Lakshmi Menon talks to Malathi Rangarajan about the pluses of her first festival release Pandiya Naadu, her co-star Vishal and juggling the pressures of school and cinema

A noteworthy debut, a remarkable second film and a third that garnered ample notice particularly in smaller cities and towns! Lakshmi Menon, the young heroine from Kochi is on the road to a solid innings in Tamil cinema. Her fourth film, Pandiya Naadu opposite Vishal, could add to the glitter this Deepavali. “I’m excited too. PN will be my first festival release,” she chuckles.

Frankly, I wasn’t expecting a mature conversation with Lakshmi Menon. A girl who had tasted success when she was probably in Class IX (she’s a Plus One student now) is still far too young to have concrete ideas on matters such as career choices and selection of characters, I thought. But the opinion vanishes the moment Lakshmi begins to field questions with impressive spontaneity.

Vishal, the hero and producer

“As a co-star, he’s wonderful and fun to work with. But when it comes to performance, he gets really serious. As a producer, he’s very understanding. Even without the actors voicing their problems he would sense their irksomeness in certain situations and intervene to make things comfortable for them.” Could it be because being an actor he’s more sensitive to their needs? “Yeah, I think so too,” agrees Lakshmi. “The best part is it wasn’t just me, the technicians who were with the unit throughout told me that Vishal took very good care of them. The entire film was shot in 93 days, out of which my schedule was for 25.”

Straddling studies and cinema

It can be strenuous. But Lakshmi enjoys the challenge. “A major problem is attendance. I just about manage to be present in school for the minimum number of days required.” Then what about the lessons she misses out on? “My mom is a dance teacher in the same school and my friends help me with the reference material and notes. But however difficult it gets, I’ll never give up studies. Cinema is unpredictable. I need to qualify myself well so that I can move on to another career if the need arises.”

Roles on a platter

“I got into cinema without much expectation. In fact, initially I was hesitant. When my mother felt that I should utilise the opportunity that knocked at my door, I went ahead. Today I’m thrilled to be here. I love being in the industry.” Did she know about the magnitude of the debut project (Kumki) when she was first signed for it? “No, I watched Mynaa only after I knew I was going to work in director Prabhu Solomon’s film. It was my grandma who was extremely thrilled that I was going to act opposite the grandson of the great Sivaji Ganesan,” Lakshmi says. “But having been a protected kid all along, shooting for Kumki was like a picnic for me.”

Conscious decision

Costume wise Lakshmi seems to toe the traditional line. Is it going to be so in Pandiya Naadu also? “It’s a conscious decision. Though in real life I’m used to casual trousers and tops, in films invariably I play characters of homely, small-town girls. Hence even if there’s a picture of me in a pair of jeans on FB, the immediate response is, ‘We want you to look traditional.’ I’m fine with it. I don’t think I should go in for glamour. So it will be the same in PN also.”

Pluses of Pandiya Naadu

“Plenty! This is the first film being produced by Vishal Film Factory. Bharatiraaja is playing a very significant role. The subject is very engaging. That director Suseenthiran is helming it says a lot about the potential of PN. Imman’s music is already working wonders and Mathi’s cinematography will be an aesthetic trip for viewers. What more can I ask for? Of course, the rest is in the hands of the Almighty.”

Dubbing blues

“Not at all,” she says. Understandable because, Lakshmi is fluent in English and her Tamil is flawless. “Come to think of it, I’ve not made any particular effort to learn the language. I feel it’s because I’ve been watching a lot of Tamil films from childhood.” Then why isn’t she dubbing for her films? She could have tried it out in PN? “I don’t know. Meena has been dubbing for me from Sundarapandian and it’s working out well. Could it be that my voice is slightly bass?” But isn’t she a trained dancer and singer? “Yes,” she pauses and adds, “I may dub for one of my future films.” So you’ll have to wait for Manja Pai, Jigarthanda or Sippai with Gautam Karthik, to actually hear Lakshmi speak her lines. But all that can wait, as the priority now is Pandiya Naadu.

“I sincerely pray that PN is a success. We have all worked hard and it should pay off. But I’m also realistic enough to understand that we are competing with two other big releases. Yet Vishal’s screen presence should be a major draw. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.”

As I mentioned, the thought process seems quite mature for a girl her age.