Bhagyalakshmi back to acting !
Her voice would be more familiar to Malayalis than her face, but unlike most other dubbing artists, Bhagyalakshmi has never been one to remain anonymous. After turning TV anchor a few years ago, she will now return to the big screen after a long gap of 35 years. The time is now just right for her to step in front of the camera, she says. Bhagyalakshmi, who will be seen playing a lead character in Jude Anthany Joseph’s Oru Muthassi Gadhaand Sooraj Tom’s Pa Va, speaks about how Malayalam cinema has changed over the years, why actresses have started using their own voices in films and more.
What made you get back to acting after 35 years?
Although I used to be an actress, after my marriage, I got busy taking care of my children and didn’t want to stay away from home for long. Now my children are grown up and I have cut down on dubbing projects as well. I had a lot of free time at my hand, and wanted to do something interesting, which I’m good at too. Business, for example, is something I’m not good at; I am not at all shrewd. So I turned to anchoring, social service, and recently, films. Not because I am a great actress, but because I have always been part of the cinema industry.
What attracted you to Oru Muthassi Gadha and Pa Va ?
I took up Pa Va first, because of Anoop Menon, who is a dear friend. He always wanted me to act in a film of his, and so when I was told I would be playing Anoop Menon’s wife in Pa Va, I decided to go ahead. I didn’t know Jude personally, but I love his film Ohm Shanthi Oshana, and gave a thumbs up on the basis of that trust. Also, my character in Oru Muthassi Gadha is a very strong one, almost the same as what I am in real. I have been cast as Christian characters in both, which made me nervous as I felt I couldn’t play such roles convincingly. But on seeing my stills in chatta and mundu, I think I look a typical achayathi. I am not allowed to talk more about these characters, but shoot is over for both films.
How was it to act after 35 years?
To be honest, the major challenge was dealing with the heat and dust. I have been used to the comforts of the air conditioned dubbing studios all these years. Also, I could stop work at 5 pm , or whenever I felt tired. But you can’t do that on a film set. During dubbing, I always used to crib about actors for shoddy work, but I will never do it again. Anoop was telling me on the sets of Pa Va, ‘don’t you dare complain about bad acting again’.
I was naturally apprehensive how I would be in front of the camera. The dubbing studio is always dark, while acting happens in bright light, in front of several people. I had told both my directors not to give my characters any strong emotions. I also told Jude to send me away if he felt I can’t act. But his reply was that I could take as much time as I wanted. I actually enjoyed doing both the films.
How, in your view, has Malayalam cinema changed over the years?
I was someone who left acting because I didn’t fit into the mould of acting that was required. I even got told off by directors, saying I don’t know how to act. But cinema is different now. Acting is more subtle; you don’t need to cry out loud to convey grief, and can communicate anger by the mere tone of the voice. That change was welcome for me.
Also, earlier, women coming into films was considered something bad. Only girls from financially backward families would be a film actress, and it was purely a means of livelihood for them. So, the same actresses ruled the roost for years. But today, films are essentially entertainment, and also a means to fame for the actresses, the reason for the change being new media. While there were just a couple of film magazines in the past, stars get a lot of exposure now. And after they get a bit of fame, actresses today prefer to get married and settle down. The good side of that is that a career in cinema is now acceptable to society. The bad is that people don’t recognise the value of the art form as much; they get everything easy, and leave as easily.
Actresses have also started using their own voices of late…
Yes, the reason is again media. People started to hear the real voices of the actresses through TV interviews, and realised their voices in the films were never theirs. The National Awards have a strict rule that an actor who uses another person’s voice is not eligible for an award. Films are often submitted hiding this fact.
The audience know everything which happens behind the scenes now, and they themselves started demanding that the dubbing artist too be given the award an actress receives. It came to a stage where actors started realising that all this was not only affecting their image but also they might lose their awards if the truth comes to light. That is how actresses decided to start using their own voices at whatever cost.
So what next?
I haven’t signed any more films; also my intention has never been to become a great actress or reap awards. I am working on a documentary on the history of dubbing in cinema. As part of my research, I am trying to find the first dubbing artist in Malayalam, that film, and so on. The future is sync sound, and once that takes over, dubbing will become non-existent. The next generation will be surprised that such a system existed, and I want to preserve for posterity.