One of the early pioneers of Kannada cinema, veteran actress of Kannada cinema, Prathimadevi carved a long and successful acting career, featuring in more than 60 films. Hailing from Udupi in Karnataka, she was passionate about acting and joined professional theatre when she was 11 years old. Her film debut came with Krishnaleela (1947); it was to be special in more ways than one as later she married the film’s producer D Shankar Singh of Mahatma Pictures, who was a film businessman and freedom fighter. Stardom came with the film Jaganmohini (1951) in which she debuted as a heroine, adopting the screen name Prathimadevi. It became the first film to run in theatres for close to 100 days. She went on to act in prominent films such as Raja Satyavrata (1961), Sri Srinivasa Kalyana (1952), Chanchala Kumari (1953), Muttidella Chinna (1954), Shivasharane Namiyakka (1955), Mangala Sutra (1961), and Dharmasthala Mahatme (1962). She was honoured by the Karnataka government with the Dr Rajkumar Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001-02.
She was born Mohini on 9 April, 1933 in Kalladka, a town in the erstwhile South Canara region of Madras Presidency, in what is present-day Karnataka. The last of four children born to Saraswatibai and Upendra Shenoy, she lost her father when she was around four years old. The family moved to Mangalore, and then to Ahmedabad, where her brother-in-law ran a textile business, eventually settling in Udupi. It was here that she got drawn to watching films, and was immensely impacted by the performance of M S Subbulakshmi as Naradar in the Tamil film Savithiri (1941). It was to influence her decision to pursue a career in acting.
She had joined professional theatre at the age of 11, and went on to make her film debut with Krishnaleela in 1947, playing a character named Gopi. This Kannada film directed by C. V. Raju starred Kemparaj Urs, Mari Rai, Bellary Lalitha and Bellary Rathnamala in the lead roles. Its musical score was by P. Kalinga Rao.
Widespread recognition came with her 1951 release Jaganmohini (1951). Directed by D. Shankar Singh, the film revolved around a seductress who falls in love with a prince and tries to steal him from his fiancée. The film faced censorship problems. Despite this, it became a box office hit and had a 100-days run, apparently becoming the first Kannada film to do so. The film’s lead cast included Srinivasa Rao, and Harini, who apparently became the first Kannada actress to wear a swimsuit onscreen.
Her Dallali (1952), also directed by D. Shankar Singh, alongside Makeup Subbanna was another major success. Written by Hunsur Krishnamurthy, it also starred T N Balakrishna and Harini. Most films she appeared in were produced by her husband under the banner Mahatma Films.
Chanchala Kumari, her 1953 release, saw her star alongside Indu Shekar and S.V. Rajendra Singh Babu, while she featured in the 1954 film Muttidela Chinna alongside T.N. Balakrishna, Harini and T.R. Narasimharaju. Shivasharane Namiyakka, her 1955 film, depicted the life story of Saint Nambiyakka, a great devotee of Lord Shiva. The cast included K.S. Ashwath and S.V. Rajendra Singh Babu. Her film Dharmasthala Mahatme, which released in 1962, was written by Hunsur Krishnamurthy, H.L. Narayana Rao, and P. Gunda Rao (dialogue), and starred Indira Acharya, Sorat Ashwath, and Ramachandra Sastry H.R.
Other films she acted in include Madiddunnu Maharaya (1954), Prabhulinga Leele (1957), Shivalinga Sakshi (1960), Raja Satyavrata (1961), Bhakta Chetha (1961), Paalige Bandadde Panchamrutha (1963), Pathala Mohini (1965), Nagarahavu (1972), Nagakanye (1975), Narada Vijaya (1980), Bhaari Bharjari Bete (1981), Dharani Mandala Madhyadolage (1983), and Rama Shama Bhama (2005). In later years, she featured in character roles in several Kannada films.
She had met her future husband D. Shankar Singh on the sets of her debut film. She was the mother of Sangram Singh, Jairaj Singh, filmmaker and producer Rajendra Singh Babu and director, producer and actress Vijayalakshmi Singh. In an earlier interview, her daughter Vijayalakshmi had revealed how disciplined she was and how she would strike a balance between work and responsibilities at home despite a demanding career. She often appeared in social media posts or fun videos uploaded by her granddaughters, which showed her doting and fun loving nature despite her age.
Prathimadevi passed away in Bengaluru, aged 88.