Even though it was a struggle for Savithri to find work as a film actress, she eventually found herself in the limelight. One can look at her rise to fame in the film industry in four separate phases; 1) Initial Setback, 2) Second Setback, 3) Big Break, and 4) Meteoric Rise.
Savithri was only 12 years old when she first came to Chennai (then Madras) in 1948, looking for her big break. All of her family members accompanied her on the trip. Everyday, Savithri’s uncle took her around the studios in search of work. They talked to producers, directors, writers, and others in the film industry.
A couple of photographs of Savithri that were used while trying to land roles in films.
After a couple of months, one thing became obvious to Chowdhury, Savithri’s uncle. It was too early for Savithri to get into the movies. Most people they met almost unanimously agreed that she was too young to play major roles in the films. This was hard to swallow, but it was the reality of the situation. This left them with no choice. Savithri and rest of her family packed their bags and left for Vijayawada. Once at home she found herself enough work to keep busy doing what she knows best, performing on stage.
About a year went by. In 1949, Savithri received a message from a Chennai film production company inviting her to act in their movie, “Agni Pareeksha,” in a small role. The family was back in Chennai ready to shoot “Agni Pareeksha”. But after a day’s shooting, the director decided to drop Savithri. The reason was again the same. She was too young for the role of the vamp she was to play. Disappointed, the family was once again back in Vijayawada.
In 1950, Savithri and her family were back again in Chennai. This time they went at the invitation a friend of the Gogineni family, of Donepoodi Krishna Murthy, who was in Chennai planning to produce a film. Murthy introduced Savithri to producer Ranganath Das who was ready to bankroll “Samsaram” under the direction of Akkineni Lakshmi Vara Prasad, also known as L.V. Prasad. The movie was to star Lakshmi Rajyam, Nageswara Rao, and Rama Rao. Prasad was looking to fill the spot for the role of the heroine.
Based on Murthy’s recommendation, Savithri was selected to play the heroine opposite Nageswara Rao. Rao was already an established and accomplished actor with several hit movies under his belt. A nervous Savithri went through the motions of her first day’s schedule. The director was not happy with the results. He wanted to see how the next shoot with her would go. It was scheduled with the hero of the film, Nageswara Rao. Savithri was a nervous wreck. The movie was shot for another couple of weeks but not much progress was made. There were several retakes involving Savithri and she couldn’t overcome her fear and nervousness in front of the camera. Finally the producer Das and the director Prasad concluded that Savithri should be replaced. Replaced they did. But they let her be in one scene in a song as a friend of the heroine. This bit role was a stepping stone for one of the greatest performers, Savithri, who would become a legend in her own lifetime.
Savithri lost an opportunity to be the heroine of her very first film. But she learned one valuable lesson. She has to overcome her fears and nervousness and has to be confident. At this time, she received a call from Vijaya Pictures who were making “Pathala Bhairavi”. K.V. Reddy was to direct the movie. They were looking for a dancer who could act in a duet song sequence in the movie. Savithri was their answer. The male dancer, Pasumarthi, was the dance director of the film. The movie was released in 1951 and became a huge hit. For the first time people took notice of Savithri who could show a range of emotions in just a song and dance number.
In the same year, 1951, another movie, “Roopavathi” was released. Savithri had a small role in that film. The movie was a flop, but it did help Savithri overcome her nervousness and instilled in her new found confidence that she could act, and on her own terms.
“Pathala Bhairavi” was also made in Tamil. This was the first Tamil film Savithri, the future “Nadigayar Thilkam,” appeared in. She didn’t know any Tamil but it was not required for this film. The scene she appeared in was the same song and dance number she enacted in Telugu and had no words spoken.
The year 1952 was an altogether different story in Savithri’s life. She starred in seven different films of which some became huge hits. L.V. Prasad was directing her for the second time, this time in a second heroine role in “Pelli Chesi Choodu”. The movie was also made in Tamil as “Kalyanam Panni Paar”. Savithri’s voice was dubbed for that movie. In both movies NTR was the hero.
Also in 1952, Jaggayya, a friend and mentor of Savithri from her early childhood days, made his debut as a hero in “Priyuralu”. It was made by Murthy, who was instrumental in giving Savithri the first opportunity to become an actress. Savithri had a supporting role in “Priyuralu”.
Another significant achievement for Savithri was that she starred opposite Nageswara Rao in “Shanthi”, but without the nervousness this time. She also starred opposite Rama Rao as heroine of “Palletooru”, a debut movie for director Tatineni Prakasha Rao and Maha Kavi Sri Sri.
Savithri established herself once and for all as the top heroine of Telugu and Tamil films in 1953. She was in 12 films released that year, averaging one a month! Of these she had a jubilee hit in “Brathuku Theruvu” produced by Ranganath Das, who originally cast her for his “Samsaram” only to drop her later. She also had a hit in H.M. Reddy’s “Pratignya” made in both Tamil and Telugu. But the crowning achievement was her role as “Parvathi” in Sharat Chandra’s classic novel “Devadas” made both in Tamil and Telugu. She played the female lead, while Nageswara Rao played “Devadasu” in the film. Rao gave one of the greatest performances ever by an actor that will be remembered for generations to come. Savithri, only three years in the film world, matched him frame by frame giving a gutsy and endearing performance.