Malliswari (1951)

Malliswari-MalliswariB.N Reddi’s Malliswari is a film that almost every Telugu film fan praises as a masterpiece and a must see. It is so disappointing to see (and hear) the appalling state of the available copies, and also vexing that it is nigh impossible to buy on DVD. I would have loved subtitles. From the little I could pick out with my miniscule vocabulary, the dialogues seemed sensible and not overly filmi and the songs all seemed to fit in beautifully as an extension of the narrative.

Malliswari and Nagaraju grow up together in their peaceful rustic village. She calls him a monkey and he calls her a cat, but all the casual insults don’t mask their deep affection for each other. As Malliswari matures, her materialistic mother decides to nip the relationship with poorer Nagaraju in the bud. A chance encounter brings Malli to the Maharaja’s notice. In return for considerable payment, her mother hands Malliswari over to the palace as a Rani Vasam.Rani Vasam are forbidden to see or speak to men, and there was a lot of rigmarole for Malli even to see her mother and uncle. Nagaraju loses the plot, Malli mopes, but true love will not be torn asunder. When the king discovers Nagaraju and Malli have broken his rules, the penalty is death.

The female cast is superb and they all play off each other so well. Apart from Bhanumathi in the lead role, there is Kumari as the Maharani, Surabhi Kamalabai as Nagaraju’s mother, Rushyendramani as Malli’s mother and T.G Kamala Devi as Malliswari’s attendant Jalaja.

Based on the (rather thin) plot summary I found, I was expecting the men in the film to drive more of the action. I’m happy to be wrong about that. I wouldn’t describe this as feminist or ahead of its time, but the women are interesting and pursue their own goals and dreams. Malli is recruited into the palace against her will, but she is there because of her art as well as her beauty and is shown respect. Malli’s mother isn’t an evil shrew – just a materialistic woman who may even be motivated by wanting her girl to have an easier life. Jalaja isn’t a brainless servant, and while she and Malli become close she still cautions her against following her heart. And the enigmatic Maharani with a passion for art seems to be the real power inside the palace.

This is Bhanumathi’s film from the moment she steps into view. She gives Malliswari warmth and vivacity and is equally convincing when Malli feels sad and isolated. Her rapport with NTR is evident and I liked that Malli and Nagaraju seemed like friends as well as childhood sweethearts. In addition to her fine acting Bhanumathi also sang for herself (as did T.G Kamala Devi).

Her voice is beautifully expressive, and having the same voice for both dialogue and songs was wonderful as the songs are an integral part of the story and needed that same strong characterisation. When Malli is separated from her loved ones she yearns for happier times and for her bava, and her grief is as immediate and heartfelt as her joy had been. What I really liked was that even when Malliswari felt at her lowest ebb, she never completely gave up. There was always a spark of the vibrant and feisty girl we first met.

While NTR’s Nagaraju is important to Malli, he is often peripheral to the action so doesn’t dominate the screen as he has in other more hero-centric fare. His scenes with Bhanumathi are quite lovely and NTR’s doe-eyed charm is dialled up to the max. During a storm they take shelter in an old building, enjoying the adventure and singing to while away the time. It’s not a doom and gloom first love. When Nagaraju leaves home to make his fortune only to return and find Malli gone, he falls in a heap. Nagaraju ends up in a cave, sculpting Malliswari’s likeness and letting his hair get out of control as his clothes degrade to shreds. I found NTR’s portrayal of grief more theatrical than Bhanumathi’s and while I felt her pain I wanted to give him a bit of a slap and tell him to do something sensible instead of wallowing. I did a bit of eye-rolling in the final scenes where Nagaraju declared to the king that Malliswari was his life and he couldn’t give her up – I reckon the result had already been decided by the queen, and was based on her regard for Malli, not all the manly posturing. But this is a romance and since the chemistry and relationship building is so good, everything else diminishes.

