Pooja Gauthami Umashankar, mononymously known as Pooja, is an Indian-Sri Lankan actress, who has primarily appeared in Tamil films as well as Sinhala, Malayalam and amateur films. Following a series of successful commercial ventures, Bala’s Naan Kadavul saw Pooja’s performance as a blind beggar praised by the critics, securing major awards, including the South Filmfare and Tamil Nadu State Film Awards. She simultaneously worked in Sinhala cinema and was part of several successful films like Anjalika (2006), Asai Man Piyabanna (2007), Suwanda Denuna Jeewithe (2010) and Kusa Pabha (2012), thus establishing herself as one of the leading actresses of Sinhala cinema.
Pooja’s mother Sandhya is a Sri Lankan Sinhalese and her father H.R.Umashankar is an Indian Kannadiga Brahmin from Sringeri in Chikmagalur district, Karnataka. Uma Shankar was at Valparai working with Hindustan Unilever Limited as a manager. He was not at all interested in film industry but she was attached to it. Pooja can speak Kannada, Sinhala, Tamil and English. After she did her pre-schooling in Sri Lanka, she came to India and went to Poornapragnya in Aldur, Chikmagalur and then to Nirmala Convent in Mysore. Later she continued her education at Baldwin’s Girls High school in Bangalore and did graduation (B.Com) and Post Graduation (MBA) at Mount Carmel College, Bangalore.
Pooja got engaged to Sri Lankan Model Deepak Shanmuganathan in 2014, but one year later she split stating, “Deepak is a very good person, but that there was a vast difference between the lives, hopes, likes, dreams, sensitivities and expectations of the two of us.” In 2016, Pooja married a Sri Lankan Tamil business man Prashan David Vedhakan, in a low-key ceremony, with close family in attendance.
Pooja was introduced by a friend of her to cinematographer-turned-director Jeeva, who signed her for the role of Anglo-Indian girl in his Tamil venture Ullam Ketkumae. Pooja said that at that time she planned to finish that film and return to her original job and did not take an acting career into consideration. She stated: “I said to myself I’d act in just this film, see what it’s like, make good use of the money and get back to studying”. She was soon offered a role opposite R. Madhavan, which she could not decline and made her rethink her decision.Ullam Ketkumae’s massive delay meant that her second film, the romantic comedy Jay Jay (2004), directed by Saran, became her first official release.Pooja received favorable reviews for her performance in Jay Jay; G. Ulaganathan from Deccan Herald wrote: “Spirited, lively, Pooja’s sparkling eyes and smile do leave an impression”. Similarly a critic from nowrunning.com noted: “[A]mong the two new heroines, it is Pooja who scores with her good performance and dances…] She next played the romantic interest of Ajith Kumar in another Saran film, Attahasam, which, in spite of mixed critical response, went on to become a financial success. Pooja, too, met with criticism, with critics citing that she had “only limited role” and was “wasted in an insignificant and half-baked role”. Pooja’s subsequent release happened to be Ullam Ketkumae that featured her in one of the five leading roles alongside Shaam, Laila, Arya and Asin. The film fetched positive remarks and emerged as a sleeper hit. She went to appear in commercial Tamil films such as Thambi and Pori. In 2007, Pooja also appeared in a Malayalam film, Panthaya Kozhi, before landing the lead female role in Bala’s Naan Kadavul. Her portrayal of Hamshavalli, a blind beggar, was critically appreciated and earned her several accolades, including the Filmfare Award for Best Actress – Tamil and Tamil Nadu State Film Award for Best Female Character Artiste. Following Naan Kadavul, Pooja went on a sabbatical, appeared just in cameo roles in TN-07 AL 4777, Drohi and the Telugu film Orange.
She became a sensation in Sri Lankan film industry and a household name after the success of Anjalika (2005) and Asai Man Piyambanna (2007). She then on went to appear in several blockbusters in Sinhala cinema and rose to high popularity. Her big budget film Kusa Pabha released in early 2012 and became the highest grosser ever in the history of Sri Lankan film industry. Critics praised Pooja for her role of Pabawathi.
Pooja has been a part of a short film titled Mirage that was shot in September 2011. She says, her good friend Abhishek Venkteswar asked for her participation in this short film. The film was screened in various short film festivals in India and The West Midlands International film festival in UK, fetching accolades for the film and Pooja’s performance. When she was shooting for Mirage, she also starred in Smoking kills a short film made by University students as a student welfare initiative.
She was one of the judges in the popular reality dance show Aatam Paatam Kondatam opposite dance master Prasanna on Kalaignar TV, Sun TV.