This is absolutely my personal view as someone who had been an avid yet selective movie watcher from very young age. The main stream Tamizh cinema was thriving on the glory of three popular actors of those periods on whom I have already written; Shivaji Ganesan, MG Ramachandran and Gemini Ganesan. Again, there were several heroines emerged during the 1950s or little earlier to late 1970s. My vision is only during those two decades the actresses who had an independent identity and charm in their own characteristic way of acting. I write on them with my views.
It was P Bhanumathi (1924- 2005) who more or less a heroine who was very confident, demanding and multifaceted. She seemed to have made her entry into Tamizh movies in the year 1949 as female lead opposite to PU Chinnappa. But, soon she was able to bag several offers opposite to MG Ramachandran who had been climbing the ladder of success as an action hero. Bhanumathi had a way of acting with an air of confidence and her dialogue delivery was something remarkable. She was also a singer and sang her songs in many of her movies. Her roles in ‘Malaikkallan’, ‘Madurai Veeran’, ‘Nadodi Mannan’ ‘Alibabavum 40 Thirudargalum’ with MGR and ‘Kalvanin Kathali’, ‘Ambikapathi’, ‘Arivali’ and ‘Rangoon Radha’ with Shivaji Ganesan were notable. On her own mite, she was popular in movies like ‘Apoorva Sahodarargal,’ ‘Annai,’ and ‘Pathu Matha Bandam’. But, one cannot but accept that Bhanumathi carried a masculine demeanor.
Padmini (1932 -2006) a svelte girl with a beautiful face and trained in bharatnatyam turned out to be a hit with Tamizh audience with her entry in ‘Manamagal’. Among her sisters Lalitha and Ragini, it was Padmini who could get all roles opposite to the popular trio of Shivaji, MGR and Gemini. Most of her films with Shivaji Ganesan like ‘Deiva Piravi’, ‘Thanga Pathumai’, ‘Thookku Thooki’, ‘Kalyanam Panniyum Brahmachari’, ‘Ethirparathathu’, ‘Uthama Puthiran’, ‘Amara Deepam’, ‘Pudayal’, ‘Thillana Mohanambal’ ‘Vietnam Veedu’, and ‘Iru Malargal’ were popular. Padmini’s roles with MGR and Gemini Ganesan were less; nevertheless, MGR’s ‘Mannathi Mannan’, ‘Arasilankumari’, ‘Madurai Veeran,’ ‘Raja Desingh,’ and ‘Vikramathiththan’ were notable. With Gemini, Padmini made a mark with ‘Vanjikottai Valiban’, ‘Meenda Sorgam’ and ‘Veerapandiya Kattabomman’. Padmini was an intense actor which many times bordered on overacting that matched well with that of Shivaji Ganesan.
Saroja Devi was somewhat a lucky mascot for the trio in a way; though she acted mostly with MGR, she was seen with Shivaji and Gemini also. Entered as a sacrificing heroine in Sridhar’s ‘Kalayana Parisu’ opposite Gemini Ganesan, she acted with ‘Nadodi Mannan’ with MGR. It was MGR who casted her as his heroine in many of his very successful movies like ‘Thirudathe’, the entire ‘Thai’ series of Devar Films, ‘Panathottam’, ‘Periya Idathu Penn’,’Anbe Vaa’, ‘Enga Veettu Pillai’ to name a few. Saroja Devi clicked with Shivaji in ‘Palum Pazhamum’, ‘Parthaal Pasi Theerum’, ‘Bhaga Pirivinai’ and ‘Aalayamani’. Gemini also had successful movies with Saroja Devi like ‘Kalyana Parisu, ‘Panithirani’, ‘Kairasi’, ‘Panama Pasama’ etc. Saroja Devi spoke faulty Tamizh almost throughout her career; anyway, it turned out to be her ‘beguiling’ point.
Savithri’s (1936-1981) entry with ‘Devadas’ was remarkable in the role of Paru. Later, she moved on to give hit movies with loads and loads of melodrama with Shivaji Ganesan and Gemini Ganesan. ‘Pasa Malar’, ‘Anniyin Aanai’, ‘Navarathri’, ‘Thiruvilayadal’ were some successful movies with Shivaji. With Gemini who turned out to be her real life partner also made a charming pair with films like ‘Kalathur Kannamma’, ‘Parthal Pasi Theerum’, ‘Pasa Malar’, ‘Pennin Perumai’ and ‘Maya Bazaar’ among many others. Savithri proved to be good actress and clear dialogue delivery was her strong point; but, she turned very bulky later and that turned out to be a great negative point. She too made a few movies like ‘Mahadevi, ‘Parisu’ and ‘Vettaikkaran’ with MGR.
Vyjayanthimala kick started with ‘Vazkkai’ and acted with all the major heroes; ‘Bhagdad Thirudan’ with MGR, ‘Irumbu Thirai’ with Shivaji and ‘Then Nilavu’ with Gemini were notable. Anyways, her entry into Hindi movies and the success she tasted made her signing more movies with Hindi. But, Vyjayanthimala is one who carried a royal elegance, beauty and grace with effortless acting.
KR Vijaya’s entry into movies must be accidental through KS Gopalakrishnan’s ‘Karpagam’. But, Vijaya was wise enough to establish herself with mainly Shivaji Ganesan in many of his success movies like’Ooty Varai Uravu’, ‘Sorgam’, ‘Iru Malargal’, ‘Tirusoolam’, ‘Rishi Moolam’ among several botboilers she acted. Her pairing with MGR in ‘Vivasayee’ or ‘Panam Padaiththavan’ didn’t draw much appreciation. A slim Vijaya also turned into a rotund figure later. Her acting always looked laborious than comfortable.
Jayalalithaa (1948 – 2016) came as a whiff of fresh air with great sophistication through ‘Vennira Aadai’. Soon she became the favorite of MGR with ‘Ayiraththil Oruvan’, ‘Admiai Penn’, ‘Nam Naadu’, ‘Chandrodayam’, ‘Kavalkaran’ and many other movies; Jayalalithaa was the one who had the maximum number of films with MGR as heroine. She did a few movies like ‘Engirintho Vandal’, ‘Pattikkada Pattanama’ and ‘Savale Samali’ with Shivaji. In my view, Jayalalithaa was not a very confident actor. Soon after her exit from the film world in mid-seventies she entered politics actively and turned out to be a great success notwithstanding several odds and became the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. The younger generation knew Jayalalithaa more as a politician than an actor.