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It’s a given that actors typecast as judges, doctors and policemen in Tamil films do not carry much weight and disappear with passage of time. Yet Sarath Babu, who has passed away at 71, was an actor who left his imprint on the role, significant or not. Such actors never change appearance on the screen. Yet he came off as a brilliant performer whose various characterizations, despite evoking a feeling of déjà vu, are memorable, carrying his signature.
An indispensable actor in both Tamil and Telugu films, he also acted in Malayalam, Kannada and Hindi films. The top stars of the various language filmdoms paid floral tributes to Sarath Babu, recalling their experiences with him. They said his roles were never the same though the film fans had a different perception of him.
Sarath Babu was always celebrated as a gentleman on-screen and off-screen. Sporting an innocuous smile and unmindful of delays in being called to perform before the camera, he used to be self-composed and sure of himself. The way he interacted with colleagues cordially with a good understanding earned him the tag of ‘gentleman.’
Sarath Babu was always celebrated as a gentleman on-screen and off-screen. Sporting a smile and unmindful of delays before he got to perform before the camera, he used to be self-composed and sure of himself
Fair-complexioned and imposing, he radiated a presence marked by camaraderie and gravitas. There was something rich and elitist, yet elegant about his personality. However, he ensured that his personality burnished the roles that he took up.
Sathyambabu Dheetchithalu (his real name) was born at Amadalavalasa in the then Madras Presidency. He had a Telugu education in school and college. Unwilling to pursue his family trade, he moved to Chennai and initially acted in Telugu films. He made his debut in Tamil films through ‘Pattina Pravesam’ directed by K. Balachander. Roles in Tamil and Telugu films followed for over a decade, endearing himself to both audiences through his sharp portrayals of diverse characters.
Had he been ambitious to don action hero robes, he would have made it bigger, for he was endowed with a personality befitting an action and romantic hero. But he chose to be a director’s actor, amenable to the dictates of various famous directors such as KB, Mahendran, Bharathiraja, SP Muthuraman, K.Viswanath, Vamsi and so on. That was an achievement indeed!
In the 1980s he had rivals – Pratap Pothan, Rajesh, Vagai Chandrasekhar were prominent ones. Yet, sailing with them smoothly, Sarath Babu made his own mark.
Mahendran’s directorial debut Mullum Malarum is memorable in that it earned him as much recognition as Rajini, Shoba and ‘Fatafat’ Jayalakshmi. While Rajini, the hero, exhibited his villainous traits, Sarath Babu, who played opposite the hero, came off as more heroic to the audience, keeping his cool and displaying gentlemanliness.
Sarath Babu subsequently acted in Mahendran-directed films – Nenjaththai Killaathe, Metti, Azhakiya Kanne. The character he played in Mahendran’s film Uthiripookkal was one that no popular actor would willingly take up. The scene wherein Sarath Babu was beaten by the man (Vijayan) as he asks him not to torture the latter’s wife revealed forbearance of the character. Sarath Babu’s facial expressions and body language speak volumes about the gentleman in him. Though a cameo role, it got traction from Sarath Babu’s weighty performance.
Sathyambabu Dheetchithalu (his real name) was born at Amadalavalasa in the then Madras Presidency. He had his schooling and college education in Telugu. Not willing to pursue his family trade, he moved to Chennai and initially acted in Telugu films. He made his debut in Tamil cinema through ‘Pattina Pravesam’ directed by K.Balachander
In the films Sattam, Salangai Oli and Chippikkul Muthu he played second fiddle to Kamal Haasan, yet no less impressive was his performance. Similarly in films Vellaikkaran, Annamalai and Muthu, he played a friend of Rajini. Particularly, Annamalai witnessed Sarath Babu playing a bosom friend of Rajini, radiating warm kindred feelings. In the midst of stalwarts Rajini, Manorama and Radharavi, Sarathkumar’s performance struck a chord with the audience. The scene wherein he slaps Rajini would normally have evoked cries of condemnation from Rajini fans had the role been performed by some actor other than Sarath Babu.
His acting style was unpredictable and manifested in diverse roles, never the same. The role of a married man lured by a femme fatale and torn between life and death was quite unlike him. Yet he did it with ease and elegance in Antru Peitha Mazhai directed by cameraman Ashok Kumar. A womaniser role too was unlikely. But he infused credibility and clarity into the role in Nettrikann and Keezhvanam Sivakkum.
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