Marapurani Katha (1967,) a film based on the Tamil movie Kai Kodutha Deivam, was on the cards. Iconic producer Dhoondi was thinking of whom to cast in the titular role of the leading lady, one of a child woman, a role Mahanati Savitri immortalized in Tamil.
He found a girl, Rathna Kumari, who would later be called Vanisri. She was, at the time, pairing up with comedians of the day like Padmanabham, Raja Babu and Valluri Balakrishna. Many in the industry, except for her early mentor Vithalacharya, were skeptical as to how a girl appearing in supporting roles can do justice to the demanding role.
Making everyone and the producer Dhoondi burst into appreciation, Vanisri literally carried the movie on her shoulders. The movie went on to establish Vanisri as a performer nonpareil, one who ‘studied’ her role, designed her costumes and set her tone for a particular role based on the nature of the role offered to her.
Thus was born the Kalabhinetri, an artist whom the great Savitri too gave approbation as her successor, a lady with poise and class—Vanisri. She demanded respect from the greatest of all industries, including N.T. Rama Rao, A. Nageswara Rao and Sivaji Ganesan. Vanisri was also the highest paid actress of her time.
Vanisri celebrates her 71st birthday on August 3rd, 2019. We take a look at her top five performances which no one should miss, if they want to take a glance at the work she gave Tollywood.
1. Kathanayika Molla (1970)
This movie in which Vanisri acted during her prime years in the Telugu film industry, was a historical one based on the life of famous Telugu poetess Molla, who retold the Ramayana in classical Telugu. Vanisri breathed life into the poetess’ life and her craft in writing the Ramayana. N.T. Rama Rao watched the movie and praised Vanisri profusely for her precision, timing and emotions while portraying the role.
2. Dasara Bullodu (1971)
The movie established Vanisri as a hit pair to A. Nageswara Rao (ANR.) The movie introduced a new trope to Telugu cinema, of a hero and heroine dancing on screen, which was never seen in the previous eras. Vanisri, being a trained classical dancer, took to it like a duck to water. ANR, from then, wanted only Vanisri in his movies as the heroine. The pair went on to become one of the greatest onscreen pairs of Telugu cinema.
3. Prema Nagar (1971)
The hit from Suresh Productions cemented Vanisri as a style icon of sorts. Her chiffon sarees, ear studs and necklaces became a rage with the girls of the generation. Vanisri used to design her own clothes, jewellery and not to forget, style her hair on her own, which varied from film to film. She groomed herself with the great counsel of S.V. Ranga Rao, the giant among character actors in the South, to practice method acting for the betterment of the roles she portrayed. Vanisri looked elegant in any costume she put on, given her inherent confidence. Her command over the Telugu diction and her impeccable expressions and their timing left the audience awestruck. Prema Nagar was a huge commercial hit and was remade in Tamil with Sivaji Ganesan. The Tamil version, titled Vasantha Maligai, released recently in a digitally mastered version and Vanisri’s name once again resounded with thunderous applause in theatres.
4. Krishnaveni (1974)
The heartwrenching story of a married woman who suffers a sexual assault before her marriage and whose memory haunts her after she becomes a mother of two, was a challenging movie to be made in those times. The story by Puttanna Kanagal and his Kannada original Sharapanjara were the inspirations for this movie. Vanisri gave one of the best performances of her life as a woman who is spurned by her husband and kids and the blemish which society puts on her. She won many awards for the movie, including the Filmfare Award South.
The movie, till today, remains one of Vanisri’s watershed movies.
5. Gorantha Deepam (1978)
The Bapu classic showcased Vanisri in a no makeup avatar, for the first time. She oozed grace and elegance in her role of a housewife who reforms her innocent husband. The wife transforms herself into a veritable Durga, when her husband’s friend makes sexual advances, taking advantage of her husband’s naivete.
Vanisri also won the prestigious Raghupathi Venkaiah Award in 2013 from the Andhra Pradesh Government for her immense contributions to the Telugu film industry.
Currently, she is a philanthropist and is building a home for the aged in Tamil Nadu and ageing gracefully.
We take this opportunity to wish her on her 71st birthday and wish her many more happy years to come. Vanisri’s legacy is inimitable and she, as her birth name suggests, is a gem of an artist!