Dr. Govindarajula Subbarao, Kasturi Sivarao, P. Santhakumari, Malathi, Jr. Sriranjani, Relangi Venkatramaiah, Goberu Subbarao, V. Sivaram, Jandhyala Gowripathi Sastry, T.G. Kamala Devi
Many folklore subjects made since the advent of talkie cinema in Telugu were big hits. When K.V. Reddi decided to produce and direct folklore for Vauhini for the first time, he felt he should come up with a different tale. Drawing inspiration from Shakespeare’s, ‘King Lear,’ he asked writer Pingali Nagendra Rao to create a story.Gunasundari Katha, while the English bard had made it a great tragedy, K.V. Reddi, his associate director Kamalakara Kameswara Rao (both wrote the screenplay) and story-writer Pingali converted it, in tune with Indian traditional values, into a full-length entertainer and succeeded in making the movie an astounding success.
King Ugrasena had three daughters — Rupasundari, Hemasundari and Gunasundari. After delivering the third child, the queen dies and the king brings them up. He decides to perform the marriage of Rupa and Hema with his two nephews, Haramathi and Kalamathi, and is in search of a suitable groom for Gunasundari. During his 60th birthday, he asks his daughters how much they love him. While Rupa and Hema flatter him, Guna tells him that the primary duty of a woman is to serve her husband. The angry king performs her marriage with an old person, named Daivadheenam, who is also dumb, blind and lame. On coming to know that Daivadheenam is actually young and healthy, the King feels cheated and tries to beat him. In the process he falls from the stairs and is bed-ridden.
Daivadheenam leaves the palace with his wife to live in a hamlet. Meanwhile, the King is on the verge of death. He can be cured only through a precious diamond, ‘Mahendramani’ which has to be brought from the inaccessible Mahendra hill. The King announces that he will give his throne to whoever brings the diamond. Daivadheenam succeeds in getting it. After a lot of twists and turns, the identity of Daivadheenam is revealed to be that of a prince. The King recovers and makes the prince his successor.
K.V.’s selection of actors made it easy for the audience to identify them with the characters. Dr. Govindarajula Subbarao as the obstinate King, Santhakumari as Rupasundari, Malathi as Hemasundari and Jr. Sriranjani as Gunasundari played their roles well.
Kasturi Sivarao was cast for the first time as a hero. A versatile actor, he proved that he was not just a comedian. His rendition of the song ‘Ore Ore Brahmadevuda…’ was among the hit numbers from the movie. During his adventurous journey to get the ‘Mahendramani’ (these scenes were filmed at the then dense Tada forests), the way he teases Relangi (who played Kalamathi) and Goberu (Haramathi) brought the house down and along with scenes of a snake and mongoose fight was a hit with children. When he assumes his real self as a prince, the role was played by Vallabhajosyula Sivaram, later a sound engineer of repute.
There is a story behind K.V. opting for a bear into which the hero is turned due to a curse. During his school days in Tadipatri, when K.V. went to the nearby Nallamala forests with his friends, they spotted a bear at a distance. When all the boys except K.V. threw stones at it, the bear charged towards them. All his friends . ran for life. After chasing them to a distance the bear returned and found a shivering K.V. standing still. It just looked at him and moved away. K.V., in an interview, had said that he realised that not only humans but animals too have feelings. He remembered the kind-hearted bear and made it a character in Gunasundari Katha.
K.V. Reddi skilfully blended fantasy with a touch of mythology and crafted a full-length entertainer in his inimitable style. Pingali Nagendra Rao, who left the film field after the failure of his debut film, Bhalepelli (1941), was brought back from native Machilipatnam to write the dialogue for the film version of his popular stage play, ‘Vindhyarani.’ He was introduced to K.V. by Kamalakara Kameswara Rao. Pingali had a penchant to coin new words and in Gunasundari Katha he introduced the words ‘gidi gidi,’ which Sivarao uses frequently .
Photography by Marcus Bartley and a musical score by Ogirala Ramachandra Rao helped the movie become a big hit. While most actors rendered their songs themselves, P. Leela sang for Jr. Sriranjani.
In 1955, Vijaya Productions’s remake in Tamil as Gunasundari was a flop. But Gunasundari Katha. remained a favourite with Vijaya supremo B. Nagi Reddi, who himself rewrote the story as a social subject titled Panama…Pasama and wanted to make a movie in Tamil. When he narrated it to Rajnikanth, the super star showed interest to act in it. The title was changed to Vaadiyaarayya (Teacher). However for some reason the project did not materialise. Nagi Reddi’s son B. Viswanatha Reddi (Viswam), later made it as a television serial, Enga Veettu Penn (Maa Inti Ammayi) for Jaya TV, and it was well received.