A celebration of ‘Sowcar’ Janaki

Sowcar Janaki at Madras Week celebrations Photo : K. Pichumani  

Growing up, Janaki listened to the BBC every single morning and read The Hindu aloud. It helped her develop an accent – one that she still proudly flaunts – and a vocabulary that will make you go ‘wow’.

Born in Rajahmundry, Janaki’s family shifted to Madras (T Nagar – next to Sivaji Ganesan’s house) and the little girl happened to attend an audition for All India Radio. “She was the antithesis of Amitabh Bachchan and Kishore Kumar,” stated actor and film historian Mohan V Raman, in his special Madras Week talk at Hotel Savera that celebrated the city with special tea stalls and food, “While those two stars were rejected by the radio station, Janaki excelled in it; she started off doing programmes for children and soon graduated to other major programmes.”

It was a voice that everybody loved. Producer B.N.Reddy was one of them. After enquiring about the face behind the voice, he approached her with a movie role.

Janaki was thrilled. Her parents were not. “They were taken aback,” said Mohan, “Soon, they got her married.”

It was only after marriage – and a baby – that Janaki remembered Reddy’s offer again. After an audition that had her trying out seven different emotions, she forgot all about it. “Suddenly, one fine day, the team came. It included NT Rama Rao, Marcus Bartley and L.V. Prasad and they all wanted her to be the heroine.”

The film was Shavukar (or Sowcar, as it is popularly called) and Janaki became a star. “Sowcar Janaki played the tragedy queen to perfection, in films like Annai,” recalled Mohan, “But, she soon moved from the sentimental phase to the ‘sowcar’ of other languages. She could speak a lot of languages with ease.”

If L.V. Prasad found her, it was late director K Balachander who re-discovered her and introduced her to the magic of the stage. Sowcar Janaki was bitten by the stage bug and that, she says, helped her grow. “It was a direct connection with the audience,” said the actor, who was also present at the talk, “Theatre worked as a big boost and improved my film career.”

At her peak, Sowcar Janaki acted with several great actors such as MGR, Sivaji Ganesan and M.R.Radha. Mohan listed some interesting incidents from the films she’d done with these stars. “In Sivaji Ganesan’s Pudhiya Paravai (1964), she played the role of a nightclub singer and didn’t quite like the dress that the costume designer had stitched for her. She offered to wear something that she had personally bought from Hong Kong a couple of months ago; that’s what you see in the film.”

Janaki recalled another ‘dress story’ while she was shooting for the unforgettable ‘Kanpona Pokilae’ number with MGR. “This time around, she agreed to the dress provided, but MGR wanted it to be changed. He said, ‘She cannot lose her image in my film',” narrated Mohan. Shoot was postponed for a few hours for the dress to be replaced. Sowcar Janaki is still vividly remembered for her role in films such as Thillu Mullu, starring Rajinikanth. How did she agree to do the scene in which she climbs a pipe? “I like challenges,” she replied, “I just requested KB sir to not have rehearsals for that particular scene; I went in for the take directly.”

Today, Janaki is still active; she stays in Bangalore but frequents Chennai. Cooking and interior decoration are her twin passions. “I knew that someday, I’d lose the fame. So, I have always kept in touch with my interests,” she said.

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Printable version | Sep 14, 2021 8:39:43 AM |

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