Sarojadevi: Kannada queen, who ruled in 4 languages
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By Veena Bharathi - January 02 2007

Saroja Devi, who came to be popularly known as the "Chaturbhasha Taaare" (the film star of four languages), was the first choice as a heroine opposite stalwarts like Raj Kumar, MGR and NTR from Kannada, Tamil, and Telugu film industries

Nearly four decades ago, the cine-goers of India saluted the heroine of a Kannada movie for her acting proficiency as Queen Chennamma in the Kannada movie Kittooru Rani Chennamma. The heroine, then barely in her mid 20s had brought alive the patriotism of Rani Chennamma, not only as an young woman but even as the aged, widowed, imprisoned, childless queen who fought the British. The scene where she delivered her dialogue with an acidic tone admonishing the British representatives with an enraged thumping sound of her feet “Nimage naavu kappa needa beke? (do you expect us to pay you an offering as your subordinates?)” continue to reverberate in the audiences’ ears.

The heroine of that movie B Saroja Devi, who went on to act in over 200 films in four langauges, has been a recipient of Padmshree (in 1969), Padmabhushan (in 1992), Rajyotsava Award (in 1989) and many more awards from Tamil and Telugu film industries too. Saroja Devi, who came to be popularly known as the “Chaturbhasha Taaare” (the film star of four languages), was the first choice as a heroine opposite stalwarts like Raj Kumar, MGR and NTR from Kannada, Tamil, and Telugu film industries.

Talking of her unexpected entry into films she says, “My mother Rudramma was instrumental in motivating me to take up acting as a career. When I was a first year high school student in 1956, I acted in Kalidasa, a Kannada movie opposite Honnappa Bhagavathar. My very first movie won the National award! Before acting in that movie, I had thought I would continue my studies and become a teacher one day, but somehow acting became an all-absorbing career. I was offered several movies from different languages and for more than a decade, I was working for 20 hours a day!”

Saroja Devi acted in hit films like Anna Tangi, Amarashilpi Jakkanachaari in Kannada language, Naadodi Mannan, Anbevaa in Tamil opposite MGR, Seetha Rama Kalyanam, Dana Soora Karna in Telugu opposite N T Rama Rao and Sasural in Hindi opposite Rajendra Kumar, very early in her career.

And all these achievements by a born Kannadiga woman, without having a godfather or a family lineage of filmi profession nor compromising on her strict dress code. “In most of my films I wore only traditional sarees, very occasionally I wore a salvar kameez. I had made it very clear to my directors that I would never ever wear a swim suit or a sleeveless blouse!” she recalls. Saroja Devi’s dedicated attitude in learning other languages and dubbing in her own voice with a flawless diction lent authenticity to her acting talent.

Veteran stage director and film actor C R Simha recalls that “Saroja Devi (Sarojamma as he calls her) as a teenaged heroine created such an impact through her very first film Kalidasa that she became the reigning female superstar of three south Indian languages and held that position for nearly two decades. In the mid 1960’s, Sarojadevi as the dancer in Amarashilpi Jakkanachari who inspires the sculptor Jakkana, in fact had surpassed the screen presence of hero Kalyan Kumar. Amarashilpi Jakkanachari also happened to be the very first, full length colour movie in Kannada”

Simha analyses that Sarojadevi happened “to be at the right place and at the right time”. “With her talent, naturality and dedication to her profession, Saroja Devi became synonymous with super hit films. Her acting in Kalyana Parisu in Tamil, opposite Gemini Ganesan and Sasural in Hindi opposite Rajendra Kumar, are truly memorable.

Saroja Devi affectionately and respectfully recalls two of her on-screen heroes, Raj Kumar and MGR. “Raj Kumar was a wonderful human being, a very good co-star. In Bhagyavantharu Kannada movie, myself and Rajkumar are disillusioned parents and both of us die together, me of cancer and he, due to heart attack. Even today, Parvathamma Rajkumar refuses to watch that last scene since she feels that our acting is very natural and depicts human mortality”, says she.

About her association with MGR, she says, “He was an institution by himself. A very dignified, ever inspiring co-star for me. During the shooting of Nadodi Mannan, I fell unconscious when ‘the Boa’ (a python) which had encircled my body, literally suffocated me. The concern shown by MGR and other unit members and the timely medical attention I received, are still vivid in my memory.”

The one person whom Saroja Devi misses the most is her husband Sri Harsha, who died in 1986 barely two decades after her marriage to him. “My husband who was an engineer, was a thorough gentleman and taught me the value of earning and saving. He encouraged me to continue my acting career even after marriage, which was not so in the case of many other actresses.”

Saroja Devi known for her philanthropic gestures has donated a computer science hall in Poorna Prajna School, Bangalore and also got a class room constructed and donated for the handicapped children at Cluny Convent, Malleshwaram, in the memory of her late husband Sri Harsha.

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