Vanisri (Ratna Kumari)
BiographyNellore, Andhra Pradesh, India
Vanisri was born as Ratna Kumari in Nellore, Andhra Pradesh, India in 1948. Her early life was marred with tragic losses: three members of her family, including her father, died of tuberculosis in a span of one month. When her father was dying, he told her mother to give young Ratna and her older sister a good education before marriage. Her mother kept a farm and sold goats milk to support the family. She sent young Ratna and her older sister to Andhra Mahila Sabha in Madras to be educated. Read more... interest wasn't in her studies, but only in her bharat natyam dancing class. When she was 12 years old, she participated in a dance function at her school. In the audience was a Kannada film director, who thought she resembled actress Savithri Ganesh, then the top female star in South India. He offered Ratna the lead role in his Kannada film, and she took it despite her mother's initial objections. The film became a hit, and she was offered more Kannada and Tamil films. As her visibility grew, Telugu film offers came to but only for small roles. Nevertheless, she took them and acted in her first Telugu film "Bheeshma" (1962). Soon, S.V. Ranga Rao changed her name from Ratna Kumari to Vanisri, an inverse name of his company "Sri Vani Films." She continued with supporting roles and comedy roles in Telugu films, and she finally made an impact in a sister role in "Sukha Dukhalu" (1967), a film written by the important filmmaker K. Balachander. It was a tragedienne role, and she looked beautiful, especially in the song "Idi Mallela velayani." The song became a hit, the film became a hit, and she landed her first heroine role in "Marapurani Katha" (1967). She continued with Tamil and Kannada films and had a hit with the Tamil film "Paal Polave Vaan Meedhile " (1969) and the song "naalai intha velai paarthu" that was picturized on her won a National Award. She was now consistently landing heroine roles in all South Indian films with top leading men. She was confident when she turned down the sister role in "Aatmiyulu" (1969) and opted for the heroine role opposite ANR. The producer and director relented after a couple of months and gave into her, and "Aatmiyulu" became a hit. She became the topmost heroine in the 1970's with more hits like "Dasara bolludu," and Prem Nagar." Around this time, the South Indian film industry was gradually converting from black-and-white to color films, and Vanisri took full advantage of her appearance in color films. She wore bright costumes and applied heavy pancake makeup to cover up her dark complexion. She applied variety of lipsticks and bhindis. She experimented with different hairstyles, and her striking appearance soon caught on and she became the trendy, glamorous star. Even though, she was taken into films because of her facial resemblance to Savitri, she decided she wanted to be a completely different star than her. To do so, she slimmed down, even if the producers had favored a heavier, curvier look. However, her greatest asset was her highly photogenic face, and she was friendly with all her cameramen who made sure she looked her very best onscreen. But, she never sacrificed the substance of her roles for her decorative appearance. She played dramatic roles and title roles, including double roles in "Vani Rani," "Ganga Manga," Iddaru ammayulu" and Secretary. She won acting awards for her superlative performances in "Krishnaveni" and Jeevana Jyothi. Her fame had reached its peak in 1976, when Filmfare magazine decided to do a special feature on the Telugu film industry and put Vanisri on the cover. However, another shift was occurring within the film industry as well as within Vanisri herself. She was working 16 hours a day and working in 14 films a year without any time off. The filmmaker on "Edurelini Manishi" (1975) wanted her to dance and dress more provocatively, and she objected, and although he relented, Vanisri saw the writing on the wall. Newer filmmakers like K. Raghavendra Rao were opting for newer, younger heroines, and he made permanent stars out of three younger heroines: Jaya Prada and Jayasudha in the blockbuster 'Adavi Ramudu' (1977), and 'Sridevi' in "Padaharale Vayausu' (1978). All three were vying for the top spot, the spot that Vanisri had held for nearly a decade. She knew her time was up, and she married her family doctor in 1979 and left films. Even then, she bend society's norms. She was 30, at a time when the average marrying age for a girl was in her early 20's. And she married someone who was slightly younger than her. Nevertheless, it was a lasting marriage, and she gave birth to a daughter Anupama, and son Abinaya Venkatesha Kartik. When she was pregnant with her son, she developed a thyroid problem and gained a lot of weight. Apart from her health problem, she also suffered from a longstanding court battle with her older sister and brother-in-law over property. They had handled her financial affairs when she was in films, and she had no knowledge of how much she earned and how much was spent. After a 12-year battle, the parties all reached a compromise and she and her sister's family reconciled. In 1989, Vanisri returned to films with "Athaku Yamudu Ammayiki Mogodu," where she had a supporting role as an arrogant mother-in-law. The film became a hit, and the audience welcomed her in more senior roles. Although, she continued with such roles, she kept her children away from films, and they both became doctors. Vanisri used her name and money for humanitarian causes, such as contributing to schools and setting up senior center. She is also involved in politics.