Talented actresses too have had to struggle till they got a breakthrough movie and established themselves. Often successful child stars fail to transition to being stars when they re-launch themselves as adults.
Shobha made these transitions with ease and was at the peak of her movie career when she died. Lucky in reel life, she was rather unlucky in real life and decided to end it all.
Shobha was a very successful and popular star. She worked across the South Indian movie industry and did films in Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada. She was unconventional in her looks and in her movie choices as well. She was a natural in emoting the characters on-screen and often noticed for a bright, cheerful smile. Her characters such as Valli in Mullum Malarum, Indumathi Teacher in Azhiyatha Kolangal have stood the test of time.
She had quite a few popular Tamil songs to her credit – Poonthenil Kalanthu and Yenunga Maapillai (Ennipadigal), Poovannam (Azhiyatha Kolangal), Senthazham Poovil and Adi Penne (Mullum Malarum), Yen Iniya Pon Nilavae (Moodu Pani) readily come to one’s mind.
She won the National Award for Best Actress for Pasi at the young age on 17 – such a sad loss of talent at a tender age when she couldn’t cope with the pulls and pressures of stardom and personal life. Possibly a long and successful film career was abruptly cut short and we wonder why she couldn’t just be as strong as the female protagonists essayed by her onscreen.
My top 5 movies include –
Mullum Malarum (The Thorn and the Flower)
An iconic film that became a trendsetter by being everything that wasn’t expected of a Tamil film touted to be a melodramatic tear-jerker showcasing the affectionate relationship between a brother and a sister. It was full of big names – Mahendran’s directorial debut film, he was being assisted by cinematographer Balu Mahendra, Ilaiyaraja was composing music and BGM, Rajinikanth was the hero much to the chagrin of the film’s producer Venu Chettiar. And the movie took a rather tepid opening at the box office.
And it still succeeded by re-defining the grammar of Tamil cinema – it rode on amazing visuals and cinematography backed by lilting BGM and powerhouse performance of Rajini and the ensemble cast. There was minimal of melodrama, verbose dialogues, fight sequences and moral outrage. Yet it was meaningful cinema that came to be known as the ‘Magical Mahendran’ touch.
Shobha’s performance still stood out for quite a few reasons – she was not fazed about matching up to Rajini’s performance of a life-time, her character was well-etched and she portrayed it well, and she got lucky to have a memorable song like ‘Senthazham Poovil …’ as well.
Azhiyatha Kolangal (Enduring Patterns)
Balu Mahendra is the director and cinematographer. The movie is a bildungsroman tale focused on 3 young boys in a village. Shobha’s role as a young teacher who makes a lasting impression of the teenagers is light-hearted and natural. She portrays a caring relationship with her fiance – Pratap Pothan – that is a mixture of companionship and tradition. Her borderline performance between the ‘girl-next-door’ to the independent young woman living life on her own terms adds depth to her character.
The movie is a tribute to her acting prowess and her ability to get into the skin of her character.
Nizhal Nijamagiradhu (Illusion becomes reality)
A KB film is by default a bonus for the female lead of the film. It was meant to be her debut Tamil movie as well. Well-supported by Kamal Haasan, Sarath Babu and Sumithra, there wasn’t much to be done by a young girl who happens to be a maid-servant and transitions to being an unwed young mother.
Though it dealt with a sobering subject, overall the movie was an entertainer and had made light moments added to it by Moulee. Kamal courting the haughty-n-snooty Sumithra (a misandrist) was a useful distraction as well when things got too heavy.
Moodu Pani (The Mist)
The movie belonged to ‘Balu Mahendra- Pratap Pothan – Ilaiyaraja’ combination. Shobha had an incidental ‘girl-next-door’ role and didn’t have much to do in the movie. The movie was trying to ensure and succeeded in distinguishing itself from Kamal’s ‘Sigappu Rojakkal’.
A psycho-thriller the movie had few light moment and some amazing cinematography. Pratap Pothan strumming his guitar and serenading Shobha with, ‘Yen Iniya Pon Nilavae’ was a moment that defined the movie. Indeed the songs has many happy memories associated with Shobha. Prathap Pothan has mentioned about it in an interview, ‘For some reason, despite names like Balu Mahendra and Yesudas being associated with this song, people get reminded of me when they listen to this. I have no idea what I did so well in this song to deserve that. This was also my last song with Shoba. I remember how we looked into the sky just before the line, ‘Panneerai Thoovum Mazhai’. Balu Mahendra made me listen to this song for the first time in Chola Sheraton. I learned just then that he got married to Shoba. I told him that this song was so beautiful, that it was a great wedding gift for him from Ilaiyaraaja.’
A trademark performance as a poor young girl who had an affair with a lorry driver (Vijayan) and became a ‘unwed mother’. By now Shobha was used to essaying such desperate characters. She was cast with Malayalam actor Vijayan with whom she didn’t many other movies such as ‘Oru Vidukathai Oru Thodarkathai’, ‘Sakkalathi’ etc.
It turned out to be her swan song and the final signature of a young talented actress who tragically died young.