`An intelligent top star'

CHENNAI, APRIL 17. When news of the tragic plane crash that killed actress Soundarya slowly wormed through crowded lanes and by lanes into Kodambakkam, people stopped as they heard — shocked by the suddenness of it all. And then, when it had sunk in, supplemented by images of a mangled plane and grieving relatives on television, they rued that the Mathadu Mathadu Mallige girl should be snatched away so rudely.

That, almost, was her signature tune. The song, rendered by Rajnikanth in the movie Arunachalam (1997), became part of her identity card in Tamil Nadu. She has starred in over 200 movies in all the four South Indian languages, Tamil, Kannada, Telugu and Malayalam, and won national and State awards for producing and playing the lead role in the Kannada movie Dweepam directed by Girish Kasaravalli.

Soundarya entered the Tamil film industry in 1993. She was introduced by director R.V. Udayakumar. Ponnumani was how she came calling on Kollywood. Starring opposite Karthik in the movie, Soundarya played a mentally ill woman taken care of by her uncle, the hero.

"Soundarya and her dad asked me if she could do a role in my movie. It was clear, after the screen test, that she was the heroine I was looking for," says Mr. Udayakumar. "We became good friends during this period. Only two days ago, I called her and she promised to do a guest role in my next movie," he adds, visibly upset by news of the plane crash.

It was just a year ago that she married a distant relative- a software professional and settled down in Hyderabad.

In movies she has played opposite some of the industry's biggest stars like Rajinikant and Kamal Hasan. In 1998, she did Kaadhala Kaadhala with Kamal Hasan, playing his wife in this comedy of errors. Recollecting his association with her Mr. Kamal Hasan says, "she was among the few intelligent top stars I have met, in an industry that has reduced the women's role. She came forward to do the movie, when the rest of the industry was unwilling to work with me."

The very next year, she did Padaiyappa with Rajinikant, playing a lowly maid in the employ of the arrogant Nilambari (played by Ramya Krishnan). Sweeping Tamil audiences with its timely political comment and high drama, Padaiyappa gave Soundarya a wide-angle exposure in Kollywood.

In 2001, she made Thavasi with yet another big name in Tamil moviedom — Vijayakanth. "The news comes as a great shock, especially since I met her recently in Hyderabad. She was a nice colleague, very attached to her family," Mr. Vijayakanth says.

It was a day of mourning for Kollywood when its relationship with a beautiful star came to an end.

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