Blast from the past: Bhookailas (1940)


M.V. Subbiah Naidu, R. Nagendra Rao, R. Subramanyam, Master Viswam, M. Sathyanarayana, P. Ramachandra Rao, Lakshmi Bai, Hymavathi, Kamala Bai, Parvathi Bai.

A V. Meiyappan Chettiar might have thought that he was standing for national integration when he launched Bhookailas with actors and technicians from different regions. But the Telugu film distributors had a different opinion on its quality and did not come forward to buy the movie. At one stage Meiyappan who had lost heavily in his first two Tamil productions, Alli Arjuna and Nanda Kumar toyed with the idea of selling the rights of Bhookailas to whatever amount he gets. But better sense prevailed and he hired an old theatre in Bezawada and released it. The movie caught up with the audience by word of mouth and Meiyappan finally tasted his first big success.

Made under Saraswati Cine Film Laboratories, Madras banner, Bhookailas was an adaptation of the stage play by the Kannada drama company, Sri Sahitya Samrajya (SSS) Nataka Mandali of Mysore. Meiyappan felt the drama would click as a movie in Telugu and bought the rights. He retained most of the actors from the drama troupe except for Bala Ganapathi role that went to the lone Telugu actor in the film, Master Viswam. The director was Sunder Rao Nadkarni, the cinematographer Adi Irani from Bombay. Balijepalli Lakshmikantha Kavi wrote the lyrics and dialogue. His simple prose contributed to the film's success.

Ravana (M.V. Subbaiah Naidu) vows to his mother Kaikesi (Parvathi Bai) that he would bring the ‘athma lingam' from Lord Shiva (R. Subramanyam). Narada (R. Nagendra Rao) plots to avert it. Pleased with Ravana's penance that stretches to a few seasons, Lord Shiva and Parvathi (Hymavathi) appear before him. When Ravana was about to ask Shiva the ‘athma lingam,' Vishnu Maya (Kamala Bai) enters into his body and Ravana instead asks for the hand of Parvathi saying, ‘ Neevu Sanyasivi…Smasanamlo Vunde neeku Inthati Soundarya rasi yenduku… Lankadheesudi pattamahishi ayi sarva sukhaalu anubhavinchaka…' Shiva grants his wish. But Narada plays his part and Ravana ends up marrying Mandodari (Lakshmi Bai) daughter of Mayasura (M. Sathyanarayana). When he returnshome, Ravana realises his folly and goes back to seek pardon from Shiva and Parvathi. Shiva gives him ‘athma lingam' and tells him not to put it on earth before reaching Lanka. Bala Ganapathi (Master Viswam) plays his part and he puts it down on the sea shore when Ravana asks him to hold it till he completes his evening ‘sandhyavandanam' ritual.

Ravana makes a futile attempt to lift the siva lingam. Shiva appears before him and says the place will be henceforth known as ‘Bhookailasam.' The movie ends with a placard that it is the present day Gokarna-Mahabaleswar. A five minute short film on Shivarathri festival in Gokarna was shown as an added attraction at the end.

Though it was a stage adoption, Sunder Rao Nadkarni's deft handling as an editor-director leaves no trace of it. He was supported with brilliant camerawork (Adi Irani) and opulent sets (art director V.M. Vaturkar). The make- up was done by Bhaurao Datal.

M.V. Subbaiah Naidu, R. Nagendra Rao and Lakshmi Bai had acted in the first Kannada talkie Sathi Sulochana (1934). R. Nagendra Rao composed its music too.

Subbaiah Naidu introduced to Kannada stage, the transfer of scene technology without downing the curtains and was the first to use dimmer lighting. He was also the first to introduce playback singing and dubbing in Kannada films with his production, Harischandra. His large frame and expressive eyes lent grace to his portrayal of Ravana in Bhookailas.

The multi-faceted R.Nagendra Rao had acted in a few Telugu films including Bhaktha Markandeya, Bhaktha Ramadasu and Santhosham and produced and directed Jathakaphalam (1954) and Premedaivam (1957).

Lakshmi Bai was a versatile singer and her rendition of Sumadoli…theli…haali…Uyyalo Jampala and the duet she sang along with Naidu Naa jeevithasa Idega… neekegaa…Premanandamaya… and Naa janma netiki Dhanyamayane were outstanding, while RNR's Maya Manovihaari… and Master Viswam's Mahadevuni Maha Mahimane grahimpa levaa… allure.

It was the first film to be shot at Meiappan's Pragathi Pictures Ltd studio that he founded renting the Admirality House, Mylapore, Madras. In the first half, the scenes on Narada and Ravana were shot at the famous Adyar Banyan tree in Theosophical Society and the climax was shot at Palavakkam beach.

In 1958, AVM remade Bhookailas with NTR, ANR, S.V. Rangarao, Jamuna and B. Saroja Devi. It was a big success too.

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Printable version | Nov 23, 2017 1:18:52 PM |