Lakshmipriyaa Chandramouli has always been drawn to a role in a film not by its length, but by its purpose. "Whatever role I play should take the story forward, and not something that fills up a frame," she says. And this is apparent in her oeuvre right from a Lakshmi in Sarjun KM's 2017 short Lakshmi that explores adultery, to a spirited Padmini in Mari Selvaraj's Karnan. The same could be said of Vasanth Sai's Sivaranjaniyum Innum Sila Pengalum (2021), in which she plays a housewife and a former athlete, whose sprints are suddenly domesticated after marriage. Her performance as Sivaranjani also went on to fetch her the National Film Award for Best Supporting Actress this year. Lakshmiyaa, an athlete herself, who often finds herself motivated by new experiences, looks at the role as gratifying and momentous for more reasons than one.
How do you look at this recognition?
I do recognise that this is really big and that this does not happen every day. It was unbelievable for a few moments, especially for me because this has been a dream that I've been very hopeful about. A lot of times I've always told people that my one wish was to always win a National Award someday. That way, this has been very momentous.
Tell us about Sivaranjani and what intrigued you about her when you took on the role.
It was the fact that it had a bit of sports involved in it. She is an athlete, which is something that I am in my life as well. That immediately attracted me to the role. The second thing is that it had Kalieswari and Parvathy, two actors who are fantastic performers I have huge respect for. The third thing was the way Vasanth sir explained it to me. As a craftsman at that time of his life, he said he wanted to tell the story in a way he wanted to. And I really enjoyed being part of projects that come straight from the heart.
Now that you mention it, the movie leads are played by Parvathy, Lakshmi, and Kalieswari, actresses named after goddesses…
Yes, I have never thought of it that way (laughs).
How did you approach this role as a sportsperson?
Since I have done track and field and have a running action of my own, it was slightly easier for me to do the sports portions. But what was really important was the last run in the movie. It was important to get that right. So, having a sports background helped me shoot scenes without getting tired, do multiple takes, and take off at a decent speed in a nightie and slippers.
But as for the other portions, we have all seen a Sivaranjani in our lives. It could be a mother, grandmother, or even an aunt. My mother was like that, so I could bring in whatever I have seen in life.
How was it for you to shape those emotional moments in the film, especially for those long-shot sequences?
For this film, it was not just about playing out emotions, but there was also a lot of technique involved. You are continuously moving in and out of a frame and you need to hit your mark every single time for the entire four and a half minutes of a shot. You're also holding multiple emotions. And another thing that I enjoyed as a performer was that I was able to make errors. Because this is what happens in real-time, where it's natural to make mistakes. In those morning shots, I am actually cutting the vegetables and making the coffee. That was great for me to explore because it was like performing in theatre. You are able to run through all those emotions.
One of my favorite arcs in the anthology is the relationship Sivaranjani shares with her daughter.
There are many people who cannot communicate in life. When I did the role, I slowly realised that even being able to communicate is a luxury that not everybody has because of the surroundings they grow up in. Sivaranjani was one of those characters. And the only person she freely communicates with is her daughter. Even in the film, most of Sivaranjani's lines are with her daughter. Because she has the fullest freedom with her.
The film is filled with different kinds of women. And the camera is a fly on the wall that observes how these women from different generations and upbringings live their lives. How did you look at the female gaze in the film?
The film was very non-judgemental. The film does not really talk about right or wrong. The idea of the film was to show people how these three women live their lives and make audiences decide what was right or wrong for themselves. Women don't have to be put on a pedestal. Just look at us as human beings and that is everything. And hence for me, this film resonated with those thoughts.
I have seen all of these women in my life. In Sivaranjani's film, the PT teacher is from a far more progressive background and has a much better life. The way she looks at life is very different. Just because we are showing Saraswati, Devaki and Sivaranjani, it doesn't mean the world is just them. Oppression doesn't come from one source. That was important to show. Men do oppress women, but there are also women oppressing women. It was important to show it in varying degrees.
What draws you to a role?
Early on in my career, I told myself that it doesn't matter how many films I do, but I wanted people to look at my filmography and see an interesting profile. More than what I want to do, I am clear of what I don't want to do, wherein I have some filters. Mari Selvaraj sir once said that a film should take society forwards and not backwards. I think that is something that stuck with me. Whatever role I do should take the story forward, and not something that fills up a frame.
For instance with Karnan, Padmini had a beautiful arc. In a story that is all about Karnan, Padmini is the queen of her house and has all the powers there. She is probably the only person who can whack Karnan, and not get whacked back. But the minute she steps out of the house, she is stripped off all the power. She is a workhorse and in all possible ways, she should be a powerful person, but she is not that outside her house. That was interesting for me to explore.
So, would you say that exciting experiences shape your cinema and personal goals?
Absolutely. That is the right way to put it. I am excited by experiences and that is what I will invest in. That beautifully sums it up.
What are your thoughts on supporting roles in cinema today? Is there a difference in recognition between male and female actors in that context?
Female supporting roles not being prominent has to do with the writing. For women, a lot of times, the only roles that get written are mother roles. There is a huge age gap. They are either the heroine or they are the mother. In between, the interesting roles are few and far apart. Somehow a lot of the negative roles go to men. And it somehow feels like the supporting roles are easier for men. I think that is slowly changing.