Kaalangalil Aval Vasantham | A Tribute to Srividya

[ Originally written for Dhool and published on 27 October, 2006 by Saravanan.N.It has been reposted here with his permission. Personally, the best tribute EVER written for Srividya and her contribution to Tamil films ]

Srividya in Nootrukku Noor

So fades a summer cloud away;
So sinks the gale when storms are o’er;
So gently shuts the eye of day;
So dies a wave along the shore….

Anna Letitia Barbauld (The Death of the Virtuous)

So ended Srividya’s sojourn in this world. A sojourn that was marked by struggles at every turn; yet the struggles were faced with a gracious smile that began with her beautiful eyes and continued down to the generous curl of the mouth. The famous smile pushed behind the disappointment of an early love failure, the betrayal of marital trust, the ache of years of loneliness, and finally the remorseless attack of fatal illness. A week ago she was bid a tearful adieu by hundreds of grieving fans, with a 21 gun salute from God’s own country where the people had loved her and celebrated her as one of their own,  a saga of abundant talent, old-worldly charm, dignity and courage has come to an end.

Srividya was born on July 24, 1953 in Madras. ‘Meenakshi’ was the name that the proud parents Vasantakumari and Krishnamoorthi picked for their daughter. However, when Thethiyur Subramaniam in the Sringeri Mutt heard of her birth, he is said to have remarked that ‘Srividya’ had arrived. Thus she was called Srividya first by her grandmother, and then gradually everyone started calling her by this name.

An everyday routine of childhood was going with grandfather Ayyasami Iyer from their house in Edward Elliots Road (now Dr. Radhakrishnan Salai) by rickshaw to Thaneerthurai Market (near Luz Anjaneyar Temple) to buy vegetables for the day’s meal. These journeys were particularly memorable due to the music lessons that Ayyasami imparted during the travel. He taught the child her first lessons in classical music, and on the return journey she had to repeat the verses learned. Thus Srividya could identify Ragas even when she was four years old! She then graduated to formal training in music from T. Krishnamoorthi, and at the age of 10, was pronounced by the satisfied Guru that she was ready to perform full-fledged concerts. No one was really surprised at this achievement, for wasn’t Srividya the daughter of the legendary Madras Lalitangi Vasantakumari?

But for the child, vocal music was only a second love. The house next to theirs in Edward Elliots Road was that of the famed Travancore sisters, and seeing the sisters dance with grace and poise, the child was smitten by the sound of the anklets. Understanding the genuineness of the child’s passion for dance, Padmini got Srividya enrolled under the renowned dance master Dhandayudhapani Pillai. Srividya was a born dancer, and under the guidance of the able Guru, gained quickly in proficiency and skill. When she was six years old, Srividya appeared as the child Seetha in a ballet on Ramayana staged by Padmini and Ragini. And when she was 11 years old, Srividya had her arangetram on September 7, 1964 in the hoary Krishna Gana Sabha, attended by eminent musicians and dancers of the time. She was hailed as a child prodigy and was soon performing all over India. One performance that she would always cherish was in Delhi in the august presence of Dr. Radhakrishnan and Indira Gandhi, where the President gave her his blessings and Indira showered the young danseuse with words of high praise.

But destiny had other plans for her. When Director A.P.Nagarajan called upon MLV one day, he was struck by the beauty and poise of Srividya, and asked MLV eagerly if she would permit her daughter to act in his movie. MLV was startled by this sudden offer; she discussed the issue with her husband, but they could not arrive at any decision. Things stood like this one day when Srividya returned from school, she found Padmini waiting impatiently for her. “Get ready quickly, we have to get your make-up test done as you have been called to act with MGR!” said an excited Padmini. Srividya was speechless at this sudden summons and was delirious with joy for she had been a great fan of MGR since childhood. The movie in making was Ragasiya Police 115, but after seeing Srividya looking uncomfortable draped in a sari, MGR felt that she was too young for the role.

Kumari  ( 🙂 ) J Jayalalitha and MGRtwisting themselves to knots” in Ragasiya Police 115

Srividya was disappointed, but her debut in cinema took place soon thereafter in APN’s Thiruvarutchelvar (1967). Her subsequent movies included Moondrezhuthu, Neelagiri Express, Annai Velankanni, Thangagopuram, Delhi to Madras, Sisubalan and Swami Aiyappan. Srividya’s nimble steps to K.B. Sundarambal’s ‘Thagathagathagavena aadaavaa’ in Kaaraikkaal Ammaiyaar won widespread acclaim.

