R. Subbalakshmi, an icon in the realm of Malayalam cinema, has left behind an unforgettable legacy through her versatile contributions as an actor, singer, and composer. Her journey into the cinematic world commenced with the Prithviraj starter “Nandanam,” released in the year 2002, marking the beginning of a prolific career that spanned decades and resonated across languages.
The legendary actor, musician and adorable grandmother of Malayalam cinema was born on April 21st 1936, in Thrissur, a district in Kerala and made her debut lately in her 60s as a grandmother with an insatiable appetite in the movie “Nandanam” ingrained in the audience’s collective memory, marked by the laughter and her innocent toothless precious smile.
Known for her poignant portrayals of grandmotherly roles, Subbalakshmi endeared herself to audiences with notable performances in Malayalam hits such as “Kalyanaraman,” “Rappakal,” “Thilakkam,” “CID Moosa,” “Pandippada,” and “Rani Padmini.” Her ability to seamlessly transition between languages was evident in her impactful roles in Tamil and Telugu films, further solidifying her status as a versatile artist.
In Gautham Menon’s “Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa,” Subbalakshmi showcased her versatility, and she proved her mettle by taking on the titular role in “Ammani.” Her dedication to the craft continued with her latest Tamil film, the Vijay starrer “Beast,” affirming that age posed no obstacle to her enduring contributions to cinema.
Leaving her captivating laughter in the Malayalam cinema to cherish forever, the legendary woman and the grandmother of the Malayalam cinema breathed her last at the age of 87 on November 30, 2023, at a private hospital in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram. She was grappling with age-related ailments.
Subbalakshmi’s versatile journey as a musician and performer
Adding to her illustrious career, before she started her acting career in her sixties, Subbalakshmi held the distinction of being the first woman composer at All India Radio in South India. Her versatility shone through not only as an actor but also as a pioneering figure in the realm of music.
Beyond the silver screen, she made significant contributions as a dubbing artist, lending her voice to various characters. Her impact extended to the small screen, where she made a notable impact in the realm of television, participating in various TV commercials, serials, and shows. Her prolific career encompassed acting in approximately 65 serials, where she played significant roles, leaving an enduring mark on the audience. Notable among her television contributions are her memorable roles in the Doordarshan serials “Valayam” and “Gandharvayamam.”
She proved her talent by performing in a range of concerts and appearing in telefilms and albums. Beyond acting, Subbalakshmi extended her talents to dubbing for films and contributed her voice in singing for films. She lent her voice as a playback singer in notable songs such as “Entadukke Vannadukkum” from Marykkundoru Kunjaadu (2010), “Kanne Kannare” from Rudra Simhasanam (2015), “Mazhai Ingillaye” from Ammani (2016), and “Super Sundaran” from Jimmy Ee Veedinte Aishwaryam (2019).
Subbalakshmi also garnered popularity through television advertisements, particularly notable for her appearances in Colgate toothpaste commercials.
Her multifaceted contributions to the entertainment industry showcase her versatility and enduring impact on various mediums within the field.
Her diverse professional background is inspiring. Apart from being a former employee of All India Radio, she contributed her talents as a music and dance instructor at Jawahar Bal Bhavan, according to a report.
Her film career
Her artistic career started when she was young, and she moved into the film industry after working for a while at All India Radio (AIR) in 1951. It’s interesting to note that her cinematic career began with a Horlicks commercial, which led to her part in the hit movie “Nandanam.”
After retiring, Subbalakshmi made an unexpected entrance into the limelight through a ‘Horlicks‘ advertisement. Her serendipitous foray into the film industry happened during the filming of a television series where she met Siddique, accompanied by her daughter, the talented dancer and actress Tara Kalyan. This fateful encounter became the gateway to her cinematic journey, leading to her debut as one of the housemaid’s grandmothers in the blockbuster ‘Nandanam,’ directed by Ranjith and produced by Siddique.
After which she went on to amass an impressive filmography of around 100 films blessing the film industry with her talent. It has been also said that Subbalakshmi Amma made her film debut with Aarohanam in 1980 before Nandhanam.
The actress gained recognition for portraying grandmother roles in films, with one of her most memorable performances being in Dileep’s “Kalyanaraman” (2002), a role of a cute grandmother with a shy smile that is still etched in the heart of the audience, a role that marked a significant turning point in her career.
Active for nearly two decades in the film industry, Subbalakshmi earned success in around 75 movies and also made notable contributions as a dubbing artist. Her versatility extended to the realm of television, where she graced several serials, including appearances on Doordarshan. Additionally, Subbalakshmi is a well-known face for television viewers, having appeared in numerous commercial advertisements, contributing to her extensive presence in the world of entertainment.
Venturing into Hindi cinema, R. Subbalakshmi left an indelible mark with her roles in “Ek Deewana Tha,” and “Dil Bechara,” where she portrayed the grandmother of the late actor Sushant Singh Rajput. Subbalakshmi’s presence extended to the film “Ye Maaya Chesave,” where she was seen alongside Naga Chaitanya, contributing to the cinematic landscape in the Telugu industry as well.
Her latest Tamil film was Vijay Starrer’s “Beast,” where she played one of the hostages. Despite this, she was set to grace the screen once again in Suresh Gayathri’s upcoming Sanskrit film “Madhubhashitham,” where she was scheduled to share the screen with Lakshmi Gopalaswamy in a significant role. As per a source, Subbalakshmi’s last television appearance was in the soap opera “Sudhamani Supera,” where she portrayed a lead role.
Subbalakshmi faced the loss of her husband, Kalyanakrishnan, who predeceased her. Beyond her artistic accomplishments, Subbalakshmi was also a dedicated mother survived by three children, one of whom is the accomplished actor and dancer Thara Kalyan. Her legacy resonates not only through her prolific filmography but also through her multifaceted contributions to the world of arts and entertainment.
Sowbhagya Venkitesh, Subbalakshmi’s granddaughter, shared the devastating news of her death on her Instagram page. “I lost her. 30 years of my strength and love. My Ammamma, My Subbu , My baby. Thank you for the prayers,” she wrote on Instagram.
Countless admirers and well-wishers of the very sweet Subbalakshmi Amma, feel an indelible emptiness in their hearts since her passing. May her soul rest in peace as her captivating laughter still resonates in the film Industry for an eternity.