Jayanthi (born Kamala Kumari in 1950) is an Indian actress. She has appeared in over 500 films, including films in the Kannada,Telugu,Tamil, Malayalam, Hindi and Marathi languages.
Jayanthi was born in Bellary. Her maiden name before she came to films was Kamala Kumari. Her father Balasubramanyam worked as English professor at the St Joseph's College in Bangalore. Her mother was Santhanalakshmi. Jayanthi was the eldest of three siblings and had two younger brothers. Jayanthi's childhood was never smooth. Her parents separated early in life and her mother took the children and moved to Madras. Jayanthi's mother was keen on making her daughter a classical dancer and hence she joined a dance school run by Chandrakala. Her friend in dance school was the now famous Tamil actress Manorama.
As a child on one occasion when Jayanthi went to the studios to see her idol N T Rama Rao, he called her and sat her on his lap. Affectionately he had asked her whether she would agree to become his heroine and the little girl had merely blushed. One day the pair would give big hits like Jegadekaveeruni Katha, Kula Gowravam, Kondaveeti Simham and Justice Chowdhury.
Jayanthi was ridiculed most of the times as she was plump and could never dance well. During her teens she had the chance to act in a few Tamil and Telugu movies as a side artiste. On one such occasion (as Jayanthi remembered in one of her interviews) the great Telugu actress Savitri was upset with newcomer Jayanthi who could not convincingly narrate a few Tamil dialogues. She stormed out of the sets saying that the director had brought in people who hardly knew acting or the language. Jayanthi was shattered after the episode but promised herself that one day she would prove her worth. She enjoyed a good run in the Kannada Film industry and formed very good pair with the famous actor and doyen of Kannda Cinema Mr. Rajkumar, with whom she acted in more than 30 movies.
Jayanthi's life changed completely when noted Kannada director Y R Swamy spotted her during one of her dance rehearsals. He brought her to Kannada films such as Jenu Goodu. He also changed her name to Jayanthi.
Jeenu Goodu was Jayanthi's first kannada film. She acted alongside veterans like Ashwath and Pandari Bai. Incidentally this was actress Chandrakala's first film as well. Jenu Goodu was a commercial success. Her next major film was T V Singh Thakur's Chandavalliya Thota. The film starred veteran actors Uday Kumar, Raj Kumar and Jayashree. This was the first film that paired Raj and Jayanthi. Based on Ta Ra Su's novel by the same name, Chandavalliya Thota was a huge success and even won the President's Medal for best film. Jayanthi in one of her interviews fondly remembered an incident during the shooting of this film. During a particular scene Jayanthi's character dies and Uday Kumar has to fall on her to cry. Uday Kumar was so engrossed in his acting that he had forgotten that he had put his whole body weight on the young girl Jayanthi, who was yelling in pain and asking him to get up.
The next major film that Jayanthi starred in was Miss Leelavathi. This film was released in the mid-60's and directed by M R Vittal. Miss Leelavathi was a very bold film for its time and Jayanthi played the title role. The story is about the influence of bad parenting on young Leelavathi's mind. She is the darling of her father (Ashwath) who supports her in all her endeavours. Leelavathi grows up to be rebel in the house and stands up against the conventional values of life. She refuses marriage, wishes to be a career-oriented women and has a care-free attitude towards premarital sex. Unfortunately she pays for the consequences.
Miss Leelavathi had a very bold theme considering the fact that it was made at a time when the film industry was very conservative. Jayanthi was launched as the glamour-diva through the film and she was at her best. This was probably the first Kannada film to show-case a heroine's glamour. The film was a huge success and catapulted Jayanthi to fame. Jayanthi for the first time in Kannada film history wore skirts, T-shirts and even a nightie on screen. She is credited for introducing most of the modern day outfits onto the Kannada screen for the first time. She also wore a swimsuit for the film, which the producers' first choice for the role had refused to do.  Miss Leelavathi had some of the lovely songs like "Nodu ba nodu ba nammoora" and Kuvempu's classic "Doni Saagali". Miss Leelavathi got Jayanthi the national award for best actress. Jayanthi fondly remembered the occasion in one of her interviews when she received the award from Smt Indira Gandhi (then IB Minister). Mrs Gandhi after giving away the award called back Jayanthi and gave her a sweet kiss and wished her good luck.