At a time when the newest of actors lucidly self-analyse and try to explain the method behind their madness, veteran actor KPAC Lalitha (after having starred in over 550 films), in all her simplicity will probably come up with something as modest as— “I only know to act. I somehow do it.” It also explains her craft, honed over years from theatre—it’s natural, deeply inbuilt and yet looks deceptively simple. She is that kind of an actor who needn’t heavily rely on writers to bring magic to her characters—even the barest characters on paper get an entertaining transformation in her hands. On her 72nd birthday, we bring you a few of those refreshingly underrated gems, only a KPAC Lalitha can pull off.
Eliyamma (Kottayam Kunjachan): In the TS Suresh Babu directed Dennis Joseph scripted film, where Mammootty plays the titular role, Lalitha plays Eliyamma, the wife of a god-fearing Pala Achayan (Innocent) who can’t say boo to a goose. But Eliyamma more than makes up for it—she is feisty, has a ready tongue, guards her daughters like a lioness and for good effect, calls her sturdy brothers to fight it out when things go out of hand. There is a scene where she challenges Kanjirapally Pappan (antagonist played by Pratap Chandran) with words and it looks like she has imbibed all the nuances of a typical middle-class Catholic Christian woman, including the dialect.
Devaki (Sadayam): She plays an unapologetic sex worker, who flaunts her wares, takes pride in crudely coveting customers and seems not to have a single kind bone in her body. MT Vasudevan Nair scripts this Sibi Malayil film and Mohanlal plays the painter who takes a dislike to sex workers, because of an unsavoury past. The scenes between Lalitha and him are one of the highlights. She brings a persistent aggression through her body language, aided by loud makeup and gesticulations, validating Satyanathan’s (Mohanlal) derision for her.
Marykutty (Apoorvam Chilar): It’s a partnership made in comedy heaven—Lalitha and Innocent. Directed by Kala Adoor, Innocent plays a corrupt government contractor who is used to bending things his way to get things done. Lalitha plays his god-fearing, comically greedy wife who unsuccessfully tries to cover her classism. Most of the scenes around her are pure unadulterated fun, especially that one where she is on her own trip during a family prayer meet.
Kunju Maria (Manassinakkare): She has always been a mainstay in Sathyan Anthikad films, and in this one she forms a warm, poignant bond with the lead Kochu Thresia (Sheela’s comeback). The friendship between Kunju Maria and Thresia has aged like fine wine and it’s to Lalitha’s credit that she brings an effortless warmth to the scenes between them. She balances Sheela’s slightly theatrical expressions. That final parting scene where she forbids her friend from seeing her off when she leaves is vintage KPAC Lalitha.
Bhasura (Manichithrathazhu): In this classic, directed by Fazil, packed with superlative performances, Lalitha’s Bhasura stands tall for the sheer naturalness she brings on screen—be it the iconic scene where she struggles to tie the sacred thread around her husband’s (Innocent) waist or her hilarious bathroom exchange with Mohanlal. But my pick would be that instance with Ganga (Shobana) when she stifles a coy laugh trying to explain how Ramanathan is betrothed to Alli.
Punchiri (Pavithram): In this otherwise disturbingly poignant film about a brother (Mohanlal) and sister (Vinduja Menon), Punchiri brings some relief. And it’s a role tailor-made for the actor. The shy smile, placing her fingers over her cheeks work really well. Looks out for the scenes where she teases Srividya on discovering that she is pregnant in her 50s.
Bhagirathi (Ponmuttayidunna Tharavu): Raghunath Paleri scripts this Sathyan Anthikad classic with his usual talented suspects (Sreenivasan, Urvashi, Oduvil Unnikrishnan, Sankaradi, Innocent, Shari, Jagathy Sreekumar). She plays the devious local astrologer, PV Panikkar’s (Innocent) wife who doesn’t have a voice and agrees with all his unscrupulous plans. What again works has to be the crackling chemistry between Lalitha and Innocent and she brings her own little tricks, giving a hilarious spin to what looks like a plain character on paper.
Bharathi (Gandhinagar Second Street): In this Sathyan Anthikad film, scripted by Sreenivasan, with an ensemble line-up of actors she plays the wife of a pulp fiction writer (Sankaradi), gratingly orthodox apart from being jealous and greedy. It’s about the conviction with which she sells her character’s little traits that’s impressive. Look out for that scene with Seema, where she cannily brings up an alleged affair between her and Mohanlal. Subtle, but so effective.
Karthu (Thenmavin Kombathu): She is one of the few actors who make cameos look so worthwhile. In this Priyadarshan film, starring Mohanlal, Shobana and Nedumudi Venu, Lalitha’s little Juliet act (she is madly in love with Nedumudi Venu’s character) vacillates between witty and emotional. In the end she makes sure we cheer for her the most.
Omana (Kanalkkattu): Sathyan Anthikad probably roped her just for a little master class. Omana is a housemaid who, after being abused by her employer, is “married” off to a small-time thug, Narayanan (Mammootty), who abandons her on their wedding night. She is clingy, unpleasant and an embarrassment and we seem to empathise with Narayanan’s predicament. But then, in the final scene she breaks down and admits to being abused by all the men who owned her and Lalitha instantly turns the scene in her favour.
Kochammini (Godfather): It’s yet another character like Bhasura that lost its essence when it was remade in other languages. She matches wits with Innocent (but of course) in every frame, adds a swag at the unlikeliest scene (remember that one where she orders the panchamelakkar to continue with their performance) and easily makes it unforgettable.
Madhavi Ayyappan Nair (Gajakesariyogam): The KPAC Lalitha brand of naivety is in full form in this film directed by PG Viswambharan. She is paired with Innocent, playing Ayyappan Nair, a mahout who buys a circus elephant and finds himself learning Hindi among a lot of other things. These actors have come together as a couple in umpteen films, but each time they bring something fresh to the table. From learning Hindi together to using it against each other to the demure way she addresses her husband, much to his exasperation, the Innocent—Lalitha partnership strikes gold again with this one.