N.T. Ramarao, Bhanumathi Ramakrishna, Sri Vatsava, Kumari, Doraswamy, Vangara Venkatasubbaiah, C. Nageswara Rao, Nyayapathi Raghava Rao, K.V. Subbarao, Subrahmanya Chowdary, Rushyendramani, T.G. Kamala Devi, Surabhi Kamalabai, Gangarathnam, Master Venkataramana, Baby Mallika

Whenever veteran director B.N. Reddi borrowed a story idea for his forthcoming film, he always credited it in the titles. But eyebrows were raised when he did not mention in the titles the source of his Malleeswari story. It was widely known and later acknowledged by the film’s writer, Devulapalli Krishna Sastry himself, that the movie was based on Buchibabu’s popular play, Rayalavari Karunakruthyamu, published in the literary journal Bharathi (1944) and later broadcast by AIR as a radio play. “Apart from this play, we also derived inspiration from writer– lyricist (of films ‘Karma’ (1933) and ‘Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje’ (1955) fame) Dewan Sharar’s short story, ‘The Emperor and the Slave Girl,’ published in The Illustrated Weekly of India,” Sastry had revealed to the film magazine, Vijayachitra. Interestingly, he made this disclosure only after B.N’s demise. Of course, the B.N.- Devulapalli duo, both genius in their own fields, brought so much originality to the theme that such frivolous talk about the source of the movie made no impact either on the cine-goers or on the critics. Baburao Patel, a no-nonsense critic, wrote in his Film India, “Malleeswari is an inspiring motion picture, a picture that will save us the blush when compared with the best of motion pictures of the world.”

B.N. Reddi, known for selecting progressive themes for his movies, chose a love tale and engaged the romantic lyricist Devulapalli, despite being aware that the poet was in the habit of taking a long time to arrive at his dialogue and lyrics. No wonder, the film took two years to complete, but what ultimately mattered was the quality of the product, an all-time classic of which the Telugu film industry is proud. It is a simple story, well told and represented by excellence in all sectors of film -craft.Nagaraju and Malleeswari, maternal cousins, are in love. Since Nagaraju hails from a poor family, Malli’s mother is against the alliance. Nagaraju vows to become rich and marry her. He leaves the place to earn money, but when he returns, he finds that Malli has been sent to King Krishnadevaraya’s palace (Ranivaasam) by her ambitious mother. Silently suffering the pain, he turns a sculptor to do the work at the royal dance hall. There he meets Malli. Both are caught by the King’s soldiers and imprisoned. The King learns about their love and unites them.

A stickler for perfection, B.N. took care of every minute detail of story-telling on the celluloid. He even turned nostalgic and incorporated a few of his childhood incidents. Bhanumathi once told an interviewer that the Malli-Nagaraju childhood pranks, like the situation for the popular song, ‘Kothee baavaku pellanta…’ derived inspiration from B.N.’s childhood. B.N.’s ability to pull out a classic from such a simple story depended largely on his excellent technical team. Saluru Rajeswara Rao’s melodious compositions (orchestra conducted by Addepalli Ramarao) for Devulapalli’s soulful lyrics are popular to this day. Rajeswara Rao considered Malleeswari as his best work after the magnum opus Chandralekha.

Art director A.K. Sekhar not only designed the sets but also drew the sketches right from hair style to costumes for each character. His artistic ability came to the fore when he created the shores of the Thungabhadra on a floor in the Vauhini Studios for the song, ‘Manasuna mallela maala loogene…’ Thota Venkateswara Rao (father of eminent art director Thota Tharani) entered the art department as Sekhar’s assistant with this movie.

Arudra in his review in the magazine Telugu Swatantra commended the excellent sound designing by A. Krishnan and P.V. Koteswara Rao. “Heavy rain with winds lashed outside as Malli’s mother converses with her husband Nagappa.

Their conversation is clearly audible along with the sound of the rain and the wind. Even the flutter of the towel on Nagappa’s shoulder is heard clearly.” Such was the technical standard even when the word ‘digital sound’ was not even heard.

All these efforts were brilliantly backed by the work of the veteran cinematographer Adi M. Irani and B.N.’s younger brother Konda Reddi. The picturisation of the captivating cloud song, ‘Akasa veedhilo haayiga yegirevu… ” is proof of their camera wizardry. Pasumarthi Krishnamurthy choreographed the attractive dance sequences.

The handsome, upcoming hero NTR pulled it off well as Nagaraju. Bhanumathi was not B.N’s first choice for the protagonist’s character.

He had screen-tested the Kannada starlet Revathi before signing Bhanumathi. Revathi, however, made a cameo appearance in the song sequence, ‘Poyi rave thalli poyi ravamma.’ Bhanumathi breathed life into Malleeswari’s character with her natural acting and mellifluous renditions.

Besides the duets with Ghantasala (‘Akasa Veedhilo…,’ ‘Ouna Nijamena…’ and ‘Parugulu theeyaali…’), her solo songs (‘Manasuna mallela…’, ‘kothee baavaku pellanta…’ ‘Pilachina biguvatara…’ ‘Yendhuke neekintha thondara…’) helped the movie’s success to a large extent. However B.N. had to put up with her late-coming to the sets. Since the shooting of ‘Malleeswari’ got delayed, Bhanumathi’s Bharani banner launched ‘Prema’ and she was busy with her own film. “Moreover in ‘Prema’ she sported a curly hair style in contrast to the simple and soft tresses in our film.

So we had to employ a dupe actor in a few scenes,” revealed Konda Reddi in an interview.

Despite all this, B.N. considered it is worth the trouble and said, “NTR and Bhanumathi made a cute on-screen pair and one cannot imagine anyone else as Nagaraju and Malli.” Interestingly, T.G. Kamaladevi, who had acted as Malleeswari in Buchibabu’s play broadcast by AIR, did the role of Malli’s maid Jalaja in the movie. Malleeswari also had the distinction of being the first film script to be serialised in Vijayachitra, and also the first Telugu movie to be screened at an international film festival (the 1952 Peking film festival in China).

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