For actor Lakshmi Priyaa Chandramouli, her performance as Padmini in Karnan is like no other. She plays the titular character Karnan’s older and headstrong sister who does not think twice before chastising her brother for his decisions and actions.
In the film, she supports her family and is understanding of her brother’s well-placed angst against caste-based discrimination. Critics’ reviews unanimously agreed that her character is a memorable one.
The 37-year-old actor entered the industry almost eight years ago with director Magizh Thirumeni’s film Mundinam Parthiney in 2010. She has worked in films like Maya, Sutta Kadhai, and Odu Raja Odu, adding a variety of performances to her portfolio before featuring in Karnan.
Just like her career in the Tamil film industry, Lakshmi Priyaa’s interests are varied. She is a sportswoman who has played cricket for India’s B-team, a human resources professional, and a theatre artist with Evam Entertainment.
In a conversation with Silverscreen India, the actor talks about the attention she has received after Karnan, her passion for cinema, and her aspirations.
Karnan released a few days ago and people are raving about your performance on social media. How do you feel?
I obviously feel very happy. At the end of the day, as artists, all of us are looking forward to this recognition of our craft and our performance. So, when that is happening, it makes me very content and happy about the whole thing.
How did you celebrate the release of the film?
It was such a blessing for me because it was also my birthday. I hadn’t watched the film before and I had only seen my portions during dubbing. I caught the late morning show and then watched it again for the second time during a special screening. So, watching the film was the biggest celebration. After the screening, I cut a cake and discussed the film with my friends. It was very overwhelming for me.
Karnan is a layered film filled with symbolism. How did you prepare for your character?
The layers of each character were discussed by the director. But the symbolism or the metaphors that were included in the film was a surprise element for the actors too because the director does not have to discuss those things with us. The fun in making a movie is when you are surprised. I know how director Mari Selvaraj works as a creator and I was surprised by the metaphors that he had included.
What work went into your role?
We were in the village. Our director had taken all the women [acting in the film] to the village one week before the shoot, for preparation. We were asked to wear costumes and go around the village to get used to the place, the people, and the kind of life that they lived there. We would go to the village in the morning by nine o’clock and stay till 10 in the night. There were also workshops and rehearsals for the villagers themselves. Much of the preparation came from seeing them act. Their acting was very realistic because it is [portrayal of] their life. So, speaking to them and understanding their way of life helped us prepare for our roles.
How did you get the role?
It was completely Mari sir’s call. I think he had seen my work and after meeting me, he was convinced that I could probably pull this off. Later on, we even asked him why he chose each of us for the role and he said that it was because he had seen my work before.
You mentioned that you were a fan of Mari Selvaraj after Pariyerum Perumal. How was it like to work with him as a director?
It was crazy. I had watched Pariyerum Perumal three or four months back and he called me [around the same time] and said: “I am Mari Selvaraj, director of Pariyerum Perumal and I have a role for you in mind.” It was unbelievable. It was interesting for me to understand his thought process, the kind of things he says, the way he gets acting out of people, and the way he works with them. I was a fan before I started working with him and I am a bigger fan right now.
There were many prominent female characters in Karnan. What was that like to see this in such an important film?
I would say not just female characters. I think this film by itself has very strong supporting roles because it is a story of a community. It was very nice to watch that. Even though you have a very strong protagonist, this film is a great lesson that you can also have very strong supporting characters. It only adds to the betterment of the whole film. Of course, there are movies that have an ensemble cast and supporting characters but there are other films which are very protagonist-centric or hero-centric, and the rest of the characters are there only to help the protagonist achieve something.
It feels great to see and know that every character in the film had a purpose to help the story move forward. Even if I had not acted in the film and I had watched it as an outsider, I would have really enjoyed that part of the film.
The movie deals with an important issue- caste. Do you feel like being associated with this film brought up interesting conversations in your circle?
I think even after Pariyerum Perumal, we have had very many interesting conversations about caste. So, this film has just been a continuation of that. I feel like that movie [Pariyerum Perumal] opened up a lot of talk and discussions. So, I would say that it started way before this film.
What are some of the things about the film industry that no one tells you about you step in?
This is not a simple question at all because nobody tells you anything about the film industry. The industry is really huge and the experiences of each person is different in the industry. I think nobody can possibly prepare you for what the film industry is like. It is an individual journey and a personal experience that you have to go through.
Did you have any misconceptions about the industry that have now been debunked?
Yes, a long time ago. I have been in the film industry for about seven or eight years now, in my own way. Before I joined the film industry, my family was scared because I come from a family where nobody is in the industry. I don’t have anyone to look up to. There are no forefathers. Since this was the case, my family had a lot of misconceptions. They felt that it was not a safe place for women. But, I think that is a misconception because it is like any other place when it comes to safety. Even a corporate office or a public road is not safe for a woman. The industry is a place that everyone watches so closely and even the smallest of things is visible. People don’t talk about a lot of things because it happens in their personal space. It [film industry] is like any other place.
You have a varied portfolio- from being in HR to a sportsperson and doing theatre. What drew you to cinema?
I think what drew me to cinema is just the craft of acting more than the medium. Theatre is also acting but, as a medium, cinema is more permanent. You act in a film that lasts for years. We are still discussing films that came out in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. I find it very attractive that the craft that I am working on will last for a considerable period of time and it may inspire someone.
Who are some of the actors whose work inspires you?
I think from my early days, Nandita Das is one of those actors that has inspired me. I keep looking at newer actors and greater performances to learn from. More than the actor, it’s specific performances that really shocks me. I think how do these people even perform in such a good way? Everybody from Meryl Streep to Philip Seymour Hoffman to Kamal Hassan to Parvathy Thiruvothu; the list is too long. A lot of people and a lot of performances individually inspire me.
Now that Karnan has released, would you like to take a break or immediately head back to work?
There is no break. I love my job. I would say that I have not worked for a single day in eight years only because it does not feel like work. I really enjoy what I do. But I do mix up my work. I do theatre then I do films, I do both. As long as it excites me, I take whatever comes my way immediately. I am looking forward to doing a lot more work after Karnan.
If we talk about legacy, what would you like to be remembered for?
I would just like to be remembered for my craft. That’s it. I am not talking about something personal like I want to be remembered as a kind person. I am talking about it in terms of an artist. I would just like to be remembered as this person who really respected the craft and did her best with it. That’s it.
Are there any roles that you would like to explore in the future?
Yes, I would love to do a sports film. I am waiting to do a sports film. I am a very greedy actor and I want to do everything. I want to explore every kind of role.