‘A good role is worth the wait,’ says Malayalam actor Surabhi Lakshmi

The National Award-winning actor is looking forward to projects such as ‘Padma’ and ‘Jwalamukhi’, along with a few other meaty roles

When she won the National Award for the Best Actor (Female) for Minnaminungu (2016) Surabhi Lakshmi was poised to begin a new phase in her career. But that did not quite happen. Four years down the line, things are finally looking up for the versatile actor.

Up for release is Padma in which she plays the titular role. The film is about Padma and her husband, played by Anoop Menon, also the writer, director and producer of the film. “Padma, who hails from a rural background, has to adapt to a high-profile social life after marriage. There are some light moments when she goes through that lifestyle change. But there is more to the movie as it also deals with a sensitive issue in a relationship,” says Surabhi, without giving away much about the storyline.

Surabhi Lakshmi in ‘Padma’
| Photo Credit: Amaljith

She adds that Padma came as a surprise. “I have never been considered a bankable star. I have worked with Anoopettan in many movies, starting with his first movie, Thirakkatha (2008). He called me for Padma after seeing my photoshoot stills on my Instagram page. He took the risk probably because he is the writer, producer and director of the movie,” she says.

Reel vs real

Recently, she won the Kerala Film Critics’ Award for her role in yet-to-be released Jwalamukhi, directed by Harikumar. “The film is a take on the life of Seleena Michael, a caretaker at a crematorium in Kochi. It is not her biopic per se, but my character, Angel, is based on Seleena. The shoot was completed just before the first lockdown was announced and I had spent a few days with her to understand and see what she does. She is one of the strongest women I have met. As an actor, it was one of my toughest roles. I had to put on weight and some scenes were strenuous. By the time I finished the shoot, I felt as if I had lived her life,” says Surabhi over the phone from Kochi.

Surabhi Lakshmi in a scene from ‘Jwalamukhi’

A proficient theatre artiste, Surabhi’s first shot to fame was the reality show for actors, Best Actor. Later, she endeared herself to the television audience with the affable character, Pathu, in the sitcom, M80 Moosa, especially with her Kozhikode dialect. A recipient of the State Amateur Theatre award of Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi for the best actress, Surabhi played a widow in Minnaminungu, which won her special jury mention at the Kerala State Film Awards before the National Award. “I wasn’t expecting a miracle after the recognition. My close friend, actor-director Musthafa [director of Kappela], a National award winner himself, had told me: ‘You shouldn’t expect anything big out of this. The award will make only you happy and in a few months’ time, you will realise that it means nothing’. Since I paid heed to his words, I wasn’t hugely disappointed when I didn’t get solid roles,” she adds.

Star value

Surabhi is matter of fact about the lack of huge banners in her filmography “It is a fact that I don’t have the star value to market a film. After all, cinema is business. But I could work towards being considered for good roles. Even after winning the award, I did all movies that came my way, irrespective of the length of my role. So, Padma is a lottery for me and I am grateful that Anoop ettan found his Padma in me,” she adds.

Among her upcoming releases are Khais Millen’s Thala, set in Chengalchoola colony in Thiruvananthapuram, Farook Abdul Rahiman’s Poriveyil with Indrans, and Anuradha Crime No. 59/2019, also starring Indrajith and Anu Sithara. She will also be seen with Soubin Shahir, Dileesh Pothan and Hareesh Kanaran in Kallan D’souza directed by Jithu K Jayan.

“A challenging role was playing a speech- and hearing-challenged character in Jayaraj sir’s Aval. I had to undergo intense training for the movie,” she adds. She will also be seen in the director’s segment for the 10-film anthology based on MT Vasudevan Nair’s stories for Netflix. The film, Swargam Thurakkunna Samayam, stars Indrans, Nedumudi Venu and Ranji Panicker.

Surabhi Lakshmi with Seleena Michael, who works as a caretaker of a crematorium in Kochi. Surabhi plays the character in her new film, ‘Jwalamukhi’

Surabhi Lakshmi with Seleena Michael, who works as a caretaker of a crematorium in Kochi. Surabhi plays the character in her new film, ‘Jwalamukhi’
| Photo Credit: Special arrangement

“A good role is worth the wait. Suraj ettan (Suraj Venjaramoodu) once told me that it takes just one role to change destiny. Even though he had a National Award in his kitty, life changed for him three years after he had won the award, with that one scene in Action Hero Biju (2016). Another example we have is Indrans chettan who has reinvented himself as an actor. So, I am always hopeful,” she adds.

She has learnt to say no to films where she does not have much to do. “I tell them that I am alright with playing a house maid or prostitute, provided the film is about these characters,” she stresses.

Meanwhile, she went for “a makeover” during the lockdown. She hit the gym and became active on social media, posting several photos and videos. “I needed a change and lockdown was the phase when I found time for myself,” she laughs.

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