Thagathaga aada vaa from Karaikkal Ammaiyar (1973)

K. Balachander was intrigued by this newcomer and made sure that Srividya was part of some interesting projects that he worked in around that time like Noottrukku Nooru and Velli vizha. But it was playing the shy and soft-spoken Kamala aching to reveal her feelings to Raghavan in Sollathaan Ninaikkiren that Srividya became the darling of the average middle-class cine-goer. When the hero explains that he had not opened even one of the letters that she given him to post, Srividya’s wistful eyes would fill with unshed tears of disappointment even as her lips utter an admiring “You are a gentleman!“– a moment that would be frozen forever in the memories of all who have seen the movie.

Sollathan Ninakkiren from the movie of the same name.

And it was in the aftermath of this success that KB dangled before Srividya a tantalizing challenge- in a quirky tale of incredible entanglements, would Srividya play a middle-aged mother of a 20 year-old girl? The 22 year-old Srividya accepted the challenge unhesitatingly, and M.R.Bhairavi whom she etched in  Apoorva Raagangal  (1975/ Kalakendra) endures to this day as one of the immortal characters that have appeared in Tamil cinema. An accomplished vocalist deserted by her husband, a distraught mother coming to terms with the disappearance of her rebellious daughter, a lonely woman past her prime receiving a ridiculous proposal from a young Naxalite to whom she had given shelter. On second thoughts, was the proposal so ridiculous as it first seemed, cannot the soliloquy become a duet? It was an intricate characterization with complex situational knots, and Srividya lit the screen with her subtle and dignified performance.

Ezhuswarangalkul from Apoorva Raagangal (1975)

The second half of the ’70s saw Srividya appearing in numerous movies, bringing grace and luster even to numerous prosaic roles, acting alongside actors like Muthuraman, Jaishankar, Sivakumar and Vijayakumar. Sifting the chaff from the grain, we have some heartwarming portrayals that are worth recalling. The insane Raji wandering all over the hill singing ‘paadum vandey paarthadhunda’ and the same Raji feigning insanity anew when she discovers the identity of her husband (Kaalangalil aval Vasantham/1976).

Paadum Vandey from Kaalangalil aval Vasantham (1976 )

Who can forget the newly wed Shanti singing ‘inangalie enna inam penninam’ in an intimate moment with her husband, little realizing that a storm will soon wreck her marital bliss (Nalla Penmani/1976), the pitiable Maragatham stumbling upon forbidden pleasures (Unarchigal/1976), the disciplinarian Kavita making life miserable for her husband and children (Avar enakke sondham /1977), the eldest daughter in a family of six girls setting up a transport company bravely and running a bus against all odds (Aaru pushpangal/1977), the village belle Durga singing ‘Sendhoora kolam en singaara deepam’ with her beloved Siva, and the terrifying transformation that Durga undergoes when the Goddess takes her form to avenge her death (Durgadevi/1977), the street trouble-monger Rakkamma who is reformed by a noble police inspector (Rowdy Raakkamma/1977), the arrogant and unbending heiress finding herself falling in love with the headstrong and equally arrogant neighbouring Zamindar (Ilaiyaraani Rajalakshmi/1978), the illiterate and innocent woman who suffers in silence when her husband marries his secretary (Ivargal vidhyasamaanavargal/1980) –  a  plethora of vastly different roles with infinite ramifications, and talented Srividya bringing each one of them vivid and varied hues !

Srividya was honoured with the ‘Kalaimaamani’ award in 1977, and the same year she bagged the Tamil Nadu Government’s Best Actress (Special Award) for her performance in ‘Madhura Geetham’.

Srividya got to pair with Sivaji Ganesan in Imayam(1979). Sivaji’s ‘Parasakthi’ was released even before Srividya was born, but Srividya matched the thespian in his histrionics with ease and aplomb. In subsequent years, she acted with Sivaji Ganesan in movies like Naam Iruvar, Neethiyin Nizhal and Naangal. With the advent of the ’80s, however, Srividya found very few offers in Tamil movies coming her way. Increasing girth, arrival of a fresh generation of younger actresses and her own preoccupation with exciting Malayalam projects could be concluded as the probable reasons. In 1982, when she was barely 29, Srividya appeared as Aruna’s mother in Kelviyum Naane, bathilum naane, and thus commenced a fresh innings that lasted more than 20 years wherein Srividya acted as mother to almost 3 generations of actors, and even as grandmother to some of them! She was Rajinikant’s first on-screen pair, and continued acting with the Super Star in subsequent years. She was his sister-in-law in Aaru pushpangal, elder sister in Manithan and Uzhaippaali, mother-in-law in Maapillai and mother in Thalapathi.

