No history of Telugu cinema will be written without including the name of late Soundarya, who regaled the audience with her homely looks, strong female characters and natural acting skills.
July 18th, 2019 marks Soundarya’s 48th birth anniversary. The Kannada born actress rose to stardom and remained a star till her death in 2004 April in a fateful helicopter crash. Serious critics of Telugu cinema rank her among the best of performers, next only to Mahanati Savitri, Vanisri and Jayasudha. Sometimes, Soundarya is also credited as the Savitri of Modern Telugu Cinema.
So what made her to be given the pride of place she enjoys in the South? What made her the only modern actress who is considered to be an actress with an ‘actual body of work’ in Telugu?
The birth of a Star
Firstly, the homely image Soundarya exuded on screen was an extension of her persona off screen as well. This she used it to full effect in her choice of films. A well educated girl, who quit her MBBS studies to pursue movies, would be a fairytale, but was a fact in the case of Soundarya, who took every role she did, with dignity and elan.
Soundarya shone like a star in Telugu, unlike her mother tongue, Kannada, in which she only played a few roles.
Her career was studded with roles and characters which had variety and vigor in them.
Soundarya started as a lead actress in the Telugu film industry with comedian hero Rajendra Prasad in movies like Rajendrudu Gajendrudu (1993) and Mayalodu (1993.)
Slowly, she achieved a position in which characters with strong willpower and strength were written for her by many directors.
It would be pertinent to recall her five strong characters on screen.
1. Ammoru (1995)
The Kodi Ramakrishna movie, which focussed on the life and times of a devotee of Mother Goddess, was Soundarya’s first female centric role which won her many admirers ,not only in Telugu, but also in the whole South. Her expressions, conveying emotions through merely her eyes, were a big draw with the audience. The movie won her both the Andhra Pradesh State Award for Best Actress and also the Filmfare South Award for Best Actress in Telugu for 1995.
- Pavitra Bandham (1996)
The family drama directed by Muthyala Subbaiah established Soundarya and Venkatesh as the hit pair of the decade. They both went on to star in many movies together. Soundarya played the character of Radha, a working woman who has issues with her egoistic husband and then works for his well being when he suffers a fatal accident. Her performance showed her range as an actress who can show a variety of emotions in a single shot. This aspect of hers made people refer to her as the ‘Savitri of Modern Telugu Cinema.’ Soundarya won her second Nandi Award for Best Actress from the Andhra Pradesh government.
- Antahpuram (1998)
The fierce faction drama from the Krishnavamsi stable remains a landmark film of Soundarya till date. Her role of Bhanumathi was that of a foregin returned woman who marries a village guy, Prakash. Bhanumathi has to face the reality of the faction capital of her in laws, where she rebels against the inhuman treatment of people. Soundarya won her third Nandi Award for Best Actress and also the Filmfare South Award for Best Actress in Telugu.
- Raja (1999)
This S.A. Rajkumar musical is remembered by many of Soundarya’s admirers for her moving portrayal of an aspiring singer who is helped in her endeavour by a commoner, played by Venkatesh Daggubati. The movie reinforced the theory of Soundarya as the best artiste and her hit pair with Venkatesh. The song Edo Oka Raagam is still a favourite with cinegoers.
- Narasimha (1999)
The Rajinikanth movie which celebrated the ‘macho’ image of Rajinikanth as Padayappa in Tamil, was dubbed into Telugu as Narasimha and became a cult hit. Soundarya held her own against the larger than life charisma of Rajinikanth in the movie. Though Rajini movies are mostly known for his histrionics, Soundarya and her role of Vasundhara are also remembered fondly by her admirers.
The great artiste may just be a memory for her fans and an unknown entity for the current generation, but her name as the ‘Modern Savitri’ will live forever.
The history of Telugu cinema will always have a separate chapter for Soundarya. There is no actress after Soundarya who can boast of a range of characters, which offered strength to women.