Who is Mahanati Savitri and why a biopic is being made on her

Hindustan Times | By, Chennai
May 08, 2018 09:47 AM IST

Actor Savitri did not just rule the film industry, but she was at par with the male actors at a time when acting was not considered a ‘respectable’ profession for women.

Mahanati Savitri was an actor unlike any in her era and there hasn’t been another performer like her till date. She ruled the south Indian film industry for over three decades and worked on around 300 films alongside male stars like Sivaji Ganesan, MGR and Gemini Ganesan in Tamil cinema and NTR and Nageswar Rao in Telugu film industry. She did not just rule the industry, but she was at par with the male actors at a time when acting as a profession for women was looked down upon.

Mahanati Savitri’s biopic stars Samantha Akkineni and Keerthy Suresh in lead roles.
Mahanati Savitri’s biopic stars Samantha Akkineni and Keerthy Suresh in lead roles.

She was paid at par with her male co-stars and, in fact, producers waited in line to get her dates. Actors like NT Rama Rao and Nageswar Rao waited for her dates to proceed shooting a film. She had a huge fan following, and audiences adored her. It was not just the fact that she was a beautiful woman, but also the fact that she brought characters to life beautifully. If Maya Bazaar was an iconic film starring Savitri in Telugu, her films opposite Chevalier Sivaji Ganesan like Navarathri, Pasamalar, Karnan and Thiruvilayadal are crowd favourites.

Read: Keerthy Suresh dons 110 looks as Savitri in Mahanati. Here are pics of 20 of them

While the mindset in the industry even today suggests that married woman cannot continue to make it big in the industry, Savitri was the exception to the rule in the 1950s. She got married to Gemini Ganesan when she was all of 18 and continued to act. Not just that, initially her marriage to Gemini Ganesan was not official. She signed an endorsement contract as Savitri Ganesan -- probably leading ti controversy of the decade. It must be noted that Ganesan was already a married man at this time.

Her life had a fair share of ups and downs, but she never shied away from the spotlight. It would in fact be fair to say that her life was an open book. Similar to her marriage, her addiction to alcohol in the later part of her life was also well-known not just to the fraternity, but her fans as well. She died at the age of 45 after being in coma for 19 months. She also faced financial trouble around this time. She donned the director’s hat, took to producing films, unsuccessful ones at that, and she was also a playback singer.

Read: Mahanati actor Keerthy Suresh says playing Savitri changed her as a person

Savitri’s talent for onscreen acting was noticed thanks to her expressions and initially she was considered one of the best dancers in the industry.

She was given the title of Mahanati by the Andhra Mahila Sabha and Nadigaiyar Thilagam was a title that was awarded to the actor by the government of Tamil Nadu. She achieved great things in her life despite humble beginnings. Having lost her father at a young age, Savitri and her sister Maruthi were taken care of by their uncle. It was he who enrolled Savitri for acting classes and encouraged her to be a part of drama troupes.

While fans knew of her talent and how her popularity influenced her life, there are a few quirks of Savitri that were unknown to many. For instance, Savitri loved vintage cars, and racing. She had a collection of vintage cars that was the toast of the town. Her quirks were something only very close friends and family were aware of. A woman of such stature needed her story to be told and through Mahnati/Nadigaiyar Thilagam, the filmmakers are hoping to make a piece of cinema that is relevant today.

Author tweets @Priyanka_S_MCC
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