B. Saroja Devi

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B. Saroja Devi
Born (1938-01-07) 7 January 1938 (age 76)
Bangalore, Mysore State, British India
Nationality Indian
Occupation Actress
Years active 1955–present
Spouse(s) Sri Harsha (1967-1986; his death)

B. Saroja Devi (born 7 January 1938) is an Indian actress. She has acted in Kannada, Tamil, Telugu and Hindi movies. She is referred to as "Abinaya Saraswathi" by Kannada film industry and as "Kannadathu Paingili" (meaning Kannada's Parrot) by Tamil Film Industry. She has acted in nearly 190 films in a period of 6 decades.[1] Saroja Devi is one of the most successful female film stars in the history of Indian cinema and she was at her peak as the main female lead heroine in films in the period 1958-85. Saroja Devi received the Padma Sri, the fourth-highest civilian honour, in 1969 and Padma Bhushan, third highest civilian award, in 1992 from the Government of India. She holds the world record for being the actress with most number of concsecutive films as the lead heroine -161 films from 1955-1984, without playing supporting roles. She is the Indian film heroine with the longest career as the main lead female heroine in Indian films - 29 years from 1955-1984.

Early life[edit]

Saroja Devi was born in Karnataka on 7 January 1938 to Bhairappa and Rudramma. Her father worked for the police department. Saroja Devi was their fourth daughter and so her grandfather Mayanna Gowda was unhappy and asked Bhairappa to abandon the child. Bhairappa protested and decided to raise Saroja. Her father asked her to learn dance and encouraged her to venture into films when film offers started coming to her. A young Saroja Devi was often chaperoned to studios by him. He frequently tied her salangais and gejje and often massaged her swollen feet after her dancing stints.[2]

Saroja Devi was first spotted by B.R. Krishnamurthy singing at a function at the age of 13.[3] Initially, she declined his offer to act in movies. She debuted with the Kannada film Mahakavi Kalidasa in 1955. Her dad gave her a strict dress code: no swimsuits and no sleeveless blouses, which she followed for rest of her career.[4]

Film career[edit]

Early career as lead actress (1955–69)[edit]

Saroja Devi's first big break came in the Honnappa Bhagavatar's Kannada film, Mahakavi Kalidasa, in 1955, for which she won a National Award. It was followed by B R Panthulu's Thanga Malai Ragasiyam, where her eyes enacted a magical drama, in a dance sequence.Her debut movie in Telugu was Panduranga Mahatyam (1957) in which she acted opposite N.T. Rama Rao.After this she came under the notice of the MGR for the very first time, on K Subramaniam's sets and MGR cast her in Nadodi Manan(1958).

People doubted her ability to speak Tamil, but MGR had faith in her and encouraged her to learn and speak Tamil and cast her in his home production Nadodi Mannan in 1958 as well.It was the Tamil film Nadodi Mannan opposite MGR in 1958 that catapulted Saroja Devi to superstar status in Tamil Film industry. In an interview she said ’Thirudathe’ was my first film with MGR. As the shooting got delayed, he introduced me in Naadodi Mannan, which was released before ‘Thirudathe’. After this she immediately received offer to make her Hindi debut opposite Dilip Kumar in Paigam(1959). She never allowed any one to dub for her and insisted that she would speak by herself as a result none of her Tamil movies her voice was dubbed by any other artiste since the beginning of her career.Then she gave hits opposite Gemini Ganesan in Manalane Mangayin Bhagyam, Kalyana Parisu, Ode Velaiyadu papa, Kairasi and opposite Sivaji Ganeshan in Baga Pirivinai,Vidi Velli,Palum Pazhamum, Iruvar Ullam(1958 till 1960).After this she started getting offers from Tamil,Kannada, and Telugu films. She was working more than 20 hours a day in this peak period of her career(1960–69).[5] She became the number one female lead actress of the period 1959-69 in Tamil films.

She was cast always opposite the much high in demand stars of respective film industries : Dr. Rajkumar in Kannada, NTR, ANR in Telugu, MGR, Sivaji Ganeshan, Gemini Ganesan, S.S.Rajendran in Tamil. Saroja chose to do more films in Tamil in the period 1958-1969 and after her marriage she was more active in Kannada and Telugu films from (1970–1984). When she announced that she wouldn't act with MGR any longer, right after MGR's shooting incident it came as a surprise to other producers who later dropped her from their projects. Thus she lost popularity in the Tamil film industry and had to move to her native land. No wonder people didn't surprise she didn't appear with MGR after his shooting incident. Her announcement ruined her film career in Tamil Naadu.

