Obituary: Silk Smitha

Silk Smitha revolutionised southern India's prolific film industry through her song-and-dance and cabaret numbers in some 300 films.

She performed these numbers so provocatively that leading Tamil, Telegu and Malayalam distributors from the south would only accept films which included her sultry and erotic cabarets, irrespective of whether the story line warranted them or not. For her efforts and her rather ample, though supple bulk she was christened "Thundering Thighs".

Smitha initially played serious lead roles in several Telegu films, but, over-partial to revealing, sequinned bodices and low-slung, tight-fitting saris, she was eventually typecast as the ultimate sex-siren, utterly desirable but just out of reach.

Then, after nearly 20 years of playing such roles, Smitha's career floundered and she moved, rather disastrously, into producing movies. Two of her Telegu films flopped recently at the box office while the third, released earlier this month, was also a failure. Smitha had borrowed heavily to make these films and this, combined with her unhappy personal life and alcohol dependency, finally led to her committing suicide.

Born into a poor family in Eluru in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh in 1960, she was christened Vijayalakshmi but, at an early age changed her name to Smitha. After Vandi Chakkaram ("The Wheel"), her first Tamil film in 1979, Smitha began calling herself "Silk" after the bar girl of that name she played in the movie. Silk is also an anglicised word for "silku", used colloquially in parts of south India to mean an "endearing flirt with a touch of glamour", a sobriquet which suited her screen persona.

Smitha left school after the fourth standard determined to become a film star, and at the age of nine moved in with her aunt in Madras, the centre of southern India's booming film industry. Madras easily rivals Bollywood, India's film capital city of Bombay, not only in the number of films it produces annually and its lavish studios, but also in the number of box- office hits it produces.

Southern India's film industry also has a firmer grip on the locals than anywhere else in the country. The cult of the film star M.G. Ramachandran, better known as MGR, who became the chief minister of Tamil Nadu state on the strength of his acting career, was so all- encompassing that scores of Tamilians committed suicide by setting themselves on fire or jumping out of moving trains when he died in the mid- Eighties.

Similarly, N.T. Rama Rao, who invariably featured as a god in Telegu movies, was treated with ecclesiastical reverence by people in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh state and twice elected its chief minister.

Smitha too became a household name after Tamil films like Moondram Pirai ("Third night of the New Moon"), Moondru Mugam ("Three Faces") and Kozhi Kuvuthu ("The Cock is Crowing"). Besides Tamil cinema she also featured in scores of Telegu, Malayalam and even mainstream Hindi films in Hollywood.

Smitha's personal life, however, contrasted sharply with her screen persona. She was deeply religious and like many pious Indians had her own little temple at home where she prayed several times a day.

Vijayalakshmi ("Silk" Smitha), actress: born Eluru, Andhra Pradesh, south India 1960; died Madras 23 September 1996.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment & HR Administrator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Business Partner

£55 - 65k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: A HR Manager / HR Business Partner i...

Recruitment Genius: Senior HR Assistant

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company's vision is to be t...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test