Published On:Sunday, April 24, 2011
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Sujatha Oru Thodarkathai

Veteran actress Sujatha who passed away on the sixth of this month is perhaps the last of the actresses who lived and worked with conviction. Both in her personal and professional life Sujatha commanded admiration and respect. She was an actress who made a dream debut in the 70s but never wanted to be the clichéd number one.
Sujatha was born in Sri Lanka and spent her childhood in Galle. Her father was working as a teacher there and the family returned to native Kerala after his retirement in 1967.

The one responsible for Suajatha to become an actress was her brother Gopinath. He wanted to be an actor but couldn’t do so because of a polio attack in him. He wanted to accomplish his dream by taking initiatives to make Sujtha an actress, although the sister was not interested. But as destiny would have it Sujatha was introduced by director M. Krishnan in the Malayalam film ‘Tapasvini’.
In that 1968 film Sujatha played a young widow sister of Prem Nazir. After that most of her roles in Malayalam were a kind of pathos yet powerful ones that craved for audience sympathy. Sujatha felt her innocent homely face suited best for that kind and perhaps that is the reason why in Tamil also all her roles were emotionally charged ones.

The period Sujatha debuted in Tamil under the tutorship of K Balachander in the early seventies was a transformation phase and the ‘new wave’ cinema was making inroads. Directors thought of bold themes and looked for powerful actors to compliment them. Sujatha was fortunate to have debuted at that time. Her first Tamil film ‘Aval Oru Thodarkathai’ was a trendsetting success and she had a part in that.
Though Sujatha was a new face in Tamil cinema in 1974, she was 40 films old in Malayalam. When K Balachander auditioned her for ‘Aval Oru Thodarkathai’ he felt that her Malayalam accented Tamil may not be convincing for the role of Kavitha and he sent her advising to learn and speak Tamil better. Sujatha thought she was out but not KB. The director knows to identify diamonds from glass pieces.

K Balachander called Sujatha after a month and the rest was history. As Kavitha in ‘‘Aval Oru Thodarkathai’, she touched the central emotional nerves of the women who burn like a candle for the family. The natural innocence of Sujatha suited the role and Sujatha marked her arrival.
The cult film promoted her as an actress more than a star. She was also lucky that frivolous roles never came her way. She was getting all woman centric films and she herself chose the path. Demanding films like Mayangukiraal Oru Maadhu, Vazhunthu Kattukiren and Oru Oothapoo Kan Simitukirathu came too early in her career and Sujatha excelled in them.

In the 70s most films of Sujatha were cult films that were path breaking. She was a director's delight who would understand what exactly the director wanted, dwell in the character and perform outstandingly. As the disillusioned wife who suffers under the sadistic husband in ‘Avargal’ or the village belle who suffers quietly for the good of the man she loved in ‘Annakili’ or the physically challenged in ‘Uyarnthavargal’ or the helpless girl haunted by her former lover in ‘Oru Oothapoo Kan Simitukirathu’, Sujatha proved to the world that she could carry an entire film on her shoulders.

While working with young heroes like Rajinikanth and Kamalahasan, Sujatha also didn’t mind working with senior actors like Sivaji Ganesan. Sujatha did quite a lot of films opposite Sivaji starting with ‘Andaman Kathali’ and she was soon considered one of the most suitable pair of Sivaji with KR Vijaya then.

Sujatha never had a lean period for long. When it seemed once she changed the game with the smash hit ‘Vidhi’. Nobody could have forgotten the feminist lawyer Shakuntala in that. After ‘Vidhi’, heroines in Tamil films got newfound respect and stories were written for them. Sujatha was solely responsible for the so many heroines oriented films like ‘Sirai’, ‘Alayadeepam’, ‘Unnai Naan Sandhithen’, ‘Naan Padum Paadal’ and many more that filled the theaters in the eighties.
Even later when she shifted to character roles Sujatha had her dignity intact. She only had her role in mind and that’s why it was not surprising to see her playing mother to the very actors she once played a lover.
In ‘Maaveeran’, ‘Kodi Parakudhu’, ‘Uzhaippali’ and ‘Baba’ Sujatha was the mother of Rajinikanth. In Kadal Meengal and Mangamma Sabadham her son was Kamalahasan. In ‘Anbukku Naan Adimai’ and Thudikkum Karangal’ she was the sister-in-law to Rajinikanth.

The way Sujatha spaced out her career is learning to many and till the end she remained as one of the most liked actors ever. After reducing her work from the late 90s, Sujatha very selectively came on screen. Interestingly most of her noticeable films in her last phase were those she played a mother to Ajith. Varalaaru, Villain and Attagasam are some films Sujatha convincingly did in her last years.
In a glamour threatened field, holding the fort for serious acting is a tough job Sujatha handled easily. She always maintained a low profile and wished to be remembered only through her performances on screen.
Like Sivakumar said, it is very difficult to have an actress like Sujatha again in the near future. Until then Kavitha, Anu, Annakili, Shakuntala and many others will continue to delight the fans purely because of Sujatha.
Sujatha memories will continue. Aval oru thodarkathai.

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