Sharada, this year, will be celebrating her Golden Jubilee in Malayalam films. And she is still going strong with a film by Sreekumaran Thampi released recently.
For viewers Sharada is the eternal tragedienne. Even since her role in the Malayalam tear-jerker Thulabharam , which won her the National award for Best Actress, Sharada has somehow always been associated with sorrow and tears.
Sharada’s early life was one drenched in grief. No wonder that when the media asked her after her stellar performance in Thulabharam how she managed to live that role her reply was just a meaningful smile.
Born Saraswathi, in Tenali, Guntur district, Andhra Pradesh, on June 12, 1945, Sharada was a name she adopted for films. Her parents Venkiteswara Rao and Sathyavani Devi were traditionally weavers. Sharada had an unhappy childhood with the family struggling to keep the wolf from the door. Her parents were so poor that they could not send her to school. Instead, they insisted that she study dance. Sharada has often recounted how she used to weep when she saw her friends go to school, while she had to rough it out with a very strict dance master. It was a sort of gurukula system of learning where Sharada, in her guru’s house, was a student and also a servant.
Life changed when three people approached Venkiteswara Rao and offered Sharada a role in a drama. Initially, her parents rejected the offer but when they promised a very decent fee they changed their minds. Sharada was sent to a rehearsal camp. Here, the director gave her a notebook and pencil to write down the dialogues. Sharada broke down as she did not how to write.
Back home after the drama troupe was disbanded Sharada was sent to school. But only for five years. The office-bearers of the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) cam to her house and invited her to act in the play Anna Chellalu . This was a huge hit.
Raja Rao, a leading Telugu producer-director who happened to see this drama was impressed by Sharada’s acting skills. He offered her a role in his new film. Delay in reaching Madras lost her that chance. Rao was forced to cast another female actor in the role. He introduced Sharada to a friend, who gave her a role in his play Raktha Kanneer . This proved to be a turning point in Sharada’s career. It was the Telugu industry that gave her the name Sharada. Sharada went on to act in a few more Telugu films before she got her first Malayalam film. Kunchacko cast her in Inapravukal. He changed her name to Rahel but this did not stick for long. The hero of this film was Sathyan who even during the shoot predicted that this newcomer was going to go places in future. And this prediction proved true. This film was released in 1965.
Sharada won National awards for Thulabharam (1968), Swayamvaram (1972) and for the Telugu film Nimajjanam (1978). She went on to win the Kerala state award for Triveni and Thara and many honours for her Telugu films. Sharada later elected to the Lok Sabha from Tenali. She returned to Malayalam cinema after a long break and made an impact in the Bharathan film Oru Minnaminunginte Nurunguvattom.
What makes Sharada special is that even after all these years she retains the grace, still active, not rusty when it comes to acting, fitting so easily into the new scheme of things.