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.

Gulebakavali Katha

I love folk tales and fantasy in Indian cinema, and when they are combined with a theme involving eyes and blindness then that’s a combination guaranteed to make me watch. And Gulebakavali Katha doesn’t disappoint with plenty of eye references and fantastical scenes throughout. The story is reputably based on Madhira Subbanna Deekshitulu’s Kasimajili Kathalu which also provided the story line for Patala Bhairavi, although from time to time the story here reminded me of Jason’s quest in the Greek classics. It’s a fun film with the emphasis on the fantasy and NTR’s hero is dashing, suitably brave and self-sacrificing. The music is lovely and plentiful, and the sets and costumes are absolutely fabulous.  There are excellent opening titles featuring an animated skeleton, and the story opens in the best possible way with a song featuring Geetanjali and Jyothy as dancers.

The storyteller introduces the tale of King Chandrasena (Mukkamala Krishnamurthy), his two wives and his wicked brother-in-law who is conspiring to take the throne. King Chandrasen’s first wife Gunavathi (Rushyendramani) falls pregnant after she is blessed by the goddess Parvathi. This makes his younger, second wife Rupavathi (Chayadevi) jealous even though Rupavathi already has 3 sons of her own. To make sure that her children will inherit the throne, Rupavathi plots with her brother Vakraketu (Rajanala Kaleswara Rao) to get rid of the baby and discredit her rival. With the help of the Royal astrologers, Vakraketu concocts a tale that the King will go blind if he sees his son. Not content with this form of banishment, Vakraketu then orders his soldiers to take the baby into the woods, kill him and bring back his eyes as proof of the deed. Of course it doesn’t go to plan and the baby ends up being rescued and brought up by a shepherd couple in the forest.

Rajanala makes an excellent villain here with his amazingly expressive eyes and appropriately evil laugh. His performance also provides a strong foundation for the story as he schemes his way towards the throne with the help of the treacherous army chief Dushtabuddi. He also has excellent moustache twirling skills!

Meanwhile, as may be expected from someone who grows up as a goat-herder in the woods, Vijay (NTR) grows up to be a handsome well-spoken young man who has an amazing ability with a sword but no idea about his real parents. Despite his lowly start in life, Vijay is a man of principles and NTR gives him plenty of charm and humour to go with his bravery and spear throwing. He does look the part of the perfect fantasy prince and can look determined, puzzled, worried or intrigued as required.

Now that Vijay is grown up and capable of thwarting his plans, Vakraketu finally decides to make his move on the throne by poisoning the King’s wine to destroy his sight. This happens to coincide with a hunting trip into the woods enabling Vijay to turn up just in time to be the last person the King sees before the poison takes effect, thus fulfilling the totally fabricated prophesy. While Vijay easily evades the soldiers sent to capture him he’s intrigued enough to climb up to the King’s lodge and discovers his heritage. After meeting his real mother, he sets out to discover the fabled Gulebakavali flower which will cure his father’s blindness.

Vijay’s three elder brothers have grown up to be complete fools under the influence of their uncle, but they also decide to search out the fabled flower and they provide much of the comedy throughout the film. Although they’re not particularly funny they aren’t too irritating despite the youngest brother’s incredibly squeaky voice, and they do have an important role to play as they cheat their younger brother later on in the film. The rest of the comedy is provided by Atitelivi (Balakrishna) who befriends Vijay and helps confound and defeat Vijay’s three brothers and by Vijay himself as he proves he has plenty of brains to go with his bravery.

On his quest for the gulebakavali flower Vijay has to overcome many challenges, and the first of these is in the form of a beautiful woman who has declared that she will marry the man who can beat her at dice. Yuktimati (Jamuna) provides plenty of glamour and looks stunning as she scams various rich men out of their wealth and takes them prisoner, although unlike Circe she doesn’t go as far as turning them into pigs.