The support cast is hard to identify due to the paucity of detail available but I did manage to put some names to faces. Surabhi Kamalabai is given a small but challenging role as Nagaraju’s mother. She is a servant to Malliswari’s family and so is often a silent observer of goings on and has little dialogue to express her feelings. When she fears Nagaraju is dead or lost to her she cracks up (so that seemed to be a family trait) and goes a bit over the top, but is set to rights when her boy comes home and they can have a good cry. I recognised T.G Kamala Devi from Patala Bhairavi. I looked up her filmography and was amazed and quite delighted to see she was a billiards player, and won the Indian Womens title twice – when she was in her 60s! Doraiswamy (another familiar face, this from Devadasu) is the inarticulate father who regrets sending Malliswari away but doesn’t stand up to his wife. Kumari looks the part as Maharani Tirumala Devi, exuding confidence and a subdued energy in her scenes. Plus she gets to wear some stunning bling. I should mention Baby Mallika and Master Venkata Ramana who played the young Malliswari and Nagaraju. Both were lively and playful, and matched the adult stars well in terms of looks and mannerisms. I also liked the gossipy village ladies who always seemed to be at the well, passing comment on everyone else.

The set design is very pretty but is quite generic. I felt the actors were the real focus and the sets provided an appropriate backdrop. I really liked the episode at the fair as it was attractively shot and showed more of Malli and Nagaraju’s personalities, especially in a scene with a fortune teller. There was even a man in a bear suit. The music is outstanding, as it should be in a film about a singer. There are over a dozen songs in the film and composer Saluri Rajeswara Rao employs a range of styles to fit the scene and emotional tone. The songs are placed well and are a logical extension of the drama so they reinforce the actors characterisations. Music is always present, whether as a childhood favourite, a soulful plea to the heavens, a performance given for royalty or a simple work song to speed the day along.

There are several uploads of the full movie on YouTube and other sites. The official running time is 194 minutes but I haven’t managed to find the full version – most are missing around 20 minutes but not always the same 20 minutes. The sound and picture quality on every copy I have found is subpar. But if you can persevere with the technical issues, this is a beautiful film and a firm favourite of mine. Bhanumathi is superb, NTR is a perfect foil for her, and B.N Reddi blends everything into a very charming story with love and music at its heart. 5 stars!

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Jagadeka Veeruni Katha

Jagadeka Veeruni Katha

Jagadeka Veeruni Katha (1961) is a sumptuous fantasy drama directed and produced by K.V Reddy. It stars NTR with B Saroja Devi, L Vijayalakshmi, Jayanthi and Bala as the love interests, is loaded with songs and is beautiful to look at. It’s also around 3 hours long, clearly made for a time when a more meandering pace was appreciated.

Jagadeka-Veeruni-Katha-Pratap and parents

The plot can be loosely described as follows. Prince Pratap (NTR) defies his parents and leaves the kingdom in search of love. His dream women are the devakanyas who represent the elements of Air, Water, Fire and…Snakes. Indra Kumari (B Saroja Devi), Nagini (L Vijayalakshmi), Varuna Kumari (Jayanthi) and Agni Kumari (Bala) like to bathe in a decorative pond, gossiping and singing the day away. Pratap finds them, but in return for his unwanted attention Indra Kumari turns him into a statue. Pratap’s mother goes into devotional overdrive and Parvathi (Kannamba) answers her plea. Pratap is restored to his princely self and Parvathi gives him the tip-off that if he stole Indra Kumari’s clothes, she would be stranded on earth and have to marry him. Marriage duly accomplished, he sets off with new wife and newly acquired best friend Rendu Chintalu (Relangi) to a neighbouring kingdom.

Jagadeka-Veeruni-Katha-ThreesokananduJagadeka-Veeruni-Katha-Men in drag

Threesokanadu (Rajanala Kaleswara Rao) is a petulant brat of a ruler and wants whatever he can’t have, including Indra Kumari. Devising numerous ploys to send her husband off on missions to Nagalokam and elsewhere, all he succeeds in is getting the remaining devakanyas hitched to Pratap. I don’t know why he thought dressing in a saree would help his cause. Relangi and Ekasa (Girija) have a comedy subplot in which they thwart the king’s plans and generally bicker.

Jagadeka-Veeruni-Katha-hard times

Meanwhile, back in Pratap’s home his brother has conspired to overthrow the Maharaju and Maharani (Mukkamala Krishnamurthy and Rushyendramani), who are now living on the streets. Eventually they get wind of Pratap’s whereabouts and a tearful reunion is on the cards. The devakanyas trick their mother-in-law and get Indra Kumari’s saree back and leave for the heavens.

