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Updated: February 25, 2012 20:47 IST

Blast From The Past: Sri Sita Rama Jananam (1944)

M . L. Narasimham
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Akkineni Nageswara Rao in 'Sri Sita Rama Jananam'
Akkineni Nageswara Rao in 'Sri Sita Rama Jananam'

Akkineni Nageswara Rao, Vemuri Gaggaiah, Balijepalli Lakshmikantham, B.N. Raju, T Venkateswarlu, Parupalli Satyanarayana, Parupalli Subbarao, Lanka Satyam, Kumpatla Subbarao, Tripurasundari, Kamala Kotnis, Rushyendramani, Annapurna, Sowdamini, Kamakshi, Chandrakala, T.G. Kamaladevi, Kumari Champa.

It was a hot summer morning in 1944. After successfully staging a social progressive play at Tenali, the Mudinepalli Excelsior Dramatic Association troupe, helmed by Dukkipati Madhusudana Rao and its stage director Koduru Achayya Chowdhary, was returning to Gudivada by the Madras-Puri Passenger.

As the train halted at Vijayawada, a middle aged stocky man, waiting on the platform to board the GT Express bound for Madras, had a chance glance at a lanky teenager in the troupe, sitting near the window.

The Madras-bound gentleman was producer-director Ghantasala Balaramaiah and the lanky teenager was Excelsior's lead actor in female roles, Akkineni Nageswara Rao (ANR).

Balaramaiah was planning his third mythology Sri Sita Rama Jananam and was in search of actors for the lead roles – Rama and Lakshmana. He instantly felt that the boy would fit into one of those roles. ANR himself once revealed that since he was taller than the other actor, B.N. Raju from Prodduturu, he was preferred for the lead role of Rama.

But he did not accept easily as both he and his elder brother, Akkineni Ramabrahmam were initially sceptical about a movie assignment due to an unhappy past experience.

After ANR's brief cameo in Dharmapatni (1939) as a child actor, Akkineni Ramabrahmam's efforts to get his brother a role in Gudavalli Ramabrahmam's Rythubidda did not fructify. Then again, despite being paid a monthly remuneration of Rs.25 for five months, ANR was not given an opportunity to face the camera for Kannamba and Kadaru Nagabhushanam's home production, Thalliprema (1941). So he returned to the Excelsior troupe, where he was paid a princely sum of Rs.8 per day and was happy with it. Subsequently, K. Gopala Rao, the make-up chief with Balaramaiah's Pratibha Pictures, and his uncle and make-up wizard Mangaiah, who also hailed from Gudivada, prevailed upon ANR to take up Rama's role. On May 8, 1944 ANR entered the Pratibha Pictures office located at 10, Oliver Road, Mylapore, Madras (the structure remains the same even today), not knowing that he would create a record for being a lead actor with the longest innings, 68 years to be precise, in the history of Indian cinema.

The synopsisof his debut film:

The story traces the Ramayana from the time Dasaratha (T. Venkateswarlu) kills the son of a blind couple, long before Rama (ANR) is born, to the time the wedding of Sita (Tripurasundari) with Rama is performed.

The story included roles of Vasishta (Parupalli Sathyanarayana), Kausalya (Rushyendramani), Sumithra (Annapurna) and Kaika (Kamala Kotnis), Vedavati (Chandrakala), Ravana and Parasurama (Vemuri Gaggaiah played both the roles), Mandodari (Kamakshi), Sukracharya (Koteswara Rao), Janaka (Parupalli Subbarao), Viswamithra (Balijepalli Lakshmikantham), Lakshmana (B.N. Raju). Padding with seasoned actors in character roles while taking newcomers for lead roles is not a recent phenomenon, Balaramaiah experimented with this 68 years ago.

Today's popular lyric writer Vennelakanti's father V. Koteswara Rao, a childhood friend of Balaramaiah was the production controller.

The saving grace was the dialogue written by Kavikokila Duvvuri Rami Reddy and the cinematography of P.Sridhar. Kaviye DarsakuduChitranaleeyam Cinematographer P. Sridharfrom Nellore, who abandoned his studies after his father's death, joined his maternal uncle P.V. Das's Vel Pictures in the sound department headed by Biggs.

Then he moved to the camera section and worked under ace cinematographers, Telang, Cooper and Rustom Irani (brother of Adi Irani), from whom he learnt trick photography. After Rustom's departure, Sridhar headed the Vel Pictures camera department, and when the company folded up, he joined Balaramaiah.

Neither the musical score of Prabhala Satyanarayana and Ogirala Ramachandra Rao nor the lyrics by Balijepalli and Daita Gopalam, made any impact. C.R. Subburaman composed the background score with Walke as the sound engineer.

Today its music is remembered more for ANR's rendition of his first movie song along with B.N. Raju – Gurubrahma Gururvishnu Gurudevo Maheswara Another catchy bit was the ‘mithai' song – ‘Chiruthindi sarukulu yenno melu rakaalu …pooreelu manchi poleelu janthikalu bongaraalu bal kajjikayalu…' --- inspired from Surabhi troupe's drama Mayabazaar. Mariyada kaadu poneera maganaali joli neekera Despite these commercial gimmicks, Sri Sita Rama Jananam failed at the box office like Balaramaiah's earlier mythologies Parvathi Kalyanam and Garuda Garvabhangam.

However, he later tasted success with his find ANR with Balaraju that rewrote box-office history.

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