(Last Updated on : 30-03-2012)
K. B. Sundarambal was a great Tamil actress. She was regarded as a legend in her lifetime. She was born in Kodumudi village, Periyar district in 1906. She was a child prodigy with an inborn genius for music. The local Deputy Superintendent of police chanced to hear her singing on her own and was instantly charmed. He showed his appreciation with a gift of Rs 50 and saw to it that the then famous Velu Nair's theatre company enrolled her. She was given all the parts available for a child actress. She acted for the first time in Nallatangal as one of the seven children thrown into a well by their mother unable to feed them all. This was a popular folk tale. It had been made into a tearjerker, the favourite of Tamil theatre troupes. It contained much full-throated singing by Sundarambal. At the same time, she started learning music from the harmonium player in the company. She excelled in her ability to traverse unwaveringly at the top of the octave and in fast tempos. She became widely known as they toured all over the Tamil-speaking world in India, Burma, Ceylon, and Malaya.
In Ceylon, K. B. Sundarambal met another touring star, S. G. Kittappa, who matched her range, pitch, and speed. Inevitably, they became a duo, outshining everyone else in the field, and commanding a tremendous following. Their most talked-about pairing was in Valli tirumanam i.e. "Valli's Marriage". In offstage too they fell in love and got married. Kittappa died at very young age. It happened in 1933. After this incident Sundarambal never married again. She also refused to act on stage opposite to any other man for the rest of her life.
Her next sensational appearance was as Nandan in 1935. In this play she acted the role of an untouchable farm labourer who longed to visit Lord Shiva
's temple at Tirupunkar. But was refused entry and refused leave by his Brahman landlord. The libretto was the nineteenth-century classic, Gopalakrishna Bharati's Nandanar charittira kirttanai i.e. 'Kirttanai of Nandan's Life. The movie version the same year proved a tremendous hit for its musical content. Tragically, the negatives got destroyed in an accidental fire, but some songs survive on gramophone records. Sundarambal performed in ten films, the most famous among them was Avvaiyar in 1953. This was the tale of the legendary Tamil saint-poetess whom she enacted, and sang twenty extraordinary songs of, for the unheard-of fee of Rs 100,000. She covered the classical and folk ends of the musical spectrum, fusing them easily without a blemish. Her forte remained music, whether as the Indian National Congress
Party's propaganda vehicle or on numerous discs. She recorded a number of stirring patriotic songs and devotional lyrics. K. B. Sundarambal died in 1980.