A maverick who made it



Yesteryear actor G. Varalakshmi, who passed away recently, was known for her candour and fearless approach to life.

Talented star and actor of yesteryear G. Varalakshmi passed away a few days ago, in Chennai. A dynamo of daring, brimming with energy, acting ability and skills, she was a successful and popular actor in the late 1940s-1960s, in Tamil and Telugu cinema. She could play with ease a tender, loving woman, and a nuts-and-bolts chewing tough and temper-ridden sister, or mother-in-law, which brought her fame and name in both languages. Her memorable movies are many, including the cult film of 1948, `Drohi' (Telugu). Then came `Anni'/ `Deeksha' (1951), `Pelli Chesi Choodu'/ `Kalyanam Panni Paar' (1953), `Kanna Thalli'/ `Petra Annai'(1953), and `Paasavalai' (1956). She performed varying roles with ease, empathy and conviction.Varalakshmi followed her own code in life and lived without bothering about convention and tradition. A little of her real life personality easily seeped into her reel-life characters adding an extra dimension to her performances. Garikipati Varalakshmi was born in 1926 in Ongole. She could sing well, and right from her early girlhood was drawn to acting.

At an early age

She left home when hardly 11, and made her way to Bezawada (now Vijayawada) and acted in plays of noted drama troupes of famous Telugu stage stars Thungala Chalapathi and Dasari Kotiratnam. She built up a fine reputation in plays like `Sakkubai,' and `Rangoon Rowdy.' Her fame attracted the attention of filmmakers like Raghupathy Prakash, a forgotten pioneer today, and the Grand Old Man of South Indian Cinema, H. M. Reddi. The former cast the teenager in the satirical comedy, `Barrister Parvatheesam'(1940) and the latter in `Bondam Pelli' (1940). Both were released together as a two-in-one -movie. After acting in movies like `Dhakshayagnam' (1942) Varalakshmi made her way to Bombay where she sang in chorus groups for maestro Naushad. Finding that her career as singer was not taking off, she returned to Madras around 1946 when she met her real life hero actor, filmmaker and studio-owner K. S. Prakasha Rao. They married and Rao launched his own production company and engaged his good friend L.V.Prasad to direct `Drohi.' `Drohi' is about a power-hungry rich man dabbling in politics, his arrogant westernised daughter (Varalakshmi) married to the hero, and a poor girl (Lakshmirajyam). The hero, a doctor (K. S. Prakasha Rao) takes the poor orphan girl under his wing and also helps the slum-dwellers. Varalakshmi, Prakasha Rao and Lakshmirajyam made a big impact. The film created a controversy being called communist, and underwent censoring twice, unusual in its day. Anyway it scored a fine innings at the box-office. But sadly no print of this fine film has survived. `Nirabaraadhi' (1951) directed by H. M. Reddi, a love triangle with Varalakshmi playing the vamp and Anjali Devi the heroine, contributed an important slice of Tamil Film History not known to many this day.

Little known fact

Telugu actor and filmmaker Mukkammala Krishnamurthy was hero in both Tamil and Telugu versions. As Mukkammala's Tamil was not up to the mark his dialogue was dubbed by an unknown struggling stage actor, who received a princely fee of Rs.500 for it. His name was V. C. Ganesan, later immortalised in Indian film history as `Sivaji' Ganesan! Among Varalakshmi's many films mention should be made of `Modhati Raatri' (1950), `Gulebakavali' (1955), `Porter Kandhan' (1955), `Naan Petra Selvam' (1956), `Kulagothralu' (Telugu, 1962), `Kuzhandaiyum Deivamum'/ `Letha Manasulu' (1966), `Nindu Hridayalu' (Telugu, 1969) and `Gorantha Deepam' (Telugu, 1978) Varalakshmi also directed a movie `Mooga Jeevulu' (Telugu, 1968). For a while she dabbled in local politics, speaking at many meetings with MGR when he was with the DMK.A woman frank in talk and conduct, she never hesitated to call a spade a spade andhadher own way of tackling actors. Advancing age and related problems led to her retirement and she lived a somewhat lonely life. She was 80 when she passed away.