Commitment is the secret of a good marriage

A cinematic icon of the 1960s, B. Saroja Devi has given many memorable performances in Kannada, Tamil and Telugu films. Her range of histrionic talent and the dignity of her bearing have made her a widely respected personality in the field of culture. In a chat with Aravind Gowda, she unspools some sepia-tinted memories of her long career.

I was a no-nonsense girl right from childhood: I was born and brought up in Bangalore. My father was employed in the police department and discipline was but natural. I was the youngest of the three children in the family. My grandfather, who was unhappy after my birth — the third girl child in a row — felt sorry for his adverse comments about me after witnessing my success.

My entry into films was accidental: I had never dreamt that I would rise to this level in the film industry. Even my debut happened unexpectedly. Those were days when film professionals were looked down upon. I was 12 or 13 years old then. I was on the stage singing a song when Honnappa Bhagavathar spotted me and cast me in his film Mahakavi Kalidasa, which was one of the biggest hits in the history of Kannada cinema. I wanted to continue studies, but I could not resist the offer of acting with MGR in Nadodi Mannan. Subsequently, I acted in Kalyana Parisu and there was no turning back. This film was my lucky break. Suddenly, I had 30 offers on hand, all from big banners.

If not films, I would have been teaching: I love teaching. I had my elementary education in a convent school. I developed a fascination for the nuns who taught us. Their composure, patience and love for children amazed me. Besides, I was greatly influenced by the teachings of Jesus Christ. I told my parents that I wanted to become a teacher when I grew up. But that never happened.

I am a highly emotional person: I do not take things lightly. If I have something on my mind, I ensure that it is done. I do not like to be disturbed and I do not disturb others. This attitude almost soured my relationship with the media. Once the press approached me with an invitation to take part in an event. I couldn’t accept it because it clashed with my shooting schedule and I didn’t want to financially burden the producer by cancelling shooting. The media took it otherwise. Subsequently, there were negative reports about me in the press. Sometimes, it went out of control. Finally, it took a great personality like B.R.Panthulu to reconcile us.

Kittur Rani Chennamma made me a household name: That was one of the most successful films. I had to learn horse-riding and lift weights to train for sword-playing. It was tough as I was doing three films a day. The film received rave reviews. People started calling me Rani Chennamma. I am told that the statue of Rani Chennamma installed in Belgaum resembles me.

Some people took advantage of my fame: I hate to take their names. But there were many who hung around me during good times. They sought help in various forms and then turned their back on me. I have had bad experiences. After which I started maintaining a distance from persons whom I am not comfortable with. A bitter truth I have learnt is that many people lack a sense of gratitude.

Marriage rests on commitment: Despite rumours that I might marry a person from a different field, including a politician, I settled for an arranged marriage. Many in the industry were under the impression that I may bid goodbye to acting after marriage. But my husband Sriharsha was cooperative. He allowed me to continue acting. I divided my responsibilities equally between family and profession. Once Sharmila Tagore asked me the secret of maintaining the family as well as profession. I told her that there was no secret. All that’s required is commitment.

I am not interested in politics: Politicians have shown me great respect. Despite cordial relations with politicians, I maintained safe distance from politics. For, either it is ‘x’ or ‘y’ in power. And the two are no different from each other. In fact, former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi wanted me to contest elections from Mandya. But by then I had made up my mind. Politics was not my cup of tea. I have had a taste of people’s adulation and its enormous power when I was a star. I am happy with it. Numerous offers to nominate me as MLC came my way, but I refused all of them.

Life has come a full circle: I came into this profession from an ordinary family and then went on to win accolades from thousands of people, apart from awards... have seen all aspects of life. I am engaged in social service, manage a private business and try to inspire girls into coming up in society. But I am still open to the idea of acting.

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