Actress Varalaxmi Sarathkumar has no qualms that you would associate with the star kid. Her value system and competitiveness when reaching for success stem from her surprisingly middle-class upbringing. “When we were in school, my dad was a struggling actor and I have seen my parents trying to make ends meet. I haven’t forgotten those days before my father became a star, when we hardly had any money. It taught me to stay grounded and never take life for granted. When I joined school, we were just like anybody else there, and by the time my dad started acting, I had already made a good set of friends, and I don’t think I’ve changed since.”
A dancer right from when she was a toddler, those are her earliest memories. When kids her age would have been too young to take up any serious classes, she joined Bharatanatyam and ballet classes, excelling at both. “Even when we weren’t really well off, my mom noticed that I loved to dance and took great pains to take me to these classes. I remember feeling this great high every time I would go up on stage and participate in all the dance competitions. Till date, I don’t remember losing any of them.”
Despite her love for dance and inclinations towards the arts, her ardent love for medical documentaries on Discovery Channel created the impression that she ought to complete her master’s degree in forensic science. “I actually wanted to become a doctor, but my parents told me that I would be stuck studying forever. Forensic science was still intriguing, and while I waited to complete my films, Poda Podi and Madha Gaja Raja, I took up a correspondence course, which I will be completing soon,” she says. After an undergraduate course in forensic science, she switched gears and acquired a degree in management from the University of Edinburgh. She returned to India when forensics as a subject was still in a nascent stage. It was during this phase that an acting opportunity came knocking. “Acting in front of the camera came very naturally to me. I think it was because I knew nothing about cinema,” she laughs, adding, “All I knew about Tamil cinema was it had Rajini and Kamal. So it didn’t really dawn upon me that it was such a big opportunity I had landed or that so much was at stake.”
However, her debut film, Poda Podi, took over two years to complete and the news of her waiting for this film to get completed to be able to take up other opportunities began to spread. When asked about this period in her life, she says, “It was a tough time. I got a few offers that I couldn’t take because I was needed for the completion of Poda Podi. But I truly believed in the film, in Simbu and my director. I continued to perform and act in a few of my shows, like Mamma Mia and the Lion King, which kept me busy and active. I’ve learnt from my family to stay calm and smile when life bogs one down, and I had a close set of friends who supported me. Poda Podi gave me a lot of strength and made me a mature person.” Even her second film, Madha Gaja Raja which is about to release next month, took long to complete and went through a rough patch during filming. The actress, who had understood by then how things worked in the film industry, says that she now knew how to take delays in stride and remain composed throughout.
When asked about her experience of working in the film, she says, “I assure you that the audience is going to see a new side of me. People often say that the ‘tomboyish’ character I played in Poda Podi was very similar to how I am in real life. But in MGR, Sundar sir (the film’s director) has taken special efforts to groom me and make me look very lady-like and glamorous. I’m very excited about the film.” Speaking of future projects, she says that she is not one to look too far ahead, but to take life as it comes. The confident actress says her family and a close set of friends give her strength. She loves her life the way it is now and wouldn’t want to change a single thing about it.
“Looking back, I realise that I’ve had a tough life. But I’m blessed as I’ve developed an undying optimism, which lets me smile and laugh through life. Of course, being child of divorce is hard and it may have affected me. But I’m happy about who I am and I like how things have worked out,” she concludes.
Varalaxmi says her mother and aunt — her two pillars of strength, as she refers to them — are whom she looks to when in need of some TLC. She is close to her sister, Pooja, too with whom she shares everything. About her father, actor Sarathkumar, she says, “It’s because of him that I have discipline in my life. I’m quite organised and very punctual. I have not once been late for an appointment.”
Her friends are like extended family. They form a group of five, Natasha, Abdul, Vandana, Sidharth, and Navin, whom she lovingly calls ‘Tsunami’. Joining the Hot Shoe Dance Company at the age of 16, Jeffrey Vardon is her guru in dance — and other matters too.
Food vs fitness debate
Her skills are not limited to the performing arts kind alone, but to the martial arts as well. An avid kickboxer and an old student of Kalaripayattu, Varalaxmi says she detests the idea of size zero figures. She says, “I believe people should feel comfortable in their own bodies. Fitness is more about stamina and having the ability to run up a flight of stairs or dance long hours, not merely to be able to fit into a dress. Unfortunately, I’m a foodie too, and my fitness routines and diets take a beating every time I’m offered some non-vegetarian food. I’m a ‘strict non-vegetarian’! My sister is a great cook and she spoils me silly. I don’t even need to step out of the house to satisfy my cravings anymore.”