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An actor par excellence

MOHAN V RAMAN
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TRIBUTE The passing away of veteran artiste S. N. Lakshmi has left a void in the world of cinema and television

S. N. Lakshmi
S. N. Lakshmi

The news about the passing away of veteran actor S. N. Lakshmi on February 20 came as a shock. Lakshmi was remarkable both on and off screen. My first interaction with her was on the sets of the Kamal Haasan-starrer “Mahanadi.” Her ability to grasp the situation, the dialogues, adjust to the tone and manner of her co-actors and improvise to bring to the character she portrayed her unique flavour was at once striking. The image of a middle-aged lady, wearing a cotton sari and thick spectacles, her forehead smeared with sacred ash, and driving a Fiat down Arcot Road will forever be etched in the minds of her colleagues. From the early 1960s till 2000, she always drove herself to all her engagements. She was fond of saying “from my Morris to my Maruti, I never depended on anyone.”

Devotees of Sathya Sai Baba will remember a kind, old lady dressed in white, collecting footwear from fellow devotees or sweeping the premises at Sundaram in Chennai or Prashanthi Nilayam in Puttaparthi. She was an active member of the Seva Dal, a service brigade. She never let her celebrity status come in the way of her desire to serve humanity.

Film Director SP. Muthuraman recalls how she helped her colleagues, presenting them with clothes at the end of a film shoot, and how she helped fund the education of the children of members of the film fraternity. Sennalkudi Narayana Thevar Lakshmi was born some 84 years ago. Her mother, Palani Ammal, migrated from their village to Virudhunagar with her eight children to eke out a living. The six boys used to be engaged in breaking rocks at a quarry, while the women ground flour. It was a hard life and Lakshmi, the youngest of them all, decided to try her luck in Madras, the city of dreams.

After a lot of struggle, she got a break — she was part of a group dance in the film “Chandralekha.” From there, Seva Stage was a natural progression. Under the tutelage of S. V. Sahasranamam, she picked up the basics of acting which she hones when she joined Ragini Recreations, a theatre group run by K. Balachander.

Courageous

Extremely courageous, she fought a tiger without a dupe for the film “Baghdad Thirudan”, something that prompted MGR to jocularly remark, “Am I the hero of this film or this young lady?”

“She acted in many of our films and serials,” recalls A.V.M. Saravanan. In fact, she and Nagesh were the only major characters to reprise their roles from stage to film in “Server Sundaram.”

Lakshmi often told me, “I have stopped thinking about my age. I still feel fit.” She was acting and dubbing in her own voice for three serials at the time of her passing away, fulfilling the dream of every actor — to die with their make-up on.

An active member of the Committee for Exemption of Tax, she watched several films to determine their worth. She was also a member of the State Jury for Television Awards. She wanted her final resting place to be her native village and her grandson is all set to fulfil her wish.

Remembered for

her roles in...

Michael Madanakamarajan

Server Sundaram

Edhir Neechchal

Mahanadi

Kaadhala Kaadhala

MOHAN V RAMAN

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