Actress, producer and politician Vijayashanti was the darling of Telugu film audiences. Such was her popularity as an ‘Action Queen’ at the height of her long and successful career as a heroine, that she was also referred to as the ‘Lady Superstar’ and even the female Amitabh Bachchan. In the 1990s, she was the only actress demanding remuneration comparable to that of her male co-stars Rajinikanth and Chiranjeevi. She has acted in more than 180 films over the course of her career spanning 40 years, mainly in Telugu and Tamil, as well as in Hindi, Kannada and Malayalam language cinema. Among her successful films are Neti Bharatam (1983), Agni Parvatam (1984), Challenge (1984), Pratighatana (1985), Repati Pourulu (1986), Pasivadi Pranam (1987), Muvva Gopaludu (1987), Yamudiki Mogudu (1988), Athaku Yamudu Ammayiki Mogudu (1989), Janaki Ramudu (1988), Muddula Mavayya (1989), Kondaveeti Donga (1990), Indrudu Chandrudu (1989), Lorry Driver (1990), Sathruvu (1990), Gang Leader (1991), Mannan (1992), Rowdy Inspector (1992), Mondi Mogudu Penki Pellam (1992), Chinarayudu (1993) and Police Lockup (1993). Her film Swayam Krushi (1987) in which she starred alongside Chiranjeevi was screened at the Moscow International Film Festival, while Padamati Sandhya Ragam (1987) with Hollywood actor Thomas Jane, was screened at the Louisville International Film Festival. She has won several awards for her performances, including the National Film award for best actress for her performance as a super cop in Kartavyam (1990), in which she struck an admirable balance between aggression and femininity. Other awards she was honoured with include Filmfare Awards – Telugu for best actress for Pratighatana (1986), Swayam Krushi (1988), Bharatha Nari (1990), Karthavyam (1991), Police Lockup (1994), Osey Ramulamma (1998), as well as the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004, four Andhra Pradesh state Nandi Awards for best actress, and the Kalaimamani award from the Tamil Nadu government. Entering state politics in 1998, in 2009, she was elected to the 15th Lok Sabha. In 2009, she served as a member of the committee on information technology. As of December 2020, she is a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Born on 24 June 1966 to Varalakshmi and Srinivas Prasad, she is the niece of famous Telugu actress and producer Vijayalalitha. She completed her 10th class at Holy Angels Anglo Indian Higher Secondary School, Chennai, before starting her film career at the age of 14, in the Tamil film Kallukkul Eeram (1980). Directed by P S Nivas, the plot of the romance film revolved around two innocent village girls who fall in love with the director and hero respectively of a film crew visiting their village for a shoot.
The previous year, she had debuted in Telugu cinema with the Vijaya Nirmala directorial Kilaadi Krishnudu (1979), in which she starred opposite Krishna Ghattamaneni. She went on to bag a role in the Telugu film Satyam-Sivam (1981), the cast of which included N T Rama Rao and Akkineni Nageswara Rao.
Recognition as a star would come in 1983 with Pellichoopulu. This Telugu language romantic drama film directed by Parvataneni Sambasiva Rao was a remake of K Bhagyaraj's Tamil film Thooral Ninnu Pochchu (1982). She was paired opposite Chandramohan in this film which garnered success at the box office.
Her breakthrough film is considered to be Neti Bharatam (1983), directed by T Krishna and produced by Eetharam Films. A musical hit, it promoted liberal ideals. The film would go on to be remade in Kannada as Indina Bharatha (1984), in Hindi as Haqeeqat (1985) and in Tamil as Puthiya Theerppu (1985). The film won six Nandi Awards.
In 1985, she would deliver one of her best films as an actress – Pratighatana. Directed by T Krishna, she delivered a powerhouse performance as a college lecturer, who, after getting humiliated by a gangster in public, fights against the corruption and criminalisation of politics in India. The action-drama film, which premiered at the International Film Festival of India, became one of the biggest blockbusters of the year. It bagged the Filmfare best film award (Telugu), as well as six Nandi awards. It was dubbed in Tamil, and also remade in Malayalam as Pakarathinu Pakaram (1986) and in Hindi as Pratighaat (1987). Her performance in the song Ee Dhuryodhana Dusshasana was especially impactful.
She won attention for her performance in the super-hit Mondi Mogudu Penki Pellam (1992). The plot revolved around a bold woman who helps her husband, a police officer, nab the criminals by getting involved in the wrongdoings and catching the culprits. She spoke slang in the film and also performed the memorable song Laloo darwaja laskar.
With the hits coming in with regularity, she starred opposite the leading male stars of the day. She formed successful onscreen pairings with Chiranjeevi (19 films) and Balakrishna (17 films). A standout film with Chiranjeevi was K Viswanath’s Swayam Krushi (1987), in which she acts as an illiterate woman who falls in love with a cobbler. She starred in Sathruvu (1990), Surya IPS (1991) and Chinarayudu (1992), with Daggubati Venkatesh. In Vijay (1989) she starred with Akkineni Nagarjuna, alongside Rajinikanth as the antagonist in the film Mannan (1982), with Kamal Haasan as an investigative reporter in Indrudu Chandrudu (1989), and in Yuvathurki (1996) and Kallu Kondoru Pennu (1998) with Malayalam superstar Suresh Gopi.
She made her debut in Hindi cinema in 1989, in Eeshwar alongside Anil Kapoor. The musical family drama directed by K Viswanath and Rajesh Malik narrates the trials and triumphs of Ishwar, a simple-minded and honest young man, who marries a young widow with a son. The film was a remake of Viswanath’s Telugu film Swathi Muthyam (1986).
Muqaddar Ka Badshaah (1990) would be her second Hindi release. She acted with another National award-winning actress - Shabana Azmi, in the film, an actioner directed by Rama Rao Tatineni, with Vinod Khanna playing the male lead.
In the course of her career, she is credited with reaching the status of a ‘hero’ in box office parlance, with several blockbuster hits to her credit. Post her performance in Karthavyam (1990), she moved away from glamorous roles to concentrate on woman-oriented, performance-backed roles. Later she would reveal that people questioned how a heroine could attain the image of a hero and charge the highest remuneration. “But, I had overcome all of the hurdles and answered the critics with successful films,” she responded. As an action star, she often performed risky stunts herself, even jumping from a height of 30 feet.
After a sabbatical, she returned to the screen with Sarileru Neekevvaru (2020), the Mahesh Babu-headlined action comedy drama directed by Anil Ravipudi. The plot revolves around a tough army major who is deployed on a mission to keep the country safe from external threats. Announcing her return to films, Ravipudi had tweeted, “After 13 years. It's make up time for Vijayashanthi garu. Nothing has ever changed in all these 13 years. Same discipline, same attitude and same dynamism. Welcome on-board.”
In 1993, she turned to film production with her husband M V Srinivas Prasad producing the film Nippu Ravva, starring Balakrishna, under the banner Yuvarathna Arts. The action drama film revolves around a young police officer who is loyal towards his work but is quite aggressive in nature. However, things take a turn when a criminal drags him into the deceitful world of crime.
A member of the BJP, in January 2023, she spoke at an event to mark her completion of 25 years in political life, maintaining that the 25 years that she had spent in politics appeared to be a long journey to her compared to 43 years that she had spent in the film industry.
Vijayashanti married M V Srinivas Prasad in 1988. Nephew of politician Daggubati Purandareswari, he is in the real estate business.
At an event organised on International Women’s Day this year, Vijayashanti urged women to be bold in the face of adversity and not take extreme steps, such as contemplating suicide or committing self-harm. She exhorted women to watch her films, saying, “My movies will make women brave and they should watch them.”