One will be hardpressed to find a Malayali household that doesn’t have a matriarchal figure with character traits that K.P.A.C Lalitha hasn’t portrayed on screen. The go-to veteran for mother characters, Maheshwari, a. k. a Lalitha, has been sVeetought after by filmmakers across all generations. No matter how many mother characters she got, she played each one to perfection. It’s not often that we see an actor who can make us aware of their real-life persona and still arrest us with the characters they play on-screen. Such impressive is the range of emotions she portrayed that it goes without saying that she belonged to the league of Thilakan, Nedumudi Venu, Sankaradi, or Bharat Gopy.
In a filmography that spanned over 500 films, picking one favourite would be an exercise in futility. There were countless, irrespective of screentime. Lalitha shared with another beloved thespian, Nedumudi Venu, the quality of making a powerful impact even when her appearance in the film lasted only a few minutes. We saw that happen most recently in the final scenes of director Rojin Thomas’ #Home. That frame of Indrans’ face flooding with emotions basically sums up ours whenever she delivers a soul-stirring performance on screen.
Was there a role she couldn’t do? None. Overbearing, funny, endearing, envious, manipulative, caring, progressive, disciplined, romantic—she played it all. Her superb chemistry—and fruitful collaborations—with actors like Mammootty, Mohanlal, and Innocent remain forever etched in the minds of many Malayali viewers. Lalitha was supremely adept at effortlessly navigating between serious and comedy roles with ease and also possessed the remarkable gift of transitioning from the former to the latter in the same scene. A smile or playful glance could give way to overwhelming sadness, and you realise the shift only later.
Though the influence of her theatre background bore heavily on her performances, they never carried a single false note. Lalitha was one of those actors who found themselves at home in theatre and cinema.
Just hours after Lalitha’s passing, a friend brought to my attention an oft-shared meme of hers—a screenshot collage of a scene from Valkannadi where she breaks down after sending off her mentally challenged son played by Kalabhavan Mani. When one recollects the context of the said scene and the devastating impact left by the performance of Lalitha, it’s hard to imagine that scene as a meme. It’s one of the numerous scenes that serve as a perfect testament to Lalitha’s versatility.
While on the gift of transitioning, one also recalls a scene of hers with Mammootty from Sathyan Anthikad’s Kanalkattu. I would also be remiss if I did not mention her voice-only role in Mathilukal. Though she was on the other side of the wall communicating with Mammootty, the character’s personality strongly shone through. In one scene, she asks him, “Will you remember me once I’ve passed?” How can we not?