KPAC Lalitha, who passed away on February 22, was not just an exceptional actor but she was also a woman of resilience, who triumphed against all odds.
In the prime years of her life, Lalitha faced great difficulty. She had to come to terms with the sudden demise of her husband, pay back the huge debts he owed and raise two little kids who had no one else but her. She shuttled from one film set to another to pay back the debts. Even while grappling with personal crises, she made the audience laugh, weep and admire her brilliantly executed characters.
“I would have revered the candour of KPAC Lalitha, even if I were not her son,” says KPAC Lalitha’s son Sidharth Bharathan. In this special interview with indianexpress.com, Sidharth talks about his mother and her last days.
Several months in the hospital, discussions and uproar on the government’s decision to provide financial assistance to your mother for her treatment – you have survived a testing time. How did you handle it all?
I did not follow any scandals or discussions that were happening outside. For me, conversations with doctors and deliberations on how to bring my mother back to normal life were of utmost importance at that point of time.
When the government offered to provide financial assistance to my mother for her treatment, I couldn’t refuse it. There are two reasons for my decision. Firstly, my mother has been a left sympathiser for 60 years. They are obliged to consider her as they consider any other party worker. The second reason is the selfishness of a son. I would have taken any possible step to save my mother then. My only wish was for my mother to be back. That is all I needed. Every son and daughter who wishes for their mother to be with them for a long time would fall prey to this selfishness. I am not a spiritual person to conquer all these vices of a common man. I will try to hold on to my dearest ones until their last breath.
All the hue and cry on this issue did not affect me, but it surely was a very unpleasant experience for my family, which included my mother’s siblings, my sister, my wife, her family and many other relatives. There are many who love my mother. Won’t these unwarranted discussions affect them?
Many are attempting to change the narrative about my mother through different stories. Since my mother has a clear political lineage, people tend to give a political colour to their stories. Beyond her politics, she was an artiste. Did you consider her politics before you enjoyed her artistry? Isn’t politics a personal choice of a person?
After her demise, the public was allowed to pay their last respects at Ernakulam, Thrissur and Wadakkanchery. I would move aside and stay away from the cameras. Many held my hands and consoled me. None of them have ever judged my mother’s politics. Now stories are being cooked up to confuse these people as well. It is despicable.
Do you think your mother has influenced the director in you?
I discussed all my stories with mother. I have grown up watching her reading all of my father’s screenplays and commenting on it. Naturally, she became one of the first people whom I narrate my stories to. She gives the best professional feedback.
Even during the time of my accident, she was my strength. I had an implant inserted, which delayed my recovery. It was months before I could walk. I stayed in bed for almost three months. Then slowly, I began to take baby steps back to life. Six months later, I started to go outside, even though I was limping.
I remember mother made a hilarious comment then. She said, “How are you now? Everything okay? Now get going with the next project soon.” She was quick-witted. Her comment was a great push for me. That is the only reason why I could come up with a new movie by 2017. I had someone like her to push me from behind.
She has read the screenplay of the movie I am planning to do next. She has given me her creative feedback as well. After she became bedridden, I would sit near her and talk about the day. I told her what happened each day, where I went, whom I met and what I discussed with others. I expected a medical miracle in her case. I strongly believed that something would happen and she would rise from that bed eventually.
She was a mother and a father to you. She was with you at every crossroads of your life. Such a person is no longer with you. How do you deal with this emptiness?
My mother was 50 when my father passed way. She had health issues even then. My sister was in her freshman year in college and I was in the tenth grade. All the responsibilities of family and kids fell upon my mother’s shoulders. She was also dealing with a massive debt of around one crore at that time. This is in 1998. One crore was a horrifying amount back then. From such a challenging stage of her life, that fifty-year-old woman fought her way up all by herself. She looked after us, settled all debts and built her home in 2005. She got my sister married. She supported me until I could find a footing. My mother had four staff members who helped her. She never failed to pay them on time. By the time she achieved all this, she had turned 70. Two decades of struggle. She endured a lot. I consider this a great achievement for a woman. We can never match this.
When I started receiving small remunerations for my acting ventures, I started to ask her about our debts. I wanted to help her, but she would always tell me that it has been taken care of. I have always felt that she wanted to make sure the debts did not affect us at all. Only she knew the details of her debts. She never shared it with us. Yet, I have tried my best to settle some loans that caught my attention.
I once asked her why she had a busy schedule always. I said, “Sister has settled down, and I have started to work on my own. We have got our own home now. Why don’t you get some rest? I am not asking you to quit acting, but can’t you cut down the number of movies and rest for a while?” She replied, “If I don’t run around and keep myself busy, I will have to sit somewhere. Once you sit, you can never stand up again.” She took a short break from movies only during the pandemic.