After his brothers succumb and are taken prisoner Vijay disguises himself as an old man and beats Yuktimati when he discovers her trick of using a mouse to distract her cat which serves as her lamp.It’s all rather silly and the cat and mouse are both obviously stuffed, but it’s a nice fairy-tale like idea and the song with NTR in disguise is excellent.

Despite beautiful women throwing themself at him, the search for the gulebakavali flower must go on and Vijay leaves his new wife to continue looking for the cure for his father’s blindness. He picks the scariest looking spot in the entire forest to go to sleep, so it’s not surprising that he is awakened by a skeleton that attacks him as the statue starts to breathe smoke, the moon sports a skull and there are bats and snakes in abundance. However it was all just a test and after proving his bravery, Shiva gives Vijay an enchanted jewel which will enable him to become invisible and reach the yakshaloka.

Once there he discovers the beautiful princess Bakavali and her entourage who guard the golden flower. The sets here are beautiful and as well as singing and dancing there is also synchronised swimming to enjoy. Peacock beds are obviously de rigueur for fantasy princesses and Bakavali has a rather nice example here.

Back on Earth with the flower Vijay meets treachery and betrayal and becomes progressively more unshaven and tattered which makes the resemblance between him and his grandson Tarak very obvious.

There are more damsels in distress to rescue and more fantastically gory eye scenes before Vijay adds a second wife to his collection by marrying Bakavali as well before heading home to save the day.  Here are some more pretty pictures of the various beautiful women who all are happy to see Vijay, plus the elusive gulebakavali flower.

While Gulebakavali Katha follows a fairly standard fantasy theme with a heroic prince overcoming various challenges it’s all done beautifully with stunning sets and some very sparkly jewelry.  There is enough humour in Vijay’s character that he doesn’t become too sanctimonious despite all his self-sacrifice, and he seems quite delighted at the various women who throw themselves at him. Jamuna has the best described role among the women as Yuktimati along with her chief handmaiden Asha and it’s a shame that they disappear from the story so quickly.

The effects are really quite innovative for the time and feature transformations, fighting skeletons and plenty of quite realistic eyes being thrown around. There is even a flying dragon as transportation although rather oddly it makes the same noise as is generally used for UFO’s. On reflection though, that perhaps does make sense! There are plenty of songs and some very beautiful duets although the mix of traditional songs and fifties ‘big band’ sound is occasionally a little strange. I really couldn’t decide which of these was my favourite, so here is a link to Nannu Dochokundavate with Vijay and Yuktimati, and below is Kalala Alalapai where Bakavali is dreaming of Vijay.

I really enjoyed this film as the simple story unfolds so smoothly and the whole film looks absolutely stunning. NTR makes a wonderful heroic prince and I love him in these roles, particularly with such excellent co-stars. The eye related theme is fantastic and so much fun without being overdone or used too heavily as a metaphor.  I thoroughly recommend watching and as an added bonus, it is available with subtitles! 5 stars.

Temple says:

I tracked this film down after reading Minai’s excellent blog post. While I enjoyed it immensely, there are a couple of things that didn’t work so well and I wouldn’t put this quite at the top of my list of vintage Telugu fantasy.

After the great start with jaunty music and skeleton, the device of a story being told within the film detracted a little from the opening sequences. There was a bit too much telling via voiceover and not enough getting on with it. I don’t particularly care for the intrusive narrator in films, unless we are talking The Princess Bride, as it can be distracting and can break the rhythm of the story. While it was intended to convey the folktale flavour, I think just showing the events happening would have been better. Heather has pretty much retold the whole plot, so I won’t go over my favourite episodes, but there are lots of obligatory folktale challenges and obstacles, all solved in a stylish and heroic manner. But while there is a lot happening, and lots of characters coming and going, this felt like it was plodding along at times where it should have had more zing.

