Navarathri

Navarathri-Savitri in Navarathri

Savitri starred in both the 1964 Tamil Navrathri (dir. A.P Nagarajan) and the 1966 Telugu remake (dir. Tatineni Ramarao) and she is lovely as ever. What makes it particularly difficult to choose one over the other film is her leading men – Sivaji Ganesan (1964) and Akkineni Nageswara Rao (1966) – who each bring their own style to the proceedings. So I won’t pick.

That is so pretty with the Golu, the girls dancing and their sarees. The Telugu song is a bit more sparkly so I always pick that one.

Savitri is Nalina (Tamil) or Radha (Telugu). I’m going to just refer to her as Savitri throughout. After that lovely happy song, Savitri is told her father has fixed her marriage. She is already in love, and has no idea that her dad has unwittingly accepted a proposal from her boyfriend. Oh the drama. She runs to see the boy, only to be told he has gone to get married. She runs away, unable to face life as another man’s wife. Her character spends 9 nights wandering. She encounters different characters, all played by the leading man, who represent different aspects of human behaviour and emotion. These are named slightly differently in each film so I will just list them by night.

The film is more of an allegory than a realistic portrayal. Despite having lots of detail presented about who these men are, there is not a lot of depth to all the characters. The actors focus on the key emotion of the episode rather than trying to create nuances. Sivaji Ganesan is charismatic and is always instantly recognisable in this tour de force. ANR is generally better suited to low-key roles, but he also plays the various men as types. It is highly entertaining and stylised.

Night 1. A flamboyant widower interrupts Savitri as she contemplates suicide and drags her back to his house. Both ANR and Sivaji played this character as an eccentric, lonely man. The widower is devoted to his dead wife and little daughter (played by Kutty Padmini in both versions, I think). When compared flounce for flounce, there is little to separate the actors in this episode. I kept thinking of Snagglepuss.

Night 2. Tricked by a brothel madam, Savitri has to fend off a drunkard with a sob story. Savitri is determined, fierce and has a good throwing arm. Sivaji played this role as a wild eyed, plaid pants wearing letch with mood swings. ANR did a gorgeous self-parody as a self-pitying Devdas and for that, he wins my vote.

Night 3. Picked up by the police, Savitri is taken to a mental hospital. Both actors play the doctor as gently considerate and interested in why she was faking madness. I enjoyed ANR’s reactions to Savitri’s odd gesticulations and speeches. Sivaji is more of a generic saint in a white wig. Placed in a ward with several other women exhibiting different manias, Savitri joins in the various set pieces each inmate delivers and their song and dance medley. The Telugu patients (including Suryakantam, Chhaya Devi, Jamuna and Jayalalithaa) are funny and energetic, and I recognised most of the songs they used so I enjoyed their section a lot.  Manorama features in the Tamil film where the dancing and singing is more subdued but still fun. I’m usually averse to using the mentally ill as comedy fodder, but there was something good-natured and kind in this episode that helped me put my qualms aside.

Night 4. Frightened that the police had come for her, Savitri runs again. She meets a lurking gunman, out for revenge against the men who tortured and killed his brother. Savitri tries to persuade him to stop but he is killed by his enemies. It’s his character who has the most obvious demons to fight in this Navarathri. Both ANR and Sivaji play him with swagger and bluster. ANR had a little more vulnerability while Sivaji showed more of the wounded pride and ferocity. Both died spectacularly and both had to deal with interesting makeup and costumes. I guess it depends on whether you prefer a stripy t-shirt or a stripy lungi.

Night 5. Savitri contemplates suicide again. She is saved by a kindly villager and his sister who worry that she had been possessed by an evil spirit. A comedy conman arrives to fleece her poor but honest benefactors and Savitri decides to give him a taste of his own medicine. Nagesh originated the role in the Tamil verison while Relangi played in the Telugu film. I prefer Relangi in almost any role to Nagesh in most things! I think ANR does poor man with heart of gold so very well.  For this section, the Telugu film is the winner for me.

Night 6. Savitri sees an old man crawling along a path and goes to help. A formerly rich man, he is now a leper and shunned by all his family and associates. Savitri doesn’t let her revulsion at his physical state stop her from behaving with compassion and integrity. I really like that at around this stage in the movie, Savitri has stopped just passively absorbing help and is not only thinking about how to sort out her own life but is actively supporting other people. The makeup department were a bit more effective in 1966, and ANR does vulnerability so well. The Telugu film gets my points for this episode.

Night 7. A theatrical company is in need for an actress after theirs elopes. Savitri agrees to help them and the play goes on. I don’t think anyone can beat Sivaji Ganesan in Ye Historical Outfits and he looks like he has a ball in this turn as the rural actor/director. ANR is very good and his dancing has a higher comedy value, but the portentous dialogues flow so nicely in the Tamil film. Savitri is lovely in both films as she matches her leading man step for step.

Night 8. Whoever thought either of these men should wear short shorts should be given a severe talking to. Playing a policeman playing a hunter ANR and Sivaji both opt for a braying laugh, military bluff heartiness and those shorts. I think they used the same footage of the tiger in both films. Savitri masquerades as a man. She is not even slightly convincing, but her expressions are funny and her Telugu characterisation is enjoyably pompous. I think Sivaji’s shorts are both more terrifying (baggy, poor camera angles) and hilarious (baggy, poor camera angles). The Tamil film is a little more dramatic and better paced at this stage so I prefer that.

Night 9. In which we discover that intended groom/disappearing boyfriend Anand or Venu (Telugu) is of course Sivaji or ANR. Savitri has nice rapport with both actors and the reconciliation scenes were both funny and heartfelt by turn.  The wedding goes ahead and all the ‘other men’ turn up (except the dead gunman). Happiness prevails!

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I slightly prefer the Telugu soundtrack by Chalapathi Rao T as it is a little more filmi and festive but the songs in the Tamil film are quite soulful so it does depend on my mood. I have the Telugu DVD with subtitles but have only seen the Tamil film without (it’s on Youtube). The stories are identical but of course, the dialogues will differ somewhat. Despite having different directors, there are only differences in a few scenes. It’s interesting to see so little of the second director in the remake – when I first saw the films I assumed AP Nagarajan did both.

I have some minor doubts. How did Savitri keep finding new sarees with impeccably tailored blouses? And she seemed to be wandering in circles yet no one could find her. But nothing detracted from enjoying her journey and her realisation that she could go home and be happy.

I really like both films, and have rewatched them a couple of times. Savitri is brilliant as Nalina/Radha and despite the focus being on the men, her performance is varied and her characterisation develops beautifully. Both Sivaji and ANR are in fine form and make the task of playing nine roles seem effortless. Choose your favourite cast, choose on language, choose the songs you like most, choose your own adventure! 4 stars!

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Mooga Manasulu (1963)

Mooga Manasulu-title

Mooga Manasulu is a reincarnation romance directed by Adurthi Subba Rao and starring Savitri and Akkineni Nageswara Rao. Some time ago I asked around for reincarnation film recommendations, and several people mentioned Milan (Hindi, 1967). While tracking that down, I discovered Mooga Manasulu is the original. I slightly prefer the Telugu original to the Hindi remake although I like both films. The music by K V Mahadevan is just lovely and I think the cast has a small edge over their Hindi counterparts.

I seem to have a higher melodrama tolerance in reincarnation films. Perhaps it is because the core theme allows that the end is not the end so even if tragic events occur, there is still a chance for characters to have the life they deserve or at least get a do over.  When I know the outcome of a story I tend to focus more on the characters and how they get to that resolution. Mooga Manasulu’s strength is in the lead actors and their characterisations, some determined forays into scenery chewing notwithstanding. I do find the acting a little dated and stylised, but that is the same when I watch most films from the 50s and 60s in any language.

The film starts with newlyweds Gopi (ANR) and Radha (Savitri) leaving for their honeymoon. En route Gopi has flashbacks and recognises landmarks. His past comes back in a rush and he narrates the story to Radha, also present in that past life. So in effect, it starts with a happy ending and that helped tide me through. They meet Gauri (Jamuna) who had played such a role in their past, and is now an old woman waiting for death. The story shifts to the past and we relive the love triangle. ANR has a nice rapport with both actresses and it was easy to empathise with the three characters over their circumstance if not their actions.

Mooga Manasulu-Gopi and GowriMooga Manasulu-ANR and Savitri

ANR looks every inch the middle class city boy in his modern life, and is charming if a bit over the top as past life Gopi. The present day frames the core events so Gopi the orphan boatman is the central figure. He is simple, occasionally verging on stupid as is often the case when ‘simplicity’ is being portrayed. But by and large ANR doesn’t overdo the wide eyed naivete too much. There is a clear difference between Gopi playing dumb to irritate Gauri and Gopi being genuinely clueless. He is argumentative and brotherly with Gauri, showing an affectionate but not romantic interest. Gopi is keenly aware of the gulf between himself and Radha but has an innocent idealistic love for her. They sing together and he presents her with a flower every day. He might pine for years after she marries, but he has no genuine expectation of being the groom.

Mooga Manasulu-SavitriMooga Manasulu-Radha and Rambabu

Savitri is Radha. She is a very proper young lady but she has a definite personality and doesn’t take nonsense from swoony college boys.I enjoyed Savitri’s facial expressions when her suitor Rambabu was waxing lyrical about letting her win a singing competition. Her response – do what you like, I’ll win it anyway. Savitri maintains a sweetly neutral facial expression while often her eyes tell a different story. In many ways Radha is the initiator in her largely imaginary relationship with Gopi. She steals his food, she buys him clothes and sits on the floor with him. She knows the rules and decides which ones to break. Her love for him is more romantic where his affection is idealised and a bit abstract.

In song fantasies she imagines Gopi surrounded by balloons – that can only be love! But she does as her family wishes, and marries and moves away (ferried, of course, by Gopi). When she returns she is a widow and Gopi is devastated that her life has taken such a turn.

Mooga Manasulu-marriedMooga Manasulu-leaving home

Mooga Manasulu-double the woe

I tried to be sympathetic but the reactions of Gopi to Radha’s misfortune and her grief at his horror were just a bit too much. But it is a melodrama. Their closeness is the talk of town and that is bad news for all.

Mooga Manasulu-Jamuna as GauriMooga Manasulu-Gauri looks after Gopi

Thank heavens for Jamuna as at least someone could dance a bit to the wonderful songs. (Reincarnation does nothing to improve my low montage and weepy duet tolerance.) Gauri is determined to marry Gopi and had things gone to plan, she would have. Jamuna is occasionally grating as Gauri is so loud and childish but like Gopi, a lot of her acting up is done for effect. She does have a sensitive side and seems more of a young woman and less of a silly girl when Gopi is beaten up and needs care. Gauri is also the object of lust for Radha’s uncle Rajendra (Nagabhushanam) and he is not fussy about whether she consents or not. She had no luck at all with the men in her life, and her decision making was not always helpful. Her impulsiveness inadvertently brings doom upon Gopi and Radha, and she cannot stop the backlash. Gauri is overshadowed by the connection between Gopi and Radha, yet her role is pivotal and Jamuna really holds her own. In fact, she went on to reprise the role in the Hindi version along with Sunil Dutt and Nutan.

While there are lashings of impassioned dialogues, there is also a strong visual language underscoring the events too. There are recurring motifs of lamps, flames and lights that recall the momentary flickering that is a human lifespan.

Mooga Manasulu-sorrowMooga Manasulu-misery

Some things are shown rather than told – when Radha pinches Gopi’s tiffin instead of her own as a means of putting herself closer to him. And it is just so pretty to look at. Whoever was in charge of boats had their hands full as in the background of almost every scene there are sailboats gliding along the Godavari. Gopi tells Radha that the Godavari is his mother and will always carry him safely in her hands. There is a drowning in the film, and while the actual scene is a bit clumsy and not at all convincing or perilous looking, it resonates with the constant presence of the river in the characters’ lives.

Mooga Manasulu-Radhas family

The support cast are minor in terms of characterisation although they do instigate some key incidents. I did enjoy Suryakantham’s turn as the not very wicked stepmother.

Mooga Manasulu-Gopi and RadhaMooga Manasulu-balloons

The soundtrack by K V Mahadevan  is delightful and suits the mood and characters perfectly. I couldn’t locate subtitles for the songs but from all accounts the lyrics are still highly appreciated. The songs amplify what is happening in the drama rather than breaking from the narrative. The picturisations are lyrical and moody often enhancing the feeling of impending disaster.

See this for the excellent lead trio,  if you like your melodrama laid on with a trowel, or the notion of recalling a past life appeals. 3 ½ stars! (Deductions for excessive Nahiin Face)

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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.