[Reposting this written on the eve of her passing, last year.]
P Santhadevi, another part (yes, I would stress that again) of the classic era pass away. A journey that started at age of 18, in the spotlight, rubbing shoulders with the greats of Malayalam Theater and Cinema, since famously known as Kozhikkode Santha Devi, she acted close to 480 films and theater productions that she herself once mentioned, lost count of. Joining the Kozhikkode theater scene where the stalwarts and some of the future Malayalam cinema’s legendary talent ruled the roost, she started of with Vasu Pradeep‘s theater production, and already a mother of a child (Sathyajith, who went on be her singular source of festering grief as he committed suicide in the prime of his life), her new vocation at that time was a way out of the penury she found herself in as her husband left her for reasons unknown. Recommended to the theater circuit by Kozhikkode Abdul Khader, he went on be her partner for life. Her debut was in Vasu Pradeep‘s Smarakam in 1954. Tutored under the Maestroes KT Mohammed and PJ Antony, she would go on to become a part of that creative galaxy of ‘superstars’ from Kozhikkode that included Nilambur Balan, Nilambur Ayesha, Kuthiravattom Pappu, Thikkodiyan, T. Damodaran, Balan K. Nair, Nellikode Bhaskaran, K.P. Ummer, Kunjandi and Mamukoya amongst others.
Shanta Devi, as an actor to me was a part of the that Exceptionally Talented Trio of Classic Cinema, the other two being Philomena and Adoor Pankajam – who ensured every single character they portrayed on screen, how ever short they might be, stayed with you as those characters in flesh and blood, while the pale shadows of their personalities hovered inconspicuously in the background. This was particularly true in the case of P Shanta Devi, whose every every single character on screen was exactly that – one in flesh and blood that lived its celluloid life for you on screen. You couldn’t find P Santha Devi anywhere around those characters.
Starting with her debut in Ramu Kariatt‘s Minnaminungu (in 1957 – it was also his debut as a director), her long and illustrious career spanning more than 5 decades in close to 480 movies, equally excelling in theater and films is incomparable. Though most of her screen roles was of the ‘mother’, she had this fabulous capability to bring an individuality to each of the roles. She was also lucky to be a part of a significant number of screenplay written by MT, my personal favorites still remain Iruttunite Aathmavu (1967) and Kuttyedethi (1971), the last one released being Kerala Cafe (2009) in the Bridge vignette ( I remember my Mother sitting there, watching the movie, tears streaming down her face and asking me, “Would you do that to your mother?” – even after 5 decades, such was her acting prowess ).
From playing on-screen mother to Sathyan, Prem Nazir, to the next generation of Mohanlal and Mammooty ( who can ever forget Nadodikkattu, Kamaladalam and for that matter Kalikkalam?), it was a fruitful a nd blessed life on screen for this mother, though in real life, she floundered in personal tragedies escalated by deteriorating health and the painful solitude of old age, staying in the Old Age home in Kozhikkode till her last, this with her own house padlocked, and her son settled in Coimbatore.
She was honored with the Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress in 1979, Kerala State Best Actress Award for Theater for her role in Deepasthambham Mahacharyam (1983), National award for the best supporting actress for her performance in ‘Yamanam’ directed by Bharat Gopi in 1992 , the Premji Memorial Award instituted by the Sangeeta Nataka Akademi and fellowship in 2003 and was awarded the Lifetime Achievement award from Kerala Sangeeta Nataka Akademi in 2007.
Bon Voyage, Shantiyedathi, and thank you for those wonderful silver-screen memories.
The Trailer of The Bridge from Kerala Cafe, her last project.
Related : P Santha Devi | Her Media Interviews