The Women of Sandalwood

Vedanth takes a look at the four women who made it big in Sandalwood and indeed made Sandalwood big.

Sandalwood is no different from other film industries, when it comes to gender disparity and discrimination. We see statues of popular actors like Dr Rajkumar, Dr Vishnuvardhan and Shankar Nag in Bengaluru, but not even one statue of an actress is found. However, it is not only about statues; female stars do not even get wholesome roles. While a few filmmakers are trying their hand at making women-centric films, women actors are still portrayed as props in most of the commercial hits even in this 21st century!

Female actors are discriminated against not only in terms of remuneration but also when it comes to the kind of roles that they get to play. It is not only in acting field, there are hardly women technicians in the film industry. However during the past few years, a gradual but definite change can be observed. In 2015, we saw the release of "Ring Road", which is the first and only Kannada film made by an all-women crew.

But even in this male dominated film industry, there have been few women who have done well and helped in growing the industry and making it what it is today. Here are a few women who went against the grain and contributed immensely to the industry even as they made a name for themselves.


The one name which comes to mind of an actress, who has succeeded in films as well as politics is undoubtedly Umashree. Today she is the Minister for women and child development, empowerment of the differently abled and senior citizens, Kannada language and culture in the present Siddaramaiah government. Umashree was elected from Terdal in North Karnataka as an MLA in 2013. Being one of the few woman legislators from the ruling party, she was made a Minister in the Siddaramaiah Government. She has done a good job as minister and has also helped the film industry. She juggles her busy professional schedule in the government with her personal life as a single mother to two kids, whom she has raised commendably.

She began her movie career in 1984 with an award-winning performance in a supporting role in "Anubhava" with Kashinath. The film became a trend setting film and Umashree became a star, although she was typecast for her comedy roles later on. Her combination with actor N. S. Rao and later with Dinesh, Dwarakish and Mysore Lokesh were extremely popular. She has won the Government of Karnataka state award on six occasions and the 1998 Karnataka Nataka Academy Award. Umashree has also won more than twenty best actress prizes in various professional play competitions. She also won best international actress at Osian's Cinefan Festival of Asian and Arab Cinema for "Gulabi Talkies".


Born as Sai Durga, Malashri made her debut as a heroine in "Nanjundi Kalyana", which became an all-time blockbuster in Sandalwood. A big star in form of Malashri was born. Such was the popularity of Malashri in the early 90's, that she was paid more than most of the male stars which rendered a well-deserved blow for gender discrimination and disparity. Her films were often sure shot blockbusters. Producers would line up in front of her house paying advances and booking her, which had never been done for a heroine in the history of Sandalwood. She married producer Ramu and took a small break from films. In early 2000, she returned to the big screen. Her action films were also be dubbed in Telugu and Hindi, which was rarity in last decade.


Kalpana, affectionately referred to as Minugu Taare ("A Shining Star") among the film fraternity is often called as one of best actresses not only in Sandalwood, but also in the Indian film industry. Dr Rajkumar, who is a legend in the industry often said that he was not as great an actor as Kalpana, who was the best actress in India. One of her best-known roles was that of Kaveri in the multi-award-winning film "Sharapanjara" released in 1971, a performance that won her the Karnataka State Film Award for Best Actress for that year. Her portrayal of a highly spirited and complex woman who fights her mental trauma won her the largest fan following ever for a Kannada actress. Her association with the veteran film maker Puttanna Kanagal is well known and they have worked in many commercial as well as critical films. Kalpana is said to have inspired many actors as well as actresses of many generations in the Indian film industry. Her life was a short 35 years of which she had spent 15 years in the film industry.

Parvathamma Rajkumar:

If there is one woman who can be called as Kingmaker in Sandalwood, then in it Parvathamma Rajkumar. Today, if we call Rajkumar a legend, then it is due to Parvathamma Rajkumar. She stood behind him and by his side as he grew and then dominated the industry and audience preference. It was not only in Rajkumar's career that she played a big role. She contributed immensely to the development of the Kannada film industry. She started a production house and also distributed several high profile films as a distributor. Through her production house, she provided a chance to many a technician and actor to rise and shine. Several popular actresses in Sandalwood owe their career to her. It is not only career, they also owe their screen names to her. She has produced over 80 films and launched her three sons as film stars. Her most successful films are "Trimurthy", "Haalu Jenu", "Kaviratna Kalidasa", "Jeevana Chaitra", "Anand", "Om", "Janumada Jodi", "Chiranjeevi Sudhakar", "Nanjundi Kalyana", "Swasthik", "Appu", "Abhi" and "Hudugaru". She passed away last year. Her son launched a production house in her name and is producing films with young talents. This way she is still alive in heart of Kannada film audience.

These four can be called pillars of Sandalwood and they will be remembered for years to come. They fought against all odds because of their passion for their profession and an indomitable will to succeed in whatever they did. It would be hard to imagine Sandalwood without these four women. On this Women's day, we salute the spirit of these women and hope they continue to inspire the hidden talents of many more.

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