She wanted to fall down and die while acting. I would tease her for romanticising such a death like many other stage artistes. Father had used such a scene in Chamayam as well. I remember saying, “Those who die do not suffer. The few who are left to deal with the death are the ones who suffer instead. Have you ever thought of their distress?” However, she could almost attain her wish. She had been working until a month before getting sick.
Mother was very tired when we brought her home from the hospital. She had decided that her fight was over. She had drips attached to both her wrists. For a healthy person, this will have to be changed every five days. Mother was weak. She had to change drips every two days instead. She went through a lot of pain. Towards the end, she wanted to give up on everything. She was tired and ready to let go.
Doctors were keen to go ahead with the liver transplant once she got a bit better. The government extended financial support. But even that offer faced severe criticism.
Mother never knew anything about the issues happening around her. I tried to cheer her up by telling her that the doctors are optimistic, the government is supporting, and many are calling to enquire about her health. Even if she had come back to normal life, I would have managed to keep all this negativity away from her. She did not deserve any of this.
Some people asked us if we couldn’t have just borrowed the money from someone. How much can we borrow? This was mother’s last hospital stint, but she had been admitted to hospitals several times. She had undergone several surgeries. We did not let anyone know all this. But this time, we were out of all our resources. How can we arrange 28 lakhs out of nowhere? I was in debt after producing a movie. Two other movies had been shelved due to Covid. Mother was in and out of the hospital since February 2021. She got admitted during the shoot of Chathuram. I had to handle the tension related to shooting and run to the hospital frequently. Right after we wrapped up the movie, I went straight to the hospital to be with mother.
I was criticised severely for that. People wanted me to stop shooting and stay with mother instead. Mother was the only person who understood me even then. She knew what cinema is. She knew about the hardship that goes into filmmaking. She supported me.
It was after this that mother shot for Bheeshmaparvam. She was very weak then. I would check with Amal Neerad about her health every now and then. Mother disliked this. She would argue with me saying that I was monitoring her like a child. She even complained that I am not letting her go anywhere.
When she was discharged and taken home, doctors told me to pray for my mother. But I was expecting a twist like in a movie. I realised there are no twists in life after she left.
Now that I think of it, I feel like mother delayed her own death to help us get accustomed to the emptiness that she would leave behind. She did not leave us at once. Instead, she stopped talking, stopped responding and stayed like that for a while. Once we could finally take in the impending horror, she decided to leave.
Towards the end, she lost her memory. She did not respond to anything. Some pictures of her with tubes attached to her nose were circulated on the internet. That was her condition.
I did not want anyone to see her in that state. It might be the selfishness of a son. For me, she is a fierce woman. Mother couldn’t recognise anyone too. Then what is the point of letting people visit her. I was criticised for this decision as well.
Some wanted to spread a story that this veteran artiste had no one to look after her during her last days. They had their script ready for my mother. What should I even say to these people?
By that time, none of this was affecting me. I had done my best but couldn’t save my mother. I was struggling with immense stress, insomnia and other health issues. These 150 days were the worst days of my life.
I am planning to immerse myself in work to deal with my loss. I need to release two of my movies – Djinn and Chathuram – as soon as possible. Mother was very keen for these movies to come out. She had seen both and she liked them as well. She wanted to see them getting released in theatres.
I had two shelved movies. Mother was my pillar of strength during this period of difficulty. She asked me to stay calm and wait for the pandemic to recede. She was the one who consoled me.
Did your mother insist on being cremated in your house at Wadakkanchery?
She had told her loved ones about that. But she never told me. I never encouraged conversations about death. Maybe that is why she did not want to discuss this with me.
I felt it is right to take her to Wadakkanchery after her death, as I knew the bond she had with that place. She built her home there in 2005. Every plant surrounding that house is planted by her. She loved gardening and was particularly fond of the fragrance of Jasmine. All of these plants are there in our garden. She had planted some coconut trees, plantains and areca nut. I wanted her to rest in that place which is very dear to her.
I even felt that her body was blending itself into that soil. The night after her cremation was very windy. Her ashes were carried by the breeze to merge with the soil there. I could feel an invisible power at that moment.
The picture of my mother placed on her grave is also special for us. This picture was taken when she visited the hospital to see my newborn daughter Kayalvizhi. She dressed up beautifully to see her grandchild. The photo captures her joy of being a grandmother.
I cannot talk about her life without awe and reverence. She did not pass on her responsibilities to us. She stood at the forefront and fought hard to settle all the debts incurred by my father. She dealt with all of it before she left. I would have revered the candour of KPAC Lalitha, even if I were not her son. She overcame many battles in life. It was not an easy path to walk. I have been astonished by her money management skills. Her ability to roll money from one source to another was exceptional. She did not even note it down, yet she remembered every sum and every payment deadline. For me, my mother was the positive force in my life who would reassure me that everything is going to be fine, when I was going through the tests of life.