Jagadeka-Veeruni-Katha-wild with griefJagadeka-Veeruni-Katha-change of heart

Pratap goes wild with grief and the ladies seem to miss him too. Indra and the other lords of various heavens test Pratap and eventually he gets his wives back. Happy days.

Jagadeka-Veeruni-Katha-NTR and RelangiJagadeka-Veeruni-Katha-NTR and Saroja Devi

It’s NTR’s film from go to whoa and he could do this kind of role in his sleep. Pratap is the perfect prince and goes from swooning to swashbuckling in the blink of an eye. He gets all the big speeches and a couple of key songs, and NTR dominates all his scenes. He always has a nice rapport with Relangi, and I liked them together as they showed the more human side of Pratap with a bit of humour.  Relangi’s character gets to do some useful and sensible things in amongst all his comedy bumbling too.

B Saroja Devi is the leading lady and does get the majority of screen time, but her character is not really developed beyond being designated as a heavenly beauty. The warmth in her interactions with the other devakanyas, and her chemistry with NTR is largely drawn from her own performance and not the script as far as I could tell.

Jagadeka-Veeruni-Katha-Indra Kumari and NaginiJagadeka-Veeruni-Katha-Pratap and Indra Kumari

One of my favourite filmi dancers L Vijayalakshmi gets a little bit of dialogue and a few not very snakey dances, but the other wives are not given a lot to do in the story. They all look stunning in their sparkly costumes, and I found their scenes together more lively than the ones where they had to stand around simpering at Pratap.

Given the heavenly origins of the leading ladies and the divine interference by Parvathi, there is lots of scope for special effects and magical plot developments. The devakanyas all have distinctive modes of arriving at their bathing spot. Nagini turns into a snake when her mood sours.

And faced with the demands of multiple wives, Pratap is magically cloned so he can spend quality time with his spouses.

Comedy demons perform a range of useful services, including transforming into a flying divan. Pratap is changed at different times into a statue and a baby. Aside from Marcus Bartley’s stunning camerawork with his trademark moonlit scenes, I was struck yet again by the skilful use of the limited 1960s technology to create some really effective illusions. There’s nothing that would fool today’s CGI savvy audience, but the sequences are creative and are perfect for the fable of a prince on a quest.

Jagadeka-Veeruni-Katha-lifelike rag doll 1Jagadeka-Veeruni-Katha-lifelike rag doll 2

Except maybe not the rag doll dummy used in some fight scenes.

The music by Pendyala Nageswara Rao is lovely and it feels like someone breaks into song every few minutes. The only character who does much by way of dancing is L Vijayalakshmi as Nagini. When Pratap arrives in her kingdom, this is how he is greeted.

And there are some lovely duets as well as more devotional songs.

The set design is lavish with all the intricate decorative motifs I’ve come to expect from this era and genre, including fabulous animal themed furniture and fittings. Plus some excellent work from the hat department. The film is available without subs on YouTube. I’ve also managed to track down an unsubtitled VCD, but the picture quality is poor. I can only imagine what it might have been like with a decent print and sound. Really Telugu film industry – get your act together and do something about these classics!

Considering so many things happen in this film, it’s almost remarkable how few of the incidents are essential to the plot. But if you can spare the time for a rambling adventure with a charming cast, gorgeous music, and beautiful visual design this is a sheer pleasure. 4 stars! (A small deduction for general crappiness of the print, irritatingly big watermark on that crappy print, and because comedy demons are to fantasy films what comedy uncles are to modern movies – a plague and a pox.)

Bhookailas


Bhookailas is replete with all the necessary elements for fine entertainment; great actors, beautiful music, lots of excellent dancing, fabulous sets and most important, a good story. It’s not just a fluffy fairytale or fantasy though as there is some philosophy underneath the gilding. But more than anything, it is a great entertainment and a pleasure to watch. (The Volga DVD has good subtitles and the picture quality is fine on screen although poor in screencaps.)


Ravana (NTR) has conquered the human world and is at a loose end. Being a magnanimous ruler, he asks his brother demons what they want as a reward for this victory. His generals suggest a sleeping festival (excellent!), peace and justice for all, and finally that he declare war on heaven as the gods are worthy opponents for demons, not like frail humans. In order to avert this war which Ravana will likely win, the sage Narada (ANR) starts conniving and scheming to keep Ravana from invading.


