"telugu chitra seemalOna kaLaabhinEtri kOkilanTi|
gaathri kannulatO kathalu
cheppu viSaala nEtri
nee naTana tOne
"ayyO raamaa, ivi naa kanTE sukumaaramgaa unnaayE!" (maayaabazaar) – such dialogues immediately bring to our minds, an actress who can show all moods and expressions in her face at once. And that actress, needless to say, is Saavitri. The favorite actress of every Telugu Cinema viewer, and even Telugu film actresses, she has been the best actress we ever had, eversince she entered the field in 1950. "nuvvu hero naagESwara rao laagaa unnaavE!" she tells to ANR himself in samsaaram, in the negligible role she played in the movie. Then, no one knew that she would be set the standards for a Telugu Cinema heroine! PaataaLa bhairavi in 1951 shows her in a small role too, as an ‘extra’ in a song sequence, with no dialogues! However, one can clearly find her on the screen, if one looks for her fresh and lively smile in the song.
It was not very long by the time she got great recognition; talent doesn’t stay uncovered for long. dEvadaas in 1953 turned her screen-life, though she appeared in more than a few hit films before that. And after missamma in 1955, a chance she got by luck when Bhanumathi lost the opportunity, the film industry probably felt sorry for taking her as an ‘extra’ earlier!
The talent of the actress is very well known, it is surely not an exaggeration if it is said that there is no Telugu filmgoer who doesn’t like her action. She made herself lively in whatever role she appeared; it doesn’t take more than a moment for her to change the expression on her face. Her eyes tell it all - anger, joy, love, smile, sorrow, hatred, wonder, …what not! Whether the movie is social, mythological or folkloric, she plays her part excellently. It is not untrue to say that writing a list of the movies she acted well will only result in listing all the movies she acted! We cannot forget her in movies like –dEvadaas (1953), kanyaaSulkam (1955), maayaabazaar (1957), gunDamma katha (1962), nartanaSaala (1963), moogamanasulu (1964), paanDava vanavaasam (1965), ummaDi kuTumbam (1967), maatRdEvata (1969), kODalu diddina kaapuram (1970) – and we cannot think of someone else in these roles acted by her.
She later turned a producer, and has done experiments. Chinnaari paapalu was a movie that was built wholly by a team of women! She sang more than a couple of songs too, apart from the sweet song bit ‘meeku meerE, maaku mEmE…’ in missamma.
Her married life was miserable as Jemini Ganeshan’s wife. With all those woes she had in her personal life, she still showered her talent. Her co-workers in the film industry, like Jamuna, say even today that the industry would have seen still more of Savitri’s acting talent, had she not been into the vicious bondage of marriage with Jemini Ganeshan. She turned a drunkard, and her health deteriorated. The last decade of her cine life (1971-’80) is not as good as her previous years, due to all these reasons. She was in coma for a long period before she finally died on December 26, 1981. Her last movie was raamaayaNamlO piDakala vETa (1980) in which she appears as Muralimohan’s mother.
The industry was filled with sorrow, Madras was crowded to see this poor actress for the last time – a great actress who won laurels for herself and the Telugu Cinema, but was left with quarrels in her own life. It’s almost 20 years now, and she is not here any more, but her performance placed herself in a high rank. Actresses of today say they want to become as famous as Saavitri in performance roles, a position so pure and high that no one else could reach up there. She is still alive in the hearts of Telugu Cinema viewers, and will be so, till Telugu Cinema lives.