Her acting career had her working with some of the most prominent stars of the time.
Jayanthi passed away at her Bengaluru home on Monday morning, 76 years old and a veteran actor. She was ailing for some time with age-related issues. A son survives her.
From an early age, Kamala Kumari, born January 6, 1945, in Ballari, was trained to become a classical dancer by her mother, Santanalakshmi. She shifted to Chennai, then Madras. But it was movies that became her calling.
Teenagers’ minor roles
Her batchmate, Tamil veteran actor Manorama, also participated in minor roles as a dance school student. Y.R., a filmmaker, spotted it. Swami gave her the screen name Jayanthi when she first debuted in Kannada cinema. She never looked back after her debut film, Jenu Goodu, in 1963.
She won a national award for Chandavalliya Thota, her second film featuring Dr. Rajkumar. Tamil and Telugu movies were her first roles.
With over 500 films in five languages – Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, and Hindi – she is one of the most accomplished actresses in south India. The most number of Kannada films she did with Dr. Rajkumar paired her on-screen with the matinee idol. N. T. Rama Rao influenced her actions in Telugu and Gemini Ganesan in Tamil. Puttanna Kanagal and K. Have also collaborated with her for years. There is a Tamil word for Balachander. She has won four times the award for best actor, twice the award for best supporting actor, and twice the award for best actor for her performance in Kannada movies. A critically acclaimed actor, she was called ‘Abhinaya Sharade’ by Kannada film connoisseurs.
Miss Leelavathi, which was released in 1965, cemented her reputation as a star in Kannada cinema. It was in this film that a Kannada actor first wore a swimsuit on screen. Much discussed for its bold portrayal of women’s sexuality, the film won a national award and remains a cult classic even today.
For this role, she won her first State award for best actor in 1973, when she played Eda Kallu Guddada Mele. A few teleserials and four languages later, she shifted into supporting roles.
She told many stories about how her rise to stardom wasn’t easy. As a result of this, she developed a complex because she was derided for being overweight. Her personal life was also turbulent. She married Telugu actor and filmmaker Peketi Shivaram, but they went their separate ways shortly after. Jayanthi suffered from asthma for over 35 years, often developed respiratory issues, and had severe bouts of illness in 2018 and earlier this year.
KS Yediyurappa expressed condolences for Jayanthi’s passing and described her as someone who could easily take on a range of roles. Many from the Kannada film industry have mourned her passing away.