P. Bhanumathi, N.T. Ramarao, S.V. Rangarao, Relangi Venkatramaiah, Amarnath, Doraswamy, R. Nageswara Rao, Rajkumar, Venkataraman, Satyanarayana Sastry, Vidyavathi, Hemalatha, Kumari Tulasi, Angamuthu

A casual conversation with her husband inadvertently led P. Bhanumathi to create a record of sorts, which has remained unbroken to this day, even after six decades. Soon after the release of Prema, made under their Bharani Productions banner, her husband Ramakrishnanarrated a folktale to her and she liked it. To her surprise, he asked Bhanumathi to direct the film, assuring her that he would be supervising the work. But that did not happen as he was busy then, directing a movie (Brathukutheruvu) for an outside banner. Bhanumathi took up the challenge, developed the plot into a story, and cast herself in a dual role with NTR in the lead. It was decided to produce the movie in Telugu and Tamil and later a Hindi version was also added, with one or two changes in the cast (popular Hindi comedian Agha replaced Relangi for the Hindi version). Incidentally, it was with the advance amount received from the distributors of the Hindi version that Ramakrishna was able to complete the construction of the Bharani Studio.

Thus, with Chandirani, Bhanumathi became the first woman to not only direct a movie simultaneously in three languages, but also play a dual role in all of them, besides writing the story and supervising its music composition. It is a record that has remained unbeaten to date.

The Dharmapuri ruler, Kumara Veerasimha (Amarnath) and his commander Prachanda (S.V. Rangarao) happen to see a dancing peasant girl (Kumari Tulasi) and both are attracted towards her. The King manages to marry her and she gives birth to twin daughters. The irked commander eliminates the queen and imprisons the king. To save the twins, the minister sends one of them with the maid (Angamuthu) to a forest, and keeps the other child with him. Prachanda gets the minister killed and takes the child with him to his palace. He names the child as Champa. Her sibling Chandi (both played by Bhanumathi) is brought up by an old woman (Hemalatha) in the forest. Years pass by and the twins are now grown up. The slain minister’s son Kishore (N.T.R) is brought up by his trusted servant Ramsingh (Doraswamy), who conveys to him his past. Kishore befriends Prachanda’s son Mukunda (Relangi) and joins as a soldier. He falls in love with Champa. Chandi exchanges places with Champa to take on Prachanda. After a series of incidents, there is an action-packed climax in which Chandi loses her life but not before seeing the end of Prachanda. Kishore rescues the King and marries Champa.

Though there is nothing new in the story, the novelty lies in the manner it is narrated. Chandi’s sword fight and the fight sequences with the tiger, the exchange of places by the siblings, went well with the audience. The film was shot in Kodaikanal and at the Bharani Studio.

Bhanumathi handled the job like a seasoned director, ably supported by cinematographer P.S. Selvaraj (who debuted with the movie) and the operative cameraman Venkat, veteran art director A.K. Sekhar and her husband Ramakrishna, who edited the movie. Samudrala Raghavacharya’s dialogue (he also wrote the lyrics) had their punch such as – Thamare istharu, thirigi thamare puchukuntaru. (NTR says this to SVR in a scene when the latter tells him that he should obey paying taxes).

NTR was his usual flamboyant self. There was a move to replace him by a Bollywood actor for the Hindi version, but it was dropped on dialogue writer Pt. Sudarshan’s advice that, it being a heroine-oriented movie, there was no need to replace the hero.

The onus throughout was on Bhanumathi. Since she played a dual role, most of the time her presence was required before the camera. She was ably assisted by her associate director P.V. Ramarao who later directed Bhaktha Jayadeva. There was also a nostalgic moment for her. When Bhanumathi attended the Hindi version’s premiere show at Metro theatre in Esplanade, Calcutta, she recalled that as a 14-year-old, it was in the same street on the opposite side (at the Paradise theatre) that she, along with her father, saw her debut movie, Varavikrayam (1939).

In fact, Amarnath was not the first choice for the King’s role. Bhanumathi had approached Mantravadi Sriramamurthy for it. This lawyer turned actor had been brought into the field by Jandhyala Gowrinatha Sastry with his home production, Akasaraju. By then he had signed a couple of films as a hero and so he refused to don an elderly character, despite being assured that for most part of his role, he will appear young.

Vidyavathi, who played the commander’s lover Kantha, was the younger sister of yesteryear actress Sandhya and maternal aunt of Tamil Nadu chief minister, Ms. J. Jayalalitha.

A major plus point of the movie was its music. C.R. Subbaraman’s untimely death left his assistant M.S. Viswanathan to compose the tunes, which he did under the supervision of Bhanumathi. Though all the songs were hits, the solo songs rendered by Bhnumathi – Ee roju bale roju… and Kilaa Kilaa navvulaa… and her duet with Ghantasala, ‘O taraka… O jubilee,’ deserve special mention.

Chandirani earned decent profits for the producers. It also holds the record for being the only movie to be released in three languages on the same day (August 28, 1953) with over 100 prints across the length and breadth of the country.

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