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Savitri (actress)

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Savitri Ganesan

(1934-12-06)6 December 1934
Chiravuru, Madras Presidency, British India
(present-day Andhra Pradesh, India)
Died26 December 1981(1981-12-26) (aged 47)
Other namesMahanati Savitri
Nadigaiyar Thilagam
Occupation(s)Actress, singer, director
(m. 1952)

Savitri Ganesan (née, Nissankara; 6 December 1934 – 26 December 1981) was an Indian actress, singer, and filmmaker known for her works primarily in Telugu and Tamil films. Known as Nadigaiyar Thilagam (Doyen of all the actresses) & Mahanati (The great actress), Savitri was one of the highest-paid and most popular Indian actresses in the 1950s and '60s. She was one of the most accomplished and respected actresses of all time in South India.[1]

In a career spanning three decades, Savitri starred in more than 250 films. Her first significant role was in the 1952 film Pelli Chesi Choodu. Later, she starred in successful and award winning films such as Devadasu (1953),[2][3][4] Donga Ramudu (1955), Mayabazar (1957), and Nartanasala (1963), featured at the Afro-Asian Film Festival in Jakarta.[5] She 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).[6]

Savitri was also noted for her kindness, charity, and generosity towards the poor. She received "A Moon Among Stars" honor at the 30th International Film Festival of India, "Woman in Cinema" section in 1999.[7] The 2018 biographical film Mahanati based on the life of Savitri won the "Equality in Cinema Award" at the 2018 Indian Film Festival of Melbourne.[8]

Early life[edit]

Savitri was born on 6 December 1934[a] in a Telugu-speaking family in Chirravuru, Guntur district of present-day Andhra Pradesh. Her parents were Subhadramma and Guravayya and both of them belonged to Kapu caste.[9][10][11][12] 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.

She was named for the expression of her eyes during dramas. She participated in many dramas, in one where she was rewarded with a garland by the famous actor Prithviraj Kapoor. She, along with her uncle, went to the Vijaya Vauhini studio in Chennai to enroll Savitri as a character in a movie, though they refused to do so. Not giving up, they tried once again, in another cinema, where she managed to get a role, but could not stand it as she hesitated in reciting dialogues because she was in awe when talking to the hero.

Savitri with the team recording a song Mayabazar

It was then that she met Ramaswamy Ganesan, also known as Gemini Ganesan, who took pictures of Savitri and instructed the duo that they come after two months. Defeated, Savitri went back to her village and continued playing dramas. On one specific day a man came to their home and asked Savitri to play a role for his cinema. Savitri's career thus began. 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.[1] Her marriage became public when she signed a photograph as Savitri Ganesh.[13] Ganesan later acknowledged that he had two daughters with Pushpavalli while married to Savitri, with whom he had a daughter and a son.[citation needed]


Savitri acted in dance dramas as a child, including some work with a theatre company run by Jaggayya. She made an unsuccessful speculative trip to find film work in Madras at the age of 14 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 the second heroine in Pelli Chesi Choodu. She, later on, was propelled to stardom with critically acclaimed roles in blockbusters such as Devadasu and Missamma.[1]

Director PC Reddy who directed Savitri says, "there is none who can equal her beauty and talent. She didn't heed anyone's advice and got married very early. I remember she was so addicted to drinking even on the sets; she threw up on my shirt during a shoot. The next day she got a brand new shirt for me. She was a generous woman." Savitri also worked in Bollywood films, although she did not find much success.[1] Her only Malayalam film was Chuzhi (1973).[14]

Her performance in the 1957 film Mayabazar skyrocketed her to stardom. She later went on to become the highest-paid and most sought-after South-Indian actress of her generation. Savitri was known for her hospitality, philanthropic gestures, and love of buying property and jewelry, but she kept little control of her spending. Ganesan continued to philander and she was susceptible to favoring hangers-on with her largesse. In 1960, she received special mention from Rashtrapathi 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). Her career took a downturn in the late 1960s. Her properties were seized by tax officials in the 1970s and she turned to act in any film in her later years, while sycophants encouraged her to direct and produce films that were unsuccessful and financially draining. Among her few supporters during her financial troubles were Dasari Narayana Rao, who cast her in most of his films, such as Gorintaku (1979), and specifically made Devadasu Malli Puttadu (1978) as a movie for her.[15]

