P. Bhanumathi, A. Nageswara Rao, Sowcar Janaki, ‘Calcutta’ N. Viswanathan, ‘Javert’ N. Seetharaman, M.R. Santhanam, P.S. Gnanam, Suryakantham Mohana, ‘Kottapuli’ Jayaraman, ‘Appa’ K. Duraiswami, ‘Baby’ Kanchana and B.R. Panthulu
P. Bhanumathi is rightly hailed as one of the most important icons of South Indian cinema. She was not only a brilliant actor (who featured in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi films), she was also a screenwriter , music composer, film director, producer and more. The versatile actor could handle any kind of role with ease.
She blazed into limelight with B.N. Reddi’s Telugu hit film Swargaseema in the mid-1940s and sang her way to stardom. She stayed at the top in both Tamil and Telugu cinema with brilliant performances in films such as Gemini Studios’ Apoorva Sahotharargal (also made in Hindi and Telugu with her in the lead). Many of her films are memorable, and one of them is Kaanal Neer, which her husband P.S. Ramakrishna produced and directed both in Tamil and Telugu (Baatasaari in 1961).
The superstar of Telugu cinema and also a top star for many years in Tamil, A. Nageswara Rao played the lead. He was supported by Sowcar Janaki, ‘Javert’ Seetharaman, and ‘Calcutta’ N. Viswanathan, a brilliant character actor. Also in the cast were multilingual actor Devika, veteran P.S. Gnanam, leading Telugu star Suryakantham, noted character actor ‘Appa’ Duraiswami, and old timers M.R. Santhanam and ‘Kottapuli’ Jayaraman.
The film was based on Badi Didi (Elder Sister), a well-known novel by Bengali literary icon Sarat Chandra Chatterjee. He wrote this story as a two-part magazine serial when he was not yet famous. This story brought him recognition and made him a cult figure of Bengal. His novels and stories have been made into movies with great success in Bengali and adapted with success in languages such as Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and others.
The book’s theme was around early widowhood in a woman of means, her love for a rich zamindar and the problems in her life. It explored the traditional lifestyle of the landed gentry of the bygone decades and emotional struggles of a young widow who cannot openly declare her love for the man, who, to keep up tradition, marries another woman.
Suren (Nageswara Rao) hails from a zamindari family, and not able to get permission to pursue his studies, he leaves home and reaches Madras, hiding his identity. A rich man engages him to teach his younger daughter Pramila; his elder daughter Madhavi (Bhanumathi) has become a widow at a young age. Hearing about the goodness of the teacher, she gets drawn to him though she has never met him. Later, due to mischievous relatives, she begins to dislike him and dismisses him. Suren is involved in a horse-carriage accident and admitted to a hospital, after which his father takes him away. Suren, unable to forget Madhavi, names a village in his zamindari after her. To please his parents, he marries a young woman (Sowcar Janaki) but he cannot forget Madhavi. A conspiracy is hatched by evildoers to get Madhavi’s property. To fight for her rights, she goes to meet the zamindar not aware that he is Suren! Unable to neither forget her nor go against tradition, he pines away and dies in Madhavi’s arms.
Bhanumathi and Nageswara Rao gave great performances. There were dance sequences by L. Vijayalakshmi and Lakshmi Rajam. Lyrics were by Kannadasan and Ku.Ma. Balasubramaniam, and the music was by Bhanumathi, who also sang many of the songs.
Despite the many plus points, the film failed at the box-office mainly because story content was considered too highbrow by moviegoers of the period. For her performance in the Telugu version, Bhanumathi won the ‘Filmfare Award’.
Remembered For the excellent performances of the lead pair and the story depicting the lifestyle of landed gentry.