Early life of Tanguturi Suryakumari
Born in south India in Rajamundry, Tanguturi Suryakumari began singing patriotic songs at political meetings all over the Telugu-speaking districts of the Madras Presidency, organised by the Indian National Congress party. She was also an exponent of arts, like music, dance and acting. Her uncle Prakasam Panthulu was a well-known amateur stage actor in Rajahmundry, where he was first practicing as lawyer.
Tanguturi Suryakumari came under the influence of her uncle at an early age. She accompanied him in many political gatherings to sing songs, which later was noticed by the gramophone record producers like Columbia and Odeon. Thus she became famous as a gramophone artist, which later attracted several film producers. At the age of 12 in 1937 she sang for a film Vipranarayana.
Tanguturi Suryakumari as an Artist
Tanguturi Suryakumari's next film Adrishtam was released in 1938 and became a hit. Her other films include Katakam (1948) and Samsara Nowka (1949). Katakam was at first a Tamil play based on a lesser-known William Shakespeare play Cymbeline. Suryakumari acted in the Tamil version of the film. She later acted in some 25 films. Among these films, the 'Devatha' and 'Raithu Bidda' made film history and contributed to the Golden age of Telugu Cinema.
In the film, 'Krishna Prema' by H. V. Babu, Suryakumari played the role of sage Narada. And it was first time in the history of Telugu cinema; a woman played the male role of Narada. In this film, for the first time, Surya-kumari's singing talents were fully utilised as Narada and her performance won her many laurels. She also acted in Hindi movies named 'Watan' (1954) and 'UdanKatola' (1955). In the second one, she acted with Hindi movie icon Dilip Kumar and was nominated for Best Supporting Actress award in the Filmfare Awards.
Apart from her film career, Tanguturi Suryakumari was also well known for her private songs released as gramophone records and later as audiocassettes. The songs were melodious and had impressive lyrics. Her sweet voice added beauty to these songs. She also sang some patriotic songs and in few of them she praised Mahatma Gandhi. There were numerous songs sang by Suryakumari of which few of them are 'Maa Telujju Talliki, Mallepoodhandalu O Mahatma Satapatra sun dart Maamidichettu a-llukunnadhi and others'. She also sang in a feature length documentary film about Mahatma Gandhi, which was made by a patriotic Tamil writer and journalist, A.K. Chettiar.
Tanguturi Suryakumari career in the West
In later period of her life, Tanguturi Suryakumari went to New York to Colunbia University to teach there.As a member of an Indian cultural delegation in the United States she had the great opportunity of meeting the 'Merchant of Menace.' Later she worked in the production of many episodes of the famous television series 'Alfred Hitchcock presents'.
During her stay in the United States, she tried hard to spread Indian culture by organizing various stage shows and performances with great singers and dancers of India. She also composed a play based on a work of Rabindranath Tagore, which was staged and became hit there. Surya established the 'India Performing Arts' at Kensington, England, for training the English in Indian performing arts. Later Tanguturi Suryakumari got married to Harold Elvin a painter, poet and potter.
Even after marriage she continued with her efforts of spreading Indian culture in the West. She was a versatile actress and singer and won the Off-Broadway Critics' Award for Best Actress for her performance as Queen Sudarshana in the Rabindranath Tagore's The King of the Dark Chamber. She passed away in April 2005 at the age of 80 years.