For close to five decades she along with her producer-directed husband P. Pulliah made rich contributions to Telugu and Tamil cinema. P. Santhakumari, was the singing sensation of the late 30s and 40s and later `screen mother' of many popular heroes, She sang as playback singer for the movies Dharma devatha, Sarangadhara etc.,
She played the role of a kind and understanding mother, grand mother, sister-in-law to popular heroes of the time - A. Nageswara Rao, Sivaji Ganesan, Gemini Ganesh, Jaggiah and Muthuraman to name a few, who addressed her as `mummy' in real life as they called her husband P. Pulliah `daddy.'
Santhakumari was born in a well-to-do family as Vellaala Subbamma in Proddutur in Cadapah district A.P., on May 17, 1920. Her father V. Srinivasa Rao was an ardent lover of fine arts. He enrolled her with Prof. P. Sambamurthy for Carnatic vocal and violin classes at Madras. D. K. Pattammal was her co-music student.
At 13, Subbamma obtained first class in Carnatic vocal and violin and by 15, she was performing kutcheries with her guru all over South. And at 16, she was teaching music at Vidyodaya School to students of her age group!
Das and his make-up man Mangiah tried to convince her and finally when she saw her grand daughter dressed as Sasirekha that she let her act in the film. The film was a big hit. (Maya Bazaar was remade by K. V. Reddy later for Vijaya Productions).
"Das felt my name was too old fashioned, mind you in 1936 and he changed it to Santhakumari," she once said.
The new singing-sensation's next movie was Sarangadhara (1937) and she played a negative role of Chitrangi with equal élan. It was directed by P. Pulliah and she found her man. "I was attracted by his goodness. I thought if I married him, I could continue acting."
In the early period of her career, Santhakumari acted mostly in mythologicals - . In Sri Venkateswara Mahathyam. she played Yasoda and rendered a memorable melody, Chiru Chiru nagavulu chinde thandri placating the child Krishna.
In her first social film, Dharmapathni, A. Nageswara Rao made his first screen appearance in a student's role. "Whenever I go to Chennai, I always make it a point to visit her," says A. N. R. "She used to call me `Abbi' as she called her younger brother. A kind hearted soul, more than a co-star she was a family friend."
She later played heroine to A. N. R. in Mayalokam and his sister-in-law in Jayabheri and his step mother in Ardhangi. She even played grandmother to N.T. Rama Rao in Thalla Pellama. "An actor should accept any challenging role," she once said.
Santhakumari emulated her husband when she received the Raghupathi Venkaiah award for the year 1999 from A.P. Government. Pulliah got the award in 1981. After quitting films she took to writing lyrics and composing devotional songs rendered by Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna.
She will be long remembered not only as a singer-actress par excellence but also as a good human being an unforgettable screen mother