Pandari Bai (Kannada: ಪಂಡರೀ ಬಾಯಿ; September 18,1928 – January 29, 2003) was a prominent actress of South Indian languages films mostly in Kannada and Tamil during the 1950s, 60s and 70s. She is considered Kannada cinema’s first heroine.She has the distinction of having acted as both heroine and mother to stalwarts such as Rajkumar and Sivaji Ganesan. She was the heroine in Rajkumar’s debut movie Bedara Kannappa and also Sivaji’s debut movie Parasakthi. She has acted in over 1,000 films in Kannada, Telugu and Tamil.
Born in Bhatkal, Karnataka, in present Uttara Kannada in a Marathi speaking family. Her father was a drawing master and a Harikatha exponent, and also a stage actor. He taught her the art of Harikatha, thus even before she was ten years old, Pandari started giving Harikatha performances.
Pandaribai began her career in acting in plays based on mythological stories before making her film debut in 1943 with the Kannada language film, Vani. She shot to fame after appearing in the hugely successful 1954 Kannada film Bedara Kannappa opposite another future star Rajkumar. In the film, she played the role of Neela, wife of Kanna (played by Rajkumar), a hunter. She established herself as a lead actress portraying a woman with a ‘progressive’ image assuming the burdens of a feudal patriarchy in films such as Sant Sakhu (1955) and Rayara Sose (1957).in 1959, she appeared in Abba Aa Hudugi, with her sister Mynavathi. The film is considered a landmark in Kannada cinema.
She went to act in around 1,500 films in other languages like Tamil, Telugu, and Hindi and enjoyed a long career span of nearly half a century. Her first film in Tamil Parasakthi directed by the duo directors Krishnan-Panju in the year 1952, where she paired with Sivaji Ganesan was a grand success. She played lead roles in many movies and then switched over to character roles.
Later in her career Pandari Bai played the mother of stars older than her, most of whom had played the lead with her in her earlier years.She also played as mother to actors like M. G. Ramachandran in Tamil and Rajesh Khanna in Hindi , N.T. Ramarao in Telugu. Pandari Bai also acted in a couple of Kannada TV serials Amma and Manethana (1998–2000). Both of them were produced by her sister Mynavathy’s Son’s company Yantra Media.The last picture in her career was “Baaro Nanna Muddina Krishna” in Kannada which had Sashikumar as lead.