Actress, mother, wife, provider for the family, confidant to many, green-thumbed enthusiast, maker of fluffy idlis and beetroot chutney – Krishna Kumari as seen through her daughter’s eyes
The woman who set thousands of hearts aflutter well through the 1950s, 60s and 70s, whether she played a goddess, a queen, Sati Savitri, or a woman ahead of her times in social dramas, Krishna Kumari has always been seen as a quiet, ever-smiling and generous host in her personal life.
Krishna Kumari, who starred opposite N.T. Rama Rao, Akkineni Nageswara Rao, Sivaji Ganesan and Dr. Rajkumar, in over 150 Telugu films, 30 Tamil and Kannada films, gave up stardom at the peak of her carer to settle in Bengaluru in a farm on the outskirts. She did return to play a few character roles later too. Her daughter Dipika V. Maiya has brought out a coffee table book ‘My Mother T. Krishna Kumari’ as a tribute to the woman who slipped into family life and enjoyed her cooking and gardening and life with her family once she stepped out of the limelight.
Krishna Kumari, talking to MetroPlus on the occasion of the book’s release spoke of how she started her career at 16, when she was spotted watching a movie with her mother. She says she agreed to act in the first film because it was based on the story of Cinderella! Till then she was largely interested in dance, specially Kuchipudi in which she was trained. Though she was from a conservative Madhwa Brahmin family, her father gave her the freedom to choose her path, with an observation that she could hold her own and not be too taken in by her surroundings. What followed was success where she signed 14 films straight in a year! Bharya Bhartalu, Punarjanma, Gudi Gnatalu, Bhakta Kanakadasa, Sati Savitri, Thirumbi Paar, Pudhu Yugam are just some of her hits across three languages. She went on to become the sole breadwinner of a large family, and a warm older sibling to them.
On a nostalgic mode, Krishna Kumari says, comparing her own days to that of heroines today: “In our days the heroine’s character was more natural, scripts and stories were good. Now heroines are exploited for their beauty, glamour, clothes. Our lifestyles too were so different. We would wake up and rush to the studios and come right back home after a long day’s shoot. Today heroines have so much of a life outside that world — there is so much more exposure to life, various activities, and that also determines how they act in their films,” she observes.
Were they conscious of their figure, and watch what they ate? “Not really. The only thing we controlled was how much we ate, making sure we don’t eat too much rice and put on weight. My doctors would suggest that I eat less of curd and fatty food to avoid pimples. You know shoots of close up of our face could get cancelled if we burst out in pimples,” she laughs. There were no beauty salons and no facials, and no gyms to exercise in. “We would land on a set and the make-up man would get us ready; the art director chose our costumes.”
She speaks of having gone through much of her career in a very protected environment, with her mother and later brother accompanying her on shoots, and when she grew up, the make-up assistant and driver accompanying her. But in the book, her daughter also candidly speaks of how Krishna Kumari’s liberal parents let her date and live with her admirer, businessman Ajay Khaitan, before she married him (in those days married heroines weren’t an accepted tribe!)
Those were days of trust in the film industry, recalls Krishna Kumari. Once she became popular and started working regularly with certain producers, there were no work contracts signed! Everything worked on mutual trust; there were exceptions when people didn’t keep their word, but those occasions were rare, stresses Krishna Kumari. There were hardly five heroines who were considered the “top” heroines of her time and roles were decided depending on their personalities; there was no over competition or enmity.
Her name also has roots in Karnataka’s Udupi town — the family spoke Kannada, but were settled in Andhra so spoke Telugu and Tamil as well because they lived in Madras. Her grandmother, a devout Krishna bhakt had prayed that her first born grandson would be named Krishna. And so it was that her name came to be…She recalls how her mother and her mama would make sure they always spoke in Kannada among themselves when any secret had to be shared.
Krishna Kumari says she decided to quit her career at her peak because she wanted that life. “I had seen too many actresses who got carried away with their life and career and lived troubled lives later. I wanted to play safe in my personal life. Moreover, your acting career doesn’t last forever…”
A CANDID MEMOIR
We all love our film stars and are always curious to know of their personal life, their likes and dislikes, what they ate, what they wore. So any book on a film star, specially one that travels down time and fishes out memories of classics, of personal associations always drums up a lot of curiosity.
T. Krishna Kumari’s daughter Dipika V. Maiya has penned the book My Mother T. Krishna Kumari as a tribute to her. Dipika, an interior designer turned publisher and daughter-in-law of the famous MTR Maiya family, says: “I don’t know her as an actress. I don’t know that part of my mother. She gave up her career at its peak to be with me and daddy at home in Bengaluru. We are like any mother and daughter, complete with our fair share of everyday squabbles,” she laughs. “It helped that my dad was not from the film industry; dad and me helped ground her. Stardom didn’t come inside our home because we didn’t put her on a pedestal,” stresses Dipika, who inherited her mother’s love for cooking.
The book is a very personal and candid collection of memoirs, photographs from the family album, and largely drawn from Krishna Kumari’s mother’s scrapbook that she painstakingly maintained with press clippings, photos and film posters. It’s also a young girl’s view of her mother’s glamorous world. It takes you through Krishna Kumari’s life on her farm in Bengaluru, her days in Madras and Hyderabad, her family including fellow actress Sowcar Janaki, holidays in Ooty, her love for gardening, and more. The beautifully produced book takes fans weaves together nuggets of Krishna Kumari’s films and fondness for food. Popular Kannada actress B. Saroja Devi recalls how they used to fly together for shoots and eating Krishna Kumari’s famous fish curry. The recipe for it follows and so on. Each section of the book ends in some food memoir. “It’s the one thing that unites Indians. My mum learnt cooking only after marriage. She went to cooking classes after she settled in Bengaluru, and dad was always encouraging. She cooked for him every day. My parents were regular hosts and our house was always filled with guests she would cook for.” Many contemporaries, friends and family have put together their recollections of the actress.
You can catch a glimpse of a young J. Jayalalitha (the now CM of Tamil Nadu) who had her rangapravesham at Krishna Kumari’s housewarming! Of Krishna Kumari’s debut in Bollywood as Rati, in Kabhi Andhera Kabhi Ujala (her only Hindi film) as Kishore Kumar’s sister in which actress Nutan sang for Krishna Kumari! You’ll also find a recipe for Rajesh Khanna omelette, a recipe the superstar shared with Krishna Kumari when they met in Ooty, and which became a household sstaple.
Dipika, who had been meaning to put together this book, finally started off on it in 2012 when her father was in hospital and she and her mum would spend hours together everyday in the hospital corridor. “But I found that I’m too used to her stories, many of which I’ve heard over and over again.” So she brought on board an unbiased researcher to help put things in perspective. Photographer Sanjay Ramachandran helped them relive their favourite foods as they cooked and put down recipes for the book. (The book can be ordered from www.maiyapublishing.com)