Online September 18, 2008

The Karnataka Parrot-B.Saroja Devi-A Tribute!

Bhairappa Saroja Devi is one of the most successful south Indian star-actresses ever since cinema began to talk Tamil- Telugu in 1931(Kannada, 1934).? Her life and career are an incredible success story from obscure beginnings to the top of the heap playing major roles and the lead in many in films of several languages like Tamil, Kannada, Telugu and even Hindi. She also has the unique track record of not only doing over 170 movies in four languages, but also played opposite superstars of Indian Cinema like M. G. Ramachandran… Sivaji Ganesan… Gemini Ganesh… Rajkumar… Rajendrakumar (known as the Silver Jubilee Star of Hindi Cinema… Sunil Dutt… N. T. Rama Rao… A. Nageswara Rao, and several other top- notchers of Indian Cinema.

She has also been the recipient of several awards at the national and state levels including Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan, and the latest being the Life Achievement Award.? She has also headed public sector bodies like the Karnataka Film Development Corporation, Kanteerava Studio and also on the Board of other film bodies. Born in Bangalore in 1945 her father being a lowly paid cop in the then Maharaja - ruled Mysore State, life was indeed a struggle at first and to augment the meagre family income, her mother had a small business of selling charcoal on the kerbside of fashionable South Parade, (now MG Road).? That was the period when Bangalore was really cold and misty and more so during autumn and winter.? People used to huddle around small fires to keep themselves warm.

(The sadly neglected Indian film pioneer, lawyer turned film person, Krishnaswamy Subramanyam along with his personal secretary 'Pappan' Padmanabhan used to take long morning walks in South Parade when, according to Pappan, he noticed a young impressive looking girl sitting with her mother who was selling coal.? A talent scout who had discovered many movie stars, Subramanyam soon cast her in his Kannada film "Kacha Devayani", (a remake of his hit Tamil movie of the same title, in which the icon of Tamil Cinema T. R. Rajakumari zoomed to stardom from comparative obscurity.)

As a school going girl she used to sing in school events and also in choruses when she came to the attention of film personalities like C. Honnappa Bhagavathar who during 1940s was a popular hero of Tamil and Kannada cinema.? He cast her in a minor role in "Mahakavi Kalidasa" which turned out to be a hit and also won an award. Well known Kannada music director Vijay Bhaskar, sadly no more, told this writer that he was responsible for bringing her into the Kannada film "Srirama Puja" for which he was the music director.? Interestingly in her early films like the above she was credited in the titles as 'Kokila' and not Saroja Devi!

During those years Kannada films were mostly made? in Madras with few films being made elsewhere? and not surprisingly mother and daughter moved to Madras.? For a while she learnt dancing in the institute promoted by K. Subramanyam .? Again according to Subramanyam? he was responsible for introducing Saroja Devi to M. G. Ramachandran which would have far reaching consequences in her life. With her attractive looks, large expressive eyes and lissome figure she drew the attention of several filmmakers and offers began to come her way, big and small.

In the historic movie "Parthiban Kanavu" she was cast in a minor role as the princess' (Vyjayanthimala) companion, and the film directed by Yoganand was quite long in production for many a reason.? Meanwhile she got a break to play lead roles in Tamil films and the companion's role understandably was cut short and vanished in the rest of the movie. Interestingly the Gemini Studios' boss, known as the Cecil B. de Mille of India was on the lookout for a supporting role of a sister for his hit film "Irumbu Thirai.".? The heroine was again Vyjayanthimala, and in the story she had a stepsister does not know about her true identity? (but the audience knows!). Vasan was keen to cast an actress who bore some resemblance to Vyjayanthimala and he chose Saroja Devi who at that time did bear some resemblance. Meanwhile she shot into the limelight in Sridhar's maiden directorial venture "Kalyana Parisu", a story of two sisters falling in love with the same man.? After the thumping success of this movie Saroja Devi never looked back and went on to conquer more fame and name and scaled the peaks of success.

Her list of multilingual films is very long but mention must be made of the more important and significant of them.? Because of her beauty and peculiar high-pitched voice, the Tamil film press described as "Kannadathu Paingili"!

The list of her hits include, "Naadodi Mannan (M G R)"
Sabhash Meena" (J.P. Chandrababu)… "Kalyana Parisu" (Gemini Ganesan)
… "Bhagapirivinai"? (Sivaji Ganesan)… "Vidi Velli"(Sivaji Ganesan)…
"Irumbu Thirai" (Sivaji Ganesan)… "Mana Pandhal? (S. S. Rajendran)
"Paalum Pazhamum" (Sivaji Ganesan) Thai Sollai Thattaathey (MGR)…
Paasam (M G R)" Paarthal Pasi Theerum (Sivaji Ganesan)…
"Alayamani" (Sivaji Ganesan) ... "Iruvar Ullam (Sivaji Ganesan)
"Periya Idathu Penn (M G R)…? "Kulamagal Raadhai" (Sivaji Ganesan)…
"Pana Thottam (M G R)… ? "Padagotti (M G R)…
"Deivathai (M G R)…"Enga Veettu Pillai" (M G R)…
"Anbe Vaa" (M G R)… "Petralthaan Pillaiya (M .G. R.) …
"Panamaa Paasama (Gemini Ganesan)… [All Tamil movies]

"School Master" (B R Panthulu)…? "Anna Thangi" (Rajkumar)…
"Kittur Rani Chennamma"(Rajkumar)… "Amarashilpi Jakkanacharya"(Kalyankumar)
"Malamma Pavada" (Rajkumar)… "Srinivasa Kalyana" (Rajkumar)…
"Bhagyavantharu" (Rajkumar)… (All Kannada movies)

"Panduranga Mahatyam" (N. T. Rama Rao)… "Pelli Sandhadi" (A. Nageswara Rao)…
Aathma Balam (A. N. R.)…? "Amarashilpi Jakanna" (A N R) …
"Pandanti Kaapuram (Krishna)…. All Telugu movies

"Sasuraal" (Rajendrakumar)… "Paigham"? (Dilip Kumar)[The above lists are only illustrative and not exhaustive!)

Unlike most actresses she had a happy married life with her husband an engineer.? Socially conscious she gave back much to society which gave her so much fame, name, and fortune. Warm and friendly she enjoyed the admiration and friendship of her heroes and fellow artistes and technicians on and off the screen.? The only scandal that rocked Karnataka in her life was her alleged affair with the former Karnataka Chief Minister, later State Governor, and S. M. Krishna.? It was made public by one of Krishna's ministerial colleagues in his autobiography and the release of the book was stopped by agitators and protesting gatecrashers.? Both Krishna and Saroja Devi have of course denied it all. Now in her 60s and still looking youthfully beautiful she leads a happy contended life in Bangalore…. .

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