Subtle yet powerful

sincere Sujatha

Tall and slim, Sujatha, who hailed from Kerala, first dabbled with theatre before making her debut in Jose Prakash’s Malayalam film Thapsini. Ace director Balachander, who was casting for his film, Aval Oru Thodarkathai, chanced upon seeing the film, Ernakulam Junction, where she had played the heroine and promptly decided that she would don the role of the protagonist in his woman-centric, black and white family drama.

For someone who was not very familiar with either Tamil cinema or the language, it was indeed a tall order. The leading lady of the film was one who exhibited all the characteristics of a feminist, tough as nails, the sole breadwinner of a large family fighting all odds to keep the home fires burning. Aval Oru Thodarkathai turned Sujatha into a household name. Balachander cast her again in Avargal where she shared the frame with two men, who were later to become matinee idols in Tamil films, Rajnikant and Kamal Haasan. She played the docile wife of a cruel husband, played by Rajnikant, struggling to wipe off the memories of an earlier romance that had gone sour. Ironically, Sujatha was later to play mother to both these leading men. She was Rajni’s mother in Baba and Uzhaippali and Kamal’s wife and mother in Mangamma Sabadham.

The success of another family drama, Annakili, where she was paired with Sivakumar, boosted her career and what followed was a spate of films, all of which featured her in pivotal roles. Her films with thespian Sivaji Ganesan — Andaman Kadhali, Balaparitchai and Parithaikku Neramachu — were money-spinners at the box-office. Even Sivaji, master in histrionics, hailed her performances in their films together. Kadal Meengal with Kamal, Mayangugiral Oru Madhu, Vidhi, Oru Oothappu Kan Chimitukirathu,Kodi Parakkuthu and Amaithi Padai were some of her other hits.

Sujatha had taken a long break from films after her marriage and later made a brief comeback to enact roles that suited her age. Renowned director K S Ravikumar cast her in two films where Ajith Kumar played the lead — Villain and Varalaru. The latter film was destined to be her swansong. Sujatha also played the lead in several Telugu films with all the leading men of her era, and the last film, for which she donned the greasepaint, was the mythological Premadasa. Sujatha also acted in a couple of Hindi films including
Do Kaliyan and Ek Hi Bhool, both family dramas.

In a long and eventful career, the actress worked in well over 200 films. Emotional roles were her forte and she had the ability to imbibe the nuances of each role that she performed on screen. Sujatha was an exceptionally professional actress who was hailed by the industry for her sincerity and dedication. Glamour roles were never her cup of tea but she more than made up for this by putting her heart and soul into the meaty, author-backed family roles that came her way. It was a heart ailment that turned fatal for this 58-year-old actress, who in her heyday, had a legion of fans looking forward to her films with bated breath.

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