The 1980s in the South film industry was a period studded with many actresses who made their mark as great performers and stars. Many female centric roles were written for them in which they shared much screen space, with the males playing second fiddle to the leading ladies.
In a way, celebrated filmmakers like K. Balachander, Bharathiraja, K. Viswanath and Bapu made female centric cinema keeping in mind the great talents they had at that time. Actresses like Radhika, Radha, Suhasini, Sumalatha, Sobhana and Bhanupriya ruled the roost in the period with their talent and sheer perseverance in choosing great characters.
One such actress, who blossomed into a legend in the South film industry, is Revathi. The versatile actress started in the Tamil film industry, then travelled to Malayalam, her mother tongue, then made some landmark movies in Telugu and then made her mark as a senior character actress in Hindi.
July 8th, 2019 happens to be Revathi’s 53rd birthday.
We celebrate the lady actress-director and look at her glittering career, studded with the glistening roles she essayed.
The Birth Of A Star: Bharathiraja Connection
The Kerala born Asha Kelunni (birth name of Revathi,) by the early 1980s, was already an accomplished Bharatanatyam dancer, who gave extensive stage performances in India.
Asha, a young girl of 16 years, was noticed at one of her dance recitals in Madras, by ace filmmaker Bharathiraja, who also launched the careers of great actresses like Radha, Radhika, Aruna and Vijayashanthi, to name a few. He was making a village based family drama, Mann Vasanai, for which he wanted a teenage girl to play the village belle role.
He immediately signed Asha for the role and taught her Tamil, a language she did not speak. He even gave her a stage name—Revathi, after her birth star.
Like every heroine he introduced, Revathi later blossomed into a great actress, who, most importantly, made clever choices of films in her career. Mann Vasanai became a runaway hit, with her innocent and composed performance as Muthupechi, who passionately loves her man but has to give him up for another woman. Revathi won a Special Mention award for this movie at the Filmfare South Awards ceremony in 1984.
Revathi also parallelly started her Malayalam career with the family drama Kattathe Kilikoodu in 1983, with director Bharathan. Bharathan later made Thevar Magan in 1992, which won Revathi the Best Supporting Actress award at the 48th National Film Awards ceremony.
Mann Vasanai was remade in Telugu as Mangammagari Manavadu (1984,) with Balakrishna and Suhasini in the lead.
Revathi’s Telugu Debut
Revathi made her Telugu debut with Manasa Veena in 1984, under the direction of Relangi Narasimha Rao. The movie starred all newcomers, including the hero, Rajkumar. It was a hit and was also dubbed into Malayalam. One of Revathi’s greatest works in Telugu was Prema (1989,) in which Venkatesh played the lead opposite her. The inter religious love story became a cult hit in the love story genre. Revathi reprised her role in its Hindi remake, Love (1991,) opposite Salman Khan.
Revathi gave a career best performance as a troubled civil rights activist, Sindhura, in Ankuram (1993,) which told the story of reckless police action and custody deaths.
Revathi won her Filmfare Best Actress Award for the movie and also received widespread appreciation for her daring portrayal of a married woman. In the movie, Sindhura loses her married life and the love of her husband due to becoming an activist who fights against repressive state laws.
The Revathi Masterpiece: Thevar Magan
The 1992 village drama Thevar Magan earned Revathi the coveted National Award for her performance in a supporting role of a village girl, Panchavarnam, who gets married to the village headman (Kamal Haasan) and takes care of their whole family. Her body language and the iconic S. Janaki number Inji Idupazhaga are still remembered for their timeless quality.
Revathi: The Director
Revathi realised her long time wish to direct a film, with Mitr – My Friend, which traced the journey of a small town woman migrating to the U.S.A., post marriage and grappling with her post globalisation generation daughter. The movie was made in English, with an all women cast and crew, including Revathi, who directed the movie. The film won her the Best English Film award at the 58th National Film Awards ceremony. She also won the Best Director award at the International Film Festival Of India in 2002.
In the later 2000s, Revathi cut down her film commitments and started concentrating on women’s rights and started her work as an activist. She is an active member of the Malayalam film industry’s Women In Cinema, which fights for women’s safety and growth in Malayalam cinema. The association has become a copybook unit for other industries to emulate.
TFN wishes Revathi many more eventful years as an actress and activist. Happy birthday, Revathi!