The National Film Awards 2017 sprang a surprise on genuine moviegoers for the wrong reasons. But Keralites did not seem to be pretty amused after taking a glance at the jury panel. As usual, certain awards were frowned upon this year too.
Meanwhile, a few others tried to hide a mysterious grin that summed up everything about the National Awards. However, for Malayalam cinema, one award was the true recognition of an artiste, Surabhi Lakshmi.
Surabhi was a minnow in a world of nubile nymphs in the industry till her acting prowess fetched her the National Award for Best Actress this year for the film “Minnaminungu,” directed by Anil Thomas. She may not have the necessary oomph factor to become the cynosure of all eyes, but what places her in the elite list of all-time best actresses is her versatility and flexibility. After watching the film, one would doubt if there are any actors in Malayalam industry at the moment to portray the character she played with such intensity and dedication.
While watching Surabhi on screen, it does not give the recurring feel about the actress. Her brilliant performance negates the charisma of the actor in her, but you witness only the domestic help, who is reeling under financial burden. Here she scores the brownie points over her contemporaries. Surabhi’s success is also a reminder that stories stapled with bitter realities of life can bring out the numero uno performance from an actor.
Sheer talent on screen
Surabhi Lakshmi’s character in “Minnaminungu” doesn’t have a name. Her adaptability to the mien of the character and acclimatization to the premises she lives reverberate the depth of her knowledge and understanding of a character. Her Thiruvananthapuram slang also heralds an artiste’s observation skill and ability to embrace a new personality in her.
The protagonist in the film does different jobs to eke out a living. She starts her day as a milk seller, then as a housekeeping staff in an office and later she puts on the garb of a domestic help in a flat owned by a writer. She walks at a brisk pace along the road and it epitomizes her duties to be fulfilled for her ailing father and daughter Charu, who is staying in hostel in the city.
It reminds us of Robert Frost’s famous lines: “Miles to go before I sleep.”The restless woman has to go a long way ahead to keep the people around her happy. Characteristics of a trite and cloying plot are palpable in the film, but still it’s the ‘one-woman show’ that leaves the audience mesmerized. The hapless woman has been portrayed stunningly in a convincing manner.
Among the actresses, who have brought National Awards to Kerala, I reckon, only the characters essayed by Sarada and Surabhi Lakshmi have given vent to the depths of emotions when destiny tramples on their lives. The former is decimated by her tragic fate and the latter shows the temerity to battle against the odds. While Sarada becomes the byword for sentimentality in the tear-jerking “Thulabharam” (1968), Surabhi’s character shows her determination even in floundering situations. Though a comparison may sound bizarre, it can’t be denied that Surabhi Lakshmi’s performance is realistic and devoid of hammy expressions. Of course, Sarada’s character, Vijaya, undergoes the most painful and tragic incidents in her life. Besides, I am not forgetting the traits of Malayalam cinema during that era and the saturation in acting.
As mothers, their characters have a common factor: they are subjected to bear the pangs through their children. Surabhi’s character is not going through the hardships that Vijaya faces in life. Even then the negligence of filial duties and motherhood in the film is more relevant in the modern context.
If Vijaya succumbs to her destiny, Surabhi Lakshmi’s character carries on with her journey to face the obstacles and fulfil her remaining duties. She is feisty and hard working. The final shot of “Minnaminungu,” which shows an impassive Surabhi striding swiftly along one of the busy city roads, is a testimony to the grit of the character.