She acted in over 350 films in a career of over five decades
Veteran actor Anjali Devi — who defied conventional film industry wisdom that married women cannot be leading stars on screen as early as the 1940s — died of cardiac arrest in a city hospital on Monday. She was 86, and is survived by two sons.
One of the earliest stars of the black and white era in South India and a contemporary of the likes of Kannamba, Krishnaveni, Bhanumathi, Sowcar Janaki and Savithri, the actor was known for her bold portrayals and held her own in both glamorous roles, when she played the vamp, and the pious ones in mythological features.
Her biggest source of encouragement was her husband Adhi Narayana Rao, whom she referred to as “guru, father, mother … everything” during an interview to The Hindu in 2011. When she was hesitant to take up to her first film role in 1946, just after the birth of her second son, it was he who encouraged her to take it up.
Her first film ‘Gollabhama’ by director C. Pulliah created a bit of a stir. She received flak for her bold scenes, including a kissing scene, which was in fact a trick shot. However, braving the odds, Anjali Devi, went on to establish herself in a series of varied roles, working with some of the leading Telugu film stars of the time.
She also formed a production house with her husband, Aswini Pictures, and produced her own films.
Her portrayal of goddess Sita, opposite veteran actor and former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N.T. Rama Rao in ‘Lava Kusha’ in the year 1963, had a tremendous impact with many women in rural Andhra Pradesh literally treating her like a goddess, and prostrating at her feet, said Anjali Devi in an interview with this paper in 1996.
She had a good run in the black and white classics in Tamil too, starring opposite the likes of T.R. Mahalingam, M.G. Ramachandran, Sivaji Ganesan and Gemini Ganesan. In fact, she had signed Sivaji Ganesan for the film ‘Poongothai,’ a bi-lingual, before his debut film, ‘Parasakti’, which released first.
In all, Anjali Devi's career spanned five decades in which she acted in over 350 films, a majority of them in Telugu and around 50 in Tamil. She produced a serial on Sai Baba for television. She was a resident of Chennai since 1946. Anjali Devi was honoured recently at the centenary celebrations of the Indian cinema organised by the Tamil Nadu government. The final rites will be held at her house in Raja Annamalaipuram and the cremation at the Besant Nagar crematorium on Thursday.CM expresses condolence
In her condolence message to Anjali Devi’s family, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Jayalalithaa said her demise was a big loss not just for the film fraternity but also to her personally. Recalling Anjali Devi’s contributions as both actor and producer, Ms. Jayalalithaa said she was one of the rare early actresses in Tamil films to have experienced multi-lingual success in Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Hindi. In his message, Tamil Nadu Governor K. Rosaiah said, “Anjali Devi was a renowned artist who enthralled rasikas by her scintillating performance in Tamil, Telugu and other Indian language films.”