From clothes to jewellery to perfumes, there are a lot of businesses you might expect a screen star to plunge into.
But go down the National Highway 66 running between Kerala and Tamil Nadu, a little before Neyyatinkara, and you find actor Kavitha Lakshmi – famous for her role in the hit Malayalam serial Sthreedhanam – doing something very unusual. From early evening to midnightevery day for the last three weeks, the actor has been standing on the side of the highway, serving up dosas, omelettes and beef curry to customers at her thattukada (wayside food cart).
No, the 43-year-old actor isn’t preparing for the role of a cook at a thattukada, she’s running the makeshift eatery to help put her son through a culinary course in the UK. Her story was reported by Asianet, creating a lot of buzz on social media.
Lakshmi's son Akash Krishna joined the course a year ago, and it has proved far more expensive than expected says Kavitha.
“The expenses have been much higher than we were initially informed by the agent. In a month I need to send him nearly Rs 1.5 lakh, which is a tough task for me. I have approached banks for a loan that I can repay in monthly instalments, but they were not ready to give me a loan as I have no land or assets to pledge as collateral. I have some savings in a chit fund with a private financial firm, but they refused to give me the money as the scheme has not yet matured,” she explains.
Lakshmi in Sthreedhanam serial
Kavitha says that this is the first time in her life that she has regretted not investing in a house or in property.
“Owning a house was never in my dreams. I have always invested money on the education of my children. I had put them in school hostels when they were young, for which I had spent a lot of money. Let them be able to stand on their own feet. But who is bothered about house, when there are plenty of old age homes around for when you get old?” she asks with a bright smile.
Kavitha has been living with her children in a rented home in Neyyatinakara for the past ten years. While she had initially hoped that her son would join an MBA programme, she eventually gave in to a friend’s advice that she should let her son pursue his dreams.
“I made him work in a hotel where my friend is a manager. I asked my friend to put my son through such hardship, that he would give up on his chef dreams. A week after he joined, my friend called me up and scolded me, saying that my son was really passionate about his ambition. This changed my mind too,” she explains.
Though Akash has obtained a part-time job that helps him partly fund his studies, Kavitha still bears a major portion of the burden till her son is placed at a full-time position next year.
Kavitha, who also has a daughter Uma Parvathy studying in Class 10, has been estranged from her husband for the last 13 years. While life has always been an uphill struggle, she says, she has always managed to maintain her family with the income from her acting career. However, the current demands have been much more than she could manage through her acting.
“Life was never luxurious for us. I managed all our expenses with the money I earned from acting. But earning this much money in a month is beyond my ability,” she says.
Still, one might wonder, a thattukada seems too humble an option for a well-known actor. “I don’t think any job is inferior. Everything has got its own dignity,” counters Kavitha, before extolling the virtues of the thattukada.
“In my family we used to eat a lot from thattukadas, as we are all very fond of eating. Also thattukada food is always fresh and there are no preservatives and chemicals in the food. The investment needed is also much less. Whenever we went out and ate something special, I would always get the recipe and cook that food for my children. Even my daughter is not hesitant to help me with the shop on some days,” she says.
Kavitha, best known for her negative comic role as Shanta in Streedhanam, has acted in seven serials and done a variety of minor roles in Malayalam films including hits like Salt and Pepper, Ayalum Njanum Thammil and superstar Mammootty’s Thappana. She is currently shooting for director KK Rajeev’s serial Ayalathe Sundari.
So she spends her days in Kattakada in Thiruvananthapuram shooting for the serial, before rushing back each evening to the thattukada near Rollands Hospital in Neyyatinkara. “I go for the shooting during the day. Rajeev sir is aware of my life situation. So he allows me to leave the set a little early and doesn’t insist that I come too early in the morning for shooting,” she explains.
Kavitha has literally started the small business from scratch, and clocks such milestones as her first successful omelette, and trading up to larger dosa pans. “In the initial days, we had a dosa kallu (dosa pan) in which we could make only 20 dosas. After the number customers increased we bought a bigger one in which we can make 40 dosas,” she says.
Despite the strain of holding down two jobs, Kavitha has a smiling face for her customers each evening. “My mother used to tell me, ‘Don’t serve food with a bad face. Your face should be as white as the choru (cooked rice) when you serve it’,” she says.
The actor, who began her career as a theatre artist 20 years ago and has been a part of popular groups like Kalanilayam and Athulya, says that the only ambition she has held is to see her children do well in life. “I don’t dream of earning much or about a luxurious life. Educating my children is my only dream,” she says.