Being a film star is a tricky job. Once any artist becomes famous with a role or an act, they are branded likewise for the rest of their lives. But the life and career of senior actress, Anjali Devi is much different. She started off as a dancer, later achieved big success as a vamp and later on became a heroine and in her prime achieved the exalted status of remaining as an image of “Seeta” in the hearts of millions of Telugu film lovers. There are very few artists who have managed this feat and Anjali Devi is among those very few.
Smt Anjali Devi was born and grew up in the beautiful seaside town of Peddapuram, in Kakinada on 25th October, 1928. She started acting in stage plays at a tender age of eight years. It is ironic that male artists such as ANR, started their careers as a female and Anjali Devi as a male. Her first stage appearance was as ‘Lohitasya’, the son of Raja Harischandra and their drama club was named ‘Young Men’s Happy Club’.
It was during these days that she met Sri. P Adinarayana Rao, who was later to be her husband, who was the member of their troupe and scripted the plays and composed music for them. Her first recognition was in 1943 by Sir Arthur Hope, Governor, in the form of a gold medal and a citation, in appreciation of the play ‘Street Singers’, written by Adinarayana Rao.
Anjali Devi was introduced to Cinema, by C. Pullaiah as Mohini, the heavenly beauty, in ‘Golla Bhama’. C Pullaiah did not think twice to cast her even though she was already married and was a mother of a child. The movie was a commercial success and then came unexpected glory through Keelu Gurram in which she was the vamp who shows lots of cruelty towards the Royal family. Though many roles followed in the same mould, she was able to steer away from that image and happened to get a pious image through Sri Lakshmamma Katha.
A series of blockbusters in various languages followed in the form of ‘Bala Raju’, ‘Mahatma Udangar’ (Tamil), ‘Swapna Sundari’, ‘Pandu Ranga Mahatyam’ ‘Jayabheri’ ‘Raksha Rekha’, ‘Ek Tha Raaja’ (Hindi), etc. She never looked back and went on to complete around 400 films as heroine in Telugu, Tamil and Hindi.
In 1950, the couple of Anjali devi and Adinarayana Rao had established their own production house, “Anjali Productions”. They produced the bilingual, ‘Paradesi’ which had stalwarts of the day like LV Prasad (Director), Adinarayana Rao (Music Director), Kamal Gosh (Director of photography) in the Technical team and Akkineni Nageswara Rao played the male lead opposite Anjali Devi.
Anjali Pictures employed the latest techniques of those times – with the help of Santha Ram, ‘slow motion’ was introduced to the South. Their productions were known for haunting music. ‘ANARKALI’ and ‘SWARNA SUNDARI’, starring ANR, were much applauded for their music and good storyline and excellent Direction and they were appreciated by the audience and Anjali Pictures began to scale new heights.
The banner went on to produce 28 films in Telugu, Tamil and Hindi. One cannot forget musicals like ‘RUNAANU BANDHAM, SATI SUMATHI, SATI SAKKU BAI, SWARNA MANJARI, MAHA KAVI KSHETRAYYA, and BHAKTA TUKARAM’. Anjali Pictures became a household name for Music and Period Films. ‘Maha Kavi Kshetrayya’ was awarded the Golden Nandi by the Government of Andhra Pradesh.
All of this glory can be set aside for one lasting image of Anjali Devi as Seeta from the evergreen classic “Lava Kusa”. The movie which took six years in the making had swept the entire telugu nation and created demi-gods out of its lead cast. NTR was forever remembered for his act as Lord Rama and Anjali Devi is forever rechristened as Seeta Devi for a telugu man. Such is the performance of Anjali Devi in the role even that Nayanatara, the Seeta of the latest adaptation of “Lava Kusa” in “Sri Rama Rajyam” was declared average by the movie goers who just could not come out of the impact of Anjali Devi in the role.
She won the President’s Gold Medal as the best actress for this epic. She remains as Seeta in the collective consciousness of the telugu people. Whenever people used to address her as Seethamma she took it as a blessing from Lord Rama himself.
Afterwards, Anjali Devi rarely acted as the heroine and became a character actor. She symbolized the suffering Indian woman on screen in her later stages of her career. She played as a mother, sister-in-law and various other important roles which were mostly soft in the characterisations. She became a symbol of patience and perseverance for all those who wanted to have an icon for those terms.
Fame and recognition have followed her with success. The Government of Andhra Pradesh honored her with the Raghupathi Venkaiah Naidu Award, The Government of Tamilnadu with the titles, Natana Siromani, Kalai Selvi and the life time achievement Award, the Arignar Anna Award.
In recognition of her services, she was appointed as the life senate member of Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupathi, as Vice President of South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce, as President of Nadigar Sangam, Tamilnadu and as Director of AP Film development Corporation.
She is a staunch devotee of Sathya Sai Baba and she always wanted to produce a film on him but she had to contend by making a TV serial “Shirdi Sai-Parthy Sai Divya Katha” based on the lives of Shirdi Sai Baba and Sathya Sai Baba in the languages of Telugu, Tamil, Hindi and English.
Anjali Devi had participated as a key member of the golden era of South Indian Cinema. She remains an icon in her career and life. She leads a very low profile life in her old age making very few public appearances. Her place in History is chiselled and her place is the one which no one can deny. May God give her the tranquility and good health.