Would I find biopic of this yesteryear Telugu-Tamil superstar interesting? I wondered as I noticed this new movie on Amazon Prime. What struck me was the name of the movie – Mahanati. Even though it is a Telugu title, Marathi folks will get it. We too use the word Nati for actress. And though we don’t attach Maha to either Nat or Nati, it is an adjective meaning, supreme (e.g. Maharashtra 😉 ).
This made me curious. Who was this actress that earned this title in an era predominantly of male actors? Why had her name not reached us like other legendary south Indian actors?
Probably because she never acted in Hindi movies? Though once, the invited guest in the town event, Prithviraj Kapoor (Horribly wrong casting. But he appears only for 2 minutes so..), complimented her for her role as Krishna – this happened before her calling in the movies.
Savithri was a Superstar of Telugu and Tamil Movies. She was born in the year 1936 and her career kick-started in the late ’40s. She performed many a multifaceted roles with great talent. Her expressive facial features only made it all look easy. She donned a golden era of Tamil-Telugu movies- an era when actresses too had prominent roles in the movies. Sivaji Ganesan, M.G. Ramachandran, Gemini Ganesan(her husband), NT Rama Rao, and Nageshwar Rao, were her contemporaries and she was as important as them in determining the box-office success of a movie. You can decipher the enormity of her unceasing popularity on these facts that her career took an upsurge after her marriage and it did not slow down even when she looked overweight in some movies. (Just wow!)
Story told in Mahanati
Savithri’s father died when she was very young. She and her mother took refuge at her Uncle’s home. Her Uncle, who struggled with her to get her into the movies, did not suffice her need for fatherly affection. But thankfully, he was also not a mercenary guardian. The actual saga started after her marriage – a superstar’s marriage to another superstar who was already married. Actor Gemini Ganesan, at the time, fathered two daughters from his first legal marriage. He fathered two more daughters(one being Bollywood star, Rekha) from an illicit affair. He revealed his relationship with Pushpavalli to Savithri but publicly admitted it much later. He convinced her that both relationships didn’t count because they just happened.
At first, G. Ganesan encouraged and supported Savithri’s endeavors like a good husband. But unable to match up with her popularity, he eventually grew insecure. She slowed down her fast paced career to cater to his ego but the sacrifice went in vain. Her husband’s adultery came as a shock she didn’t recover from.
Savithri took to drinking and became alcoholic. She faced a financial crisis owing to her philanthropic nature and an income tax raid. For the sake of her children, she tried to rise again and did stabilize her falling, but one weak moment broke her finally.
Post Movie Thoughts
Both the periods, the ’80s and the ’50s, are well depicted in the biopic. Except for the costumes of Dulquer Salmaan which are quite an obstacle in accepting him as G. Ganesan of 1950s. Though, his enactment is bang on. Savithri by Keerthi Reddy is immaculate.
Savithri is a story must heard. Mahanati is a great filler on the life of this terrific actress for the rest of the country. I googled to know more about her. Some articles deny that she was financially a complete broke in her end days. But she did move into a smaller house on the cheaper side of the town and she did land in the hospital like shown in the movie.
Some expressed displeasure for unfair presentation of G. Ganesan. The movie, I think, couldn’t possibly make light of the doom he brought on her. And many suffered other than Savithri..
I found this unfortunate destiny very intriguing; that Devdas was her favorite book as she played Parvati in the Telugu version of the movie and then went on the self destruction path of Devdas.
What awed me most was Savithri’s generosity. When she could no more help people with ready cash, she sold her sarees, one-at-a-time. She realized the shortcomings of fighting addiction without a proper alcohol rehab center. This consumed her with thoughts of building one in India to benefit others. It is easy to be a charitable person in your heyday, but requires immense innate goodness to be so at the lowest point in your life.
Sharing some fun videos of the original Savithri that I enjoyed immensely.
This is from Telugu movie Mayabazaar -an episode from Mahabharata. Savithri is having a blast playing as a giant turned woman (on Krishna’s instructions) to set things right.
Do you remember this video that went viral as skype calls in Mahabharata days? It too is from Mayabazaar.
I enjoyed this video like a 7 year old. A mischievous gigantic heart-in-the-right-place Rakshasa causing trouble to the unholy wedding by eating up all the food..What’s not to like?
This song with NTR is so musical…so lovely..
You don’t feel any translation need for above songs. But I wish there are subtitles provided to all the regional movie videos instead of the mediocre dubbing trend. That’s how I have enjoyed watching regional movies in the good old Doordarshan days..
The movie concluded for me in becoming an amusing look-up ride for many other legendary actors. I knew some names like N.T. Ramarao and M.G. Ramachandran because they were also former Chief ministers of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, respectively. I had heard name Sivaji Ganesan (though I remained ignorant that G. Ganesan was different Ganesan until now) because my father was a fan. A. Nageshwar Rao and S.V. Ranga Rao were complete new names to me. In one article, Dilip Kumar says that he thinks Devdas performed by A.Nageshwar Rao was the best. I watched some songs of Devdasu, ANR’s depiction is unstylish and unlike Dilip Kumar’s. His is a more realistic a drunkard and destroyed person.
My favorite face! – S.V. Rangarao
Not all yesteryear actors have dramatic stories to tell. But there is a need for good documentaries if not full-fledged movies to mark their contribution to the Indian cinema.