2 December 1960
Eluru, Andhra Pradesh, India
|Died||23 September 1996 (aged 35)|
Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
|Cause of death||Suicide by hanging|
Vadlapati Vijayalakshmi (2 December 1960 – 23 September 1996), better known by her stage name Silk Smitha, was an Indian actress and dancer who worked mainly in Tamil and Telugu cinema, in addition to some Malayalam, Kannada and Hindi films. Smitha was part of several successful dance numbers in the 1980s Indian films.
She entered the industry as a supporting actress, and was first noticed for her role as "Silk" in the 1979, Tamil film, Vandichakkaram. She was the most sought-after erotic actress in South Indian cinema in the 1980s. In a career spanning 17 years, she appeared in over 450 films.
Smitha was born in Kovvali village in Eluru district, Andhra Pradesh on 02 December 1962 to Vadlapati Ramallu and Sarasamma couple. She was a school dropout due to her family situation. Her family married her off at a very young age. Her husband and in-laws treated her poorly and she soon ran away.
Smitha started as a touch-up artist for actress Aparna and soon got a break in small character roles. She got her first movie as a heroine by Malayalam director Anthony Eastman in his film "Inaye Thedi", though the movie got released very much later. Anthony gave her the name Smitha. She got her big break in Tamil by director Vinu Chakravarthy. He took her under his wing; his wife taught her English and arranged for her to learn dancing, though soon, due to her marked sex appeal, she switched to roles of cabaret dancers and vamps and inevitably found herself typecast. After garnering much notice and acclaim with her first major role in the Tamil film Vandichakkaram, in 1979, Smitha assumed the screen name "Silk", after her character's name in the movie. After it became a big hit, she could not escape typecasting, severely limiting her range throughout her career.
Smitha went on to star in Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, Kannada and a few Hindi films. Her dance numbers and bold performances in films like Moondru Mugam made her the ultimate symbol of sensuality in South Indian cinema. Her item numbers in films like Amaran, Halli Meshtru (in Kannada) were also celebrated at the box office. Some film critics, historians and journalists have referred to her as a "soft porn" actress. A vast majority of her movies are considered "softcore" by Indian standards and a common theme is her playing a freakishly strong agent in skimpy bikinis and beating up huge thugs. Her acting prowess did not go completely unnoticed, and in her rare non-sexual roles she impressed critics and audiences, such as her portrayal of a wife hurt by her role in her husband's rape of their maid (which she passively allowed by not preventing him from entering the maid's bathroom and standing "guard" during the shameful act, to prevent embarrassment to their family) and when she poignantly admitted her mistake in her confrontation of her husband in Alaigal Oivathillai (1981). One of her films, Layanam (1989), has earned cult status in the Indian adult film industry and was dubbed in numerous languages, including Hindi as Reshma Ki Jawani (2002), acquiring cult status. Her most respected film is Moondram Pirai, by Balu Mahendra, remade in Hindi as Sadma, with much of the top-drawer cast, including Sridevi, Kamal Hassan, and Silk Smitha reprising their roles.
Such was her audience-drawing power that, at the peak of her career, according to Tamil film historian Randor Guy, "Films that had lain in cans for years were sold by the simple addition of a Silk Smitha song."
Smitha had a small circle of close friends. Owing to being an introvert she was said to not make friends as quick. She was often known for her short temperedness, determination and straightforwardness, which some mistook for arrogance. She was punctual (arriving in movie sets well before the shooting commences), responsible, and ambitious (having learned to speak the English language fluently despite her limited education). She was also described as having a "soft" and "child like" personality by her friends and fans. She was skilled with costume design, makeup and made it her profession before entering the industry.
On the night of 22 September 1996, after a movie shoot, Smitha contacted her friend Anuradha, to discuss a serious issue that was disturbing her. Later that morning, Smitha was found dead by hanging, in her hotel room.
After a few months of her death, it was reported that Smitha may have died by suicide due to excess alcohol found in her body. The police also recovered a suicide note from her, which could not be deciphered. Her death remains as an unsolved mystery till today.
In popular culture
- In 2011, the film The Dirty Picture directed by Milan Luthria starred Vidya Balan as Silk Smitha. Reports suggest that the family of Silk Smitha, on whom the film is based, is not happy with the movie. Smitha's brother, V. Naga Vara Prasad, claimed the film was made without the family's consent. After the claim, Ekta Kapoor immediately changed her statement by quoting The Dirty Picture is not based on Silk Smitha's life.
