Krishnaveni, Ch. Narayana Rao, Dr. Govindarajula Subbarao, M. Lingamurthy, Vangara Venkata Subbaiah, Maddali Krishnamurthy, Rukmini and Surabhi Kamalabai

It was a repeat of the 1933-36 situation. Two top banners competed with each other by producing films on a similar theme in 1950. While Krishnaveni and Mirzapuram Raja Saheb’s Sobhanachala and MRA Productions made Lakshmamma, Ghantasala Balaramaiah produced Sri Lakshmamma Katha under his Pratibha Productions banner. It is interesting to know what led to such a ‘sudden’ competition between the two otherwise friendly producers, and what prompted Balaramaiah to postpone the shooting of his under-production, Swapnasundari and launch Sri Lakshmamma Katha.

Sometime in 1947, producer Pendurthi Subbarao launched, under the Mahati Pictures banner, Lakshmamma from a script by writer Gopichand, who was also assigned the task of directing the movie. Actress Malati was to play the title role and Subbarao’s actress-wife Sulochana, the antagonist’s character.

Chadalavada Narayana Rao was reportedly approached to play the hero. Four songs written and tuned by Balanthrapu Rajanikantha Rao were recorded under his pseudo name Taranath since he was a government (AIR) employee then. But the project did not proceed beyond a couple of days of shooting for some reasons.KeelugurramHaving heard about Gopichand’s work, Krishnaveni bought the rights along with the songs.

Gopichand was retained to direct the movie while Ghantasala was signed to compose the music. T.V.S. Sarma stepped in as art director. The news of Sobhanachala’s Lakshmamma reached Balaramaiah, who had earlier plans to make such a movie on the life of the fabled Naga Kanya who was born as Sri Lakshmi and later became Goddess Lakshmamma. Balaramaiah postponed Swapnasundari and asked his writer Balijepalli Lakshmikantha Kavi to write the script for Sri Lakshmamma Katha.

His production chief T.V.S. Sastri advised him to complete the film which was under production. Balaramaiah retorted, “You take over Swapnasundari and I will make Sri Lakshmamma Katha. Balaramaiah diverted the dates of all the lead actors –Akkineni Nageswara Rao, Anjali Devi, G Varalakshmi, Sivarao and others for the competing film. To make his production look rich, he spent lavishly and paid extra wages to members of his unit as they had to work day and night.

However, Krishnaveni had an advantage as she had a studio to erect sets and so the budget was under control. In their hurry to release their film first, three units worked for each production.

While Gopichand shot the lead actors’ portions, his associate Inturi Venkateswara Rao directed the rest. Veteran Chitrapu Narayana Murthy too stepped in to help the Sobhanachala venture. Though Balaramaiah shot most portions for his movie, his cinematographer P. Sridhar and actor Kona Prabhakara Rao directed certain portions. Ultimately, the better product fared well.

Sri Lakshmi (Krishnaveni) is the daughter of Musalappa Naidu (Dr. Govindarajula), the village head of Durgi. Venkaiah Naidu (Ch. Narayana Rao) hails from a rich agricultural family in the neighbouring village Lingaalapuram. His elder brother, Subbaiah Naidu (Lingamurthy), is the village head. The marriage of Venkaiah with Sri Lakshmi is performed on condition that he stays at his father-in-law’s house as illarikam alludu. All is well till dancer Radha (Rukmini) enters his life. Venkaiah deserts his wife and daughter and returns to Lingaalapuram. Sri Lakshmi too comes to live with her husband.

When she refuses to perform the marriage of her daughter with her sister-in-law’s son, her mother-in-law (Surabhi Kamalabai) and sister-in-law torment her and poison Venkaiah’s mind that she has an illicit relationship with the servant (Maddali Krishnamurthy). Enraged, Venkaiah kills Sri Lakshmi and repents. He becomes blind. A temple is built for Lakshmamma and the marriage of her daughter is performed as per her earlier wish. Her divine hand heals the eyes of Venkaiah.

Krishnaveni’s subdued performance and her mellifluous rendition, Ch. Narayana Rao’s dignified acting, as also of the other actors helped the movie succeed. Vivacious and versatile Rukmini (mother of veteran actress Lakshmi) attracted much attention. Ghantasala retained Rajanikantha Rao’s compositions and tuned the rest.

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Lakshmamma fared well at the box-office, reaping immediate returns. Subsequently ‘Sri Lakshmamma Katha’ too managed to get back its investment.