Ravana is brave, intelligent, principled but very impulsive and has little self control. NTR is in his element as the larger than life Ravana. He creates a sympathetic character but one whose flaws are all too evident. The character spans broad comedy, doe eyed romance and the aggressive assurance of unchallenged leadership. Ravana is easily manipulated by Narada, Vishnu, Parvathi, his own mother and Ganesh among others.

His lack of insight and self awareness brings him undone when he has the potential to rival the gods should he focus his will. So he is like lots of men we all know- asked to bring back one specific item from the shops, and coming back with either nothing or something completely random.


Ravana’s mother Kaikasi (Hemalatha) is a devotee of Shiva. When her prayers are disrupted to stop her gaining Shiva’s benediction, she charges Ravana with making Shiva answer her prayer. He is a total mummy’s boy. He takes it one step further and promises to bring back Shiva’s atmalingam, his soul, for her to pray to. When he decides to beseech Shiva through rigorous penance, not even Helen can distract him.

But he loses this focus and falls under an illusion that sends him off on a tangent. Ravana’s quest to win back that blessing from Shiva takes many detours thanks to Narada.


Narada (ANR) is intent on maintaining the status quo. He plays on the susceptible Ravan and the change resistant gods. He puts the wind up heaven with dire predictions about what will happen should Ravana succeed. He stirs up Ravana’s impulsive and suspicious nature to manipulate him. ANR’s performance is lots of fun with a supercilious eyebrow here, a self serving whinge there, and a whole lot of economy with the truth. He sabotages Ravana’s request for a boon from Shiva, using illusion to persuade Ravana to ask for Parvathi as his reward. But the plan doesn’t play out exactly as Narada hoped, and he scrambles from drama to catastrophe and back again with only his wit and sophistry to help him navigate between the gods and demons. The gadfly tactic manoeuvres the protagonists, sets up conflict and also provides some of the more comedic moments.


Shiva’s alert and active snake companion was a highlight. The snake is quite interested in the proceedings. I was picturing the person responsible for snake directing and the bag of tricks they must have employed. Occasionally the snake would have a snooze and seemed to be waiting for someone to do something entertaining. Nagabhushanam portrays Shiva in a more paternal style, taking an indulgent approach to his devotees most of the time.

Parvathi (B Saroja Devi) is beautiful and stately and her role requires little more than that. Parvathi is used as a pawn in the game Narada is playing with Ravana, and despite her power she finds herself being carted around from pillar to post. But finally after prompting from the ever helpful sage, she uses her own power of illusion to break free. Apparently Ravana couldn’t see her inner beauty.

Mandodari (Jamuna) is Mayasura’s daughter, and persuades herself to fall for Ravana. Jamuna is lovely but she looks a little too mature and knowing to be totally convincing as the young and inexperienced princess. Her handmaidens joke about how Ravana will be a bucktoothed crosseyed hunchback and then tease her when they see she has feelings. Mandodari is very privileged and enjoys the finest things in her father’s lavishly decorated aquatic themed underwater kingdom.

But she has a hard time of it when she gets the husband she wants and discovers he was under the impression he had married the goddess Parvathi. Mandodari is another unwitting player in Narada’s plan to keep the three kingdoms in their proper place.

After all the trickery and deceit, Ravana offers penance in very dramatic style, cutting off his own head. It makes the acts of contrition my school priests used to dish out look pathetic. Ravana wins forgiveness but fails to triumph thanks to his inability to stay on task. Again. He neglects an instruction, disregards a warning and jeopardises the very thing he had struggled for.

His flaws were his undoing and they were all things he could control or learn to manage. Luckily his failure created something very special for the human world, so the film ends on a cheery note.


The animosity between would-be in-laws Ravana and Mayasura (an ebullient S.V Ranga Rao) is due to their worship of different gods – Shiva and Vishnu. There are some very pointed references to this, including Narada rebuking them for not realising that god is one and omnipotent. I wondered if this speech was in response to current day issues or purely part of the story. It seemed to be directed straight down the barrel of the camera which made me think it was at least partly commentary aimed at the audience.
The songs are particularly enjoyable, even more so with the bonus of excellent dancers. The songs are directly linked to the story so expand on things or underline issues. In Mayasura’s palace Kamala Laxman performs a very elegant dance depicting Vishnu’s avatars. While Gopi Krishna dances in a more wild and entranced style in devotion to Shiva.

