She stepped on stage as a classical dancer when she was barely 16. She went on to act in plays with such big names as C R Simha, Lokesh and B V Karanth. She entered cinema in her early 20s, and won acclaim as a sensitive actor. Five decades into the Kannada film industry, Girija Lokesh, says she has accomplished what she set out to, and there’s more coming up.
Born to businessman S P Swamy and Poornima, Girija grew up in Chamarajpet and went to Janata High School. “I was one among eight children. I was the second after my eldest brother Vishnu. I had a happy childhood and grew up in comfort till I was in the eighth standard.”
Around that time her father’s export business ran into huge losses and debts piled up. “My father had to give away our utensils and furniture and his share in the business. Suddenly, our home, which had the most luxurious items, looked empty,” she says.
She remembers her father and mother were both generous and helped people with food and money. “But nobody came to our rescue. We were left to fend for ourselves,” Girija recalls.
Her father never let his children know the pain and sorrow he went through. He borrowed money and sent them to school, and also to music and dance classes.
“My brother, who was in his high school, was sent for ‘vaaraanna’ (where a student is given food in a good Samaritan’s house one day of the week) and completed his SSLC, did a typewriting course and joined a company as a typist,” she says.
She dropped out of school after the eight standard but persisted with her music and dance lessons. “My training showed me the direction to my future. I joined a dance troupe called Om Prashanthi Nataka Mandali in Uttara Karnataka and began performing. I would get paid Rs 250 a month in 1968. That was the beginning of my career in show business,” says Girija.
Foray into theatre
Girija didn’t take any lessons in acting, but she had learnt enough about expression in her Bharatanatyam days. She picked up the basics after she moved to Bengaluru.
“My first commercially successful play was ‘Babruvahana’ in which I played a mother. I was only 16 or 17 and portraying the emotions of a mother was a challenge,” recollects Girija.
She later joined Prabhat Shishu Vihara, near Sajjan Rao Circle, as a dancer. “I bagged the main role in a few dance-dramas. I acted with C R Simha, Srinath and Lokesh. We even did Othello and a play about Alexander’s rule in India,” she says.
Girija met Lokesh, her future husband, as a stage artiste with Prabhat Shishu Vihar. He was reserved.
“One day, I gathered enough courage and began talking to him. We spoke about work but for a first meeting our conversation was quite long,” she says. Later, they were cast as a couple in a play called ‘Samrat Ashok’.
“It was also around that time that I joined Nataranga, a theatre troupe started by C R Simha, Lokesh and Srinivas G Kappana. This group promoted and popularised amateur theatre. It was during this time that Lokesh asked me if I would marry him. I was only 23 and marriage was the last thing on my mind. I told him it was my dream to win a National award and I would marry him only after I got one. He agreed,” says Girija.
In the 1970s, the famous theatre director B V Karanth moved to Bangalore from Delhi and started a troupe called 'Benaka'.
“I got a role in ‘Jokumaraswamy’, staged by Benaka, and written by Chandrashekhara Kambar. It had Girish Karnad in the lead with Vaishalli Kasaravalli. Film director K M Shankarappa came to watch the play. He liked my performance as a prostitute and offered me the lead in his next film ‘Maadi Madidavaru’ in 1974. That was my debut film,” says Girija.
It was in 1974 that Lokesh, son of renowned thespian Subbaiah Naidu, also made his big screen appearance in ‘Kaadu’. He had earlier acted as a child in ‘Bhaktha Prahalada’ and ‘Adda Daari.’
Lokesh was active in both cinema and theatre while Girija concentrated on films. She was noticed for her performance in ‘Abachurina Post Office’ and won a national award. “Lokesh and I got married after that. Winning the award was a dream come true,” she says.
Girija didn’t act for 14 years after marriage. She enjoyed the role of a housewife and spent time with their children – Srujan Lokesh and Pooja.
“I returned to films after they completed their schooling. My comeback film was ‘Chiranjeeve Sudhakar,’ produced by Parvathamma Rajkumar,” she says. Girija says she was fortunate to have had encouraging in-laws and a ‘wonderful husband’.
Girija has acted with legends in the Kannada film industry. She admires Dr Rajkumar for his simplicity. “He encouraged everybody to act and made everybody believe that there was nothing that they couldn’t achieve,” she says.
She thinks Anant Nag is in a league of his own. “He is handsome and well-informed about the art. It is always a pleasure to act with him,” she says. She fondly remembers acting with Ashwath, Narasimharaju and Udaykumar, her favourites on screen. Among the women, she feels nobody can beat Jayanthi. “She used to talk, laugh and cry with her eyes. There was a lot to learn from her,” says Girija. She is also helping stage artistes who can't financially support themselves. "This is Lokesh's dream. He wanted to help actors and theatre artistes who couldn't financially support themselves."
Girija’s notable films include ‘Abachurina Post Office’, ‘Maadi Madidavaru’, ‘Kakana Kote’, ‘Nanjundi Kalyana’, ‘Anukoolakkobba Ganda’, ‘Ulta Palta’ and ‘Halli Meshtru’. ‘Bhootayyana Mommaga Ayyu’, ‘Onti’, ‘Seetharama Kalyana’ and ‘Selfie Mummy Google Daddy.’
Both her children are actors. “I didn’t want Srujan and Pooja to be actors. I told them that it was no easy journey. Luckily, both of them are doing well. God has been kind,” she sums up.