Tollywood singers


 Tangutoori Suryakumari) (born 13 November 1925 in Rajamundry,A.P, India died 25 April 2005) She was a well-known singer in more than one language in her day. She was the first to be chosen as ‘Miss Andhra then Madras.’ She started as a film star at the very young age of 12, when a special part was written into the film Vipranarayana (1937) to accommodate her singing talents. Record companies came forward to record her voice, and at a time when gramophones were not yet common, her songs could be heard everywhere. Her presence was a major attraction at meetings of the Indian National Congress, and her recordings reached rural areas unvisited by politicians. Even today, her most famous song, Maa Telugu Thalli (in praise of her mother tongue), is sung at the start of social functions in her home state of Andhra.


Produced by S. Soundararajan under his Tamil Nadu Talkies banner at Modern Theatres studio in Salem, Katakam had the lovely singer-actor T. Suryakumari and a handsome newcomer Vijayakumar in the lead. Regrettably Katakam failed at the box office. After a few films, Vijayakumar sadly faded into oblivion

Surya appeared in some 25 Indian films in the 1940s and 1950s, singing and acting in a variety of languages, including Telugu, Sanskrit, Tamil, Gujurati, Hindi and English. In the mid-1950s, she made her first visit to America, as a member of a delegation from the Indian film industry invited to Hollywood by the Motion Picture Association of America (though union regulations precluded her from film work there)

In 1959, she went to New York to teach at Columbia University, and also to add to her skills by studying western classical and popular dance forms. On her arrival, she appeared on television alongside the Indian ambassador and sang Indian songs. She then appeared as Queen Sudarshana in Rabindranath Tagore's The King Of The Dark Chamber (1961) and won the Off-Broadway Critics' Award for Best Actress. She also took the role of Princess Chitra in the dance production of Tagore's Chitra for CBS, and researched Indian stories for Alfred Hitchcock.She also worked with Alfred Hitchcock on his TV Series. 

In 1965, Surya travelled to London, and her life changed again. Scheduled to play the Goddess Kali in Kindly Monkeys, a new play at the Arts Theatre, she decided at the end of the run to stay on and established India Performing Arts, a project to train performers and also mount productions. Annual performances by Surya herself, her students and fellow artists followed at the Purcell Room, in the South Bank Centre, for the next 40 years. Something of the flavour of these gatherings may be gained from the programmes for two events in 1982, with school children appearing alongside Ben Kingsley in Homage To Mahatma Gandhi, and Larry Adler's harmonica improvisations (complemented by Surya's instrumental accompaniment) in An Indian Pageant.

Surya's political commitments were engrained in all her work, whether as chief singer at the Gandhi centenary commemoration at St Paul's cathedral in 1969, or with the Hordaland Teater of Bergen, for children in Norway, with whom she worked from 1991 to 1998. From 1973, Surya was supported in her work by her husband, Harold Elvin, poet, painter and potter, reading his poetry and telling his stories as she sang and played the tanpura and sitar. He predeceased her.



1. Gitanjali (1948)

2. Krishna Prema (1943) .... Narada

3. Bhakta Potana (1942)

4. Abla (1941)

5. Chandrahasa (1941)

6. Devatha (1941) .... Seeta ... aka Divinity

7. Jayapradha (1939)

8. Raitu Bidda (1939) (as T. Syryakumari) .... Seetha

9. Vipranarayana (1937)


1. Gitanjali (1948)


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