After playing strong supporting roles Lakshmy Ramakrishnan has turned director with Aarohanam. She speaks to Sudhish Kamath about her celluloid journey

For 30 years now, Lakshmy has been nursing a dream. When her debut feature film Aarohanam hits the screens on July 27, Lakshmy Ramakrishnan’s dream will turn into a fairytale!

Aarohanam features strong, spirited women and tackles domestic issues with sensitivity. We caught it at a private screening and the early buzz includes director K. Balachander himself showering the film with praise for Lakshmy’s conviction and experiments with linearity.

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 was introduced to someone working in Doordarshan and started working on 13 episodes based on short stories that used to appear in a women’s magazine.

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 we were expecting our first child.”

In the next 20 years, she straddled many worlds — from the U.S. 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 actor,” 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 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.” And before she knew it, she had 15 offers.

It was in 2009 that she attended the screenwriting workshop organised by Kamal Haasan at IIT, Madras. “I thirst for knowledge and was so excited. The workshop opened 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 glass. That exposure really affected me.” She had just written a story in 2008 about a woman who inspired her a lot but moved on to writing another film called Kural 786 after the workshop.

“Whenever I met actors Raji Vijayasarathy and Uma Padmanabhan at shows 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. As we got deeper into the third character in 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. “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 limitations. “Aarohanam is upswing, a crescendo... And our film is about that ‘aarohanam’ in the central character’s life.”

Her three daughters — Sharadha, Sruthi and Shreeya — pitched in and her husband has been managing the household for the last six months. “Sruthi was my assistant director and Sharadha was one of the co-producers. My little one is my right hand. It’s a family affair,” she smiles.

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The moment of truth

“Mysskin had only one condition for Yuddham Sei: ‘If you are ready to shave your head, you can do this role.’ I had never removed my metti in the past 27 years and even if the pottu moved from its place, I would feel insecure. And going mottai was something unimaginable. 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 it, I felt so light, I was rid of all that baggage of superstition. I didn’t want to hide it from my 90-year-old father. 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 had tonsured and I felt relieved that I didn’t have to break it to him. So I went home and he didn’t say a word. Finally, I asked him why he didn’t say anything. He just smiled and said: ‘It looks good on you’.”

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