I wanted to be a teacher, not an actress  Deccan Herald june 22 2008 

"Nowadays, there is hardly any discipline amongst the actors. People speak of making films in crores! The actors demand whimsical amounts and get it. Nothings wrong with that."

Her debut film won a National Award. And on Thursday, the government of India chose actress B Saroja Devi for the Lifetime Achievement award. Amongst the earliest superstars of South Indian cinema, Saroja Devi has acted in more than 200 films in four languages in a career spanning more than half a century.

Saroja Devi achieved superstardom acting with the likes of MGR, NTR and Nageshwara Rao, becoming the highest paid actress of her time.

She has served the industry in various capacities – including twice as chairman of the State and National award committees and of the Central Board of Film Certification as well. Recipient of various State and National honours including the Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan, the multilingual actress in a free-wheeling chat with B S Srivani of Deccan Herald spoke of her reluctant entry into films and work among other things:

Deccan Herald: Your first film won a National award and now you have been chosen for the lifetime achievement award...

B Saroja Devi  : I had no inkling of what God had in store for me then. I was a silent, naive girl who obeyed her elders, particularly my mother. Studying in St Theresa’s School in Chamarajpet, I was influenced by Jesus’ compassion and love and wanted to be a teacher just like the nuns who taught us. When producer Honnappa Bhagavathar spotted me in a singing competition and wanted to cast me in his Mahakavi Kalidasa, I was not at all willing. But my mother persuaded me to act in this one film and I agreed.

We had to obtain the transfer certificate from the school, telling them that my father was transferred to Madras. I wept at the thought of being separated from my school and my dreams. I kept thinking that I could go back to Bangalore after shooting and return the school. But the film won the national award and offers began pouring in.

I thought K Subramanyam’s Kacha Devayani would be my last, but it made me a superstar and many big names in the industry wanted to cast me in their films.

After popular Tamil magazine Ananda Vikatan praised my performance in B R Pantulu’s Schoolmaster and predicted a rosy future, I was inundated with offers. I was cast as Vyjayantimala’s sister in Paigham with Dilip Kumar in the lead and went on to do several films like Sasural and Beti Bete to name a few.

DH: The recognition has come to you when Kannada industry is celebrating its 75th year. How do you rate the industry’s development in all these years?

BSD: The industry has taken gigantic strides in terms of technology. But the old camaraderie is missing. Earlier, films were shot in studios. There were no AC caravans, mobiles and the like. All the artistes used to huddle around a huge fan. It forced people to interact with each other.

Nowadays, there is hardly any discipline amongst the actors. People speak of making films in crores! The actors demand whimsical amounts and get it. Nothing’s wrong with that.

But where’s the need to shoot abroad for songs? If the film succeeds, it doesn’t matter. But if it fails, then it is the producer who comes to the street, losing his shirt in the process. Who will come to his rescue?

DH: What should the government do something on this occasion?

BSD: Why should we go to the government for everything? A little discipline will help us solve most of the problems. During a meeting with then Chief Minister Dharam Singh, I had suggested for a liaison officer to be appointed and a room be reserved in Delhi Karnataka Bhavan for artistes.

But nothing came of it. Our film chamber finally built a fine structure. Now what is the artistes’ association doing? If each artiste, who can afford to, donates a lakh rupees it would be enough to build a building for the association. But someone should take the initiative.

Right now I am content to be at home and not averse to do a film that has a strong storyline.

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