A veteran of Telugu, Tamil and Kannada cinema Vanisri has received numerous accolades in a career spanning over 40 years. A trained Bharat Natyam dancer she worked with top stars like NTR, A Nageshwara Rao, Shobhan Babu and Sivaji Ganesan during her career as a leading actress.
Born as Rathna Kumari in Nellore, Madras, she was trained in Bharat Natyam from an early age. Her early life was marred with the tragic loss of her father, who succumbed to tuberculosis. She made her debut at a very early age with a supporting role in B A Subba Rao’s Telugu film Bhishma (1962). Her work spanned over Telugu and Tamil films and a few Kannada films as well. Her debut in Tamil cinema was with the lead role in Joseph Taliath Jr’s Kathal Paduthum Padu in 1966. The same year she appeared as a lead along Chandra Mohan in B N Reddy’s film Rangula Ratnam (1966). The film went on to win National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Telugu and Nandi Award for Best Feature Film.
Vanisri has been the part of several hit films like Sri Krishna Tulabharam (1966), Prem Nagar (1971), Dussehra Bullodu (1971), Jeevitha Chakram (1971), Krishnaveni (1974), and Bhakta Kannappa (1976). She collaborated with the superstar Sivaji Ganesan for around 11 films such as Uyarntha Manithan (1968), Nirai Kudam (1969), Vasantha Maligai (1972), Sivagamiyin Selvan (1974), Rojavin Raja (1976), Punniya Boomi (1978) to name a few. With N T R as well she was a part of several hit films like Kodalu Diddina Kapuram (1970), Ummadi Kutumbam (1967), Kanchu Kota (1967), Nindu Manasulu (1967) and Simha Baludu (1978). She also acted in both Telugu and Tamil remakes of the Hindi classic Seeta Aur Geeta (1972) - Ganga Manga (1973) and Vani Rani (1974) respectively.
In the later years of her career Vanisri started experimenting and took chances with her roles, transcending from the usual glamorous roles she was used to portraying. In 1977, she financed and starred in Shyam Benegal’s only Telugu film Anugraham, co-starring Smita Patil. She played the lead role in writer-director duo Ramana and Bapu’s 1978 Telugu film Gorantha Deepam, where she appeared without make-up showing her dark complexion. The movie was a box office hit, but director Aluri Chakrapani of Vijaya Productions warned her to not take such steps as it may damage her career.
By the late 70’s Vanisri was the biggest female star in Telugu and Tamil cinema, who ruled on par with the heroes and was known to command a higher remuneration than her male co-stars. She was touted as a style icon known for introducing major changes in the fashion of that era. She is known to have stitched two different sarees for a costume and even sport black color attires for outdoor shoots, which at that time was considered gaudy. The trend of wearing different shades of lipstick, bindis and nail colors matching with the costume is also credited to her.
Vanisri retired from the film industry after her marriage with Dr. Karunkaran in 1978. She made a comeback in 1989 with Attaku Yamudu Ammayiki Mogudu where she played the role of Vijayshanti’s mother. She worked in films like Bobbili Raja (1990), Seetharatnam Gari Abbayi (1992), Rajeswari Kalyanam (1993), Allari Alludu (1993), Bombay Priyudu (1996) and Bhadradi Ramudu (2004). Bhadradi Ramudu was her last film as an actress, after which she completely left the film industry. She made a comeback on the small screen in 2019 with the serial Premnagar. Vanisri joined politics as the member of the Congress party and campaigned for elections in places like Nizamabad and Vizag, although her political career has not been as prolific as her film career.
A veteran of the film industry, she has been awarded with numerous accolades including the Tamil Nadu State Film Awards and the Filmfare Awards South. In 2013 the Andhra Pradesh government awarded her with the prestigious Raghupati Venkaiah Award for her immense contribution to the film industry. She continues to live in Nellore with her family. She lost her son Abhinaya Venkatesha Kartik on 23 May, 2020 due to a cardiac arrest.