In a career spanning over 50 years, Bharathi has appeared in 150 films. Apart from 100 films in Kannada, she has also acted in a handful of Hindi, Tamil and Telugu and Malayalam films. In the course of her career, she became known for portrayal of the roles mythological and historical characters, and also that of a student, a romantic and a rural belle. Her role in Sri Krishnadevaraya (1970) as Chennambike won her a Karnataka State Film Award for Best Actress. In 2017, she was honoured with the Padma Shri by the government of India.
Bharathi was born into a Marathi-speaking family of Ramachandra Rao in Bhadravathi on 15 August 1950 in the erstwhile Indian State of Mysore (now Karnataka). As a student of the Maharani's College in Mysore, she was active in sports, dance and acting, the latter which she started in 1964. Photos of her dance performance caught the eyes of Kannada film actor Kalyan Kumar who cast her in his film Love in Bangalore. But, her second film Dudde Doddappa saw theatrical release first.
Bharathi married actor Vishnuvardhan on 27 February 1975 in Bengaluru. They had two children namely Keerthi and Chandana. Vishnuvardhan died in 2009, aged 59.
Bharathi's first claim to fame, were her supporting roles in the 1966 film Nadodi starring M. G. Ramachandran and Saroja Devi, where she played the elder sister to Saroja Devi and then her role in Chandhrodhayam as the supporting actress to Jayalalithaa. The song "Ulagum Engum Orey Mozhi" picturised on her with M.G.Ramachandran established her as a star and Nadodi is the only film where she was cast as M.G.R's heroine. She then received offers as the lead heroine in Tamil films which became hits like Deiva Cheyal and Namma Veetu Lakshmi both with Muthuraman, Poovum Pottum with AVM Rajan, Avalukendru Oru Manam opposite Gemini Ganeshan. Thanga Thambi, Valibha Virundhu, Enga Papa, Nimardhu Nil, Meendum Vazhven, Nee Vazha Vendum, - all six opposite Ravichandran, Naan Yaar Theriyuma, Unakkum Enakkum, Naangu Killadigal, Ponvandu and Nil Kavani Kadhali - all five opposite Jaishankar, Uyirandhan Manidhan with Sivakumar and Thanga Surangam with Shivaji Ganeshan. She again acted with MGR-Jayalalitha in Annamitta Kai in 1972. Her last Tamil film as leading heroine was Nee Vazha Vendum in 1977.
She was introduced to Hindi Cinema by director A. Bhimsingh with film Mehrbaan (1967) and Saadu Aur Shaitaan (1968)
Her first Kannada film was the 1966 romantic comedy Love in Bangalore. She was critically acclaimed for her roles in Kannada movies like Sandhya Raga, Runa Mukthalu, Avalukendru Oru Manam, Bangaaradha Manushya, Doorada Betta, Gandondu Hennaru, Bangarada Jinke, Bhagya Jyothi and the Kannada Doordarshan serial Janani.
In 2012, she appeared as a strict, no-nonsense sessions court judge in TN Seetharam's Kannada daily serial Mukta-Mukta.
She has acted alongside Rajkumar, Dilip Kumar, Sivaji Ganesan, ANR, M.G.Ramachandran, NTR, Prem Nazir, Gemini Ganesan, Manoj Kumar, Kalyan Kumar, Udaykumar, Vishnuvardhan, Jaishankar, Ravichandran, Shoban Babu, Krishna, R. Muthuraman, AVM.Rajan, Krishnam Raju, Kanta Rao, Haranath, Sivakumar, Vinod Khanna, Rakesh Roshan, Ambrish, Ananth Nag, Chalam, Rajesh, Gangadhar, Vinod Mehra and many other popular actors.
Bharathi has acted in a number of Hindi films as well, like Ghar Ghar Ki Kahani (1970) starring Balraj Sahni where she was cast opposite Rakesh Roshan in his debut film, Manoj Kumar's Purab Aur Paschim (1970), Hum Tum Aur Woh and Mastana both with Vinod Khanna, Prabhat Khanna's Uttar Dakshin (1987), Izzatdaar (1990) with Dilip Kumar), Mehmood's Kunwaara Baap (1974), Naya Din Nayi Raat, Aao Pyaar Karen (1994, with Saif Ali Khan and Shilpa Shetty), and many more.
Bharathi has acted in various Malayalam films with many other leading actors but in character roles.
In Tamil, she acted as the leading heroine to all four doyens of Tamil film industry in those days: Sivaji Ganesan, M.G. Ramachandran, Gemini Ganesan and R. Muthuraman.
In Telugu cinema field, she has acted in Jai Jawan (1970) and Govula Gopanna (1968), Sipayi Chinnayya and Bangaru Gajulu (all with Akkineni Nageswara Rao) which were hits.
Apart from acting Bharathi played has also been a singer, associate director in film industry. She has sung a duet with T.M. Soundarrajan for Snehithi Tamil film. The song "Thanga Nilave Nee Illamal" is picturised on Gemini Ganesan and herself. She sang a Kannada song "Ee Notake Mai Matake" with her husband Vishnuvardhan for Nagara Hole movie.
She worked as associate director to K. S. L. Swamy for the movies Karune Illada Kanoonu, Huli Hejje and classic Malaya Marutha.
She had represented Karnataka State Level Throw-ball team during her college days.
Below is a list of a few films in which Bharathi Vishnuvardhan has performed.
Padmashri - the 3rd highest civilian award of India in 2017