Actor Sarath Babu, who had a compelling screen presence, and played lead and supporting roles in many films in multiple languages, died in Hyderabad on Monday. He had been hospitalised in Hyderabad for a while, and on May 3, rumours about his death circulated online, after which his family rubbished the reports and informed that he was recovering well. On Monday, the actor passed away at the age of 71.
Tall, striking, handsome and sartorially elegant, the bespectacled Sarath Babu looked more like a corporate professional, who was cast in the role by the director. He also featured in some of the memorable song sequences in Tamil films and was an able supporting actor, lead and even a villain on screen.
“He was the Aravind Swamy of the 1970s and 1980s. Who can forget the dashing engineer Kumaran in Mahendran’s Mullum Malarum and the iconic song ‘Senthazham Poovil Vanthadum Thendral’ in the cinematography of Balu Mahendra,” asked writer Suka.
Sarath Babu’s father, a hotelier, wanted him to take over his business, but he wanted to become a police officer. That dream crashed as he developed nearsightedness during his college days and would not be able to clear the physicals.
“People told my mother that her son was good-looking and he should try to get into films. The lecturers in college said the same and that was playing on my mind. My father was against it but my mother supported me. I thought even if I failed, I could fall back on the family business. In my heart, I knew that I didn’t fit into business or politics. I responded to an advertisement in the paper for fresh faces for a film and I got through the audition more easily than I had expected,” he had said in an interview to The Hindu.
Director Balachander introduced him in Tamil film Pattina Pravesam.
He had memorable roles in films starring the reigning heroes of the period — Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth — including the role of Venkatachalam, the heroine’s brother in Nizhal Nijamagriathu; Ragupathy, who would cover the body of his friend from being drenched in Salangai Oli; Prakash, the health officer in Mahendran’s Uthiripookal; and the friend-turned-foe Ashok in Annamalai.
But it was director Raj Barath’s film Utchakattam that portrayed the soft-spoken handsome actor as a gruesome serial killer. It also became a box-office hit. Kanvugal Karpanaigal is another film in which he played the lover of an adolescent girl and the song ‘Vellam Pole Thullum Ullangale’ showcased the talent of Gangai Amaran as a music director.
‘Paadi Vaa Thendrale’ in Mudivilla Arambam, ‘Koonthalile Megam Vanthu’ in Bala Nagamma, ‘Naanoru Ponnoviam Kanden’ and ‘Naan Unna Nenachen’ in Kannil Theriyum Kathikal and ‘Naana Paaduvathu Naana’ in Noolveli are some of the songs featuring him that belonged to the golden period of Tamil film music.