Chinna Thaayaval from Thalapathi (1991)

Amongst the mind-boggling tally of movies that saw Srividya donning archetypal cameo roles facing clichéd situations, her performances stood out in movies like Dowry KalyaaNam, Anbulla Malare,Thiramai, Oonjalaadum uravugal (playing the same role she played in the Malayalam original), Panam paththum seiyum, Punnagai Mannan, Ananda Aaradhanai, Thaai naadu (she paired with Satyaraj in this one), Apoorva sagotharargal, Indiran Chandiran, Keladi kanmani, Varam, Amma pillai, Archana IAS, Karpoora mullai, En Rasavin Manasile, Thalapathi, Nee Paadhi Naan Paadhi, Nammavar, Katta panchayathu, Avathaaram, Aahaa, Kaadhalukku Mariyaadhai, Kandukkonden Kandukkonden, Kannukkul nilavu, Anandam and Kamarasu.  Her last Tamil movie was ‘London’ (2005). And Srividya was among the first movie stars to act in TV sitcoms. Galatta Kudumbam and Srividya presiding over the proceedings as the mother remain unforgettable to many of us.

However it was in Malayalam that Srividya found a greater variety of roles and rose to prominence as a front-ranking artiste. She was 16 when her first Malayalam movie Chattambikavala was released in 1969. Her co-stars therein were veteran Sathyan and Umer. The movie was directed by Shankaran Nair. Her next Malayalam movie Kumarasambhavam was released the same year, and there was no looking back. Srividya acted with the all the top actors of the time, and worked with directors who came out with exciting offbeat projects offering challenging characters that Srividya explored and enacted with élan. The actor with whom she was paired the most was Madhu. Among the hundreds of Srividya’s Malayalam movies over 3 decades, some which come to mind are Jeevitham oru Gaanam, Edavazhiyile pooccha Mindapoocha, Theekkanal, Vilkkanundu swapnangal, Kathayariyathe, Rachana, Kattathe kilikoodu, Adamninte variyellu, Irakal, Ennennum kannettante, Chenda, Ente sooryaputhrikku, Daivathinte vikrithikal, Pavitram –  Srividya has left behind a lasting impact in movies such as these.

Srividya won the Kerala State Award for the Best Actress thrice- for her brilliant performances inJeevitham oru Gaanam and Edavazhiyile Pooccha mindapoocha (1979), Rachana (1983) and Daivathinte vikrithikal (1992). Daivathinte vikrithikal, a screen adaptation of M.Mukundan’s story, had Srividya essaying Maggie, a frustrated matriarch in an Anglo-Indian backdrop and she stole the show with her splendid essay. I remember watching Pavitram around 10 years back during an overnight bus journey from Kozhikode to Bangalore. Srividya played Devaki, the wife of Thilakan and mother of two grown-up sons- the elder son is already married, and the younger son is Mohanlal. At the threshold of menopause Devaki discovers that she is pregnant. The horror, shame and also the pride of a woman who faces such a singular situation was brought out magnificently by Srividya. Long after the movie was over, I remained awake wondering at this remarkable artiste, and how Tamil cinema has failed to harness her wonderful talents.

 Valinmelpoovum from Pavithram (1994)

Besides Tamil and Malayalam, Srividya acted in Telugu, Kannada and even Hindi movies as well. I recall two of her Hindi films- AVM’s Jaise Ko Taisa and Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Arjun Pandit.

Sajan Kaha Jaoongi Main from Jaise Ko Taisa.

Though an accomplished singer, Srividya did not sing in her movies. In 1992 Adityan persuaded her to sing a song in Amaran, and ‘Sanda bajaaru maama konjam ushaaru’, the naughty song that Srividya sang for Disco Shanti on screen raised many a puritan eyebrow. But Srividya was unfazed- though she was not aware of the type of the song when she agreed to Adityan’s request, she enjoyed singing it and did a good job of it too! She sang in some pop albums and also digital remix versions of MLV’s film songs. Listen first to the original ‘Solai naduve’ (Vairamaalai/1954) by Trichy Loganathan and MLV and the new version by T.L.Thyagarajan and Srividya- the impeccable pedigree would come as a joyous revelation!

 Yendi Muththamma from Aaru pushpangal

And all her achievements assume greater significance when we remember that Srividya’s personal life was far from happy. Even as a cruel fate dealt her blow after blow, she rarely aired her problems in public and went about her work quietly with enthusiasm, competence and professional discipline. Perhaps her work helped to take her mind away from personal tragedies. As a child, she yearned in vain for her mother’s love and attention. Srividya once revealed that she was 34 years old when she first rested her head on her mother’s lap. MLV was often away on concert tours and little Srividya was left under the care of her grandfather. Her grandfather’s sudden death when she was 10 years old left her feeling lonely and insecure. It was then that she took to dance and found solace in this pursuit. In the early years of her film career, she came into close contact with Kamalhasan and fell in love with him. They were of the same age and shared a common passion for music, dance and movies; it was but natural that both were drawn to each other. Though things moved in the right direction, the relationship did not culminate in marriage. This disappointment was kept a well-guarded secret over many years until Srividya opened up in a recent interview and revealed all.

