Indian cinema mourns the loss of actress Leelavathi

The internet is abuzz with news of the demise of Indian actress Leelavathi. Renowned for her appearances in Telugu, Tamil, and Kannada films, Leelavathi’s career spanned over half a century during which she graced the silver screen in over 600 films, with more than 400 of these being in Kannada.

Leelavathi left her mark in the industry with her memorable performances in films such as Santha Thukaram, Bhakta Kumbara, and Mana Mecchida Madadi. Her talents didn’t go unnoticed as she was the recipient of the 1999 Filmfare Awards and the prestigious Dr. Rajkumar Award.

Beginning her career in minor roles in Shanker Singh’s Naga Kannika and Chanchala Kumari, Leelavathi’s career trajectory took a turn when she joined the Sri Sahitya Samrajya Drama Company, led by Mahalinga Bhagavathar. This paved the way for her to feature in films such as Mangalya Yoga, Dharma Vijaya, and Ranadheera Kanteerava, as well as Subbainaidu’s Bhakta Prahlada in 1958.

The news of Leelavathi’s death is no rumour. Wikipedia reveals that the actress succumbed to a prolonged illness on Friday, December 8, 2023, at the age of 86. This untimely loss has cast a deep shadow of grief over her countless admirers and her close family, who are already grappling with immense loss. Leelavathi was not just an actress, but also a pillar of strength for her family, facing adversity with resilience and love.

Leelavathi’s journey to stardom was a product of her determination to overcome poverty and provide for her family. Aged sixteen, she moved to Mysuru with aspirations of making it big in the film industry.

Leelavathi, originally named Leela Kiran, was born in the Dakshina Kannada district, at Beltangadi. Tragedy struck early in her life with the loss of her parents when she was just six. At the age of 83, she was residing on a farm near Bengaluru.

In a chat with Metrolife, Leelavathi, a native of Mangaluru, shared insights into her early life, her entry into the film world, and her experiences with leading actors of her time. Orphaned at a young age, Leelavathi was raised in her aunt’s home and was forced to leave St. Joseph’s Elementary School after her second standard.

Leelavathi’s talent shone in films like Santha Thukaram, Kantheredu Nodu, Kaivara Mahatme, Gaali Gopura, Kanyarathna, Kulavadhu, Veera Kesari, and Mana Mecchida Madadi. Her supporting roles in Gejje Pooje and Doctor Krishna bagged her the Karnataka State Award. She holds the unique distinction of having worked as a heroine in several films with Rajkumar.

Leelavathi’s son, Vinod Raj, also made a name for himself in the entertainment industry as a talented dancer and singer, earning the moniker ‘Michael Jackson’ in his early days. Despite acting in over 25 films and lending his voice to several others, he eventually left acting to take over the family farm.

Leelavathi resided on a large farm in the Nelamangala taluk’s Soladevanahalli, where she cultivated fruits and vegetables. She had a soft spot for animals and often took care of stray puppies in her younger days. As an actress and as a person, Leelavathi’s loss is indeed deeply felt.