Maybe that is because there just isn’t enough dancing for my liking. Compared to other favourites of mine like Patala Bhairavi, Bhookailas (featuring Helen!) and Jagadeka Veeruni Katha (with the peppy L Vijayalakshmi as a snake goddess), this film is a bit light on for songs and dances. The music is very pleasant, and slightly eccentric at times, but I can’t recall most of the melodies now while I can immediately think of songs from the other films. Clearly I need the sparkly dance outfits and choreography to make me remember.

NTR has a romantic melting eyed look that suits the princely characters but is physical enough to be the heroic warrior or goatherd as the case may be. I can see why he is synonymous with this genre – it is just perfect for him. I’m quite fond of Balakrishna too so I enjoyed his contribution to the comedy and confusion. And the ladies all look stunning and suitably fairytale princess inspired, which for the most part is all they need to do. The costumes and jewellery are typically lavish and beautifully filmed.

The fantasy genre is something I think Telugu film makers excelled at in the 50s and 60s. Regardless of whether the inspiration was folktale, mythology, history or religion there is an abundance of delightful films that combine beautiful visuals with a sense of wonder and whimsy. But while I like Gulebakavali Katha, I prefer the more sprightly energy and derring-do of the other films I’ve listed. (Although this film has NTR plucking his eyes out, I don’t think anything can top him cutting his own head off in Bhookailas. Terrible pun, sorry!) It is well worth a watch but there are other films in this style that appeal to me more. A small deduction for the slightly draggy start, and the missed opportunity for more dances. 4 stars.

Patala Bhairavi (1951)

Patala Bhairavi is a wonderful fairytale complete with a pauper turned prince, a wicked wizard, a princess, a quest, flying castles, magic, disguises and divine intervention. This is not a stuffy staid classic; this is fun! I watched it without subtitles, but the story is clear and easy to follow. And the cast is fantastic – NTR, Malathi K, SV Ranga Rao , Relangi – and  a young Savitri makes a small appearance.  There are beautiful sets as well, and lovely music by Ghantasala. It really is a feast.

Thota Ramudu (NTR) lives with his mother Kanthamma the palace gardener (Surabhi Kamalabai) and his sidekick Anji (Balakrishna). He spies the princess Indumatha (Malathi K) and is smitten. Her father  is not as enamoured of the idea, and tries to deter the youngsters but love will not be denied.  The King dreams that the poor man will be his daughter’s saviour and decides to be merciful. After being released from the palace dungeons Ramudu vows to make his way out into the world and return with the requisite riches and glory to be deemed worthy.

NTR is excellent as the hero. He stands up to the king’s bullying brother (Relangi), defends those in trouble and exudes righteousness without being stuck up. He gives his mother some trouble as he and Anji are silly boys when given half a chance, but he is fundamentally a nice guy.

Plus – he has snake wrangling and crocodile wrestling skills! It’s a fun role and he really embraces the swashbuckling hero style. He also gets to do romantic and dramatic scenes so there is a range of emotion and intensity. NTR balances it beautifully. Had the performance been tipped more towards silliness or self importance, it would have been a lot less enjoyable.

Indumathi is a proper princess. She lives in a palace, indulges in approved princess pastimes like singing to flowers and playing music, and after an exhausting day of these activities she sleeps in a peacock bed.

Indumathi doesn’t do much except wait…wait for her sweetheart, wait to be married, wait to be rescued. Malathi K made a strong impression in her later scenes when she is fearful and alone, but Indumathi is off screen for a lot of the film so she has little scope.

Relangi plays the king’s relative, and is NTR’s rival for Indumathi. There is little to fear on that front however as he delivers his habitual bumbling fool performance. He does have an eye catching hat though, so that was something. And he does his own singing. He and Balakrishna have ownership of the comedy track, and it is fairly amusing as the jokes are integral to their characters.

Anji is by Ramudu’s side for the adventure, and he contributes a little bit more than just comedy, although that is his primary purpose. In the battle of the sidekicks between Anji and the sorcerer’s apprentice Dingiri (Padmanabham), Anji wins the day. He is loyal and resourceful, if a bit dim, and without him the hero might have failed miserably. Considering I usually find the comedy sidekick more irritating than entertaining, I think he did really well to keep me from fast forwarding through his solo scenes.

