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Tanguturi Suryakumari (13 November 1925 – 25 April 2005), also known by her married name Suryakumari Elvin,[1] was an Indian singer, actress and dancer in Telugu cinema. She sang "Maa Telugu Thalliki", the official song of the State of Andhra Pradesh.[2] She was the winner of Miss Madras 1952 pageant[3] and runner-up of the Miss India 1952 pageant.[1] She was the niece of activist and politician Tanguturi Prakasam Pantulu, known as Andhra Kesari, who was chief minister of Madras and Andhra.

Tanguturi Suryakumari
Tanguturu Suryakumari.jpg
Suryakumari (left) receiving the Raja-Lakshmi Award, 1984
Born(1925-11-13)13 November 1925
Died25 April 2005(2005-04-25) (aged 79)
London, England, UK
Other namesTanguturu Suryakumari
OccupationModel, singer, actress, dancer
Spouse(s)Harold Elvin[1]

As an actress, she has won the Outer Critics Circle Award for best actress, for playing Queen Sudarshana, in Rabindranath Tagore’s Off-Broadway play The King of the Dark Chamber in 1961.[2]


Suryakumari was a film star at the age of 12,[4] when a special part was written into the film Vipranarayana (1937) to accommodate her singing talents.

Suryakumari's next film Adrushtam (1939) was a success.[5][3] 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. Tanguturi Suryakumari later acted in some 25 films. Among these films, 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. Tanguturi Suryakumari also acted in Hindi movies Watan (1954) and Uran Khatola (1955). In the second one, Tanguturi Suryakumari acted with Hindi movie icon Dilip Kumar and was nominated for Best Supporting Actress award in the Filmfare Awards.

As singerEdit

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. Tanguturi Suryakumari also sang some patriotic songs and in few of them Tanguturi Suryakumari praised Mahatma Gandhi. There were numerous songs sung by Suryakumari of which few of them are "Maa Telugu Talliki", "Mallepoodhandalu", "O Mahatma", "Satapatra Sundari", "Maamidichettunu" and others.[6] Tanguturi Suryakumari also sang in a feature-length documentary film about Mahatma Gandhi, which was made by a patriotic Tamil writer and journalist, A. K. Chettiar.

Record companies came forward to record her voice, and at a time when gramophones were not yet common, her songs could be heard everywhere. Patrons in restaurants and outdoor cafes would pay extra if their meal was accompanied by Surya's songs, and passing traffic would stop until a song had finished. Her presence was a major attraction at meetings of the Indian National Congress, and her recordings reached rural areas unvisited by politicians. Even today, her most famous song, "Maa Telugu Thalli" (in praise of her mother tongue), is sung at the start of social functions in her home state of Andhra.

Career in the WestEdit

Suryakumari (sixth from left) along with other contestants at the 1952 Miss India pageant in Bombay

Altogether, Surya appeared in some 25 Indian films in the 1940s and 1950s, singing and acting in a variety of languages, including Telugu, Sanskrit, Tamil, Gujarati, Hindi and English.

She had her film admirers too, for her films like Raithu Bidda (1939), Bhagyalakshmi (1943), Krishna Prema (1943), Maradalu Pelli (1952) and Hindi films Watan (1954), Uran Khatola (1955).

In the mid-1950s, she made her first visit to the US, as a member of a delegation from the Indian film industry invited to Hollywood by the Motion Picture Association of America (though union regulations precluded her from film work there).

In 1959, she went to New York to teach at the Columbia University, and also to add to her skills by studying western classical and popular dance forms. On her arrival, she appeared on television alongside the Indian ambassador and sang Indian songs. Making her debut stage appearance in American theatre, she portrayed Queen Sudarshana in Rabindranath Tagore's play The King of the Dark Chamber in Jan Hus Playhouse Theater, in February 1961. Commending her performance, Red Bank Register wrote that she "displayed luminous artistry to match appealing beauty."[7] For the performance, she was awarded the Off-Broadway Award Critics' Award for Best Actress. Suryakumari had an acquaintance with the great Alfred Hitchcock. She also took the role of Princess Chitra in the dance production of Tagore's Chitra for CBS, and researched Indian stories for Alfred Hitchcock.

Journey to LondonEdit

In 1965, Suryakumari travelled to London. Scheduled to play the Hindu deity Kali in Kindly Monkeys, a new play at the Arts Theatre, she decided at the end of the run to stay on and found India Performing Arts in Kensington with her husband Harold Elvin, a project to train performers and mount productions.[8] Annual performances by Suryakumari herself, her students and fellow artists followed at the Purcell Room, in the South Bank Centre, for the next 40 years.

From 1973, Surya was supported in her work by her husband, Harold Elvin, poet, painter and potter, reading his poetry and telling his stories as she sang and played the tanpura and sitar.

Something of the flavour of these gatherings may be gained from the programmes for two events in 1982, with schoolchildren appearing alongside Ben Kingsley in Homage To Mahatma Gandhi, and Larry Adler's harmonica improvisations (complemented by Surya's instrumental accompaniment) in An Indian Pageant. Surya's political commitments were engrained in all her work, whether as chief singer at the Gandhi centenary commemoration at St Paul's cathedral in 1969, or with the Hordaland Teater of Bergen, for children in Norway, with whom she worked from 1991 to 1998. He predeceased her. Tanguturi Suryakumari, a singer, actor and dancer, died on 25 April 2005, aged 79.


  1. ^ a b c Srihari, Gudipoodi (4 July 2008). "Twinkle toes and a magical voice". The Hindu. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
  2. ^ a b Harpe, Bill (18 May 2005). "Obituaries: Surya Kumari". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 August 2014.
  3. ^ a b Guy, Randor (1 August 2008). "Adrishtam 1939". The Hindu.
  4. ^ Rajadhyaksha, Ashish; Willemen, Paul (2014). Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema. Routledge. p. 225. ISBN 9781135943189. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
  5. ^ Biography of Tanguturi Suryakumari
  6. ^
  7. ^ Glover, William (13 February 1961). "Spirited Play From India Has Charm". Red Bank Register. Associated Press. p. 5.
  8. ^ Newley, Patrick (1 June 2005). "Final curtain". Archived from the original on 17 March 2018. Retrieved 19 March 2018.

Further readingEdit

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