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For the lead ladies of south Indian cinema, the show will go on

Yeddyurappa presents first Padma bhushan Dr B Saroja Devi National awards.

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Veterans of south Indian cinema — Anjali Devi, Jamuna Rao, Harini S Rao and B Saroja Devi — came together on one dais on Sunday morning to begin a tradition of acknowledging the contribution of women artistes to show biz.

The first Padma bhushan Dr B Saroja Devi National awards were given away by chief minister BS Yeddyurappa on Sunday. “I have watched their films. Each one three to four times,” Yeddyurappa confessed, after presenting the awards to the actors. “I am ready to do anything to support this initiative. Whatever your demands, the government will grant them,” he said.

The award, which includes cash of Rs1 lakh, a gold medal and certificate, will be reserved only for women achievers of the film industry. “If I don’t find anyone suitable, I would even give it to junior artistes,” said Saroja Devi.

It’s her way of honouring the leading ladies of a film industry that refuses to give them their due. While the men are praised to the skies for their performances, their posters and pictures splashed every where, the women rarely find mention. “There is no award for women artistes. Even at Delhi (Centre), there is none,” she said.

“In our time, both men and women got equal screen time. It is not so anymore,” said Jamuna Rao, the Hampi-born and Hyderabad-bred actor who has 200 films, including Kannada hits like Ratnagiri Rahasya, Sakshatkara, Bhookailasa and Adarsha Sathi, to her credit.

Vowing to take a leaf out of Saroja Devi’s book, both “Kannadathi” Harini S Rao and Andhra Pradesh resident Anjali Devi said they would use the prize money to help fellow artistes in need. Harini, a Rajyotsava awardee, said, “I will collect more money from relatives and friends and put this into a fund that would grow, give interest.

That amount will be offered to artistes in distress.” Anjali Devi, who spoke in Telugu, offered to put the money into a charitable Trust.

This award was a long-cherished dream of Saroja Devi. “I wanted to initiate this award during the time of MV Rajamma and Pandari Bai. But my auditor dissuaded me saying I would have to pay my taxes first. Eventually, when I managed the finances, none showed interest. I approached the governments of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Finally, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan agreed to partner with me,” Saroja Devi said at the event, attended by actors Ambareesh, Sumalatha, Jayamala, Jayanti, and Meena Durairaj.

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