Tamil comedian Saroja dies

'Kalyani parisu' thesp acted with husband Thangavelu

Tamil comedienne M. Saroja died April 2 in her home in Chennai, India, of a heart attack. She was 79.

In laffers such as “Kalyana parisu” (Wedding Gift) Saroja played the straight woman to K.A. Thangavelu, whom she married after the film was released in 1959.

Describing a scene from “Kalyana parisu” in which her character calls her husband on his lie that he’s a famous writer and that was shot in one take, she told the Hindu newspaper: “It was one lengthy shot. Director Sridhar was holding his handkerchief to his mouth to suppress his laughter. But my husband and I went on.”

Her father and an older sister were both in the biz, but Saroja’s parents were not keen on her entering films. However, helmer K. Subramaniam persuaded her parents to let her perform in “Geeta Gandhi,” a film that was never released. But in 1951 she essayed a role in “Sarvadhikari” (Dictator), with matinee idol M.G. Ramachandran.

The young actress learned several forms of Indian dance as well as sword fighting and horse riding. Her first film with Thangavelu was 1956’s “Naga Panchami.” He was already a well-known comedian and much older than she, but they hit it off and ultimately acted in 250 films together.

Saroja told the Hindu that Thangavelu molded her into a comedian and taught her how to time her jokes. “He never wanted me to get complacent. I would laugh a lot on the sets and he would comment, ‘You shouldn’t laugh. Your portrayals should keep others in stitches.’ ”

She also acted in other regional-language films of the south such as Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada.

Thangavelu died in 1994. Saroja is survived by a daughter and a grandson.

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