One of the finest character artists in south Indian cinema, Sukumari was a rare human being in real life, too. The good, kind-hearted mother and grandmother she so often played on screen was not borne out of method acting -- but out of Sukumari playing herself.
The grace and boundless love of the grandmother in Fazil's Varusham 16 was just Sukumari being herself.
Noted theatre personality, Cho Ramasamy, said whenever there was an outdoor programme she would bring food for the entire troupe of 45 to 50 persons and would be satisfied only if she personally served everyone.
Watching Sukumari slip under the skin of a variety of characters in films was a delight. But this actress from Kerala had a life long passion for theatre and in Tamil Nadu she would be remembered for her roles in films and in theatre.
She was part of actor-journalist Cho Ramasamy’s theatre group since the 1960s and she was the first female artiste to be included in the troupe.
“There was resistance to her inclusion. At that time we were in Calcutta to stage a play. I went out and returned to see that she was teaching everyone games. She can easily win people over with her affection,” said Mr Cho.
He said Sukumari was such a talented actress, whether it was a Regal Princess or a Brahamin Mami, she would essay her role with ease.
Before joining Cho’s Viveka Fine Arts, she was working with YGP’s United Amateur Artistes (UAA). Cho was also the member of the troupe. She had acted in a few movies before coming to theatre.
“She had a passion for theatre. She would somehow adjust her film shoots to be present on the stage. She made herself available for a theatre role in Calcutta even during a bandh,” said Mr Cho.
In the beginning Cho had to organise special rehearsals for her and another Malayam actor Varghese to overcome their Malayalam accent. “She got over it very easily,” he said.
She was a disciplinarian and would not allow any interference from anyone.
“I would be very serious only till the inauguration of the play after which I would joke around, sometimes to the discomfiture of other actors. She would not tolerate it and would threaten to walk out,” said Cho.
Cho Ramasamy said whenever there was an outdoor programme she would bring food for the entire troupe of 45 to 50 persons and would be satisfied only if she personally served everyone.
She married director Bhim Singh, who directed a series of films beginning with the Tami word “Pa”—Patchai Vilakku, Paava Mannippu, Padithal Mattum Pothuma, Paava Mannippu—and she was fully dedicated to her husband.
“When he was in hospital she took care of him well. If he threw up suddenly, she would not hesitate a moment to cup her hands rather than reach for a waste bowl,” said Mr Cho.
Sukumari was also an ardent devotee. “She would collect diaries we get at the time of the New Year and use them for writing the names of Guruvayurappan and other Gods whenever she had time in between shoots,” he said.