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
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

Compensation and Benefits Manager - Brentwood - Circa £60,000

£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Compensation and Benefits Manager - Compensat...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker