Hyderabad Blues (1998)

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Hyderabad Blues opens with a montage of Hyderabad landmarks and the usual sights of men pissing and spitting, cows wandering the streets – the stuff any first time visitor to India would notice. Varun narrates, his American accented English sounding slightly Zoolander-ish; ‘As scared as anyone would be in a foreign land – but wait a minute, this is my home’. He has to be coached on meeting relatives, what to say to a servant, who everyone is, and he feels caught betwixt and between.

Varun (Nagesh Kukunoor) is health conscious and snooty – his mum is determined to feed him up but he can’t stand the high fat high carb meals. He droops around the house looking disgruntled and superior. His mates rib him about his bad attitude and encourage him to remember how things are in India. Harish (Anoop Ratnaker Rao) is married and Sanjeev (Vikram Inamdar) will be soon. Most of his time with friends consists of happy reminiscing over the past but when they talk of current times the differences are apparent and there is lots of “Fuck you man!” Kukunoor produced, wrote, and directed the film on a shoestring, and cast himself in the lead. He sounds like he is just reading the script with little modulation in his voice. His performance is among the weakest and the character is self-centred and often obnoxious, so the sympathy I had for Varun evaporated quite quickly. (I thought that about his appearance in Dor as well.)

Sanjeev says arranged marriage makes him the king as he can chose whoever he wants and since Varun views his marriage as solely his choice I don’t think they are really so different. Varun fancies a friend of Sanjeev’s selected bride Seema (the ebullient Elahe Hiptoola), and asks for an introduction.

Ashwini (Rajshri Nair) is a doctor. Despite his progressive foreign ideas Varun is both surprised at a woman being a doctor and dismissive of her ability since she got in on a seat reserved for women. They celebrate Holi with friends and Ashwini takes bhang to be rebellious. While she is off her nut, Varun takes advantage to ask the most important question in his life – why doesn’t she like him as much as she should? She calls him out on his contempt for Indians and his put on foreign airs and stupid accent, calling him a pseud. She believes he expects all dates to end in sex, and she is not interested in being a notch on his belt. But they make a date to see Hum Apke Hain Kaun (13 songs! He must fancy her!). Rajshri Nair is generally quite good and her girl next door look suits Ashwini. There are abrupt shifts in tone required by the dialogue and she is shrill and over the top in some of the more explosive moments. She is much more effective in the scenes when Ashwini is joking around with her friend Seema or in the conversational interludes between arguments with Varun.

I liked the setting for the story. People are ordinary middle class, and live normal relatable lives. They play out the large and small rituals of life; weddings, funerals, cleaning, preparing food, and conversations that sound like duets of well rehearsed lines. I liked the mix of languages as people would start a conversation in Telugu, wander into Hindi and end with English. It’s a familiar sound to me and also helped define the characters as on more serious topics people reverted to their preferred language and cadence. Some of the one-liners are quite witty and the family rivalries and bragging about whose son was better added some levity. There are nice touches as Varun starts to soften or reconnect with his culture, like when he deigns to offer money at a shrine and then dashes back to make sure he left an odd amount just like his mother told him. I liked seeing the little bit of playfulness as Seema and Sanjeev completed their wedding formalities and the way these details added depth to the characters and relationships. The clash of generations and of different cultural influences is interesting and I know so many of my friends have gone through similar experiences so I expected to love the film. But between some dodgy plot development, Varun’s endless whining, and Kukunoor’s suboptimal acting, too many things tried my patience.

I really liked that the relationship is not plain sailing and Varun has to work to win Ashwini over. His parents object as Ashwini is a different caste and they had several someone elses in mind. Ashwini and Varun meet daily at the hospital and she says they will be the subject of gossip and that she does worry to an extent as she needs to live her life once he has returned to the US. She also tells him he is probably just another NRI coming to find a maid/slave/wife. He says he is different but he is confused about what he wants and where they would make their home. Ashwini scolds him for assuming she would want to marry him (and that he hasn’t asked) and for also assuming she would just leave everything she has in India and follow him. It’s fair enough that he doesn’t want to throw away 12 years of hard work, but he doesn’t extend the same courtesy to her.

But while Ashwini opens up about her fears and hopes and how she thinks the cultural gap is just too big to bridge, Varun strikes a more adolescent note. He and Sanjeev have a lame running gag about wanking and they constantly leer at Shashi Aunty and her precariously draped pallu. Varun has a track record that inspires scorn and envy from his mates. But then Varun likens Sanjeev’s wedding night to a drunken one nighter as he has only just met his partner, and Sanju is (understandably) pissed off. Harish and Sanju don’t seem to think sex outside of marriage is an option and caution Varun about treating Ashwini lightly. When she pushes Varun away mid-kiss he cracks it as that must be a sign of backwards values, not her preference or a reflection on his kissing. It was interesting that Varun could be disparaging of custom and society, but when Ashwini’s criticism of culture was directed at her father, Varun came to his defence saying you couldn’t ignore 5000 years of tradition and that her dad did his best. Hmmm. Sounds like a typical manchild to me!

The resolution to the on again off again romance is totally filmi and not really in a good way. I was disappointed after the relatively realistic build up that too many people acted in a way that was inconsistent with their previous behaviour. I appreciate the challenge of making an indie film, especially in an industry that is geared towards formulaic blockbusters, so Nagesh Kukunoor deserves credit for getting his film out there (even if I don’t think he deserves any for his acting). But for me there are some substantial negatives in the acting and the story that are detrimental to the overall quality. The movie is on YouTube with subs. 3 stars.

Anji

Anji-title

Anji is an unashamed tilt at a commercial blockbuster with an obviously huge budget and everything including the kitchen sink by way of recommended masala ingredients. Kodi Ramakrishna directed Devi, Ammoru, and the more recent Arundhati, all of which had big special effects and equally big performances. I think those films are more effective than Anji overall as the stories were less obviously ‘inspired’ by Hollywood. Also I suspect that casting such a big name hero skewed the story towards him, leaving mostly comic relief and buffoonery for the other performers. But the visuals are pretty good and Chiranjeevi brings his own style and verve to the adventure.

Back in 1932 a nasty man with blue contacts and huge teeth (Bhupinder Singh) tried to steal a sacred relic, the Aatmalingam. The Aatmalingam catches the waters of the Akasa Ganga every 72 years, and drinking that water grants immortality. Luckily for us and not so luckily for him, he triggers the defences around the Aatmalingam. Bhatia barely escapes, losing an arm to a sentient flying sword.

Anji-fingernails

I must just question the wisdom of sending a man with those fingernails to do a delicate job of thievery.

In 2004, when the heavenly miracle is due to occur again, Bhatia (now overacted by Tinnu Anand with odd prosthetic earlobes) once again has a crack at gaining supreme power. A diary containing the pertinent lore was sent to Swapna (Namrata Shirodkar), a student in the USA, to keep it safe. She returns to India and thanks to fate and public transport, meets Anji (Chiranjeevi) and is pursued by idiots (MS Narayana and gang). After hiring Anji to escort her to her destination, the two realise they have to protect the Aatmalingam (and all the people) and defeat the bad guy. They join forces in an adventure with epic overtones and rush towards the final confrontation.

There are numerous scenes lifted directly from other films – the Crocodile Dundee knife scene, references to the Indiana Jones series and Romancing The Stone among others – but with a Telugu mass and Megastar spin.

Big special effects are one thing but the actors still have to deliver. Anji rights wrongs, protects the defenceless and keep an eye on the guru (Nagendra Babu in some terrible wrinkle makeup). One thing I consistently enjoy about Chiru’s films is that even in the most familiar material he doesn’t seem to be phoning it in. I liked that Anji was a little bit whiny and ‘why me?’ in some scenes but his morals were sound. Chiru had good rapport with his brother Nagendra Babu and with the other filmi family members. The action scenes (by Peter Hein) are fast and often played for laughs as well as adrenalin, and Chiru highkicks and leaps like there is no tomorrow. Anji is ambushed in the jungle, beaten and pushed over a cliff but Heroes bounce when they hit rock bottom (literally and figuratively it seems). The dances are energetic and lots of fun. Anji is often the object of female fantasy in the songs so I quite enjoyed pondering why someone would imagine that particular outfit or that dance move when their thoughts turned to love (or lust). Chik Buk Pori is beautifully shot and features Chiru and his backing dudes, Ramya Krishnan as a flirty con artist, singing orphans and a random white chick. Who could ask for more?

Namrata Shirodkar is perhaps best known as the woman who persuaded Mahesh Babu he could wear t-shirts, AND wear them one at a time. Oh, and she is a former Miss India. Swapna seems like a smart modern girl while in the US – she flies a plane, drives a fast fancy car – all of which is promising in an adventure. So I was confused when she came to India and walking and talking simultaneously seemed to be rather challenging. Her acting mostly ranges from jiggle and giggle to SCREAM and grimace. And the Telugu dubbing gives her a breathy little girl voice which is just annoying. She doesn’t have great chemistry with Chiru, but romance is a fair way down the ranks of subplots which was refreshing. I was expecting more substance in this role based on Ammoru and Devi which had fierce female leads. Namrata’s performance holds up reasonably well as she wasn’t challenged to deliver much more than be a foil for The Hero. Although Swapna did remember some of her foreign skills and I was pleased to see her steal and hotwire a bus to save the obligatory orphans.

The songs are well integrated into the action so they don’t halt the momentum. I wouldn’t care anyway because Chiru! Dancing! Lawrence is credited as a choreographer and he works so well with Chiranjeevi. Swapna throws some bark on the fire and ends up stoned. He knows what it is but he inhales anyway (eventually, after helpfully explaining what was happening). All of which leads Abbo Nee Amma. Om Shanti Om is stylistically a little weird but Namrata’s outfits add some entertainment value even if her dancing doesn’t. Reema Sen makes an appearance in Mirapakaya Bajji that has excellent use of Chiru.

There are some cool effects but there are also polyester stick on beards and an unconvincing roasted lizard on a stick. And a baby crocodile that squeaks like a rubber mouse. But I was pleased to see that when Anji’s dog attacked to save a family member it was clearly a stuffed toy and not a real dog being shaken around. And the horse stunts were not too scary. Where the adventure intersects more with history and religion, the quality and scale of the effects improves although the gore levels were consistent throughout. The religious elements are woven into the action very well and give the story more substance. In one scene Anji accidentally does the right things in the right order and is protected from the giant snake and flying sword. Because I understood what he should do I found the sequence gripping, where sometimes I wonder ‘who made this nonsensical ritual up?’. Some of the magical effects when the Aatmalingam is discovered are very pretty, and there are some excellent locations and sets. Maybe Kodi Ramakrishna is a thrifty director and spends his budget where it will have the most impact. The final confrontation takes place in the Himalayas and Heaven, under the eye of Shiva. It’s all quite grand and otherworldly.

Anji is entertaining from start to finish. My DVD ends quite abruptly following the showdown between Bhatia and Anji but I am quite happy as Swapna was doing something useful for a change, and I suspect if there is a missing scene it probably has singing orphans. Chiru owns his role and his energy is evident in every scene. If you like fantasy or supernatural adventures or have a soft spot for Indiana Jones and Chiranjeevi then I highly recommend Anji. 4 stars!

Jebu Donga (1987)

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While Jebu Donga may not be the most deep and meaningful film of 1987 (or indeed any other year), it does have a slightly different approach to the Mass Hero as well as sufficient quantity and variety of dances and explosions to keep me amused.

Chiranjeevi is Chitti the pickpocket, happily fleecing the rich, helping some of the deserving poor and indulging his love of disguises. Bhanupriya is his rival in petty thieving, and has an equally strong commitment to the dress-ups and convoluted schemes. Satyanarayana Kaikala and Maruthirao Gollapudi are the not as bumbling as they seem CBI officers who need to get a spy into Raghuvaran’s gang. And Radha is a woman of mystery. The police decide to use the unwitting Chiru as a distraction, feeding the crooks a fake top secret file that names him as Special Agent Chakrapani. While he goes about his daily crimes, the crooks are after him and the cops are watching the shenanigans. But eventually things come to a proper masala conclusion, albeit one with a couple of surprises.

While Telugu mass films are all about the hero, one of the things I enjoy most about Jebu Donga is that Chiru’s character is not as much in control as he thinks he is. He reacts to the confusing succession of attacks and rescues but has no idea why some things are happening. He tries to beat Bhanupriya’s character to a heist but ends up losing his trousers – don’t panic, it is all quite family friendly. Radha appears as a woman from Chakrapani’s past and Chitti is unable to say no to her. And the police manipulate him so easily. He does have to do his bit to save everyone at the end of the film, but he is not the usual know-it-all lone hero.

Chiranjeevi makes the most of his role, adding a dash of levity to the fight scenes as well as flirting up a storm. I looked over my notes from watching the film and at one point I have just written “Jeep! Whips! Leaping!”  Chitti is a good person apart from being a thief, and he helps out where he can. One of his robberies even helped a reluctant bride escape an unwanted marriage. He has what might be a sister and younger brother (Shanmukha Srinivas) as well as his mother to provide for, and pretends to them that he is a labourer doing honest work. The songs are a real highlight, and not always just for the outfits. I love Rajaloo Rajalakshmi where Chiru steals Bhanupriya’s clothes while she is bathing.

His dancing is uninhibited and cheeky (even including a bit of snake style), and once she finds something to wear she dishes it up in equal measure.

I’m not so sure about his wardrobe choices. The double denim and highpants are a symptom of the late 80s but I really do not get the sleeveless skivvy.

Bhanupriya’s character is a bit ditzy although she exhibits competence in her chosen field of cons and theft.  While Chiru is relatively plainly dressed, she wears some outrageous outfits and more than holds her own in the dances. I’m not sure how she is related to Chitti but when she falls for him it feels more as though they have been meant for each other for a while but are only now admitting there is an attraction. And where many a filmi heroine has to be rescued, she does her share of saving him too. She knows she is smart and sees no reason to let the slightly dim but charming Chitti overrule her.

Radha’s character is the real secret agent. I think she tells Chitti that he is a perfect lookalike for the deceased Chakrapani and he cannot resist her helpless female act. He should have been alerted when her dream sequence song turned up looking like this! She is smart, runs her own operation although her dad is one of the CBI officers using Chiru, and she has firm views on what needs to be done. Like Bhanupriya, she will accept help but she doesn’t always wait around for it to materialise.

All good heroes need a bad villain. Raghuavaran is the sleazy Peter, the main man who runs operations  for the completely insane Kannada Prabhakar. I always like a bit of megalomaniacal set design and sadly that is where Jebu Donga fails me. Peter lives in a respectably glossy mansion decorated with portraits of himself and masses of horrible modern sculptures while the bad guy HQ is a simple rustic camp. Not quite up to the Mogambo gold standard despite the impressive commitment to training shown by the minions. Most of the thugs wear that pale blue or mauve, but there are special colour coded sets as well as some plain clothes goons. Satyanarayana and Gollapudi are actually lots of fun as the police masterminds. They amble around, two portly middle aged gents who giggle like school girls as they watch the drama ebb and flow around their hapless helper. They also have some odd little flashbacks to what I think are Gollapudi’s terrible ideas for going undercover.

Chakravarthy’s soundtrack  borrows from Mr India, Michael Jackson and who knows what else. It’s all great fun, largely due to the enthusiasm of Chiranjeevi and Bhanupriya. And for once, the ladies get the sequins and lycra while Chiru dresses relatively conservatively.

I always have reasonable expectations of a Chiranjeevi/A Kodandarami Reddy film. There will be heroics, fights, dances, romance, eyeball melting colour and movement and almost no traces of logic. Jebu Donga delivers and shows Chiru in a more comedic, blundering hero role. Chitti may be a bit thick but Chiru knows exactly what he is doing and how to wring maximum entertainment from his material. The movie is available on YouTube. If you’re wondering, I deliberately chose the upload with the most offensive watermarks. Dear Reader, if you know anyone at that poxy company, please gently slap some sense, or at least some shame at defacing a film, into them.  Well worth seeing for the excellent cast and the frothy material. 3 ½ stars!

I will leave you with a Megabirthday Masala Multiple Choice Quiz. Please examine the following image.

Jebu-Donga-Quiz

Which of the following happens next?

  1. Evil Overlord makes crippled dance-obsessed Shanmukha Srinivas dance (a bit like Basanti in Sholay)
  2. Chiru, tied up and dangling in mid-air, escapes by breaking the trees from which he is dangling
  3. A Ma is terrorised by being given an unwanted haircut
  4. Radha kicks the bejesus out of about 47 bad guys
  5. Someone is so determined to detonate a bomb that he sets himself on fire and rolls across a clearing to ignite the fuse
  6. What do you mean which of the following? That’s a rookie question. All of the above, of course!

Autonagar Surya

Autonagar Surya

Deva Katta’s Autonagar Surya doesn’t seem to know quite what it wants to be and as a result ends up as a disappointing muddle.  There are elements of a message film with the ‘one man against the system’ storyline, but at the same time the film attempts a broader social commentary while following a standard mass entertainer formula – including the obligatory romance and fight scenes.   There is little of the subtlety Deva Katta brought to Prasthanam and the additions of Brahmi and Venu Madhav with a woeful comedy track certainly don’t help.  After watching the more recent Manam, where Chaitanya displayed improved acting maturity, it’s disappointing to watch his uneven performance here, particularly since the film focuses heavily on his character. In fact the best performances come from the support cast, including Surya’s group of friends and the assorted thugs and villains, but despite their best efforts they’re not enough to make Autonagar Surya more than a one time watch.

Autonagar Surya

The film starts off well enough – if a little on the violent side.  After an initial parade and explosion, where Chaitanya’s Surya is blasted into the sky like a cheap rocket, there is a flashback to explain who he is and how he got to be a human firework.  The young Surya is orphaned when an obnoxious thug detrains his parents when they try to intervene in a rape.  Surya ends up being brought up by his uncle (Sai Kumar) who has little time for the orphan as he thoroughly disapproved of his parent’s marriage, and Surya moves in with the auto mechanic opposite.  Cut to a few years later where Surya has grown up to develop an interest in all things mechanical and demonstrates an accompanying bad fashion sense.  Although to be fair, so do his friends too.  So far so good then, until he gets on the wrong side of the local union boss and ends up in jail for murder.

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This turns out to have been a blessing in disguise, since while in jail Surya manages to study for a degree in engineering.  On his release, after a seemingly short time (5 years for murder?), he pressures his friends into helping him build a battery powered car.  However the union is still in power and worse still, his uncle is now the elected president and still has no time for his nephew (not his niece as suggested by the subtitles!).  However Surya has the hope of the downtrodden and a powerful vocabulary on his side.  With the help of his friends he decides to tackle the union thugs, but despite all his speechifying and rhetoric he basically employs their dubious tactics of fighting, kidnap and intimidation to achieve his aims.

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Sticking to the formula, there is a romance between Surya and his uncle’s daughter Siri (Samantha).  Samantha looks beautiful and has a couple of good scenes where she gets to explore her comedic side, but mostly she has frustratingly little to do. The love story is really only an excuse for a couple of forgettable songs with dull choreography and is dealt the death knell by a distinct lack of chemistry between Chaitanya and Samantha.  They seem to be more like best mates rather than lovers, and that probably would have made a more believable storyline too.

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There are many fight scenes, particularly in the second half, which tend to be on the grisly side with plenty of spouting blood and the odd limb or two flying around.  The graphic fights seem to be at odds with Surya’s more intellectual dialogue relating to the human condition and it just doesn’t add up that such a technical and generally rational genius should also be a competent and vicious fighter. Chaitanya also doesn’t quite look the part, as he seems too young, and just not angry enough to be the classic ‘angry young man’ that I think Deva Katta wants to portray. Generally there is an overall lack of passion which makes Surya’s revolutionary speeches and rabble rousing dialogues fall somewhat flat.  It’s so frustrating when Naga Chaitanya has demonstrated that he can be much better than this.  At least the union thugs all know exactly what they are doing and why, so the various atrocities carried out by the gang fit more easily into the mass formula.  Ajay is particularly effective as one of the main villains, and it’s good to see him in a more protracted role.  Jayaprakash Reddy is a little too subdued, but is otherwise fine and Madhu impresses as an exceptionally evil mayor.

Autonagar Surya

While the first half shows some interesting potential, the second half drags and shows Surya to be just as vindictive and violent as the thugs he is trying to replace.  The good ideas introduced at the beginning seem to be submerged beneath repetitive fights, numerous references to RGV’s Shiva, and oddly placed songs.  Maybe I expected too much from Deva Katta after Prasthanam, but Autonagar Surya doesn’t come close to his previous film, despite the good ideas at the start.  Overall Autonagar Surya is disappointing on many levels, although does warrant a look for the excellent support cast and some impressive sets.

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!