Women in Kannada cinema have always been respected as stars. They have won hearts with their looks and their acting. Each of them have contributed to the growth of the film industry.
Actors such as Saroja Devi, Jayanthi, Sowcar Janaki, Jayamala, Bharathi Vishnuvardhan, Kalpana, Aarthi and Manjula, who were part of the industry in 60s, 70s and 80s, have all played strong female character roles that held universal appeal. There are some who, even today, do steallar work.
City Express speaks to both senior actresses and promising ones and find out what it is like to be a woman in Sandalwood
If Sudha Rani has to divide her film career in two parts, the first would be in which she did mostly heroine-centric films that deliver a strong message such as Avane Nana Ganda on widow re-marriage and Aragini about the Devadasi system. It was not the typical stories of women who sacrifice all for their families. The actress is happy to do another such role in her upcoming film Moodala Seemeli. “It has an interesting subject,” she says, “And I have always done movies that are socially relevant.” Moodala Semeli is based on a real-life practice that is still on Pavagada village in Tumkuru. “It is about bamboo weavers,” says the actress. “Even today, men can sell their women whether it is their wife, daugther, daughter-in-law or mother and the recent incident happened in 2015. The movie directed by Shivarudraiah is based on such incidents.”
The role is close to her heart, she says. The shooting of Moodala Seemeli has been completed and has been sent for the National Award nominations and Panorama.
Tara has done more novel-based movies than other heroines, and she feels the best is yet to come. She can’t pick one role that is her best. “I have had really good roles to play in Munnudi, Haseena, Kote, Cyanide and Kanuru Heggadathi to name a few... they were all women-centric films with a strong message,” she says. “But what I is occupying me these days is the role I play in the upcoming biopic Savitribai Phule... I am really honoured to get this role and it is one of my best roles in recent times.” The actress says Savitribai, of the 18th Century, did revolutionary work for women education and against casteism. “She was the Mother Teresa of that time,” says Tara. “We wanted to do a film around Jyothibai Phule, who was the only other person to be given the Mahatma tag, and he credited his wife Savitri for it.”
Bharathi Vishnuvardhan, who started her career in the 60s, made her mark in the south Indian film industry and Bollywood. The actress has been part of several classics and still acts in movies every now and then. She says she was lucky to get good roles and that her favourite till date is the Harijan character she played in Bhagya Jyothi, a movie that won critical acclaim. “This was a film directed by KSL Swamy and my character was of a Harijan, more commonly known as untouchables, who were not allowed do poojas or enter temples... I am glad the situation has changed today. Women are powerful and independant and God has given them the strength achieve anything on this earth.”
Jayamala, who started her career in Kannada with Daari Thappida Maga, is known as a multi-faceted personality. The actress, who has done around 50 films, says her best role till date is from the film Thaayi Saheba. The film was the winner of a national Special Jury Award and Jayamala won a state award for best actress. “Thaayi Saheba, directed by Girish Kasaravalli, runs on different layers,” she says, “The film shows the transition in the society pre and post independence. The character Narmada Thayi lives through the consequences of a marriage with her husband getting into a wedlock thrice and the challenges she faces made for an excellent role.”