Y.V. Rao, ‘Kumari’ Rukmini, B.R. Panthulu, B.S. Jayamma, Vinjamuri Varadaraja Ayyangar, K.R. Jayagowri, T.R. Ramachandran, K. Sarangapani, K.R. Chellam and Miss Azurie (dance)
A man of varied talents, Y. V. Rao (Yaragudipati Varada Rao) was a successful filmmaker of yesteryear. A sadly neglected pioneer of Indian Cinema, his birth centenary in 2003 went virtually unnoticed. (The Hindu carried a tribute by this writer). Indeed he was the first filmmaker in India to make motion pictures in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Konkani and Hindi, apart from silent movies.
He had the historic honour of directing the first Kannada talking picture, Sathi Sulochana, in 1934. He was also the first filmmaker in India to make a movie about the movie world called Viswamohini (Telugu) in 1940, when most other south Indian films were about gods, goddesses, kings and demons.
His Tamil film, Chintamani (1937), established stunning box-office records and elevated its hero, M. K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, also a renowned musician, to superstardom. Another venture of his in Tamil was Lavangi (1946), a mix of fact and fiction built around a famed poet, Pandit Jagannath, who was believed to have served the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as one of his court poets.
The heroine was Kumari Rukmini, daughter of dancer Nungambakkam Janaki. She entered films as Baby Rukmini and went on to become a star. Rao and his pal P.R. Narayanan wrote the story, and Rao directed the film besides playing the hero, and during the making of the film, Rao and Rukmini fell in love and got married. (The multifaceted star of South Indian Cinema, Lakshmi, is their daughter.)
The film narrates the story of Pandit Jagannath, a Sanskrit poet from Andhra who is versatile in many other languages too. He marries a young woman (Kumari Rukmini) in his village. Looking for fame and fortune, he heads to the court of Shah Jahan (Panthulu) who is much impressed with his multi-faceted talent.
Pining for her husband, the wife leaves home for Agra where she meets Empress Mumtaz Mahal (Jayamma) who takes her under her wing. She changes her appearance and lifestyle and names her Lavangi! The hero, unaware that she is his wife, falls in love and offers to marry her. Ultimately, the truth comes out and the couple is united.
(According to recorded history, the pandit married a Muslim woman, and her name was Lavangi. The screen story was, of course, manipulated by Rao and his writer.)
The film was well narrated on screen by Rao and had a couple of melodious songs, including a popular duet ‘Veshakaarar pola thonuthey’ (Rukmini and Rao). The lyrics were by Papanasam Sivan, while the music was composed by C.R. Subburaman and H. Padmanabha Sastry.
The film, shot at the famed Newtone Studios, was photographed by noted lensman Jiten Bannerjee and designed by celebrated art director and filmmaker F. Nagoor. However, the film did not do well much to the disappointment of Rao, the producers and others. It was dubbed into Hindi but did not meet with success.
The film had a saucy comedy track far ahead of its time. Ramachandran pesters his mother (Chellam) to know what happens on the ‘wedding night’ and a gypsy woman who comes seeking alms offers to tell him all about it and invites him to her hut. Later his wedding is fixed and while he is about to tie the mangala sutra, the gypsy woman walks in pregnant with his kid!
There was also an exciting dance sequence by noted film dancer Miss Azurie of Bombay which raised eyebrows for her reveal-all costume and erotic movements!
Remembered for: the interesting storyline, melodious tunes and the saucy comedy.