What’s it like to juggle academics and acting? Ask Lakshmi Menon, who is making her Tamil debut with Kumki

She is in Class Ten. But unlike her classmates who are poring over their books driven by the fear of the approaching public exam, Lakshmi Menon divides her time between academics and acting. Now 16, Lakshmi, who’s making her Tamil debut with Kumki, says, “I have learnt the art of balancing the two. I can’t take time off from acting to study, as both are important to me.”

“Acting is a passion and I want to act in as many Tamil films as possible,” says the actor, who has another Tamil flick, Sundarapandian, lined up for release. “Had I not become an actor, I would have become a teacher. My friends are my biggest strength, and my teachers too have helped me a lot. I’m sure I will be able to fare well,” she adds.

Daughter of an artist and a dance teacher, it is not surprising that Lakshmi is passionate about acting. “My mom is a product of Kalakshetra and my grandmother is a music teacher. My whole family is into arts. I started learning dance at the age of 3 — I have learnt Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi and Kathakali,” says Lakshmi.

It was Malayalam director Vinayan who saw the spark in her. “I gave a Bharatanatyam recital, which was telecast. Vinayan who saw it cast me in his film Raghuvinte Swantham Raziya. Soon after, I played the lead in another Malayalam flick titled Ideal Couple, directed by Ali Akbar. After I began acting in Malayalam cinema, I was featured on the cover of a magazine and it caught the attention of director Prabhu Solomon, who has cast me in Kumki. Watching my performance in Kumki, director Prabhakaran offered me the lead role in Sundarapandian opposite Sasikumar,” she says.

In Kumki, Lakshmi plays a tribal girl called Alli, while in Sundarapandian, she plays Archana, a college student in love with the protagonist, who is a big Rajini fan.

“Both roles were challenging in their own way. I was a bit tense while playing Alli because Kumki marks my debut in Tamil and I’d seen Prabhu Solomon’s earlier film Mynaa and Amala Paul’s brilliant performance in it. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to deliver a performance as good as hers but then, Prabhu has ensured that I performed well. Though Kumki and Sundarapandian are love stories, there is a vast difference between the two roles I essay in them. I liked Alli’s character in Kumki so much that it took me some time to get into Archana’s character in Sundarapandian. Director Prabhakaran was very understanding and gave me the space and time to transform into Archana. However, I enjoyed working with both him and Sasikumar.”

Ask her what is the biggest challenge she has faced on the sets of the films, and she says, “Climbing an elephant all by myself was the most terrifying thing to do. However, I had no choice but to do it in Kumki. Except for Manickam (the elephant in Kumki), I am scared of elephants.”

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