Veteran multilingual actor Jayanthi, 76, passed away at her residence in Bengaluru on Monday morning. She was ailing for some time with age-related issues. She is survived by a son.
Born as Kamala Kumari in Ballari on January 6, 1945, she was groomed by her mother Santanalakshmi to become a classical dancer from a very young age, for which she shifted to Chennai, then Madras. But it was movies that became her calling.
Small roles as a teenager
As a student at a dance school, the teenage girl acted in small roles with other girls, including Tamil veteran actor Manorama who was her batchmate. Spotted by filmmaker Y.R. Swamy, she debuted in Kannada cinema with the screen name he gave her — Jayanthi. Jenu Goodu in 1963 was her first film and she never looked back.
Her second film Chandavalliya Thota opposite Dr. Rajkumar was a huge hit and she also won a national award for it. She started acting in both Tamil and Telugu films.
She has acted in more than 500 films in five languages — Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam and Hindi. She was paired onscreen in several films with matinee idol Dr. Rajkumar in Kannada and did the most number of movies with him. She acted with N. T. Rama Rao in Telugu and Gemini Ganesan in Tamil. She also had long collaborations with important filmmakers of the time — Puttanna Kanagal in Kannada and K. Balachander in Tamil. However, all awards for her performance were for her work in Kannada films — four times best actor, twice best supporting actor and two Filmfare awards for best actor. A critically acclaimed actor she was called ‘Abhinaya Sharade’ by Kannada film connoisseurs.
What cemented her place in the Kannada film pantheon as a star was the 1965 film Miss Leelavathi, where she was introduced in a glamorous avatar. It was in this film that a Kannada actor first wore a swimsuit on screen. The film, much discussed for its bold portrayal of women’s sexuality, won a national award and remains a cult classic even today.
Nearly a decade later, she essayed a similar role in Eda Kallu Guddada Mele in 1973, for which she won her first State award for best actor. Later years, she graduated to essaying supporting roles across films in four languages, and also in a few tele-serials.
Jayanthi often spoke of how stardom did not come easy to her. She was often derided for being ‘overweight’ and this gave her a complex. Jayanthi had a turbulent personal life too. She was married to Telugu actor and filmmaker Peketi Shivaram, but the couple soon separated. Jayanthi suffered from asthma for over 35 years and often developed respiratory issues and had serious bouts of illnesses in 2018 and earlier this year.
Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa condoled her death and described Jayanthi as an actor who could take on wide-ranging roles with ease. Many from the Kannada film industry have mourned her passing away.