SV Ranga Rao is Nepala Mantrikudu, a sorcerer who needs to sacrifice an innocent young lad (I wonder who will fall into his hands) in order to gain control over an idol that can compel goddess Patala Bhairavi (Girija) to grant wishes. He has a fabulous cave lair with excellent statuary, and the hapless Dingiri as his assistant.

Nepala Mantrikudu is a determined man, who will stop at nothing to gain his desire. He even cut his own arm off once for a spell, and then used his magic to reattach it. I like his dragon headed telescope that sees whatever the user wants to find.

He impresses the yokels with a great array of tricks – including turning a rock into a monkey and then transforms the monkey into a dancing girl before giving Relangi similar treatment. Ramudu can’t resist the show, and that brings the protagonists together. I always like SV Ranga Rao as a villain because he can be amusing with a twinkle in his eye and then turn to seriously threatening in a blink. He adds most of the drama and menace to the story, and is larger than life.

Ramudu steals a magical vessel and tries to create his own wealth. But he lacks the ability to use it so, promised money and the princess, he goes with Nepala Mantrikudu to retrieve the idol. The quest involves a lot of near death moments for NTR including – the crocodile wrestling!

Not the most lifelike crocodile, nor the most convincing wound I have seen. I shall digress – I keep hearing rumours that Rana Daggubati may be in a remake of this film. I think he is a competent actor although I’m not sure he has the right acting style for this sort of caper, but I do think he might be excellent at shirtless crocodile wrestling scenes.

Ramudu emerges from his dip triumphant, and worded up about the magician’s treachery by a goddess in the crocodile pond. Of course the sorcerer and his intended sacrifice have different ideas, and Ramudu wins that encounter and the idol.

While he is rich (thanks to the goddess) on his return to Ujjain, he is not out of trouble. It takes more than decapitation to stop a dark sorcerer who has a history of sticking his limbs back on.

Old enemies unite against Ramudu and he loses control of the idol. What next?

There are demons, bears, seven-league boots, invisibility cloaks, disguises, flying palaces, fisticuffs and so much more before the end of the tale.

When I say the sets were lavish – there are 3 separate credits for set design, moulding and painting and I think they earned their keep. When Ramudu takes the royal family on a tour of his magically appointed residence, the building is stunning. This song includes some performances by his household dancers (including Savitri), and the sets are just delightful. I’ve screen capped if you can’t be bothered with the song clip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The visuals perfectly match the story book action and characters, with the painted backdrops reinforcing the fantasy element. The special effects are lots of fun (especially considering it was the 1950s).  I saw Sri Rama Rajyam on Friday night and despite the apparently huge budget for CGI, I found the effects more distracting than beautiful. I know that is a devotional film, and this isn’t but it made me think about the use of visual effects in films that are depicting an alternate reality. Patala Bhairavi keeps the people at the centre. When someone pulls on an invisibility cloak, other characters react to this amazing sight – the gimmicks support the story. In Sri Rama Rajyam, they chose to use CGI for things like birds, leaves, foliage, peacocks and deer to the point that it cluttered up the screen. It detracted from the story and from the actors. I appreciated the mastery of Kadri Venkata Reddy. He and the team including writers Subbanna Deekshitulu, Kamalakara Kameshwara Rao, Pingali Nagendra Rao art director Madhavapeddi Gokhale and DOP Marcus Bartley  have created a really beautiful fantasy realm with an engaging story.

Perhaps I am fond of this film because it reminds me of being a kid, watching Disney TV shows with my family on a Saturday evening. The good guys are nice, there are pretty jewels and costumes to admire, the music is lovely and the story ends on a high note. I would love to see it with subtitles but I enjoyed it immensely without. 5 stars!