The visual effects are simple, and the use is restrained, so they also enhance the atmosphere of a world outside of human reality.
As with many of the devotional, religious and mythological films from the 50s and 60s that I’ve seen, you don’t need to know anything about the main characters as a preqrequisite to enjoy the story. Bhookailas is beautifully self-contained, and K. Shankar has structured it to make the story accessible and entertaining. Watch this for the rattling good story, the wonderful actors and the visual riches. 5 stars!

Heather says: I found Bhookailas to be an interesting film as it shows Ravana from a totally different point of view. NTR’s demon king is depicted more in his ‘devoted follower of Shiva’ character rather than the more traditional ‘Ravana as the embodiment of all evil’ and for most of the film he is heroic and really quite dashing. It’s quite a change as I think this is the first film I have seen where Ravana hasn’t been just the villain that everyone is supposed to hate and it does make for a fascinating story.

NTR is excellent in his role and his depiction of Ravana’s all-conquering and all-powerful king is very believable. His devotion to Shiva is well shown but even better is his colossal arrogance which NTR hits just right, and when Ravana loses his temper there is a real edge which brings out his demonic nature clearly. However, Although I really liked NTR here, the standout performance for me was ANR. He is brilliant in his depiction of the sage Narada, and I think that this is probably the best characterisation of the trouble making sage I have seen. Narada’s frequent nods, winks and knowing looks are very well done, and he excels in causing trouble for trouble’s sake. ANR hits the character perfectly and his mannerisms and facial expressions make his scenes very enjoyable to watch.  The interactions between Narada and Ravana are also very well written, and both actors work very well together to bring their characters to life.

As Temple has mentioned, there is very little scope for any of the female roles here, and Hemalatha as Kaikasi probably has the role with the most substance. I enjoyed her performance and her exasperation at her impetuous son was excellently done. I wasn’t very impressed with Jamuna’s Mandodari and all her simpering, but I did love the underwater palace where she lived. Seeing Helen pop up in a song was a lovely surprise, and I was suitably impressed that Ravana was able to ignore her wonderful dancing as he meditated. Great music, fantastic performances and a thoroughly entertaining story make Bhookailas very well worth watching and I thoroughly recommend it. 4 stars.

Devadasu (1953)

So many people recommended versions of Devdas when I started watching Indian films. Prior to seeing the Telugu Devadasu, I’d watched a few of the various adaptations in Hindi. I have mentioned before that the role of Tight Slap Administrator could be a dream job for me, but honestly I would have been exhausted about an hour into any film version of Devdas. I prefer romances to involve people I can care about to some extent, otherwise why bother? Whether we’re talking whinging Dilip Kumar, tear drenched Shah Rukh or aggressively self centred Abhay Deol, Devdas is one of my least favourite characters. This is a drawback when the story is just a long wait for Dev to work out how to drink himself to death. So it was a bit of a surprise to find myself not exactly liking but empathising with Devadas (Akkineni Nageshwara Rao) and feeling quite kindly towards Parvati (Savitri). Maybe it was the lack of subtitles that let me reshape the story to suit myself. I certainly had no trouble following the story –  there are so many adaptations of the book by Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay it’s almost a plague – and it’s easy to find a synopsis if you need one.

Director Vedantam Raghavaiah’s version opens with Devadas and Parvati as little children, partners in crime, tormenting their teachers and causing mayhem. Devadas demands her obedient following, Parvati demands to be spoilt and adored and generally that is how things go. If one upsets the other, they retaliate with no thought of the consequences. And that sets the tone for their whole relationship even as they grow up. When he was sent away to school, he seemed to become that rich kid who funded his friends’ adventures and went with the flow. Meanwhile Parvati waited at home, confident he would come back and she would be part of his life.

ANR’s Devadas is a man who knows he has screwed up and has no one else to blame. He conveys the frustration of a young man caught under the thumb of his domineering father (SV Ranga Rao), and the weakness that paralyses him. He and Parvati realise that they can’t continue to be inseparable as they were in childhood without formalising their relationship. There are some really lovely scenes early on when he and Parvati are rediscovering each other, as in this song.

