Mahanati, the biopic about the legendary Savitri, was in the news for quite some time, for its moving depiction of the life and times of Mahanati Savitri. The Nag Ashwin directorial was well received, both in terms of awards and commercial success.
The movie was screened at the Melbourne Indian International Festival and the Shanghai International Film Festival. Now, at the 66th National Film Awards, it won the Best Telugu Film award, the Best Costume Design award and most importantly, the Best Actress award for Keerthy Suresh, who lived the role of the first female superstar of South Indian cinema, Savitri.
In doing so, Keerthy brought back the National Film Award for Best Actress to Telugu cinema, 29 long years after the first lady superstar of South, Vijayashanthi, received it in 1990. Vijayashanthi won the award for her extraordinary portrayal of a female police officer in Karthavyam.
We look at the actresses who brought National Film Awards to Tollywood in the Best Actress category.
- 1. ‘Urvashi’ Sharada
The first lady of South Indian cinema, Sharada, is a powerhouse performer, known for her method acting in the South. Sharada won the first National Film Award for Best Actress for the Telugu serious family drama Nimajjanam, in 1978. Her portrayal of an innocent Brahmin lady who is raped on the way to Varanasi and on reaching Varanasi, immerses herself in the mighty Ganga, was a moving one. Sharada, in fact, was the first South Indian actress to ever win a National Film Award for Best Actress in 1968, for her Malayalam movie Thulabharam. She again won the award for another Malayalam movie, Swayamvaram (1972,) the debut movie of world famous director, Adoor Gopalakrishnan. She won this award for her portrayal of Sita, a young girl who elopes with her boyfriend to start a family in the City, but is rendered helpless at the end.
The Telugu born actress and Kuchipudi dancer Archana was a find of the legendary cinematographer and director Balu Mahendra. She even won her first National Film Award for Best Actress for her performance in Balu Mahendra’s social drama, Veedu, in 1987. She then brought back the award to Tollywood in the very next year for the Telugu movie Daasi.
The movie was a powerful social document about the inhuman practice of female slavery in the feudal areas of Telangana. B. Narsing Rao, the director of Daasi, chose Archana as she exuded a powerful screen presence and her large eyes spoke volumes, without a word being uttered. Daasi was an internationally acclaimed movie and won three National Film Awards in 1988, including the Best Actress award for Archana.
The ‘Lady Amitabh Bachchan’ tag was given to Vijayashanthi after her film Karthavyam portrayed her as a righteous police officer, who fights against all odds to bring political culprits to justice. Vijayashanthi impressed the first female IPS officer of India, Kiran Bedi, who saw the movie and appreciated her for her performance.
The later decades did not see many actresses from Telugu winning the National Film Award for Best Actress, as the art of cinema turned into a pure lucrative business post globalisation. An additional aspect of this dearth was the advent of actresses who were not from South India and did not speak the language. They mouthed the dialogues in English transliterated scripts. National Film Awards are given only to the artists who use their own voice to dub their lines.
Many of these actresses did not learn the basics of the language, as they did not have strong roles in the first place, in the hero dominated scripts.
We wish Keerthy Suresh for her achievement and also for bringing back the award to Tollywood.