Silk Smitha gave me a glimpse into her mind

“Turn the fan towards us,” she said as she sat on her chair with me beside her. I’d been waiting for her to finish the shot and she was also aware that I’d come. I had met her the previous day at Sarathi Studios at Ameerpet. She was shooting for song in a film. “It’s a tight schedule today. Can we meet tomorrow again for a more leisurely talk?” She said it with a smile. Polite. Her disposition was impression. Silk Smitha was well mannered. I’d always wondered if she indeed had than so child-like voice that one got to watch in her movies. Was that voice ‘made-up’ to sound teasing? I’d wondered about that. So that one thing was clarified with the very first meeting. The next day took too long to come. Or so I felt. I had many questions to ask Silk Smitha. Very, many, clarifications to seek. To know her story. How she became, where she had come up. But would I get to sit with her with as much ‘leisure’ as she had promised knowing well that she would be at work shooting? Or would she spring a surprise on me with an unpredictable nature and perhaps wind up her shoot and leave forgetting that she had asked me to come back the next day.
There was absolute silence on the sets the next day afternoon I went. I had to literally tip-toe my way on the wooden platform where the chair for the star had been kept with a stand fan. From the corner of her eyes, she’d noticed me come. She directed a spotboy to organize a chair for me and I sat waiting for the director to say ‘Take okay’ for the scene that was being shot.
Silk Smitha hastened to her seat. Someone got her a bottle of water to drink. Another hovered around just within her range of sight in case she was interested in having any fruits, or dry fruits. As she sat on the chair beside me, her assistant came and covered her legs with a towel. Silk Smitha knew everyone’s glare would be on her. “Turn the fan towards us,” she asked someone. The rotating stand fan was now only towards us and the breeze helped her relax.
“When you are seen on the screen, temperatures soar in theatres,” I said starting off the conversation. Silk Smitha laughed. She was happy when she heard that. She knew it too. Silk Smitha, the vamp of the Telugu screen, was so unlike her screen persona. Plain. Simple. She knew what she was. She was aware of who she was. “I love it if the entire theatre reacts to my presence on the screen,” she said. That would be the highlight of my interview with her for the newspaper I had been working. After all, that was why filmmakers wanted Silk Smitha in their films. Silk had got prefixed to her name because of a film that she did with that title.
I wanted to ask more things about her personal life. “You can ask whatever you want,” she said, not drawing any line as they say between ‘personal and public life’. “Why haven’t you got married as yet?” I asked. I had some idea that she was in a live-in relationship with someone but still posed that question to her. That’s when a more practical Silk Smitha came out. “I will marry, but the one I want to marry will have to first deposit Rs One crore as a fixed deposit in my name, in a bank,” she said matter-of-factly. The Eluru girl, born Vijayalakshmi Vadlapatla, for 17 years, had scorched the screen with her presence in Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada and Hindi films. One count says she acted in 450 films.
Silk Smitha had realized one thing. She had become aware of how people had been taking advantage of her. Going past a certain age, she would no longer be in demand. She would have to settle down. A steady source of income would be lost if demand for her decreased. “That Rs one crore would be of help to me and my children even if the person I marry deserts me,” she said. Why would she even want to think life could take such a turn? It sounded a bit strange to me. She seemed so uncertain about her future. Behind that impish smile was a childish girl. And inside the heart of the girl was a 36-year-old woman who was unsure where she was going in life. She’d become entertainment to the people. She was fetching money to producers. She was being loved. Lusted after. Deep down in her heart, she had her own fears.
In less than 10 days, Silk Smitha committed suicide at her house in Chennai. On September 23, 1996 – that is 22 years ago, she decided to end her life. I was shocked. I’d not expected her to be so vexed with her life. There was talk about she being in debts. But from what I knew after I had spoken to her, she felt she was being exploited. She probably did not trust the men in her life. She had no assurance that she could fall back on the film industry if she needed roles and her body would not be as explosive any more.
Three films were made on her life, the most popular one being “The Dirty Picture” starring Vidya Balan in 2011. Vidya Balan got a national award for her acting as Silk Smitha.
I’ll remember Silk for the unhindered and open conversation she had with me. She got my respect that day. I deeply respect her memory too. But she was gone too soon.


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