From receiving a princely sum of Rs 1 for delivering dialogues with surefire sweetness in the films Sri Murugan (1946) and Kannika (1947) and boldly wearing a swimsuit at the tender age of 15 in her very first film as lead actress in Jaganmohini (1951, Harini, had seen it all and been there and done that. So much so, after only eighteen years of mesmerising audiences with her screen portrayals, she bid goodbye to it all, at the very height of her career.
Born in 1937 to freedom fighter Srinivasa Upadhya and Bharathi in Udupi as the couple’s fourth child, it seemed destined she was to join films. Cast as Balakrishna in the Tamil film Haridas (1944) there was no looking back for her. Roles came to her, after her first film Jaganmohini, wherein she played Mohini, went on to become a silver jubilee hit of the time elevating her to overnight stardom. She was so loved for her performance that it is said she received more than 200 letters appreciating her boldness and more importantly for her stellar acting in the film.
Such was the craze for Jaganmohini directed by Shankar Singh that some film-goers watched the film more than 25 times. There’s also the apocryphal story that some villagers even sold their buffaloes to watch the film over and over again. Jaganmohini created a record of sorts by running for 36 uninterrupted weeks.
What drew people into the cinemas was the charm of its 15-year-old actor Harini. Interestingly the actor was not allowed to watch the film, because she was considered under-age. Though she drew praise for her decision to wear a swimsuit, she also invited some unpleasant mockery later.
She turned out to be a star, even before she realised the importance of being a star. She played heroine, vamp and comedienne with aplomb.
From there on Harini played a variety of roles in Dallali(1953), Kanyadana (1954), Vichitra Prapancha (1955), Gandharva Kanya (1955), Nanda Deepa (1962), Naandi (1964), and Pathivratha(1965), among other films. Harini was cast alongside iconic heroes of the times include Dr. Rajkumar, with whom she acted in more than 10 films, Kalyan Kumar, and Udaykumar, famously addressed as the Sandalwood’s triumvirates.
Naandi is said to have inspired Koshish (1972) starring Sanjeev Kumar and Jaya Bachchan. It is said that Harini, along with her co-star in the film, Dr. Rajkumar used to go to schools for speech impaired to study their behaviour for the film about the hearing and speech impaired. Though the film did not get any awards, the success of the film ensured that she was referred to as “Naandi Harini”.
She won the President Award for Best Actress for her films Nanda Deepa and Mangala Muhurtha (1964). Harini, whose Sathi Sukanya, was released in 1968, made it her last film to enter into matrimony four years later in 1972 and emigrating to Saudi Arabia, where she settled down for 12 years.
Apart from acting Harini tried her hand in film production too. She along with her brothers Vadiraj-Jawahar produced some meaningful films under the banner names Sri Bharathi Chitra and Vijaya Bharathi. Some of the films produced by Harini are Naandi, Nanda Deepa, Nava Jeevana (1964), Namma Makkalu (1969), and Seetha (1970).
For her contribution to Kannada Cinema, Karnataka government conferred on her the Dr Rajkumar Award in 2015.