South Indian actress Manorama dies

Gopishantha aka Manorama, photo courtesy of Nakkeeran magazine Image copyright Nakkeeran
Image caption Manorama appeared in more than 1,000 films during her career

One of the best-known South Indian actresses, Gopishantha - better-known by her stage name Manorama, has died of a heart attack in the city of Chennai, her family members say.

She was 78 and had been ill for some time.

A comedian, singer and a stage performer, Manorama was a quintessential artist.

Although she mainly appeared in Tamil films, she also acted in other South Indian language movies and in Hindi.

Tamil media reports say she appeared in more than 1,000 films in a career spanning nearly six decades.

Image caption Manorama performing in the Tamil film Thillana Mohanambal in 1968
Image copyright S Kumaresan
Image caption Manorama flanked by well-known Tamil film actors Kamal Hassan (on the right) and Sivakumar (left) at an event in her honour earlier this month in Chennai

"She's a legendary actor. She could play any role. She's admired for ability to speak in different dialects of Tamil language to perfection," says Sampath Kumar, who reports on arts and culture for BBC Tamil.

While Manorama became famous for her comedy roles in films, she became a character artist in the later part of her career.

"The most difficult thing is to make people laugh. It is easy to make them cry," Manorama said in a newspaper interview.

Image copyright S Kumaresan
Image caption Manorama was a versatile actor and in her heyday performed with all the leading stars in the Tamil film industry

She started acting in plays at the age of 12 and had appeared in more than 1,000 plays.

Her first break in movies came in 1958 when she acted in the Tamil movie Maalaiyitta Mangai.

After that she worked with some of the leading actors and playwrights of her day - five of whom went on to become chief ministers of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh states.

Very few women actresses have managed to continue their career in the Tamil film industry over so many years.

"If I had chosen to act only as a heroine then I would have disappeared from the scene long ago. So, I decided to take up comedienne roles, so I survived in the industry for nearly five decades," Manorama said in a BBC interview.

Manorama had won several awards including India's National Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1989.

Manorama was hugely popular in the southern state of Tamil Nadu and widely regarded as a cultural icon.

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