There is also the infamous scene where Devadas strikes Parvati in retaliation for her pride. ANR looked appalled and remorseful after lashing out so viciously and Savitri portrayed a mix of shock, anger and sadness that spoke volumes about the way their relationship still played out. Her parents proposal is rebuffed as they are of a lower social status, and suddenly time is running out.

Parvati sneaks into his room to beg him to marry her before she is married off elsewhere but he cannot stand up to his dad (or whoever chose these pyjamas for him).

And so he loses her, cuts ties with his family and is ripe for a decline into self pity and booze.

Later, when Devadas returns home following his father’s death, he sees the married Parvati. They have a beautiful scene together where suddenly the old Devadas is visible just for a moment. They light up in each other’s presence even as they break down. He has no resilience or motivation – he is carried by the currents of luck and money and when the luck is bad, he doesn’t know how to change things.

His refuge in alcohol initially makes him happy as he hallucinates seeing Parvati. Once the addiction has hold of him, the euphoria starts to disappear and he becomes a shambling wreck. ANR portrays the gradual descent into self destruction very well. While I think Devadas is an idiot I had to look away in some scenes because he was so painfully frail and damaged.

Parvati is a minx and gets her own way but she isn’t completely obnoxious. Savitri does a wonderful job of showing Parvati using her childish impulsive ways but aware of Devadas’ attraction to her, experimenting with her sexual appeal. When she sees Devadas after he has been at school for so many years, her affection is obvious. They talk about his father’s objection to her proposal and there is little game playing when it counts. When she is married off to an elderly widower who really seems to want a nanny more than a wife, her grief is evident but she tries to fit in.

I wasn’t quite sure about the physical side of her marriage – her husband mostly treats her like a niece or daughter, but there was one scene where he said something and Savitri looked quite ill and horrified so I wondered if a conjugal visit was on the cards. She is affectionate towards her stepchildren and wins over her jealous sister-in-law. She really does make the best of it and the kids seem very fond of her so her life isn’t shown as empty without her first love. In the final scene where she realises Devadas is near and tries to see him before he dies, the family seem to stop her because they are worried, not to punish her or protect their honour. Thanks to Savitri’s nuanced acting I really felt for Parvati.

Lalitha, one of the renowned Travancore sisters, is Chandramukhi, the other woman who loves Devadas. Her role is important but doesn’t occupy as much screen time since Devadas usually prefers to pity himself in solitude.  She is flirty and practiced, a woman who knows what men want and knows she has it. Despite her commercial nous, she can’t resist the misery of her newest and most reluctant client. While he initially rejects her, a relationship of sorts does grow over time. She is prepared to lose her livelihood over him and argues with her staff, including a comically inclined orchestra, as she cuts back on working. When Devadas really deteriorates she searches for him and brings him home, offering practical care to keep him comfortable. Lalitha has great physical presence and really suits Chandramukhi’s self aware femininity. Her dancing is assured and she displays her body with confidence, again a perfect fit for this character.

I liked the less grandiose sets in this version as they suit the characters and allow them to be the focus. The music is lovely and as the duets often take the place of conversations, they fit the mood of the scenes. The dances at Chandramukhi’s brothel are quite simple and she performs alone to entertain her clientele – it’s clear what she is selling but the scenes aren’t overly vulgar.

It is really hard to comment on the technical aspects of the film as the DVD picture and sound are so bad, and there are clearly some scenes missing and abrupt edits. Once again I will have a whinge about the terrible print quality of a classic film, and wonder why this is almost the norm. If so many people can recommend a movie as a classic of their industry, why doesn’t anyone take on the task of preservation and restoration? I’m not sure who most of the supporting actors are, but they were all very good and suited their roles.

Anyway – I’ll never wholeheartedly love the story of Devadas and Parvati, but this is my favourite version to date. See it for the excellent acting that made two silly fools seem more relatable than I expected, and for some beautiful melodic songs. 3 ½ stars.

