Starring Nagaiah, G. Varalakshmi, Jamuna, Vallam Narasimha Rao, Relangi Venkatramaiah, Master Venkateswarlu, Cherukumalli Raju, K.V. Subbarao, Baby Anuradha and Master Krishnamurthy
Bindinagavale Srinivasa Iyengar Ranga. If the nomenclature is that long, so was the fame he achieved in later years as a self-trained cinematographer, producer, director and studio owner. Son of theatre enthusiast Srinivasa Iyengar who founded the Amateur Dramatic Association (AMD), a popular theatre group in Bangalore, Ranga soon found that his interest lay in fine arts and trained himself in photography. He went to Bombay to learn the nuances of the craft and, during this phase, also directed Bhaktha Tulasidas (1941) in Tamil. He then shifted base to Madras, joined the Gemini Studios and worked under Kamal Ghosh as a cinematographer. Turning independent, he handled the camera for such banners like Raja Rajeswari, Bharani and Vinoda. Interestingly, when he founded Vikram Productions in 1954, he chose to make his debut film in Telugu and bought the rights of the 1953 Hindi/Marathi hit movie Datta Dharmadhikari’s Bhagyawan (Sowbhagya in Marathi) starring Master Ahlaad, Balraj Sahni and Nirupa Roy.
Ranga approached the popular novelist of the time, Kovvali Lakshmi Narasimha Rao, to prepare the Telugu version along with the dialogues. A reluctant entrant to cinema, Kovvali had earlier, following much persuasion from Kannamba and her husband Kadaru Naagabhushanam, written the story and dialogue for their maiden production Talliprema (1941). Thereafter, he returned to Rajahmundry to pursue his passion, writing novels. He was credited with cultivating reading habit among a cross-section of Telugus, mostly women. He had written over a thousand novels, an unbroken record in Telugu literature. Last year marked his birth centenary.
In 1951 Kovvali returned to film-writing at the instance of producer D.L. Narayana, who signed him for Vinoda’s Shanti (1952). Despite the movie’s debacle, Kovvali received offers from discerning filmmakers and one such was for Ranga’s Maa Gopi. Ramadasu (Nagaiah) is an idealistic, kind-hearted person. His younger brother (Raju) and his wife (Sarojini) die under tragic circumstances, leaving their two sons, Balaram (Master Krishnamurthy) and just-born Gopi to Ramadasu’s care. Ramadasu’s wife Kamala (G. Varalakshmi), his brother-in-law Sankaraiah (Relangi) and wife Durgamma (Prabhavathi) consider Gopi’s birth as a bad omen and develop hatred towards him. Time passes and the grown-up Balaram (Vallam Narasimha Rao) marries Suseela (Jamuna). Her entry into the household makes life happy for the hitherto tormented Gopi (Master Venkateswarlu). Her affection for him brings great relief to Ramadasu. But soon, Balaram gets a transfer to another town and Suseela leaves with him. The tormentors are back in action and, at the instigation of Sankaraiah, Kamala throws Gopi out of the house when Ramadasu is away. It so happens that Gopi averts a train accident and saves many lives. He is hailed by all, including his former tormentors, as Maa Gopi.
Ranga’s strength lay in choosing the right artistes for the different characters. He also showed exemplary talent in shot division and shot taking, being an ace lens man himself. Apart from seniors like Chittoor V. Nagaiah, G. Varalakshmi and Relangi, the lead pair Vallam Narasimha Rao and Jamuna too came up with neat portrayals. It was the fourth film for Jamuna and her second successive hit in the same year, after Saradhi Films Anthaa Manavalle, in which she shared the screen space with Krishnakumari. She has written in her autobiography ‘Jamunatheeram’, ‘Anthaa Manavalle was my first commercial hit movie, which proved that I could fit into any character, and, it was after watching the film that Ranga signed me for the heroine’s role in Maa Gopi. The film gave me an opportunity to work with seniors like Nagaiah and G. Varalakshmi. Maa Gopi not only won accolades for my performance in a sensitive role but also earned me the title Andaala Nati.
Vallam Narasimha Rao, who had his roots in Praja Natya Mandali, played the lead role in a couple of films such as Anthaa Manavalle and Prapancham besides Maa Gopi. He was more popular as a character actor and dubbing artiste lending his voice for almost all the leading actors of the South when their films were dubbed into Telugu.
Musical score by Viswanathan-Ramamurthy duo and Anisetty Subbarao’s lyrics contributed to the success of Maa Gopi. K. Rani’s ‘O Muddu Papa… Naa Muddu Gopi,’ T.Sathyavathi’s ‘Desadesamula Yasam ganchumaa,’ and Jikki’s ‘Oogave Uyyala…,’ were among the popular numbers.
Maa Gopi was dubbed into Tamil as Jaya Gopi. Ranga also planned to dub it into Kannada and engaged his friend and popular writer Sadasivaiah to pen the dialogue. But for some reason he gave up the idea. Interestingly, in 1981, Sadasivaiah’s lyricist-son Udayashankar suggested to Kannada matinee idol Rajkumar to remake Maa Gopi. Ranga himself directed the Kannada version, titled Bhagyavantha, introducing Rajkmar’s youngest son Master Puneeth in the title role. This too was a big hit.