‘Urvasi’ Sharada, the first South Indian actress to receive the National Film Award for Best Actress, turns 74 on June 12th, 2019. The legendary actress achieved what no heroine of South did in an era dominated by glamourous leading ladies in South cinema.
‘Urvasi’ Sharada, though born a Telugu in 1945 at Tenali, Andhra Pradesh, achieved all her initial glory in the wonderful industry of Malayalam films.
Panned as an unattractive girl by the bigwigs of Telugu industry, Sharada was sidelined to playing comedienne roles in movies of big banners like Annapurna Studios and Prasad Art Pictures.
The year was 1955. Sharada, born Saraswathi Devi, made her debut as a child star in the P. Pullaiah classic Kanyasulkam, starring N.T. Rama Rao and Savitri.
She then graduated to lady comedian roles in the early 1960s, until the Malayalam industry beckoned her with pithy roles and strong scripts. Sharada held her own against legends like Sathyan and Prem Nazir in the industry and came out with flying colors as a performer extraordinaire.
The Golden Age Of Malayalam Cinema: Sharada As The Tragedy Queen
The late 1960s are generally considered to be the golden age of Malayalam cinema, with great script writers like P. Bhaskaran, M.T. Vasudevan Nair and Thoppil Bhasi who strode like colossuses in deciding the route of Malayalam cinema. More often than not, Sharada was their choice of a woman sacrificing for family, foregoing her love interests, bringing up the kids, etc.
Many poets in Malayalam like P. Bhaskaran and Vayalar Rama Varma idolised Sharada to be the quintessential Malayalam Woman, who was gentle but also firm about her independence as a lady.
The 1968 tearjerker Thulabharam, in which Sharada played the role of a helpless mother who poisons her two kids due to poverty proved to be a milestone in her career. The film was noted for its stark reality of life and reflected the negative side of the communist movement.
The National Film Award For Best Actress was instituted in 1968 with the Hindi actress Nargis Dutt winning the first one. Then came the turn of Sharada in 1969 for Thulabharam. The award for best actress was officially known as Urvasi Award. As Sharada won it for the first time from the South, she came to be addressed as Urvasi Sharada then on.
Suddenly, the Telugu film industry started taking note of her and poured in offers for her to act opposite leading Telugu actors like N.T. Rama Rao and Akkineni Nageswara Rao. People who rejected her, saying she did not possess glamour and oomph needed for a Telugu heroine, queued up in front of her house, for her dates.
Sharada nailed it royally in Telugu and Malayalam in the coming years. She again won the National Award For Best Actress in 1972 for her portrayal of an ill fated housewife, Sita, in the world renowned filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Swayamvaram. Great auteurs like Mrinal Sen and Hrishikesh Mukherjee sang her paeans after watching her performance in Adoor’s movie.
Telugu cinema corrected its mistake of sidelining her, by creating pithy roles for her opposite giants like the late S.V. Ranga Rao, N.T. Rama Rao and Akkineni Nageswara Rao. She shone like a star in movies like Abhimanvanthulu (1973,) Nyayam Kavali (1981,) Chanda Sasanudu (1983,) Nari Nari Naduma Murari (1989) and Amma Rajinama (1991) in characters to which only she could do justice.
It is a noteworthy feature of her career in Telugu, in year 1977 she won her third National Film Award For Best Actress for the role of a Brahmin housewife molested by a cart driver. The woman eventually commits suicide. The movie was Nimajjanam (1976.)
Sharada cut down on films in the 2000s and did some choosy projects in Malayalam like Rappakal (2005) as the matriarch of a huge house, opposite Mammootty, who played her servant.
Currently, Sharada resides with her brother’s family in Chennai, reminiscing the old golden era and her rule in Malayalam as the ultimate Tragedy Queen.
We wish her a happy birthday and a long life ahead. She is a true contender for the highest film recognition in India, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award.