Gopishantha, better known by her stage name Manorama, also called Aachi, was a veteran Indian actress, playback singer and comedian who had appeared in more than 1500 films, 5,000 stage performances and several television series until 2015.
She entered the Guinness World Records for acting in more than 1000 films in 1985. By 2015, she had acted in more than 1,500 films.
Manorama was born on 26 May 1937 to Kasiyappan Kilakudaiyar and Ramamirtham in Mannargudi, a town in the erstwhile Thanjavur district of Madras Presidency.
Her mother brought her up by taking up a job as a maid. She mentioned her indebtedness to her mother for her success: Many of the mother roles that she has played in films resemble her own mother.
Her family moved to Pallathur near Karaikudi owing to poverty.
While in Pallathur, her mother had started vomiting out blood, hence Manorama decided to start working as a maid and dropped out of school at the age of 11.
Once a drama troupe had come to Pallathur, but the actress who was to play a small part, suddenly dropped out due to her inability to sing and the troupe was looking for an artiste who could act and sing as well. The drama troupe decided to give her this role in the drama titled Andhaman Kadhali. Hence her acting career began at the age of twelve, acting in plays.
During this time, she was rechristened Manorama by one of her dramas’ director Thiruvengadam and harmonist Thiayagarajan.
She continued to act in plays and performed as a playback singer as well.
After watching her performance in plays, she was offered her first film, named Inbavazhvu, by Janakiraman, which remained 40% incomplete and later Kannadasan offered her lead role in a second film, Unmayinkottai, which got shelved after shooting for about 40%.
She lost hope of becoming a film actor when both these films remained incomplete.
Manorama fell in love with her manager in the drama troupe; S. M. Ramanathan and married him in 1964; the couple had a son named Bhoopathy. However, they divorced in late 1966 and started to live separately in Chennai.
She quoted in an interview in 2015, “My mom wanted me to study medicine. But it was not easy to become a doctor in those days, and I became an actress. So, if I hadn’t taken up acting, I would have tried to become a doctor as my mom wished for it. But now, fortunately, my grandson is a doctor, and I am proud of it.”
She acted in small roles in few Vairam Nataka Sabha dramas. Once she went to see a drama of S. S. Rajendran, who was residing at Pudukkotai, in Tamil Nadu, and P.A. Kumar introduced her to Rajendran. S
he showed her skill in dialogue delivery and was offered a job in S.S.R. Nataka Mandram company and played in hundreds of stage productions all over the district: The dramas included Manimagudam, Thenpandiveeran and Pudhuvellam.
She credits her work in Manimagudam as where she was first recognised as an actress.
She then took part in an unfinished film starring S. S. Rajendran and Devika.
She migrated from dramas to the silver screen with the role of a heroine in the 1958 Tamil film Malayitta Mangai: Kavignar Kannadasan gave her the lead role in this film.
The first film in which she played the heroine was the 1963 Konjum Kumari.
Then, she concentrated more on comedy from 1960. She was given equally challenging roles alongside the well known comedian Nagesh in 50 films.
When asked in an interview as to how she got into films, she quoted, “It’s all because of Kannadasan. It was he who changed my life by casting me in the film Maalayitta Mangai in 1957. It was a comical role, and he trusted me so much and said that I will be able to pull it off. I was very doubtful about it, but he told me, “If you are going to act in films only as a heroine, people here will throw you out of the industry after three or four years, but doing such roles will take you places. And you have the talent, too, to reach higher peaks.” That is when I got confidence and continued doing comedy roles.”
The first time Manorama stood before the camera was for a Sinhalese film, in which she played the heroine’s friend.
Her dance master Suryakala recommended her to the director Masthaan to play the role.
She has acted predominantly in Tamil films since 1958, but also acted in Telugu, Hindi, Malayalam and Kannada movies as well.
She had done playback singing for 300 songs, mostly pictured on herself, in Tamil films.
The first song that she sang was in a film called Magale Un Samathu, composed by G. K. Venkatesh and this opportunity she got due to the film’s producer P.A. Kumar.
She has sung a classical-based song with TM Sounderajan in the film Dharshinam (1970), where she was paired with Cho. Manorama sang a song with L.R. Eswari named “Thaatha thaatha pidi kudu”.
Her career’s biggest hit song sung by herself was Vaa Vaathiyaare Uttaande composed by music director V. Kumar for the film ”Bommalattam”, which was picturised on her and Cho.
She also sang for M. S. Viswanathan and A. R. Rahman.
Some of her best Tamil films include Anbe Vaa, Thenmazhi, Ethir Neechal, Galatta Kalyanam, Chittukuruvi, Durga Devi, Annalakshmi and Imayam.
In Telugu, she starred in films such as Rikshavodu, Krishnarjuna and Subhodayam.
When asked in an interview as to which are her memorable roles, she said “It is Nadigan, which had Sathyaraj and Khushbu in the lead. I cannot forget that role of Baby Amma in my life. Also my role in Chinna Gounder, for which I had to sport weird, artificial teeth, is something which I always think about.
She has acted with all of the lead comedians across five different generations, which includes M. R. Radha, K. A. Thangavelu, J. P. Chandrababu, A. Karunanithi, Ennatha Kannaiya, V. K. Ramaswamy, Nagesh, Cho Ramaswamy, Thengai Seenivasan, M. R. R. Vasu, Suruli Rajan, Venniradai Moorthy, Janagaraj, Pandiarajan, Goundamani, Senthil, Vivek and Vadivelu.
Manorama also holds a record of singing for all the notable music directors. She has rendered her voice for M. S. Viswanathan, Ilayaraja, A. R. Rahman and many other notable music composers.
Her work was noticed even among stalwarts like Sivaji Ganesan and Natiya Peroli Padmini.
She has been in films with five chief ministers. She played the female lead in the plays written, directed and acted by C. N. Annadurai, former chief minister of Tamil Nadu. She has also appeared in plays with another chief minister of Tamil Nadu, M. Karunanidhi. She has acted in films with M. G. Ramachandran and J. Jayalalithaa, who both later became chief ministers of Tamil Nadu later. She has also acted in Telugu films with Dr. N. T. Rama Rao, who became the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh
Between 2013 and 2015, Manorama had suffered ill-health resulting in hospital stays. She died in Chennai at 11.20 pm on 10 October 2015 as a result of multiple organ failure. She was 78 and is survived by her son and singer-actor Bhoopathy
She was a recipient of the Kalaimamani award.
In 2002, Government of India awarded Manorama the Padma Shri for her contribution to the arts.
National Film Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in film Pudhiya Padhai (1989) and Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award – South (1995).