Saroja Devi's energetic performance as a patriotic queen raging against the British in Kannada flick Kittooru Rani Chennamma, which won the national award for Best Film in 1963, brought her much acclaim.[5] Her Telugu hits were Seetha Rama Kalyanam and Jagadeka Veeranukatha in 1961 with NTR, while her hits in Hindi films included Paigham (1959), Sasural (1960), Opera House (1961), Pareeksha, Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya(1963) and Beti Bete (1964) and in addition Kannada hits like Chintamani(1957), School Master(1958), Jagajyothi Basaveshwara (1959), Kitturu Chennamma (1962).It was at this time in 1962 that she was crowned "Chaturbhaasha Taare", because of her popularity in these four languages.[6] She had mincing accent, smart and perky attitude and this made her popular among the audience of all the four languages.She concentrated more in Tamil films as a result though she had all her films as hits in Hindi, after Preet Na Jane Reet opposite Shammi Kapoor she did not do more Hindi films.

Another leading Telugu actress Krishna Kumari had dubbed her voice in Panduranga Mahatyam for Saroja Devi in the initial part of her career in Telugu Films. But in subsequent years, without any external source of dubbing, Saroja Devi acted in her Telugu films.For her films in Kannada Hindi, and Tamil she always dubbed for herself since the beginning of her career.She did only film directed by K.Balachander named Thamarai Nenjam which was a box-office hit opposite Gemini Ganeshan.

In 1964 she acted opposite Kalyan Kumar in the first full fledged Kannada colour movie Amarashilpi Jakanachaari which portrayed the life of a great sculptor Jakanachaari who built world famous Belur and Halebidu temples of Karnataka. This film was remade in Telugu as Amarashilpi Jakkanna.

MGR Saroja Devi established a popular on screen pair and had back to back superhits from 1958-1966. From 1967 she was denied acting in MGR movies after she announced that she wouldn't act with MGR. This matter took its tall and all the producers avoided her particularly when MGR removed her from his Adimai Penn project. After that it was downfall for her career in Tamil Nadu. The pair who began with Naadodi Mannan, went on to give do 27 hit films together.[7] the most popular being Thirudathey, Thai Sollai Thattathey, Paasam,Thaayaikaatha Thanayan, Asai Mugam, Periya Idathu Penn, Dharmam Thalaikkakkum, Neethikku Pin Pasam, Pannakkara Kudumbam,Padakoti, Nadodi, Thali Bhagyam, Naan Anayittaal, Petralthaan Pillaiya, Arasa Katalai and Kudumba Thalaivan. Her best performances opposite MGR were the 'rich girl' roles in Anbe Vaa, Enga Veettu Pillai, En Kadamai, Deiva Thai,Kalangarai Vilakkam, Pana Thottam, Parrakkum Pavai and Thayin Madiyil. She made a fashion statement too as women adored her dressing sense and her saris and blouses, ornaments, hairstyles were copied by girls and women.[8]

Later career as lead actress (1970–85)[edit]

After Jayalalitha become a star and her pair with MGR was appreciated and after Saroja got married in 1967, Sarojadevi did not get the opportunity to work opposite MGR. Saroja Devi's last film opposite MGR was Arasa Katalai, which also starred Jayalalithaa. However Saroja continued having hits opposite Sivaji like En Thambi, Anjal Petti 520, Thenum Palum, Arunothayam and with Gemini in Panamaa Paasama, Pen Endraal Pen, Thamarai Nenjam, Aindhu Latcham, Thangamalar, Kula Vilaku, Malathy, Kann Malar. She was cast with younger heroes like Ravichandran in Odum Nadhi(1969), Snegithi(1970), Malathi(1971), Swargathil Thirumanam(1974) and R.Muthuraman in Uyir(1971), Paththu Matha Bandham(in 1974 her last film in Tamil) which were successful too.

From 1970,she started to get few offers in Tamil Cinema.But this only resulted in she becoming the highest paid actress in Kannada films from 1970-1980 and was more active in Kannada films in seventies.She acted in films such as Sri Renukadevi Mahathme, Gunavanthudu, Shani Prabhava and Katha Sangama. She won accolades from critics in films opposite Dr. Rajkumar in Kannada for her performances in MalamaPavada (1969), Nyayave Devaru(1971), Sri Srinivasa Kalyana(1974), Babruvahana (1977), Bhagyavantharu (1977) and with Vishnuvardhan in Shani Prabhava, Rudra Naga, Ugra Naagu (1985) and in other films like Thande Makkalu, Papa Punya, Chiranjeevi etc.(from 1971–1984).She accepted in an interview that she excelled in roles that challenged her with tremendous range. In her long career she chiefly opted for romantic films only in 1960's and later sentimental and socially relevant films right from late 1960's to 1980's. Sri Renukadevi Mahathme, Kannada film released in 1977 was Saroja Devi's 150th film in her career. and by 1984 completed 161 films as the main lead heroine, without ever playing supporting roles.

