Gudachari 116 (1967)

Long before Mithun Chakraborty squeezed himself into those tight white flares to play Gunmaster G9 in Suraksha, Superstar Krishna was the suave and debonair Agent 116 in this Bond-inspired tale of secret agents, evil villains and a fiendish plot against India. Or at least so I deduce, given that this was another adventure without subtitles. There are elements from a number of early Bond films, but Gudachari 116 seems to be very loosely based on Dr No with a few other classic sixties motifs that pop up from time to time. This was the first of Krishna’s forays into the spy genre and while it’s nowhere near as over the top as his later film James Bond 777 or other Hindi spy films I’ve seen, there are still a few fabulous moments and plenty of recognisable references to the Bond films.

Agent Gopi (Krishna), better known by his code number 116, is a typical James Bond character. He’s smooth and successful with the ladies, possible due to his natty collection of cardigans, sports coats and leisure shirts. (This may also explain some of his son Mahesh’s multi-layering and accessorising style).

However he has to leave his singing, dancing and romancing in the hills when news of Agent 303’s rather theatrical death reaches the head of their intelligence agency.

Agent 303 (Shobhan Babu) was shadowing a gang of men who were attempting to blow up a bridge. After foiling their plan, he managed to take pictures of the gang and their getaway car, thus ensuring he could track them down at a later date and find the boss of their organisation. Obviously this information is of critical importance for the security of the nation, but the intelligence agency seems to be operating on a tight budget so he drops off his pictures to the local camera store to be developed before visiting his sister.

Missions of national importance run a poor second to familial obligations for Agent 303, which mean that he is killed before passing on the information about the gang to his superiors. Gopi’s mission is to find the photographs, identify the bad guys and stop their plans to destroy India. Just in case that seemed to be rather a lot for a single man to accomplish, he does have a number of fancy gadgets and the somewhat dubious assistance of local man on the spot Simhachalan (Relangi Venkataramaiah) and his merry band of helpers.

On the way to his meet-up with Simhachalan, Agent 116 runs into the beautiful Miss Radha (Jayalalitha) and starts up a brief flirtation with her on the plane. However Radha is the daughter of Agent 116’s chief suspect for the role of evil mastermind behind the bombings which, luckily for Gopi, means that their friendship can be cultivated as part of his mission. Gopi ends up at Radha’s birthday party where he plays the piano for her in this song which reminds me of the Chordettes classic. I love the rather Christmassy decorations for her birthday which almost get tangled up with the backing dancers and the dancing couple in the bottle on top of the piano.

Simhachalan has given Gopi two of his men to help his investigation and they provide most of the comedy side-plot which as usual doesn’t add much to the proceedings. Ramana Reddy and Rajababu do however manage to provide Gopi with some assistance and with the aid of some helium balloons, a hidden microphone and of course a little phone tapping, Agent 116 discovers that Radha’s father (Rajanala) is only a front for the real villain.

Agent 303’s sister also gets involved in the action as Radha’s father convinces her that he is the police officer in charge of her brother’s murder case and enlists her help to trap Gopi. This involves her attempting to seduce Gopi in his hotel room by dancing and then drugging him before handing him over to the gang. He looks rather puzzled by her advances, although that may just be the combination of the wallpaper and the pictures which is rather overpowering. Gopi ends up in a rather drab and utilitarian secret hideout with a man intent on frying his brains as a means of extracting information from him but in true super-spy fashion quickly turns the tables and extracts some information himself.

The plot gets more convoluted as Radha is kidnapped by the evil mastermind’s men to force her father’s continued co-operation with their plans and Gopi tries to rescue Agent 303’s sister while foiling the plans of the real villain. These plans are never really clear but seem to involve a rather large factory and a team of scientists making poisonous gas for some nefarious purpose. The boss, a rather sinister Chinese-looking villain, communicates with a series of gestures rather than by using actual words so perhaps his main henchmen are all telepathic and therefore no description of the plot is needed.

Overall, Gudachari 116 keeps to the spy/action story without too many deviations into cheap special effects or ridiculous leaps of faith. The interiors are wonderfully decorated with some amazing wallpaper and curtain combinations and there are plenty of chandeliers making an appearance. In comparison the outfits are rather restrained (at least in comparison to the Hindi remake Farz) and Radha appears elegant and stylish in a number of beautiful saris. Gopi and the various other main characters are also all very dapper and it’s only the gang of hired thugs who appear in outlandish shirts and scarves.

There are one or two instances where obviously model cars and planes get blown up, but mainly the effects are limited to radio receivers disguised as books and knock-out gas in a cigarette lighter which seem fairly plausible. Perhaps the most incredible invention is a method of restoring burnt paper back to its original pristine condition and retaining the written message but everything else is within the realm of possibility (at least for a secret agent).

The songs are another highpoint and the music by T. Chalapathi Rao seems to suit the general sixties ambience. This is probably the best – a fusion of traditional music and rock and roll that lets Jayalalitha show off a number of dance styles.

Gudachari 116 has a convincing storyline written by Arudra with much influence from Ian Fleming and the Bond film franchise, and is capably directed by M. Mallikharjuna Rao to give an entertaining spy adventure. Krishna is excellent as Agent 116 and the role of the sophisticated spy suits him well. Despite the lack of subtitles and an occasional unfunny ‘comedy’ scene I really enjoyed this film and I’d recommend it as an excellent take on the spy genre. 4stars.

Temple says:

This is the first of Superstar Krishna’s Bond style forays and I don’t think he had quite hit his stride in terms of the balance of serious spy action and parody that the later films do so  much better. The Bond of Ian Fleming and that of (most of) the films are quite different characters, and this film sort of falls between the two. At times it was a bit closer to Get Smart than any credible spy thriller as the low tech gadgetry was so badly made that I could have done better with a shoe box and a couple of bits of wire!

The lead actors are good and Krishna fits the suave man of the world style. His knitwear was horrifying, but it was the late 60s so I am just thankful the film is in black and white. Apart from the instantly recognisable ears, he also seems to have passed on some of his dance mojo to his son, as that lanky frame and the laid back style was very familiar. Jayalalitha is a feisty heroine and some of her outfits are very eye-catching indeed, so she earned her screen time. The comic sideplot is bad enough, but Ramana Reddy’s hamming is the last straw. He really is terrible and I have grown to loathe the very sight of him.

The music is a real mish-mash. There are fragments of the Addams Family theme used at dramatic moments (more comic than dramatic for me). There are hillside cavorting love duets as well as a blend of 60s rock n roll with whatever else took their fancy. It’s entertaining even if the choices are bewildering!

The story is not particularly credible or thrilling as it is bog standard ‘good guy against ill defined villain’ and the pace is very slow, especially considering national security is at stake.  I enjoyed this mostly for the retro charm, excellent visual excesses, and the very entertaining songs.  I greatly prefer James Bond 777 (which is available on Youtube), which has a fab funky soundtrack and a gang of bank robbing dogs that compensated for the plotholes. Gudachari 116 is nice to look at, but you could just watch the songs and skip the narrative and you would still get a feel for the style of the film. I don’t think I would re-watch this, while other films in the spy caper genre have become favourites. 3 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!


This 1963 classic has an exceptional cast, featuring NTR, Savitri and SV Ranga Rao, under the lively direction of Kamalakara Kameshwara Rao. Narthanasala renders a chapter of the Mahabharata in an accessible and highly entertaining style. The story as shown concentrates on the Pandavas efforts to serve out the 13th year of their exile, and how they deal with their tribulations. I’m sure there are many versions of this tale and this screenplay no doubt varies from those in some ways. My knowledge of the Mahabharata is basic, but all the information you need to know to enjoy Narthanasala is contained within the film, so don’t let that be an obstacle.

Arjuna is honoured by Indra, but manages to tick off Urvashi (Padmini Priyadarshini) when he rejects her advances.  She curses him to become a eunuch. I cannot blame her for being mislead after watching him watching her in this dance:

And she looks furious!

The curse is mitigated somewhat by a time limitation granted in recognition of Arjuna’s essential manly goodness. This coincides with the 13th year of exile when the Pandavas must take refuge in a kingdom and remain anonymous for that final year. The set up of the characters and how they would conceal their identities was simply done in a conversation that pretty much spells out who’s who. There are spies and lures set to draw the Pandavas into the open, and the cat and mouse game with Duryodhana adds an edge of tension to the waiting game.

Dharmaraju (Mikkilineni Radhakrishna Murthy) is occupied as an advisor to King Viraat, and has little free time to spend with his brothers and wife.  The twins Nakula and Sahadeva work with the livestock and are absent most of the time. This leaves Draupadi (Savitri), Arjuna (NTR) and Bhima (Olympic wrestler Dandamudi Rajagopal) on centre stage.

Draupadi is beautiful and deceptively delicate looking. Her husbands make a big deal of her having to undertake manual labour, but she is more resilient than they are in some respects. Although usually deferential to her husbands, when she needs to stand up for herself she leaves no doubt as to the consequences of drawing her anger.  Calling herself Malini she goes to work as a ladies maid and beautician for Queen Sudheshna (Sandhya). She pleads with the queen that she be protected from tasks such as being sent off to entertain strange men and serve in other households, and Sudheshna agrees. Draupadi’s awareness of her vulnerability is clear, and despite her efforts she does attract unwanted attention.

How she attempts to deflect and ultimately stop this harassment is the main focus of the drama, and she tries many approaches before demanding her husbands step in. Krishna intervenes when called upon, but the solution lies with the human characters. Draupadi’s affection for Arjuna gives their complex life a strong emotional core, and their scenes had an element of romance that her interactions with the other husbands didn’t. She has a rare laugh when talking to him about their son. Savitri is, as I have come to expect, excellent in a role that demands both high emotion and restraint.

