The first poster of a big-budget biopic on the legendary south Indian actress Savitri recently appeared on social media. The bilingual film, titled Nadigaiyar Thilagam in Tamil and Mahanati in Telugu, will be helmed by young Telugu director Nag Ashwin. The beautiful, tragic heroine will be played by Keerthy Suresh, while Samantha Prabhu’s role is not yet disclosed and is meant to be a “mystery”.

Work on the bilingual on the screen icon, who was hitched to the “King of Romance” Gemini Ganesan in the screen and in real life, is expected to start soon. Ashwin, who made his debut with Yevade Subramanyam in 2015, said that he chose Savitri’s story since it lends itself so poignantly to cinema. “Savitri’s death anniversary is observed even today,” Ashwin said. “The kind of love she inspires among young people is very rare. I am one of them, I am a big fan. There was none like her, not even Jayalalithaa or Madhubala.” Ashwin has the go-ahead of her surviving family members for the biopic.

Savitri, born in Andhra Pradesh in 1936, was not a Tamilian though Tamils would love to claim her as their own. She became the reigning queen of southern cinema in the 1950 and ’60s. Often called the Meena Kumari of the south, the actress first made an impact as Parvati in the classic Devadasu with Akkineni Nageswara Rao in 1953. Savitri then went on to deliver such hits as the Tamil film Manampola Mangalyam in 1953 (a breakthrough for Gemini Ganesan and her), the comedy Missiamma in 1955 (she fell in love with Ganesan during this film), the bilingual fantasy epic Mayabazar in 1957, and Gundamma Katha and Devata with NTR in 1962 and 1965 respectively.

Mayabazar (1957).

Savitri equally excelled in Tamil films, especially with the thespian actor Sivaji Ganesan, whose emotionally charged acting she matched in the acclaimed Pasamalar (1961). Savitri also headlined family dramas such as Enga Veetu Mahalakshmi (1959) and Kalathur Kannamma (1960). Her career included over 250 films, including a few in Hindi, and spanned three decades.

According to Ashwin, Savitri’s rise to fame from obscurity (her chauffeur uncle got her into the movies), her reuputation for generosity, her love affair with Ganesan and heartbreak were ample grounds for a biopic. Savitri died in 1981 at the age of 45 from excessive drinking, but she did not die poor, Ashwin said, because she commanded a bigger salary than her peers in her time. “Her poverty has been dramatised over time since it is more interesting to say that she died poor,” he told

Ashwin hopes to direct a mega movie (another Baahubali, perhaps?) from the south. “It has to be, if we have to capture that era in terms of grandeur, the sets they made, the cars they drove and the parties they had,” he said. “It was not known as the roaring ’50s and ’60s for nothing. It will be visually grand.”

Malargalai Pol Thangai from Pasamalar.