Rajasulochana 1935-2013: In memoriam

Veteran South Indian actor-dancer Rajasulochana passed away today

Actor and dancer Pilliarchetty Bhakthavatsalam Naidu Rajeevalochana, 77, known simply as Rajasulochana passed away in her sleep today at her Chennai residence. She was suffering from breathing problems. Two daughters and a son survive her.

Rajasulochana was born on August 15, 1935 at Bezawada (Vijayawada) in the erstwhile Madras Presidency. She was trained in a variety of classical dance forms, including Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam, from a young age by an array of greats including Kalamandalam Madhavan, Vempati Chinna Satyam and KN Dhandayuthapani Pillai amongst others. Cinema soon beckoned and she debuted in HLN Simha’s 1953 bilingual Gunasagari (Kannada)/Sathya Shodhanai (Tamil). She went on to act in more than 200 films in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada. Aficionados of the golden age of Hindi cinema may remember Rajasulochana in films such as Chori Chori, co-starring Nargis and Raj Kapoor and Sitaron Se Aage, co-starring Ashok Kumar and Vyjayanthimala.

Rajasulochana married director Chittajallu Srinivasa Rao (1924-2004) and a very good example of their professional collaboration is Tiger Ramudu (1962), where the by now renowned dancer and actor acted alongside NT Rama Rao. If you take a look at the roster of Rajasulochana’s co-stars in the 250+ films she acted in, they read like a who’s who of Indian cinema and include MG Ramachandran, Dr Rajkumar, Sivaji Ganesan, Akkineni Nageswara Rao and many more.

Rajasulochana was one of those rare human beings who give back to the industry that fostered them. Pushpanjali Nritya Kala Kendram, a dance academy she founded in 1961, has produced generations of talented classical dancers.

I first came across Rajasulochana’s work while watching a rerun of Dr Rajkumar’s debut film Bedara Kannappa (1954), also directed by HLN Simha; then again in Rangoon Radha (1956), A Kasilingam’s remake of Gaslight; and thereupon in scores of hits of the ’50s and ’60s.

However, the most unexpected and delightful encounter I had with her work was when I was commissioned to write Rajinikanth: The Definitive Biography by Penguin Books. I had watched most of Superstar’s films before, including the early work, but one that had slipped through the cracks was R Pattabhiraman’s Gayatri (1977). In the film Sridevi, playing the titular Gayatri, a timorous 16-year-old, is married to the wealthy Rajaratnam, played by Rajinikanth, and moves to a palatial bungalow in Madras. Rajasulochana plays Sarasu, Rajaratnam’s seemingly decorous spinster elder sister. Seemingly, because, of course, all is not what it seems. We get an early indication of Sarasu’s character when she is dressing up Gayatri for her first night. As interpreted by Rajasulochana, Sarasu manages to invest a wealth of meaning when she kisses Gayatri on the cheek. Matters become clearer when she says that Gayatri is so beautiful that she herself feels desire for her.

I felt the whole thing was creepy and then I realised that I was meant to feel that way. The mise-en-scène created by Pattabhiraman is brilliant, as is the acting by both the ladies. Rajasulochana is truly chameleon-like as Sarasu. Soon, she abandons all pretence of decorum and changes from widow’s weeds to flamboyant Western clothes or heavy, colourful silks and, to Gayatri’s horror, also smokes and drinks. However, when Gayatri’s parents come visiting, she changes back into her old, decorous self in a jiffy. In a film already featuring strong acting by Rajinikanth and Sridevi, Rajasulochana delivers the command performance. And for what’s the secret behind Sarasu’s changing colour so often, you’ll just have to watch Gayatri.

Rest in peace in the great studio in the sky where you are now reunited with your husband.