Multi-talented T. G. Kamala Devi moved beyond films into sports, promotion of arts and social service

With her mellifluous singing and neat portrayal, she enthralled a whole generation of theatre audience and movie goers during the Forties and Fifties. Besides being an actor, she was also a billiards champion, social activist and promoter of arts. The multi talented T. G. Kamala Devi passed away after a brief illness in Chennai on August 16, 2012. She was 84.

Born in Karvetingaram in Chittoor district on December 29, 1928 to T. Krishnaswamy Naidu and Lakshmamma, Thota Govindamma Kamala Devi started learning classical music from the age of 7 thanks to her mother who spotted her latent talent. At 11, she cut her first gramophone record, Lavakusa along with Ch. B. Venkatachalam. It was a rare feat in those days to sing for a gramophone record at such tender age. During her primary school days, Kamala Devi played the lead, Thara in the stage play, Oka Thara and played the title roles in such plays as ‘Gnanasundari’ and ‘Bhuputhri’ while she was studying Matriculation at the American School. She also sang for Radio.

Her tryst with cinema came when the famed Tamil director Raja Sandow who was making a Telugu film, Choodamani (1941) signed her to play C.S.R. Anjaneyulu’s sister in the movie. The same year she also acted in two more films, Tenali Ramakrishna with L.V. Prasad and Dakshayagnam. Interestingly her first Tamil film, Selladha Kasu was also released during that time. In all these films, she rendered her songs herself. Though she was mostly signed to play sister and such characters in almost all of her nearly 70 films, in Mugguru Marateelu Kamala Devi was cast opposite A. Nageswara Rao as his heroine. Despite a career in films, Kamala Devi continued to act on stage – mythological (as Narada in Savithri and as Krishna in Thulabharam), historical (as Roshanara in Roshanara) and social plays, one of which, Malladi Avadhani’s ‘Galivana’ fetched her the best actress award at the Bandaru Nataka Kala Parishath competitions. Her other popular plays include – Anna Chellelu co-starring with Kongara Jaggaiah, Chalam and Pinisetty Sri Ramamurthy and Acharya Athreya’s Parivarthana where she acted opposite the ace comedian Ramana Reddy. She was also awarded with the title, ‘Nataka Kala Prapoorna’ by the Andhra Pradesh Nataka Academy in 1983. Kamaladevi represented India at the First World Music Conference held at Berlin.

Kamala Devi married A. Chandrababu, an engineer with Corporation of Madras and an art lover. Incidentally her elder sister Jayalakshmi was married to the legendary actor Nagaiah.

Associated with Chennapuri Andhra Maha Sabha since 1949, Kamala Devi was its secretary for over 25 years and rendered yeomen service to the performing arts not only by directing and staging dramas but also conducting drama competitions and inviting popular stage troupes to perform in its premises.

Another facet of Kamala Devi was that she was a brilliant billiards player and won the national women’s championship in 1991 and won a couple of other prestigious tournaments too. Whatever role she took up Kamala Devi tried to excel in it.