Savitri was also one of the top Tamil actresses of her era. She acted with major stalwarts, such as M.G.R, Sivaji Ganesan and her husband, Gemini Ganesan, mostly with the latter. 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 on a 2011 stamp of India

Savitri died on 26 December 1981, at the age of 47, after being in a coma for 19 months. She had developed diabetes and high blood pressure.[1][16]


Nandi Awards


In 2011, the Government of India issued a postage stamp in commemoration of Savitri.[18]

In popular culture[edit]

Savitri's biopic, titled Mahanati, starring Keerthy Suresh as Savitri and Dulquer Salmaan as Gemini Ganesan was released in 2018 to critical acclaim and commercial success.[19] In the 2019 biopic film of Sr. N.T.R. titled NTR: Kathanayakudu, actress Nithya Menen portrayed Savitri onscreen.[20]


  1. ^ Savitri's birth date is misrecorded at many places as 4 January 1936. VR Murthy and V Shobaraju in their book A Legendary Actress: Mahanati Savitri have determined the exact birth date as 6 December 1934 after extensive research.


  1. ^ a b c d e Kalyanam, Rajeshwari (22 December 2013). "Drama In Real Life". The Hans India. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  2. ^ "::Directorate Of Film Festivals::". Archived from the original on 28 May 2015.
  3. ^ "4th National Film Awards" (PDF). Directorate of Film Festivals. Retrieved 2 September 2011.
  4. ^ "33rd International Film Festival of India" (PDF). Directorate of Film Festivals. 2002. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 December 2017. Retrieved 23 December 2017.
  5. ^ 100 Years of Indian Cinema: The 100 land mark Indian films of all time|Movies News Photos-IBNLive
  6. ^ "Directorate of Film Festival" (PDF). Iffi.nic.in. Retrieved 25 August 2012.
  7. ^ Devipriya (January 1999). "Savitri: A Moon Among Stars" (PDF). 30th International Film Festival of India '99. Directorate of Film Festivals. p. 150. Archived from the original (PDF) on 30 January 2013. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  8. ^ "Mahanati: 100 glorious days of an undisputed classic!". in.com. Archived from the original on 8 November 2018.
  9. ^ Premchand, V. K. (25 December 2016). "మసకబారని మహానటి". Sakshi (in Telugu). Retrieved 6 December 2020.
  10. ^ M. L. Kantha Rao (July 1999), A Study of the Socio-Political Mobility of the Kapu Caste in Modern Andhra. University of Hyderabad. Chapter 6. p. 290. hdl:10603/25437
  11. ^ "Kapu community says no to 'Chandranna' samkshema bhavan". The Times of India. 22 May 2016. ISSN 0971-8257. Retrieved 8 April 2023.
  12. ^ "Election promises haunt Chandrababu Naidu". Deccan Chronicle. 2 February 2016. Retrieved 14 May 2023.
  13. ^ "Star and a versatile actor". The Hindu. Chennai, India. 15 August 2003. Archived from the original on 29 September 2003. Retrieved 11 July 2011.
  14. ^ Vijayakumar, B. (12 October 2014). "Chuzhi: 1973". The Hindu. Retrieved 1 March 2018.
  15. ^ Chowdhary, Y. Sunita (3 May 2018). "Savitri: a legend like none other". The Hindu. Retrieved 8 January 2021.
  16. ^ Adivi, Sashidhar (26 April 2017). "I never watched amma's films: Vijaya Chamundeswari". Deccan Chronicle. Retrieved 1 March 2018.
  17. ^ "On her birth anniversary, remembering late legendary actress Savitri through her journey in the showbiz". The Times of India. 6 December 2019. Retrieved 31 July 2021.
  18. ^ "Stamp depicting Savtri issued by the Government". Govt postage stamps.
  19. ^ Pudipeddi, Haricharan (2 July 2018). "Mahanati completes 50-day theatrical run, becomes highest grossing woman-led South Indian film". Firstpost. Archived from the original on 14 July 2018. Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  20. ^ Manoj Kumar R. (9 January 2019). "NTR Kathanayakudu movie review: Tribute to the legend of NT Rama Rao". The Indian Express. Archived from the original on 29 November 2022. Retrieved 25 January 2023.

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