Heather says:  Devdas has never been my favourite story, perhaps because the first version I saw was Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s extravagant epic and I found it difficult to relate to the characters. However I’ve appreciated some of the earlier Hindi film versions a little more, and now agree wholeheartedly with Temple that this Telugu version is the best.

Devdas is certainly not an attractive character at all. He’s arrogant and selfish; almost child-like in his inability to deal with the world and ANR captures this perfectly. In the early scenes his conceit takes centre stage and despite the lack of subtitles his inability to deal with his family’s disapproval of Parvati comes through clearly.  As Devdas falls into self-recrimination and takes up a decadent lifestyle, ANR’s portrayal of the shattered and hopeless alcoholic almost manages to wring some sympathy, despite knowing that he brought it all on himself. So even although I want to dislike Devdas (and usually do), ANR makes his weakness understandable to such an extent that I end up pitying him. It really is an outstanding performance.

I agree with Temple that Savitri is excellent here as Parvati, giving her innocence and a child-like adoration of Devdas which makes her later actions more reasonable. I also loved Lalitha in her portrayal of Chandramukhi, but my favourite actor is the little girl who played the young Parvati. Her eyes were incredibly full of expression for such a young actor and every emotion was written loud and clear on her face. I ended up watching her scenes over and over again and would love to know who she was. Anyone know?

It is such a shame that this film isn’t available with subtitles as much of the beauty in other versions of the story is in the dialogues. I will add my plea that someone needs to please restore and re-release all these old films before they are too far gone to salvage, preferably with English  subtitles too. This really is a classic and should be required viewing for everyone interested in Telugu cinema! 4 stars.

Reshma aur Shera

Reshma Aur Shera is one of my favourite films in any language. I don’t often like romantic tragedies as all too often I feel I’ve wasted my time watching people I don’t care for as they do idiotic things that could have been avoided if they weren’t so one dimensional or stupid. But each time I watch Reshma Aur Shera, despite knowing what is going to happen next, I fall in love with it all over again.

The love story is simple but engaging and Waheeda Rehman and Sunil Dutt light up the screen with their chemistry and brilliant acting. The tragedy comes from the spectre of death in a tribal feud set against the hope for change. Producer, director and star Sunil Dutt and writer Ali Raza created a full context for the lovers and that sense of place and family, the depth of the characters,  makes their predicament feel more immediate and of consequence. It also makes the film entertaining beyond just the romance, and it isn’t all gloom and despair. There is joy, fun and beauty too.

Reshma (Waheeda Rehman) is the daughter of Chaudhury of Pochina and Shera (Sunil Dutt) is the eldest son of his enemy, the Chaudhury Sagat Singh. These families have been picking each other off for years.

They meet at a fair in Jaisalmer, at the Durga Puja (she is also the presiding deity of the story). Shera fancies Reshma on sight and, like a good girl, Reshma coyly avoids him. The fair is wonderful looking, and I had moments of feeling I was watching a documentary rather than a set. There is so much to see with Reshma as she darts around enjoying the amusements, the snacks and the shopping.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ecstatic music of a qawwali brings them face to face again, and in this heightened state a deeper emotional connection forms. I love this picturisation as it takes the viewer deep into the scene, with the vocals conveying the intoxication and pain of love. And it features a very young Sanjay Dutt (who developed his unique sense of rhythm early on it appears).

Once they discover each other’s identity, Reshma asks Shera to sacrifice her at the altar – a blood sacrifice not a marital altar. She wants to protect her brother Gopal (an outrageously handsome Ranjeet), and offers her life in place of his. Shera had already rescued Gopal from his own brothers earlier that day, proving himself honourable if unpopular with his kin and further impressing Reshma. Shera is determined their love will succeed and Reshma wants to believe.  They meet in the temple before leaving for home, and decide that they can have each other and bring about an end to the feud if they are careful.

Back in their villages life goes on, except that Shera and Reshma sneak into the desert to meet at night. Despite the stalker-ish beginning to the romance, it is a passionate mutual attraction and they both have a share in conversations about their future.

Family and friends are an important part of who Reshma and Shera are and why they do what they do. And the supporting cast is so impressive – Vinod Khanna as Shera’s nasty brother Vijay, Amrish Puri as an elder in Shera’s village, Jagant and Sulochana Latkar as Shera’s parents, the dashing Sudhir as the qawwali singer, Padma Khanna as an uninhibited nautch girl, Ranjeet as Gopal, Rakhee in a small but high impact role as Gopal’s wife, just to name a few.

