‘Minnaminugu’ is the first screenplay I had ever read — Surabhi Lakshmi

By Riyas Shamshudeen

Surabhi Lakshmi has been the centre of attention since the announcement of 64th national film awards by winning Rajat Kamal for the first lead role played. Brilliant performance of a non-glamorous Indian woman in the film ‘Minnaminungu’ earned her the premier recognition. The film portrays a widow who is struggling to make ends meet. Working as a domestic help who is trying to raise funds to send her daughter abroad for higher studies, she also has to nurse her ailing father. Surabhi skilfully plays this role and received rave reviews for her performance.

“Minnaminungu is the first complete screenplay I had ever read. It was a distinctive character that demanded superlative performance and that is what attracted me to the project. I read Minnaminugu often to conceive the weighty subject and perceive my character. I considered each character with equal importance and prepared accordingly, despite its duration and appearance”, explained Surabhi during a telephonic interview.

Depicting a 45-year-old widow elated Surabhi since before this she had only been offered minor parts who spoke north Kerala dialect which resembled Surabhi’s acclaimed character ‘Pathu’ from a television series.

A still from ‘Minnaminugu’

“Portraying a widow who is 15 years older to me was extremely challenging and simultaneously exciting. To understand the character better I would observe women who had to work long hours and look after their home. Playing a character whose age I hadn’t reached was experimental for me. I am not bothered about the age or commercial value while choosing a character though I had less choice. My only consideration is the importance of character to the film despite glamour and duration. I have always explored every opportunity that has been offered to me”, stated Surabhi who claims to be realistic where her career is concerned.

She graduated in Bharathanatyam and has done her Masters in Theatre Arts. Completing MA in Philosophy and Performing Arts, she is now undertaking research on theatre. She has gained appreciation and recognition for her various performance in theatre with the most recent one being Kerala Sahitya Nataka Academy Award for best actress.

“Pursuing a career in arts was a decisive moment of my life and theatre has been an influential factor. Theatre flourishes one’s creativity through which means of self-expression can be developed. I have significantly benefited by being part of theatre activities. Theatre has influenced all aspects of my life. It has stimulated my creativity and thought process to a great extent. Public support played a vital role because as an ordinary village girl I have achieved this honour.”

Surabhi made her big screen debut with Jayaraj’s ‘By the People’. It was a newspaper article on a triumphed dancer who couldn’t afford musicians in youth festival that induced him to witness her other events which resulted in casting her for his film. Since then she has appeared in many films, television series and plays. It may have been a slow progression for Surabhi, but she’s glad that it has been a steady one. Her late bloom costing a decade and a Rajat Kamal had triggered a topic of debate among filmmakers.

“I am in no position to blame film industry for receiving few opportunities. Maybe I don’t have an appearance that satisfies industry’s notion of an actress. My established television character would’ve backfired on me. It is very difficult to grow up once you’re categorised with certain roles. Therefore, I would put up best output to every character I was offered. I assume that appearance was preferred over talent in casting. Nobody believed in offering me lead roles”, she justifies her delay.

As a National Award winning actress, she awaits better opportunities with this achievement. Films made in regional language attract her the most. She also believes that gaining success would never stop her from doing usual roles. Ideal values and frame of mind has assisted her to the nation’s best achievement for film.

“I want to maintain a remarkable presence in film, theatre and television which requires acting of different intensity. I will have to sit at home, if I insist only doing serious roles. I am worried of the situation that filmmakers may not cast me in usual minor parts because I won the National Award. I wish to develop my talent that is rooted deep and which would enable me to become a flexible actress that any director can mould into any character,”confessed the Film Jury Appreciation winner.

“Live simple and genuine in a framework of life that you have crafted. Doors will open one day due to our hardwork”, she concluded.

Riyas is a film enthusiast, critic, and a journalist with a Diploma in Photography from National Institute of Photography, Mumbai. He is currently writing a screenplay for his debut feature. 

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