Mahanati Savithri was a legendary Telugu actress who rose to fame from 50’s to early 70’s. India post had released a set of six commemorative stamps in 2011 to honour famous heroines of India, and one of them was dedicated to Savitri. The 5 rupees stamp features a close-up photo of Savitri along with another picture from one of her films.
Savitri was not only a brilliant actress but was also a playback singer, dancer, director and producer. She was paired onscreen with leading actors in Telugu and Tamil movies and also appeared in Kannada, Malayalam and Hindi films. She got her first big break in the 1952 Telugu film Pelli Chesi Choodu and received the Rashtrapati Award in 1960 for her work in ‘Chivaraku Migiledi’. She produced and directed the Telugu film Chinnari Papalu in 1968, which got the state Nandi Award for Best Feature Film (Silver). The 30th International Film Festival of India nominated her in the list of women in cinema.
Born on 4th January 1936, Savitri’s father died when she was six months old. Her uncle enrolled her in dance classes where she began to shine. In her childhood, Savitri acted in dance dramas for theatre. She was cast as the female lead in Samsaram in 1950. However, she failed to deliver because of her excitement and was replaced by Lakshmi Kantham. She played two to three minor roles until she was cast as the second heroine in Pelli Chesi Choodu.
Savitri met Tamil Actor Gemini Ganesan in 1948 and got married to him in 1952. Her uncle was against this marriage as Ganesan was already married at that time, had four daughters and was also having an affair with Pushpavalli. Ganesan had two daughters with Pushpavalli while married to Savitri, with whom he had a daughter and a son.
Her most famous films were Devadasu (1953), Ardhangi (1955), Thodi Kodallu (1957), Mayabazaar (1957), Mangalya Balam (1958), etc. apart from Tamil hits like Kalathur Kannamma (1959), Pasamalar (1961), Pava Mannippu (1961), Paarthal Pasi Theerum (1962) etc. Her only Malayalam film was Chuzhi (1973) which did not run well.
On one hand she loved donating money for social work and on the other hand, she also liked accumulating property and jewellery. From the late 1960s, Savitri faced financial problems and was addicted to alcohol, which led to a sudden downfall in her career. Tax officials seized her properties and she took up any role that came her way just for money. She also continued directing and producing films which tanked badly. Dasari Narayana Rao supported Savitri by casting her in many films but Savitri was already bitten by depression. She started drinking heavily and suffered from diabetes and high BP. She went into Coma for 19 months, after which she succumbed to death at the age of 45 on 26th December 1981.
Image courtesy: India Post