your feet with its brand of feel good entertainment. This is a film made with so much heart.
One that Bala, Vasanta Balan, Sashikumar, Balaji and every other filmmaker branching out from that school of cinema must watch. To learn that you don’t need to show poverty and misery to make people cry under the pretext of realism. You don’t need to paint the rich as evil and poor as good in every film saying that the story demanded the stereotypes. You don’t need to blatantly manipulate or exaggerate any condition – physical or mental – to tell stories of suffering. It’s a trend that has continued all the way till Vazhukku Enn 18/9. It’s high time someone stopped the pity-party. It’s something I have been praying for, for years: READ THIS. Lakshmy does exactly that. (Interview after the trailer below)
As we dig deeper into her story, we realise only a mother could have made this film.
You must have been familiar with Lakshmy as an actress over the past few years, having played strong supporting roles in over 30 Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu and Hindi films including Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya, Yuddham Sei, Poi Solla Porum, Eeram, Naan Mahaan Alla, Vettaikaaran. Today, she’s a household name having done over 175 episodes with ‘Aval’ (on Vijay TV).
But it was in 1984 when TV serials were just coming in that actress-turned-filmmaker Lakshmy took her first step towards chasing her goal of bringing stories to life.
“I got introduced to someone working in Doordarshan and started working on 13 episodes based on short stories that used to appear in Women’s Era. I wanted to picturise these. It was an innocent, ignorant sort of enthusiasm but I wanted to do it.”
But by the time things materialised, she had to move to the United States. “My husband got a posting with IBM and I decided to move because I was carrying my first baby.”
In the next 20 years, she straddled many worlds – from US to Singapore to Muscat to Coimbatore – taking care of her family and managing careers in business, fashion designing and event management when a chance encounter with Malayalam filmmaker Lohithadas brought her back to the camera.
“We had a farmhouse and he wanted to shoot there. We didn’t give the place but he approached me for the next film and that’s how I came back to cinema – with Chakaramuthu, the remake of Kasturimaan. I played Kavya’s single mom and I got a meaty 32 scene role and a well-etched out mother-daughter arc to prove myself as an actress,” she says.
She continued her experiments with short films and thanks to her marketing acumen, was successful in shooting them in Tamil and Malayalam. “I just walked in to Jaya TV and asked them for a slot. They gave me a slot and I even ended up making a profit.”
Lakshmy shot six such films for TV while she continued acting. She also made shot short films and one of her shorts ‘Radio’ which she made for SCARF on positive mental health won awards all around the world.
After doing four Malayalam films, she shifted to Chennai in 2006. “‘Pirivom Santhipom’ was my first Tamil film. I was offered Azhagiya Tamizh Magan but since I was shooting for a Malayalam film then, I couldn’t do it. And then Poi Solla Porum happened.”
And before she knew it, she had 15 offers. She picked 10 and spent the next two years shooting as she realised she was getting tired of playing the similar roles. There wasn’t much scope for women on screen.
It was in 2009 that she attended the screenwriting workshop organised by Kamal Haasan at IIT, Madras. “I got an insight into the process of scriptwriting. I had a thirst for knowledge and I was so excited and it opened up many doors for me. It was like someone taking me to the sea and telling me that I could either just jump in and help myself to how much ever I could absorb or take back a little in a tumbler. That exposure really affected me.”
She had just written a story in 2008 about a woman who affected her a lot but she moved on to writing another film called ‘Kural 786’ after the workshop. “I had a producer, we almost announced the film when the German Bakery blast happened and my daughter’s close friend and brother passed away. I was affected so much that I didn’t have the confidence to handle the subject. As I sat down to do the shot division, I realised I wasn’t ready. I couldn’t handle it. I bought more time but admitted to the producer that I wasn’t ready and returned the advance. I was full of self-doubt and scared.”
“Whenever I met Raji and Uma Padmanabhan at shows we attended together, we would wonder: We see so many spirited women around but we don’t see them on screen. We wanted to make a desi Hangover kind of a film and have a blast. We started working on that and as we got deeper into the third character into the film, I realised that I had already written about this person in 2008, the story I had shelved. And soon her character dominated and took over the film. I produced it myself because it was an experiment. I did not know if it was possible for me to translate what I had in my head on to the screen.”
Last August, she decided to stop taking on new films just to focus on her film. She signed up for ‘Aval’ so that it would give her “the pocket money” she needed to produce the film herself though producer A V Anoop volunteered to put in the full amount. “With TV, you know you have to devote half a month and are able to plan better. With films, the dates keep changing all the time.”
Lakshmy shot her 90 minute ‘Aarohanam’ in just 20 days with a Canon 5D digital camera, working with its limitation. “Aarohanam is upswing, a crescendo… And our film is about that Arohanam in the central character’s life.”
Her three daughters – Sharadha, Sruthi and Shreeya – pitched in and her husband Ram managed the household for the last six months. “Sruthi was my assistant director and the eldest one , Sharadha was one of the co-producers, she sang the party song. My little one is my right hand.”
The industry is so impressed with her film that she already has two producers for her next two projects. “I next want to do an entertainer. I will probably do Kural as my third film. I will continue doing Aval and not take up anything else after that but I just ended signing up for two cute roles in films again.”
The moment of truth
“Watching films was considered a sin where I come from. Only widows used to shave their heads.
Mysskin had only one condition for Yuddham Sei: If you are ready to shave your head, you can do this role.
It turned out to be a revelation for me.
I had never removed my ‘Metti’ for the past 27 years and even if the ‘pottu’ moved from its place, I would feel insecure. And going ‘mottai’ was something unimaginable in Brahmin families. I was complaining there are no meaty roles and when there was one, why should I not do it?
It was not like cutting off my hand or leg… it was hair. The moment I did, I shed all my superstition. As a person, I felt so light, I was rid of all that baggage of superstition.
My father was 18 when his mom had to tonsure her head. He was shocked and couldn’t deal with it. My Dad is 90 years old now. I didn’t want to hide it from him. So I called him and told him I cut my hair. How short, he asked. Very short, I said.
As luck would have it, one of the local newspapers carried a story that I tonsured my head and I felt relieved that I didn’t have to break it to him.
So I went home bald and he didn’t say a word. So finally, I asked Appa: Why didn’t you say anything?
He just smiled and said: It looks good on you.”
(An edited version of this story appeared here.)