Arjuna is transformed into Bruhannala. He takes up the position as dance teacher to Uttara (L Vijayalakshmi) and embraces accessorising. He should have had those dance lessons as while Bruhannala’s expressions are flawless, his dance steps are not quite as graceful.

NTR looked knowing and effeminate as the eunuch, always slyly amused at fooling everyone around him. It falls to him to come up with the scheme to keep Draupadi from harm and to keep the Pandavas safe until the end of their exile.

The stolen conversations between him and Draupadi have an undertone of longing. When they touch there is chemistry; Arjuna, the husband missing his wife, is suddenly visible despite the fripperies of Bruhannala. When NTR re-appears as Arjuna he is quite regal although maintains the air of amusement. His scenes with Uttarakumar in the chariot are fun and he enjoys the consternation caused by his transition from Bruhannala back to Arjuna. It’s a warm, appealing performance, and the knowing looks to camera drew me into the asides and secrets.

Arjuna is more philosophical about Draupadi’s situation and is prepared to manage each crisis as it happens. Bhima cannot contain his fury; he just wants to tear Keechaka apart.

He knows his own flaws and is guided by the more calculating Arjuna and Dharmaraju’s sense of justice. His powerful physique is an asset to the family but may also be the thing that gives them away. There wasn’t a lot of subtlety needed for this performance, but it wasn’t just posturing and roaring.

SV Ranga Rao is Keechaka, the queen’s larger than life brother, a jovial bully. His inability to control his lust does more than threaten Draupadi. It also jeopardises the safety of all the Pandavas who may not maintain their disguises under such insult, and threatens the kingdom as he forces the queen to give Malini over to him. He is literally blinded by desire.

How else could he mistake Bhima for Draupadi? His performance is excellent as he manages to be likeable and hateful. I was cheering when he got his just deserts.

Relangi Venkata Ramaiah (a.k.a the ‘Clap Your Hands Behind Your Back guy’ from Mayabazar) is lots of fun as the pompous, cowardly but endearing Uttarakumar. He has delusions of being a great warrior and leader, and his preening and posturing amuses me as much as it does the Pandavas. He is followed around by his attendants, one of whom is Allu Ramalingaiah with perfect but unobtrusive comic timing. Uttarakumar is nice to his sister, and never gets angry or mean with the cooks despite their unfortunate comedic tendencies, so I like him.

L Vijayalakshmi is perfect as his sister Uttara. I really enjoy watching her dance and she has a sprightly, flirty, quality that enhances the role. She and Abhimanyu have a romantic subplot but really her purpose seems to be dancing and being decorative. This is only the third film I have seen her in, and I hope to find a few more.

The songs (original music by Susarla Dakshinamurthi) blend into the story and I wish they had been subtitled, as often they are used for exposition or introductions. The dancing is lovely, and the sets and costumes are opulent.  The decorations are extravagant and yet allow the performers to be the focal point. It’s also a ripping good story, and the pace of the direction matches the tempo of the drama to perfection. It’s just gorgeous.

4 ½ stars! (a small deduction for too many squeaky comedy cooks in the kitchen)

Heather says: Narthanasala is just delightful to watch. The film’s all star cast are excellent and the sets and costumes are fabulous. Since I’m not very sure about all the characters in this part of the Mahabharata, I really appreciate the opening scenes where everyone introduces themselves and explains who they are, the alias they are going to assume and what they are going to do for their time in exile. Very helpful.

The stand out performance for me is by NTR. He is excellent as Arjuna in the film’s opening scenes and his transformation into the eunuch dancing teacher Bruhannala is brilliant. It’s not just the delivery of his lines or his posture, but his whole demeanour which changes, and he is wonderfully feminine. He also has the best costumes and totally awesome eyelashes! This looked like such a fun role to play and NTR had the right amount of playfulness and hauteur to make it work.

Savitri is as beautiful as ever although I was a little confused about her character as Malini. Since they were supposed to be in hiding it seemed rather odd that she would say that she had 5 husbands and needed shelter for a year. Surely that gave the game away as to who she really was? It didn’t seem to be a requirement of their exile since none of the other characters seemed to reveal quite as much about their identity. However, I only have a very limited knowledge of the Mahabharata, so this could just be an essential part of the original. The film drags a little in the middle while waiting for Draupadi’s rescue from the funeral pyre, but the previous scene with Bhima in drag pretending to be Malini was excellent. Dandamudi Rajagopal is very good in his portrayal of Bhima/Valala and as a professional wrestler he certainly looks the part. Unlike Temple, I love the minions in his kitchen who I think are really very funny, always fighting and squabbling and behaving more like troublesome children. The comedy with Uttarakumar is very well done as well, in particular the scenes with Arjuna when he goes out to fight the Kauravas

The dancing is lovely and although the fight scenes were quite stylised they are enjoyable to watch. I loved this line from the battle between the Kauravas and Arjuna towards the end “He greets the elders with his arrows. That is what makes him so adorable!” And NTR was! I really enjoyed this film – 4 ½ stars.