A noteworthy character actor known for her prowess in dialogue delivery, M. Banumathi passed away recently.
None can forget the nurse in ‘Thillanna Mohanambal,’ who, with incredible finesse, taught nagaswara vidwan, Sikkil Shanmughasundaram (played by Sivaji Ganesan) a poignant lesson on selfless service! A two-scene presence, but it sufficed for M. Banumathi to leave an indelible mark in the minds of viewers. In a vast repertoire that includes several films made by the invincible director of the 1960s, A.P. Nagarajan, Banumathi proved her calibre as a performer in every role she played. A commendable dancer and a consummate actor whose nuanced expressions were of a high order, it is shocking that her death a couple of months ago, February 4 to be exact, went almost unnoticed! She was an actor for whom the length of the role was immaterial – what was given to her was executed to perfection -- ‘Vietnam Veedu’ and ‘Thiru Neelakandar’ are examples.
Not many may remember that she played Ravichandran’s heroine in ‘Kaadhal Jothi.’ “She switched over to second leads and character roles only because she was slightly small made. Otherwise with her chiselled features and chaste diction she ought to have scaled great heights as a heroine,” says actor Sivakumar.
Theatre – Ganesan’s Sivaji Nataka Mandram and ‘Major’ Sundarrajan’s NSN Theatres -- nurtured her. Banumathi’s enunciation of Tamil was an aural treat. “Sivaji Ganesan would often suggest she slowed down her pace in dialogue delivery. ‘We know you are adept at the language but pause now and then Banu,’ he would advise her. She was my senior in ‘Major’s troupe,” says Sivakumar. He adds, “She was the heroine of almost all our hit plays, ‘Appaavi,’ ‘Delhi Mamiyaar,’ ‘Achchaani,’ ‘Sondham,’” – Sivakumar lists them in typical style. “But as an actor it was at Sivaji Nataka Mandram that her talent was honed completely.”
Banumathi belonged to veteran Vazhuvoor Ramaiya Pillai’s family and her dancing skill came to the fore in many a film.
Fluent and expressive
“She could convey myriad emotions with ease. I can never forget the classical dance Banumathi and Srividya performed for our film, ‘Nilgiri Express,’” Jayanthi Kanappan of ALS Productions strikes a nostalgic note. “Banu was a Kalaimamani awardee and received other state awards too.”
Sivakumar and Banumathi were colleagues not only in theatre. She was part of the cast of some significant Sivakumar films too. “The picture that comes to my mind is that of Banumathi as Karaikkal Ammaiyaar, in the film, ‘Agasthiyar’ in which I was Tholkaapiyar,” he remembers. “I attended her daughter’s wedding reception just a few months before her death.”
“For me, the image of Banumathi that’s evergreen is of her dancing for the song, ‘Thiruthani Muruga Thennavar Thalaivaa.’ It is still very popular down South,” says Jayanthi.
A very simple person, during stage rehearsals Banumathi would help her co-actors with their voice modulation and expression. “She was soft-spoken by nature, but like Manorama who would guide others in her drama troupe to emote well, Banu would keenly observe other actors and softly suggest ways to better their performances,” Sivakumar recalls.
From the stage to cinema and later the small screen, Banumathi kept proving her mettle till the very end. Very few websites have noted her death and even there you find one with a picture of the multi-faceted Banumathi Ramakrishna erroneously placed alongside the news item!