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Natural actor

P.K. AJITH KUMAR

Kozhikode Santha Devi has been awarded the lifetime achievement award of Kerala Sangeeta Nataka Akademi.


She won the 1992 National award for the best supporting actress for her performance in ‘Yamanam,’ directed by Bharat Gopi.


Photo: S. Ramesh Kurup

Innate talent: Kozhikode Santha Devi made her debut in ‘Minnaminungu.’

It has been more than half a century since Kozhikode Santha Devi first played the role of Amina in the play ‘Smarakam’ in her hometown. She moved from theatre to cinema and is now busy acting in television serials. It was while shooting f or a serial at Thrissur the other day that she came to know that she had won the lifetime achievement award of Kerala Sangeeta Nataka Akademi.

Recognition

“This award means a lot to me. I am glad my effort as an artiste has been recognised,” says Santha Devi.

She could, with seeming effortlessness, get into her characters, be it on the stage or in front of the camera. Playing a Muslim woman seems to be her forte.

“I know I play the role of a Muslim woman with élan. I know many Muslim women and observe them closely. Even women from the community have remarked that my portrayals have been true to life.”

However it is not just the role of a Muslim woman that Shanta Devi handles with flair. She won the 1992 National award for the best supporting actress for her performance in ‘Yamanam’ directed by Bharat Gopi. “It is a role I will always hold close to my heart. I played the heroine Archana’s mother. Gopi was such a taskmaster. He would demand the best from each actor, which wasn’t surprising as he himself is such a brilliant actor.”

Another of her favourite roles is that of the mother in ‘Iruttinte Athmavu.’ “I will never forget some of my scenes with Prem Nazir. It was one of his finest roles and he was superb as the mentally unstable Velayudhan. He was, in my opinion, an underrated actor. He was committed to his profession and one of the scenes in the movie emphasised his dedication. In that scene, I had to beat him on his back several times. Although padding was provided to protect his back, he refused to use it. At the end of the shot, I couldn’t bear to see the red marks on his body.”

Santha Devi considers herself lucky that she could play some memorable roles created by M.T. Vasudevan Nair. “I have acted in eight films written by M.T.,” she says.

She made her debut in cinema, exactly 50 years ago, in ‘Minnaminungu,’ directed by Ramu Karyat.

“It was my husband Kozhikode Abdul Khader who encouraged me to take up a career in films; he was the inspiration for me in theatre too. He gave me the courage to act at a time when women hesitated to appear on stage. When I started acting in the 1950’s, the supporting female characters were often played by men. For instance, it was men who acted as my mother in many of the plays I acted in. However, I must say some of them did very well. They looked and acted like real women; only their voices betrayed them,” she laughs.

Santha Devi says theatre was very active in Kozhikode those days.

“So many talented actors and playwrights were there like Vasu Pradeep, who had written the first play I acted in and who was also my hero in it, K.T. Mohammed, Thikkodiyan, T. Damodaran, Balan K. Nair, Nellikode Bhaskaran, K.P. Ummer, Kunjandi, Mamukoya, Kuthiravattom Pappu...”

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