Veteran actor S.N. Lakshmi, whose performance was marked by refreshing restraint, passed away here on Sunday. She was 85.
Fans of Tamil cinema cannot forget the kleptomaniac paatti in ‘Michael Madana Kama Rajan' (MMKR), or the concerned mother-in-law in ‘Mahaanadi' very easily. Her portrayal of the characters was not just highly entertaining, but also very convincing.
Beginning her journey in Tamil theatre and then moving on to films, Lakshmi worked on a style that showed moderation rather than melodrama, something that was not very common among artistes of her generation.
In her career spanning over seven decades, she performed with stars such as M.G.Ramachandran, Sivaji Ganesan, Gemini Ganesan and Nagesh in some of their best films, and later with top actors of the next generation, particularly Kamal Haasan. He is said to have had great confidence in her, periodically giving her fascinating roles.
Speaking to The Hindu over telephone from the sets of ‘Viswaroopam' in Mumbai, Kamal said: “I was very close to her and have admired her. To be honest, I feel she is like a family treasure that I inherited from the KB school. She was a colossal talent!”
Recalling her performances in some of his films, he said it was hard to believe that the lady who played the kleptomaniac in MMKR was the one who played ‘Periyaatha' in ‘Thevar Magan, or the old woman in ‘Virumaandi'.
“I would joke with her that she was made to play mother even as a little girl. ‘ Amaam thambi, appadithaan ayiduchu ' (yes, that's how it was), she would laugh. She has acted as mother of R.S.Manohar, Sivaji, M.G.R.…several heroes across generations.”
At a time when many are racing towards mediocrity, actors of a higher order such as S.N.Lakshmi, Nagesh and Kaka Radhakrishnan may have gone unnoticed after the 1960s. “I did not want that to happen, as such talent should be celebrated. I celebrated her when she was alive, and will continue to do so henceforth too.” Observing that she would instantly understand what was required of her, Kamal said: “You just had to tell her what the character was, she would take care of everything and do a brilliant job.”
Lakshmi had rich experience in theatre as well. Having performed in over 2,000 plays in various troupes, including those of Gnanadesikar, N.S. Krishnan, S.V. Sahasranamam's Seva Stage and K. Balachander's Ragini Recreations, she could draw upon different schools. According to chronicler ‘Film News' Anandan many of the plays produced by Sahasranamam were later made into films later and Lakshmi got to act in them.
Her initial years in the field present a rather colourful picture. She performed fascinating stunt sequences, including a fight with a leopard for the MGR film ‘Baghdad Thirudan'. Such courage was not something she acquired for the profession, but something she had even as a child.
Unhappy with the way her brothers treated her after her father's passing away, she decided to leave home when she was barely 11 years old to find her true calling. Though she later reunited with her family, Lakshmi preferred leading an independent life, acting in television serials, driving around.
She would take her car and go on long drives when time permitted. She loved being on her own.