Nostalgia S.N. Lakshmi on working in theatre and films, travelling by trams and living alone in Madras

I was the last of 13 children in my family. When I was around 12, I decided to run away from home in Virudhunagar to find a job in Madras. A woman from a drama troupe took me with her and left me near Mount Road. I wanted to be an army nurse, since I heard that they were hiring those who had done some schooling. But when I went to the recruitment office, I didn't get the job and was really upset.

As I was walking down towards Gemini (the studio was the only landmark in that area then and was behind the present Parsn complex building), a good soul spotted me and took me under her care. I lived with her near the Thousand Lights area and asked me to get a job in Gemini Studios. I soon joined the studio staff at a salary of Rs.150.

The one thing I will cherish about Madras is that all the actors, directors and drama artists I worked with were affectionate to me. We were a group of girls who were very close. After work, sometimes, we would take a tram to Triplicane and then walk to the beach, which was clean and not crowded.

I moved out of Thousand Lights area and four of us rented a house and hired a cook. We would travel mainly by tram. You would see boys running behind it and then footboarding on it all the time. Buses weren't popular, but hand-rickshaws were common. You could even hire them on a monthly basis; at about Rs. 20 to Rs. 30.

Theatre flourished and there were many troupes that did well. Plays were major crowd pullers. For about two decades, I worked with N.S. Krishnan's troupe and then joined S.V. Sahasranamam's company. People recognised me as a good performer and offers for films came my way. In 1959, I bought my first home in Royapettah on Pachaiappan Nayakkan Road. Three years later, I bought my first car, a Morris Eight. I would drive to theatres and studios.

There were about 15 studios in Kodambakkam itself and most of my films were shot there. Chitra Talkies, Shanti and Gaiety theatres were those I frequented.

A few years later, I bought a house on Rangachari Street and shifted there. I always felt safe in Madras though I lived alone.

(As told to ANUSHA PARTHASARATHY)

I REMEMBER... When I started out, I had a hard life. I was young, had no support and was new in the city. There have been days when I went hungry and didn't have money even to buy some fruits for myself. When I entered cinema, I began to do daring roles. In ‘Baghdad Thirudan', I fought a leopard.

S. N. LAKSHMI Born in 1934 in Sennelkudi, she came to Madras in the 1940s. After working in theatre for two decades, her first major role in films was in “Thamarai Kulam”. Since then, she has acted in over 1,000 movies such as “Michael Madhana Kama Rajan”, “Mahanadhi”, “Rhythm”, “Padaiyappa” and “Kandukondein Kandukondein”. She is currently acting in serials such as ‘Mundhanai Mudichu' and ‘Thendral'.

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