Pasupuleti Kannamba, Kanchanamala, Ramanujacharyulu, Chithoor V.Nagaiah, Gowripathi Sastri, Baby Rohini, Sarala and Mohini
When H. M. Reddy decided to turn a producer, B.N. Reddy and B. Nagi Reddi joined hands with him to form Rohini Pictures. K.V. Reddy just then completed B.Sc., took charge of production. Kadaru Nagabhushan (later day producer- director and Kannamba's husband) joined as the production manager. H.V. Babu and D.L. Ramachandar (brother-in-law of H.M. Reddy) worked as associate and assistant directors. Kamalakara Kameswara Rao made his debut as an assistant to H.M. Reddy while Samudrala Raghavacharya was roped in as the writer.
Till then Reddy was making mythological films. When he turned producer, he chose a social subject with a message. Rohini pictures bought the rights of Somaraju Ramanuja Rao's most popular stage play Rangoon Rowdy. He took the central plot, made several changes for the film version including making the lead character a savvy rich doctor. B.N. Reddy suggested ‘Gruhalakshmi' was an apt tile to attract female audience.
H.M. Reddy took Ramanujacharyulu from Tenali for the lead role. The tall and handsome lawyer was famous for playing Girisam in Kanyasulkam. Reasons best known for him he quit acting after his debut film despite its runaway success.
The story was about Dr. Krishnarao (Ramanujacharyulu), his devoted wife Radha (Kannamba) and woman of ‘less virtue', Madhuri (Kanchanamala). The doctor attracted towards Madhuri, becomes a slave to her, loses his job, family and home and hits the bottle.
Thanks to Madhuri he even faces a murder charge that he never committed. Providence and prayers of his wife help him escape the noose and finally he joins his family.
H.M. Reddy produced the film at Karthikeya Studios in Greenways Road, Madras (presently housing the Jiddu Krishnamurthy Foundation). The studio was developed by K. Ramanoth and A.K. Sekhar on a piece of land owned by a Chettiar.
Besides the titillation of Kanchanamala, the touching sentimental scenes enacted by Kannamba and the patriotic fervour generated by debutant Nagaiah through his acting and rendition helped the film's success to a great extent. Especially the scene where Kannamba runs amok on the busy roads of Parry's Corner opposite the Madras High Court shouting ‘devudu ledoo … Satyam jayinchadoo' that was shot live. She was carried away by the emotion that the unit was left behind while she ran fast amidst the buses and trams. No one recognised Kannamba, the crowd thought that she was really a mad woman.
The police took pity on the ‘woman' and took her to the nearby Flower Bazaar police station. The unit had to get her released after telling who she was and that it was a film shoot. Kannamba was paid Rs. 10,000 for the role when a bag of rice was sold at Rs. 3.
Nagaiah acted as her patriotic elder brother Gopinath, a member of Harijana Seva Samithi, a role close to his heart.
He had been making efforts to enter films since 1932. In fact he was not the first choice, as H.M. Reddy wanted to take Parupalli Sathyanarayana for the character but B.N. insisted on Nagaiah.
Of the four songs and a poem shot on him, the first song that Nagaiah sang was Lendu Bharatha Veerulara Nidura levendoyi (Samudrala) it was inspired by K .C. Dey's rendition of Man ki aankhen khol baba (Dhoop Chaon 1935) composed by R.C. Boral. Dhoop Chaon was also the first film in India to introduce playback singing. But Telugu cinema was yet to use that technique so the songs from Gruhalakshmi were recorded live. Lendu Bharatha veerulara, was shot on the streets and Nagaiah had to sing and act taking extra care since it was live recording. His other equally popular song Kallu manandoy Babu in support of prohibition was a rage. Nagaiah also worked as the film's representative to oversee collections and when he went to Bangalore he was mobbed for autographs. A star had arrived.
Audience went ga ga over Kanchanamala's rendition and gyrations for the song Bigi kougili cheraga rara that beats any of today's item numbers. In the scene where Madhuri feigns illness and makes the doctor touch her, she was simply the ‘oomph girl' that Baburao Patel of Film India called her. H.M. Reddy drew the scene straight from the Hollywood romantic comedy, Dinner at Eight, where the doctor's role was enacted by Edmond Lowe and the conceited woman, Hollywood's Prime Donna sex symbol Jean Harlow. Like Harlow, Kanchanamala's career too came to an abrupt end is another matter.
Despite the film's box office success, B.N. Reddy decided to part ways with H.M. Reddy as he felt that besides vulgar depiction of Kanchanamala in close up shots, the pioneer of Telugu talkie resorted to bawdy humour of showing a fat guy pumping air into the car tyre by placing the pump against his paunch were unwarranted. B.N. took his share of profits and came out of Rohini Pictures along with Nagi Reddy, K.V. Reddy, Kamalakara and Samudrala to form Vauhini pictures.
Remembered for: Kannamba, Kanchanamala and Nagaiah's excellent acting and also their rendition to Prabhala Sathyanarayana's compositions.
Keywords: Gruhalakshmi (1938)