Devi Varma – Actress who played elderly woman ‘Umma’ in Saudi Vellakka

Devi Varma is a female actress of Malayalam cinema, who made an impressive debut playing the lead role of elderly woman Aisha Rowther in 2022 hit film, Saudi Vellakka. The film was helmed by Tharun Moorthy, who last year made an impressive debut through highly acclaimed film, Operation Java. Saudi Vellakka also opened to rave reviews, and the director was praised for handling social issues in a commercial tag. Devi marked her big screen debut at the age of 86, and before receiving this film offer, she never thought of acting.

Saudi Vellakka is Devi Varma’s debut film

Devi Varma is originally from Palakkad. Her grandson Siddharth is associated with films and film casting, and through him director Tharun Moorthy came to know about her. They knew each other, though not in friends circle. Initially they casted a theatre actress named Gracy Saudi for the role (appeared in film, Vikruthi), a resident from Saudi of Ernakulam. It’s for the first time the crew knew about this interesting place name, and later they used for the film, and even used for coining film title. Though the script was not written yet, the actress was casted for the film after screen test, even costume trial and makeup test were done. But within one week, she got Covid positive and at the critical stage in hospital, she made a video call with the director. She said very positively that she will return.

The director who was stuck after writing the first half & yet to start the second half where the character Aisha Rowther comes to prominence, emotionally completed the script within one week, as he wanted to show it to Gracy soon after she gets discharged from hospital. But she passed away, and the filmmakers were emotionally affected too. Slowly the director & the producer Sandip Senan came over it, they wanted to complete the project for Gracy, and they resumed their search for new actress across all theatre troupes of Kochi.

He even thought of approaching veteran actress Urvashi, which can add market value for the project. But the producer insisted that, as they decided earlier, they will search a new actress for the role, and asked Tharun to take his own time to find the suitable actress, matching the role. Accidentally he got a whatsapp message from Siddharth, where he saw Siddharth’s grandmother’s pic. He took screenshot of her pic, and sent to his team to do photoshop on the pic, to give a Muslim ‘Umma’ look. Tharun felt it a perfect match for his character and called the producer, though he had no idea if she knows acting or not.

Reluctant to accept the role due to health issues

Initially Devi was reluctant to accept the role, mainly due to health issues and balance problems. She was also not used to crowded & noisy places, as she mostly stayed at home. Tharun, with the help of casting director Aboobacker prepared her for the role. The first scene with her was shot in bus stand, where she sits with unniyappam, and a lady passes her. Shooting was carried out during Covid season.

Same day evening the rain shot was also done, where she meets her brother. In fact, the actor Hari who did this brief role is her distant relative. They were searching for a face similar to Devi, and when they spotted Hari, they never knew, they are relatives. She had mild cold 2 days after that unexpected rain scene was shot, and had mild covid symptoms. She was the first one from the camp who got Covid positive, yet she returned back to shooting.

She had difficulty shooting for first few days for scenes like climbing steps, mainly due to health issues. Slowly she overcame all those problems. She never felt difficulty to act in film, though it was her maiden appearance, without any acting background. Character actress Pauly Valsan dubbed her voice. The whole film was taken in Ernakulam slang.

A brief biography of Devi Varma

Devi Varma was born into a conservative Hindu family, where members are not even allowed watch movies. But later she got married to a businessman, who ran a film theatre in Thrippunithura – Sreekala Theatres. She spent much time in Tamil Nadu too. The couple returned back to hometown to look after the theatre (family had many other business firms too, not easy to manage everything together), which was owned by family and earlier looked after by younger brother.

She also appeared in two episodes of miniseries – Samarthya Shastram. For her debut film work, she won a special jury mention from the Prem Nazir Suhurth Samithi Thiruvananthapuram, and also one award instituted in the name of Kalabhavan Mani. After the big success of her debut film, Devi Varma is ready to accept new roles. If Tharun Moorthy calls her again, she will definitely accept the project – She signs off.


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A freelance writer and blogger by profession since October 2011, interested in writing over a wide range of topics. Hope you enjoy my writings. I belong to one of the beautiful places of the world, Kerala, nicknamed as 'God's own country'.

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