A.Nageswara Rao, Bhanumathi Ramakrishna, Anjali Devi, Kasturi Sivarao, Balijepalli Lakshmikantham, Ramanatha Sastri, Damerla Satyanarayana, Jr. Lakshmi Rajyam
A popular film-maker during Tamil cinema’s early decades, Rangaswamy Padmanabhan started his career in the silent era. A native of Sivaganga in Tamil Nadu, he dealt with distribution and exhibition of films, besides handling movie equipment. He then moved to Madras and established Associated Film Studios in Triplicane where later Paragon theatre came up (now the theatre has given way to high-rise apartments). The enterprising Padmanabhan brought the multifaceted Raja Sandow from Bombay and made seven silent films with him as the director and lead actor. He also introduced later day doyen of Tamil cinema, the lawyer turned filmmaker K. Subrahmanyam as a script writer for one of his silent films. After the advent of talkies, Padmanabhan made several successful films in Tamil. He then chose a folklore subject, considered a safe bet, for his debut film in Telugu, Raksharekha.
‘Kavitha Kalanidhi’ Balijepalli Lakshmikantha Kavi came up with a folk tale, taken from ‘Kasi Majili Kathalu. Kalavathi (Bhanumathi), the only daughter of Sinhala King Rajasimha (played by Ramanatha Sastri), is averse to marriage. So was Sudhakara (Akkineni Nageswara Rao), son of King Prathapa (Balijepalli) of Avanthi. Unable to convince him to get married, King Prathpa keeps him, along with a servant Dooradarsi (Kasturi Sivarao), in a dilapidated house in the forest. Angels, led by Chitra (Anjali Devi), make a visit to the nearby Vishnu temple. Surprised at the glowing light from the otherwise haunted house, they enter it and find a handsome prince sleeping there. They lift him along with the cot and place him in Kalavathi’s palace. In a trance, Kalavathi and Sudhakara exchange rings. The next day their marriage is performed. The same day Chitra turns the prince into a garland and takes him with her. Kalavathi, in the guise of man, goes in search of him. On way she meets princess Chandrika (Jr. Lakshmirajyam), who takes her to be a man, falls in love and marries her. Later, she comes to know of Kalavathi’s story and vows to help her. Meanwhile, Chitra, frustrated with the adamant Sudhakara, who detests her, turns him into a statue and throws him before Kalavathi in Chandrika’s palace. A crestfallen Kalavathi throws away the ‘raksharekha’ that Markandeya Maharshi (Damerla Satyanarayana) had given her for her protection. The Maharshi appears and brings Sudhakara back to human form. The couple live happily ever after.
Despite such a run-of-the-mill story, the film was a hit, largely due to its music, technical values and good performance by the lead actors. The negative role was a cakewalk for Anjali Devi, who had done similar characters earlier. It was Bhanumathi’s show all through both as a singer and as a performer. Her acting was appreciated by the audience and critics as well.
Interestingly, Bhanumathi observed in her autobiography Nalo Nenu that this was the one role that she had performed with disinterest. “I normally detest costume dramas and make-up, but if the role is good, I do it with all sincerity.” Her disinterest midway through the film’s shoot was said to be the result of a tussle with its producer-director. Padmanabhan had to send her a court notice to complete her voice dubbing work. Bhanumathi had her reasons for her action. One day she had sent her car home to fetch her evening snacks (as she never ate from the production unit mess), thinking that the shoot would go beyond the evening. But her portion was completed much earlier. The producer arranged a very old car for her to go home. It was drizzling and the car had a breakdown a few hundred yards away from her house. She had to cover her head and walk alone.
Padmanabhan was always spotted in a full suit and promoted Western technicians. One such was an Italian cameraman, T. Marconi, who worked in India. He had cranked the camera for most of Padmanabhan’s films. Besides his excellent photography, melodious musical score by Ogirala Ramachandra Rao and H.R. Padmanabha Sastri contributed to the film’s success. Bhanumathi’s classical rendition, Abhayamu neevega sarvani… along with Jeevana doli madhura jeevana keli… (Bhanumathi and Ghantasala), Ravoyi Ravoyi Ravoyi Manoja… (A.P. Komala and shot on Anjali Devi), Bidiyama manalo priyathama… (A.P. Komala and shot on Jr. Lakshmirajyam) were some of the big hits. Kasturi Sivarao rendered four songs.
Padmnabhan made one more Telugu film, Rajeswari (1952) with Mantravadi Sri Ramamurthy, Jr. Sriranjani and the Tamil heroine Madhuri in the lead. But it did not prove such a success as Raksharekha.