Controversial South Indian actress Vijayalaxmi, popularly known as Silk Smitha was born in poor family in Andhra Pradesh. She left school after her fourth standard due to financial constraints. Due to her good looks, she was ‘exploited’ by men, thus her family married her off at a very young age. She was ill-treated in her marriage, hence ran away to Madras (Chennai) and started living with an aunt.
She started her career as a touch-up artiste for a B-grade actor, and soon got a break in small character roles. In a career of 17 years, she did over 450 films in various languages including Hindi. She was discovered by Indian director Vinu Chakravarthy and renamed her Smitha. She made her debut in the Malayalam film Inaye Thedi in 1979. Due to her sex appeal looks, she switched to roles of cabaret dancers and vamp roles.
She got her first major break in the Tamil hit film Vandi Chakkaram, where her character’s name was “Silk”. Thus getting attached to the name permanently by calling herself “SILK SMITHA”. She could not escape typecasting, therefore limiting her range throughout her career.
She did various regional films in South and a few Hindi films. Her dance numbers, semi-nude scenes and bold performances in films made her the ultimate symbol sensuality in cinema. Some film critics, historians and journalists have referred to her as a “soft porn” actress. Her majority movies were soft core and her common theme used to be a strong agent in skimpy bikinis biting her own lips. Silk Smitha’s name in Tamil Cinema was associated with raunchiness, and at times she flourished, having more market value than the mainstream heroines of Tollywood.
One of her films, Layanam (1989), has earned a cult status in the Indian adult film industry, and was dubbed in numerous languages including, Hindi as Reshma Ki Jawani (2002), which too acquired cult status. Her most respected film was Moondram Pirai by Balu Mahendra, who he remade it in Hindi as Sadma, with Sridevi in lead with Kamal Hassan. And who can forget her scintillating moves on a barge in the Tamil movie Nayakan which was remade in Hindi by Feroz Khan as Dayawan in the same role.
According to Tamil film historian, Randor Guy, “Films that had lain in cans for years were sold by the simple addition of a Silk Smitha song”. This was the magic woven by her Charisma at the peak of her career.
In 1996, Smitha was found dead in her Chennai apartment at the age of 33. It is suspected that Smitha committed suicide but the circumstances of her death remain a mystery.
Actress Vidya Balan, who essays the role of southern sex siren Silk Smitha in her forthcoming film ‘The Dirty Picture‘ which releases on 2nd December, which also happens to be Smitha’s birthday.