Waheeda Rehman is simply amazing. Reshma evolves from a pretty young thing, giddy with excitement, to a more sombre young woman passionately in love with an enemy.  She realises she should send Shera away for good, but cannot sever their bond. Finally running out of options, Reshma challenges Durga to prove herself by taking on life as a woman on earth and see how that feels. Waheeda is just magnificent as she demands help in return for all the sacrifices to the goddess. And Durga does give her an answer.

Despite a ponderous voiceover at the start of the film extolling the Indian woman’s virtue of sacrifice, Reshma is not a passive sacrificial offering but rather uses herself as a means of creating change. When she makes up her mind, she does it to save Shera and stop the feud from claiming everyone she loves. She is determined and forceful, a far cry from the blushing girl she was at the start. It’s a challenging role and she delivers a beautiful characterisation.

While I initially thought Sunil Dutt looked a little too mature to be Shera, he has a certain appeal and even plays some unexpectedly goofy and sweet moments. He transforms from a lad about the fair to a future leader challenging his own father. His internal conflict is evident – the Rajput sense of honour and the man who wants a happy and peaceful future with the love of his life. Shera seems to benefit from the close relationship he has with his mother and his respect for Reshma, being prepared to think outside the heroic norms. But where Reshma suffers loss after loss and creates a solution of sorts, Shera reverts to type becoming as vengeful and bloodthirsty as his father and brothers.

Chotu (Amitabh) is a mute and is neglected by brothers Vijay and Jagat unless they need his sharpshooting skills. He worships Shera who treats him kindly and seems to be his only friend. Amitabh’s performance is beautiful, quite restrained and very moving. Chotu is a sad and confused young man, following his father’s path. He is ultimately responsible for killing Reshma’s father and brother, and that sets the final train of events in motion. While Sagat Singh takes the boys to a brothel as reward, Shera swears vengeance on whoever the killer was.

Their mother (Sulochana Latkar) emerges as a powerful force. Initially she wants Shera to follow his father’s order and kill Gopal, putting her sons above all else. But once things implode, she takes matters into her own hands to save what is left of her family. She takes Chotu to Reshma’s village and offers him as a sacrifice. The confrontation in Reshma’s home is gut-wrenching. Chotu is traumatised and disgusted at himself, and Rakhee as Gopal’s widow faces a life in ruins. He wants to die, can’t bear the pain of betraying Shera and knows he is doomed. This sequence is the one that gives me a lump in my throat every time. I can identify with the motivations of all the characters, and it seems impossible to reconcile their needs.

Creative versus destructive energies underlies much of the character interactions and is often divided on gender lines.  Not that the women are all about popping out babies and nurturing – I mean that their energy seems more focussed on preserving their homes, and on renewal and regeneration. They might destroy something or someone, even themselves, to achieve it but they have a positive goal rather than just aiming for obliteration of an enemy.  The action in the film may generally follow the men but the women are making choices that drive the story. It’s also a film rich in symbolism and visual themes. The motifs of fire and circles reinforce the cycles of destruction and rebirth.

The cinematography is beautiful, and S Ramachandra captures the harsh light, the muted earth tones and the vibrant fabrics of Rajasthan. The costumes and jewellery are stunning, and the buildings look real and lived in, with glimpses of details in kitchens and bedrooms. Plus – lovely music by Jai Dev, choreography by Gopi Krishna (assisted by one Miss Saroj Khan), and playback singers Asha, Lata, Manna Dey.

My DVD is missing about 20 minutes of the complete film so there are a couple of large gaps, one of which probably shows the killing of Reshma’s family. It’s so frustrating but the story is still clear and you can fill in the gaps.

The first time I watched Reshma aur Shera I was stunned. I immediately wanted to watch it again but as with any decision about true love versus a passing fancy, I decided to give it some time. Love it is. It is such a captivating film, and a beautiful work of art. I cannot recommend it highly enough. 5 stars!

Katherine at Totally Filmi is coordinating a month long celebration of women in Indian cinema. Links will be collated at Delicious so keep an eye on that page for lots of other articles and blog posts to be added throughout March.