- In 2013, a Kannada film titled Dirty Picture: Silk Sakkath Hot, starring Pakistani actress Veena Malik was released. The film was based on Silk Smitha, and Veena Malik was praised for her performance in the film. The film was a hit in Karnataka.
- The 2023 film Dasara has a shop name "Silk Soda Center" also inspired by her.
- The 2023 Tamil film Mark Antony portrays her, with Vishnu Priya Gandhi, a lookalike of her playing the role.
- Zainab Mulla (2 December 2014). "Silk Smitha Happy Birthday: Top song videos of the bad girl of Southern cinema!". India.com. Archived from the original on 3 October 2016. Retrieved 14 June 2016.
- K, Janani (2 December 2020). "Who was Silk Smitha?". India Today. Archived from the original on 26 July 2021. Retrieved 26 July 2021.
- Anupama Chopra (28 September 2011). "Why Silk Smitha is Bollywood's favourite bad girl". NDTV Movies. Archived from the original on 29 September 2011.
- "The mysterious death of India's biggest Cine Queen Smitha". 23 February 2015. Archived from the original on 19 May 2017. Retrieved 15 August 2017.
- Jayaraman, Gayatri (30 September 2011). "Silk Route". Mint. Archived from the original on 16 April 2015.
- Kuldip, Hussain (27 September 1996). "Obituary". The Independent cited in BNET. Archived from the original on 17 October 2007. Retrieved 9 November 2006.
- "First person: The Silk Smitha I knew". Sify. 27 September 1996. Archived from the original on 15 June 2015.
- "Chronicle of a death foretold". Rediff India Abroad. 4 April 1997. Archived from the original on 21 April 2021. Retrieved 2 January 2009.
- "கவர்ச்சி நடனத்தால் ரசிகர்களைக் கவர்ந்த 'சில்க்' சுமிதா தூக்கில் தொங்கினார்" [Sexy dance, attracted the fans 'Silk' Sumita hung herself to death]. Cinema.maalaimalar.com. 14 December 2013. Archived from the original on 17 December 2013. Retrieved 14 February 2014.
- Staff Correspondent, Pradeep (26 October 2006). "Some reel-life role models". Deccan Herald. Archived from the original on 22 July 2011. Retrieved 9 November 2006.
- Vicky Lalwani (21 February 2011). "Ekta slams Silk Smitha's boyfriend". The Times of India. Archived from the original on 27 May 2012.
- Sebastian (6 March 2005). "Magic workers". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 29 June 2011. Retrieved 9 November 2006.
- Bhattacharya, Roshmila (8 November 2002). "Sex Sells". Screen Weekly. Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. Retrieved 9 November 2006.
- Ashok Kumar, SR (6 September 2006). "A saga of success". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 21 October 2007. Retrieved 9 November 2006.
- "Remembering Silk Smitha: 30 lesser-known facts about the ethereal beauty". Cinema Express. Archived from the original on 23 June 2022. Retrieved 23 June 2022.
- "'சுமிதாவுக்கு திருமணத்தில் நம்பிக்கை இல்லை': 'சில்க்' சுமிதாவின் காதலர் பேட்டி" [' Sumita does not believe in the marriage ': Silk 'Sumita's Valentine Interview]. Cinema.maalaimalar.com. Archived from the original on 21 December 2013. Retrieved 14 February 2014.
- "'எனக்கு வாழ்க்கை தருவதாக" [Give me life]. Archived from the original on 14 January 2014. Retrieved 14 February 2014.
- "Silk Smitha – What led to her untimely death". 27 October 2020. Archived from the original on 12 February 2021. Retrieved 5 January 2021.
- "Vidya's nothing like Silk". Pune Times of India. 2 September 2011.
- "'The Dirty Picture' irks Silk's kin". The Indian Express. Archived from the original on 29 March 2020. Retrieved 23 October 2012.
- "THE DIRTY PICTURE is not about Silk Smitha! – Bollywood news". glamsham.com. 7 November 2011. Archived from the original on 31 December 2011. Retrieved 23 October 2012.
- Ashish Rajadhyaksha, Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema, Oxford University Press, 1994 (ISBN 0-85170-669-X)
- Roopa Swaminathan, Star Dust: Vignettes from the Fringes of the Film Industry, Penguin, 2004 (ISBN 0-14-303243-7)
- Suparna Bhaskaran, 'Decolonizations, Queer Sexualities, Trans/National Projects, Palgrave Macmillan, 2004 (ISBN 1-4039-6726-1)