She was born in 1960, to a couple of poor parents in the non-descript village of Somavarappadu, Andhra Pradesh as ‘Vijayalakshmi’. Due to her family’s financial constraints, she left school after the fourth grade. Not too much later, her parents married her off at a considerably young age. And when her husband and in-laws started ill-treating her, she fled to Madras to live with an aunt, and pursue her dreams.
From Vijayalakshmi to Smitha
Before the ban on female make-up artists, Vijayalakshmi started out as one herself for a D-grade artist. It was at this time when director Vinu Chakravarthy was awestruck by her raw beauty, and saw potential in her. He took her under his wing, got his wife to teach her English and even arranged dancing lessons for her. Vinu felt that she needed a new name, a new identity. On a late summer afternoon, Vijayalakshmi became ‘Smitha’.
From Smitha to ‘Silk’ Smitha
Her first major role came in the form of a bar dancer in Vandichakkaram(1979). In the film, the regular drunks at the bar called her Silukku, which roughly translates to ‘oomph’ in Tamil, much to her character’s disdain. Little did she know, ‘Silukku’ would become ‘Silk’, a name that the world would have on its lips for a long time to come.
In a brief period, Silk had become the queen of erotica, with her item numbers and ‘special’ performances set the screens on fire, the audience hungry for more and the cash registers running. It’s believed that shelved films that were lying in the cans for years were brought back from the dead, with a simple addition of a Silk Smitha song. On the other hand, she also inadvertently destroyed the careers of many a starlet who were on their way to oblivion anyway.
Many bigwigs in the industry, even after exploiting her for their own success, panned her for being a sellout and that she wouldn’t last long. And while never refused the glamorous roles offered to her for the sake of a few producers and directors, she stuck it back to her critics with nuanced performances like in Alaigal Oivathillai and Moondram Pirai. She always wanted to be a character actor, and working with her favourite directors Bharathiraja and Balu Mahendra gave her those rare chances to expand her horizons.
She was highly misunderstood by most people
Like how our society is even today, Silk was often met with preconceived notions and was written off by many dailies and magazines of those days as a rude, disrespectful and curt. In reality, the people who really knew her loved her for her surprisingly plain, generous and honest personality. One incident that got her a lot of bad press was her refusal to perform at MS Viswanathan’s party in Singapore, following which MSV and his family abandoned her there and left for India. Her firmly-rooted principles were often misjudged, and got her into trouble every now and then.
After having done around 200 films, she still believed that her image would not last forever. To find her true calling, she turned a film producer in the mid-90’s and set out to invest everything into her new ambition.
Her sudden death shocked many, and haunts a few to this very day
On September 23, 1996, Kannada actor Ravichandran, a close friend of Silk, was busy shooting and found out that she had frantically tried to reach him. He tried to speak to her, but the call never got through due to poor connectivity. But he sensed that evening that she might have been wanting to tell him about something that troubled her.
The very next day, Ravichandran along with the rest of the world was shocked to hear that Silk had taken her own life. Though no one knows for sure, Silk was going through many problems which might have caused this decision: financial issues, disillusionment in love and severe depression. Like a burning star, Silk was all of just 35 years of age when she left us.