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 a cardiac arrest at 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, or even the pious roles in mythological features. Her biggest encouragement was her husband Adhi Narayana Rao, whom she referred to as “guru, father, mother … every thing” during an interview to The Hindu in the year 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 her husband who encouraged her to take it on.

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 just a trick shot. However, braving the odds, Anjali Devi, supported by her husband, went on to establish herself in a series of varied roles, pairing with some of the leading stars of Telugu films at that time. She also formed a production house with her husband Aswini Pictures and started producing her own films.

Her portrayal as goddess Sita opposite veteran actor and former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N.T.Rama Rao in ‘Lava Kusha’ in the year 1963 had led to a huge euphoria, with many women in rural Andhra Pradesh literally treating her like a goddess, and prostrating at her feet, Anjali Devi had recounted during the course of an interview to The Hindu in the year 1996.

Anjali Devi 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 produced what was the first acting role of Sivaji Ganesan for the film ‘Poongothai,’ a bi-lingual, but ‘Parasakti’ had released first.

In all, Anjali Devi had an active acting career spanning five decades in which she acted in over 350 films, a majority of them in Telugu, around 50 of them in Tamil. She also produced a popular serial on Sai baba for the television. She was a resident of Chennai since 1946. She was honoured recently at the centenary celebrations of the Indian cinema organised by the Tamil Nadu government.

The final rites for the actor will be held at her house in Raja Annamalaipuram. The cremation will be at the Besant Nagar crematorium on Thursday.