Lakshmi Gopalaswamy

Dance sequences that have heroes’ heads bobbing on heroines’ chests scares the hell out of her. Jackfruit payasam and akki roti are dishes that she roots for while out on shoots. And size-zero sets her frowning about the industry’s obsession with adolescent bodies.

From being the face behind the Lipton Taaza advertisement, a raging hit during the Doordarshan era, to winning the 2007 Filmfare for best supporting actress for her role in the Malayalam film Paradesi, popular dancer-model-actress, Lakshmi Gopalaswamy has come a long way.

“I was blissfully unaware of my nomination! It was only when a radio station called up to congratulate me that I came to know of my nomination,” says the Bangalore-based actress, breaking into a smile that lights up her almond-shaped, honey-marinated eyes.

Born and brought up in a societyconscious, south Indian Brahmin family, Lakshmi entered films more as an after thought. “I did it because I didn’t want to regret later that I hadn’t,” she says. And the gamble sure paid off. With just 18 films under her belt, this Kannada-speaking actress has already managed to lap up the Kerala state award for her role as a home-nurse in Thaniye, and the critics’ award for both Thaniye and Paradesi in 2007.

But Lakshmi’s tryst with filmdom hasn’t been a cakewalk. “When I started out, I used to have a lot of hang-ups. I was not comfortable doing intimate scenes. I was horrified of doing dance sequences that featured the hero’s head on the heroine’s chest,’’ she says, laughing out loud. The actress says, it was in fact cinema, that helped her grow up.

Though the trilingual actress, who didn’t know a word of Malayalam when she started, has become less cautious and more experimental with her roles these days, she still doesn’t compromise on her ideals.

“I am extremely conscious of my role as a woman and a citizen of this society. So while I can’t possibly portray the role of a contemporary woman every time I face the camera, I make sure that I don’t essay roles that are derogatory to a woman’s dignity,” says this post-graduate in woman’s studies.

And her body of work sure stands testimony to this tall claim. While Thaniye saw Lakshmi play the role of a home nurse, and explored a relationship that went beyond conventional romance between the latter and her patient, Kochu Kochu Santhoshangal saw her essay the role of a woman who struggles to nurture her dancing talent alongside the demands of her family.

“I take cinema seriously and I believe that cinema can be a catalyst to social change by bringing unknown issues to the fore. Take for instance, the film Paradesi. Not many knew that there were 10,000 Malayali families stranded in Pakistan, waiting to return to India,” she explains.

But doing meaningful cinema hasn’t meant escaping filmi dance routines, a genre that Lakshmi finds vastly different from Bharatanatyam. When uncomfortable, Lakshmi often requests her directors to rework a dance movement or scene. And they (directors) are most accommodative, she adds. “True, ours is a youth-obsessed society. This is why size zeros have become such a talking point despite being an unreal representation of the body of a full grown woman,” she says.

But the industry is slowly changing. The storm of television programs into Indian homes is forcing the film industry to get creative juices flowing, she says, ending on a positive note.