She mesmerized audience of all sections with her lively action, eye-catching looks and sweet articulation and got critical acclaims for her roles in the few Telugu films she did like Rahasyam and in Aathma Balam and Amarashilpi Jakanna, both with A Nageshwara Rao. From the late sixties till mid-1970s she formed popular on screen pair with NTR in Telugu films with Dagudu moothalu,Shakuntala,Bahagyachakram, Mayani Mamata and Daana Veera Shoora Karna.

Later career (1986-2011)[edit]

Saroja Devi had signed for the film Ladies Hostel in 1985, but since her husband fell ill and subsequently died in 1986, she resumed shooting only in 1987 and the film became a hit in 1987. She declined to sign any new films after her husband's death but chose to complete 8 films she had accepted before 1986 and these films released between 1987-1990. She was in title role in Thaimel Anai (1988) which proved to be hit and had extended pivotal role in Dharma Devan(1989). After appeal from producers and fans she returned to acting with Parambhariyam opposite Sivaji Ganesan, which was successful. She took up very few assignments as supporting actress from late 2000s and even those films turned out to be popular. The most notable performances as supporting actress were in Anuragasangama, Agni I P S, Mangala Suitra in Kannada and in Tamil it was - Once More (where Saroja was paired opposite Sivaji Ganesan in with her scenes in Iruvar Ullam too infused in the movie), Aadhavan with Surya in 2009.

She said in an interview 'I have four homes in Chennai: the residences of MGR, Sivaji Ganesan, Gemini Ganesan, and MR Radha,' she had once said. 'But now, they have all gone—and I remain alone, with only their memories in my heart, and tears in my eyes.'[9]

B. Saroja Devi was Chairperson of the Karnataka Film Development Corporation. She was also the chairperson of Kantheerava Studios, Bangalore.[10][11]

Personal life[edit]

Saroja Devi was married to Sri Harsha, an engineer by profession who worked with Bharat Electronics Limited, on 1 March 1967. A grand reception took place on 5-3-1967 in Chennai, which entire Southern film industry attended. Though her mother asked her to stop acting after marriage, her husband did not want her to waste her talent. He reportedly had no qualms about her star status, and was a 'complete gentleman'. Their marriage lasted till her husband's death in 1986 after which Saroja stopped signing new films for 8 years. She resumed shooting for the projects she had signed before her husband's death and thus had 8 film releases between 1987 & 1990. The couple have adopted children: Indira and Ramachandran.[12] She named her daughter Indira as she admired Indira Gandhi[4] and her son is named after M.G. Ramachandran.

Social causes[edit]

Saroja Devi has organized many donation camps in the name of her late husband Sri Harsha, and her mother and has organized Charitable Trusts, Rehabilitation centers and health programs.She is settled in Bangalore.[13]

National and state Awards[edit]

National Awards[edit]

State and other Awards[edit]

  • 2010 Lifetime achievement award by the Government of Tamil Nadu
  • 2009 Dr.Rajkumar National award by the Government of Karnataka
  • 2009 N.T.R. National Award from Government of Andhra Pradesh for the second time for the year 2009
  • 2009 Natya Kaladhar Award - Tamil cinema, by Bharat Kalachar Chennai
  • 2007 NTR award for remarkable achievement by Karnataka Telugu Academy
  • 2007 Rotary Sivaji Award by the Charitable Trust and Rotary Club of Chennai
  • 2006 Honorary Doctorate from Bangalore University
  • 2003 Dinakaran award for All-round Achievement
  • 2001 N.T.R. National Award from Andhra Pradesh Government for the year 2001
  • 1997 Tamil Nadu Government’s M.G.R award
  • 1997 Lifetime achievement awards by Cinema Express in Chennai
  • 1997 Filmfare award for All-round Achievement
  • 1989 Karnataka Government’s Rajyothsava award
  • 1980 Abhinandana-Kanchana Mala award by Karnataka State
  • 1965 Abhinya Saraswathy award by Karnataka Government

Filmography[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]