Dubai’s very own Sadhna Lakshmi Venkatesh is making waves on the big screen in her home country, India, with her debut movie which has bagged her a national award in the Best Child Artiste category.
The Grade 7 student of GEMS Our Own Indian School has wowed both critics and the masses with her powerful performance in the Tamil movie Thanga Meengal (Golden Fishes), directed by Ram. Her family and friends are elated and she’s become the pride of her school.
A round of applause was reserved for Sadhna, the class monitor of Class 7B, when she arrived at school with chocolates for classmates and teachers on Thursday. The girls in her class giggled when Khaleej Times visited their classroom to chat with the new celebrity in their midst.
A multi-talented girl, Sadhna shared the national award, the most prestigious in the Indian film industry, with Marathi child actor Somnath Awaghade.
“Sadhna is a student that every school will be proud to have. She has managed her hectic shooting schedules and academic work brilliantly,” said Lalitha Suresh, principal of GEMS Our Own Indian School.
“She is an extremely talented dancer, good orator and a brilliant student. We are truly proud and honoured to have Sadhna as a student of our school,” she said.
Amol Rao, headmistress, was also all praise for the student. “It’s indeed a great honour for our school. We wish her all the best for her future.”
Sadhna is the second daughter of Venkatesh, sales director of a software firm in Dubai Media City, and Lakshmi, a professional Indian classical dancer. Her sister, Sahana, a student of The Indian High School, is a trained classical singer.
“When I got back home from school yesterday (Wednesday) my parents were watching the news on a Malayalam channel. Then this news was announced and I saw them break out in tears,” Sadhna said when asked about her reaction to the news.
“I didn’t first understand because I didn’t hear my name read. Then they told me I have really won the award! It was such a great moment…and I also cried.”
Sadhna gives the credit for her award to Ram and his crew and dedicates the award to her paternal grandfather who passed away in January. “He used to always say that I will get the national award. I miss him a lot,” said Sadhna.
Sadhna got the chance for an audition for the movie at a dance school in Chennai where her mother used to teach. Ram, who had been hunting for the perfect child artiste for casting in the lead role, had apparently screened 157 girls, including some from the dance school, before he finalised Sadhna after 10 rounds of audition.
She played the role of an average student named Chellamma in the movie which tells the story of the strong bond between a father and his daughter and also points fingers at the current education system in India. She also sang a song composed by Yuvan Shankar Raja.
“I have really enjoyed acting in the movie…It was very difficult for me sometimes…but I felt it is for a good cause and I should bear with all that,” she said, like a seasoned actor.
Thanga Meengal, which also won the awards for the Best Film in Tamil and Best Lyrics, was shot when Sadhna was in Grades 3 and 4. Due to production issues, its release was delayed till last August. Those who watch the movie now would see a younger Sadhna with her lost baby teeth showing off her acting skills throughout the movie.
“It’s a two-hour-and-20-minute movie. Out of that, she is there on the screen for almost two hours. She has really worked hard for the movie, acting for 52 days,” said Venkatesh.
“Trekking to the hilly forests of Achankovil in Kerala was a tough job. She had to climb up and down the hill for many days to finish the shoot of a beautiful song that was filmed on very windy days.
“She also had to stay in water for five-six hours one day to shoot an underwater scene where she had to hold her breath for 30 to 40 seconds. But all that hard work has paid off and we are very grateful to God. We are also thankful to the director, the school principal and teachers who were very supportive,” he said.
Sadhna will be flying to New Delhi to receive the award from Indian President Pranab Mukherjee on May 3.
“We will be excited at that time also. But, other than that this [award] will not change our lives at all. We want our child to be grounded. We will encourage her to nurture all her talents,” said Venkatesh.
Asked if she will pursue acting, pat comes Sadhna’s reply. “No, I want to be a director.”