Savitri in 1951
4 January 1936
|Died||26 December 1981 (aged 45)|
|Other names||Mahanati Savithri|
Savitri Ganesan (born Nissankara Sarasavanidevi) was an Indian film actress, playback singer, dancer, director and producer known for her works primarily in Telugu cinema and Tamil cinema. She is also known for her works in Kannada, Malayalam, and Bollywood films.
Savitri's first significant role was in the 1952 Telugu film Pelli Chesi Choodu. In 1960, she received the Rashtrapati Award for her performance in the Telugu film Chivaraku Migiledi. In 1968, she produced and directed the Telugu film Chinnari Papalu, for which she received the state Nandi Award for Best Feature Film (Silver). She is often referred as "Mahanati" and "Nadigaiyar Thilagam".
Savitri was starred in enduring classics such as Pathala Bhairavi (1951), Devadasu (1953) which received special mentions at India International Film Festival, Donga Ramudu (1955), Mayabazar (1957), and Nartanasala (1963), featured at Afro Asian film festival in Jakarta. She was also starred in works such as Missamma (1955), Ardhangi (1955), Thodi Kodallu (1957), Mangalya Balam (1959), Aradhana (1962), Gundamma Katha (1962), Doctor Chakravarty (1964), Sumangali (1965), and Devata (1965).
Savitri received "A Moon Among Stars" honor at the 30th International Film Festival of India, "Woman in Cinema" section in 1999. The 2018 biographical film Mahanati based on the life of Savitri has garnered the "Equality in Cinema Award" at the 2018 Indian Film Festival of Melbourne.
Savitri was born on 4 January 1936 into a Telugu speaking Kapu family in Chirravuru, Guntur district, Madras Presidency, now a part of Andhra Pradesh. Her father was Nissankara Guruvaiya and mother was Nissankara Subhathramma. Her father died when she was six months old, after which her mother took Savitri and an older sibling, Maruti, to live with an aunt and uncle. Her uncle, Kommareddy Venkataramaiah, enrolled her in classes when she began to show a talent for dance.
Savitri married Tamil actor Gemini Ganesan in 1952, having first met him in 1948. The marriage led to a permanent rift with her uncle because Ganesan was already married, had four daughters and was involved in an affair with Pushpavalli. Her marriage became public when she signed a photograph as Savitri Ganesh. Ganesan later acknowledged that he had two daughters with Pushpavalli while married to Savitri, with whom he had a daughter and a son.
Savitri acted in dance dramas as a child, including some work with a theatre company run by Kongara Jaggaiah. She made an unsuccessful speculative trip to find film work in Madras at the age of 12, when she was deemed to be too young to play heroine roles, but in 1950 was cast as the female lead in Samsaram. That role did not become actuality because she became too excited, necessitating numerous retakes and eventually her replacement in the part. She was given a minor speaking role in the film and in the next year had two more minor roles, in Roopavati and Patala Bhairavi, before getting her big break as second heroine in Pelli Chesi Choodu.
Savriti was known for her hospitality, philanthropic gestures, and her love of buying property and jewellery, but she kept little control of her spending. Ganesan continued to philander and she was susceptible to favouring hangers-on with her largesse. Her career took a downturn in the late 1960s. Her properties were seized by tax officials and she turned to acting in any film that would have her, while sycophants encouraged her to direct and produce films that were unsuccessful and financially draining. Among her few supporters during her financial difficulties was Dasari Narayana Rao, who used her in most of his films, such as Gorintaku (1979), and specifically made Devadasu Malli Puttadu (1978) as a movie for her. Her only Malayalam film was Chuzhi (1973).
Her notable Tamil works include Kalathur Kannamma (1959), Pasamalar (1961), Pava Mannippu (1961), Paarthal Pasi Theerum (1962), Karpagam (1963), Karnan (1963), Kai Koduttha Dheivam, Navarathri (1964), and Thiruvilaiyadal (1965).
Savitri died on 26 December 1981, at the age of 45 and after being in a coma for 19 months. She had been an alcoholic for many years, having begun drinking heavily in 1969, and developed diabetes and high blood pressure. The Government of India issued a postage stamp in commemoration of Savitri.
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