Padmadevi played a role in Bhakta Dhruva, the first Kannada movie mounted for production

S.K. Padmadevi is perhaps the only surviving actor of the first-ever Kannada talkie to be mounted for production.

She played a small role in Bhakta Dhruva , directed by Parshwanath Altekar, starring stalwarts from professional theatre. Though Sati Sulochana was released earlier, it was Bhakta Dhruva whose production started first.

She vividly remembers her experience as a 11-year-old actor in Bhakta Dhruva . The fact that the latter got released after Sati Sulochana still rankles the 90-year-old, who lives with her son and his family at Jayanagar here. “Had Bhakta Dhruva been released first, I would have got the credit of acting in the first Kannada talkie that was released,” she says.

“She is very active,” says her son Nandakishore, a documentary filmmaker. Her daughter-in-law Shobhana fondly addresses Ms. Padmadevi as ‘tunti' (mischievous). Mr. Nandakishore has produced a documentary on his mother, who had a five-decade-old career in cinema and theatre.

She served in the Drama Department of All India Radio before retiring in 1985.

Ms. Padmadevi acted in Samsara Nouke directed by H.L.N. Simha, the first film on social issues in Kannada. Her other notable films are Vasantasena and Jaatakaphala , directed by R. Nagendra Rao, and Bhakta Sudhama by Kalaivani.

Family's stand

Like many of her era, Ms. Padmadevi came from a theatre background. “My great grandfather owned Janamanollasini Sabha, a professional theatre company but it closed down because it was not run in a professional manner.” Her father, S. Krishna Iyengar, was fond of theatre and mother, Seethamma, was an exponent of the veena, violin and harmonium.

“Though my father encouraged me to act in plays, my mother was opposed to it, but later gave in. Even my husband was against my acting (she married theatre artiste Padmanabha Rao).”Recalling her cinematic foray, she said: “When T. Kanakalakshmamma of Varadachar Memorial Association wanted to do Bhakta Dhruva , I was asked to do a small role. The film was shot in Mumbai and we were all put up in a small house.

“Tin sheets were used to reflect the sunlight and the film was shot only in daylight.”

There film was a hit. “I was overjoyed when I saw my image on the screen and heard my voice. I will never forget that thrill,” she says, reliving the experience.

She has great regard for her co-stars, and says with a mischievous glint: “The hero of Vasantasena was not good looking. Had he been handsome, I would have performed better.”

So, is she game for more roles? Pat comes the reply: “Of course, if the hero is good looking.”

  • Bhakta Dhruva , directed by Parshwanath Altekar, had stalwarts from professional theatre

  • Padmadevi had a five-decade-old career in theatre and movies