Srividya in Thumbolarcha
Srividya in Thumbolarcha

At the height of fame and fortune, Srividya married George Thomas, and this was a mistake that she repented for all her life. All her well-wishers, including MLV tried their best to dissuade her from taking this step, but an impetuous Srividya disregarded their advice. The abusive marriage lasted nine years and Srividya was alone in her private hell. All that she had longed for was the security of marital life, the love and support of a caring husband and the ecstasy of motherhood. And in the end, none of Srividya’s desires were fulfilled. She walked out of the marriage when she realized that despite all her efforts things were going from bad to worse and that her husband was in fact living with another woman. But her troubles were far from over. George Thomas had swindled her of all her earnings and property. Srividya was forced to accept all sundry film offers that came her way to keep creditors at bay and stay afloat. At one stage she even came dangerously close to being declared insolvent, but director R.C.Shakti and actor Senthamarai came to her rescue and volunteered to stand surety for her debts. She recalled their timely assistance with gratitude in an emotion-choked interview some years back. After a prolonged legal tussle that concluded in a Supreme Court verdict in her favour, Srividya got back her home and other assets in the late 90s.

By then she had shifted base to Thiruvanthapuram and she was busy and happy with her Malayalam movie and TV projects. But this time too, her respite was brief. Srividya was diagnosed with cancer three years ago, and the resolute woman faced this blow with characteristic equanimity. And as always, she kept this terrible knowledge to herself, alternating between series of treatment, convalescence and work, all the while the trademark smile firmly in place. She was acting as the chief protagonist Lakshmibai Thamburatti in Sreekumaran Thampi’s TV serial ‘Amma thamburatti’ (Asianet) when she had to finally acknowledge the gravity of her illness and go back to hospital, this time never to return. And at 7.55 in the evening of October 19th, tired of a life of unending struggles, Srividya finally gave up…her beautiful eyes remained half-open, as though seeking some last-minute divine intervention that never came. She was 53 years old.

A benumbed state rushed to pay its respects to a beloved adopted daughter. As her mortal remains laid in state at the VJT Hall, Chief Minister Achuthanandan led the horde of mourners. “She was part of the good cinema that brought many laurels to Kerala. Though she was born a Tamil, Kerala adopted her as daughter,” commented the Chief Minister in a moving eulogy. Former Chief Minister Oomen Chandy said, “She leaves a big vacuum and she will be remembered forever.” Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Rajasekhara Reddy said, “Srividya had spanned three generations in South Indian cinema. She has left behind indelible imprints in annals of Indian cinema.

A tearful Mammootty who accompanied the body to the crematorium said his association with Srividya as an actor was one that had no barriers. “I have acted with her in several films and I was her husband, lover, son and friend in them. Perhaps the only role that missed was that of a father,” he said. Former Chief Minister of Tamilnadu Jayalalitha expressed her anguish in a warm tribute. She would have doubtless gone back to the days when they acted together in movies like Annai Velaankanni, Thangagopuram and Srikrishna Leela.

Kamalhassan had visited Srividya recently when she was undergoing treatment at the Sri Uthradam Thirunaal Hospital in Thiruvananthapuram. In his condolence message he said “I have lost a good friend in her death. She had been great support and encouraged me in several endeavors. I cherish all those moments working with her. A pillar of confidence, Srividya fought her illness courageously in a dignified manner. The film industry has lost an actress who was capable of doing any role.” But perhaps it was actress Sarada who summed up the incredulous dismay succinctly, “I am really sad because she was too young to die,” she said in a simple tribute.

The air resonant with the wails of hundreds of grieving fans, Srividya’s brother consigned her mortal remains to fire at the Karamana Brahmana Samajam crematorium in Thiruvanathapuram..

Because I could not stop for death, He kindly stopped for me
The carriage held but just ourselves and immortality.

Emily Dickinson

* * * * * * * * * **

4 thoughts on “Kaalangalil Aval Vasantham | A Tribute to Srividya

  1. Dear Mr Saravanan

    I have had the good fortune to read some of your articles. Thanks to the world wide web. I totally agree with CM. This is one of the best tributes that I have ever come across. Good to see you here. Hope to see you more often with such articles. Thanks a ton


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