V. Umamaheswara Rao, Kanchanamala, Lakshmi Rajyam, Rao Balasaraswati Devi, S. Rajeswara Rao
Mention bigamous tales on celluloid, one immediately recalls the films starring Sobhan Babu and in the recent past, Jagapathi Babu. In fact the trend in social films was actually popularised by the path-breaking filmmaker, Gudavalli Ramabrahmam as early as in 1939 when he launchedIllalu. It centred on a simple theme that glorified womanhood. Indira (Kanachanamala) is happily married to Murthy (Umamaheswara Rao) till Murthy falls in love with an educated and sophisticated Leela (Lakshmi Rajyam) and brings her as his second wife. This naturally leaves Indira in pain and anguish. However she performs her duties as the devoted wife on one side and wins over hersavathion the other with patience and perseverance. Leela undergoes a change of heart before fate plays with her life. Finally Indira emerges triumphant. To take the story forward there are other characters like the romantic poet, Madhu (Saluri Rajeswara Rao) and his spouse Sarala (Rao Balasaraswathi Devi). P. Suribabu was cast as a radio artiste. Produced under Indira Devi Films banner,Illaluwas a box-office hit and filmmakers still continue to exploit this success formula. Tapi Dharmarao wrote the dialogue and lyrics. Gudavalli also used Basavaraju Apparao's lyrics. With her subdued performance Kanchanamala proved that she was an actress of substance. But it was Lakshmi Rajyam who stole the show with her brilliant portrayal of the liberated yet understanding second wife. She hailed from Avuku in Kurnool district and learned music from her paternal uncle Narasimham and Harikatha from Saluri Rajeswara Rao at a very young age. Her aim was to become a Harikatha exponent. But her maternal uncle Venkataramaiah who was acting in Puvvula Suribabu's dramas introduced her to the troupe. Soon Lakshmi Rajyam rose to fame for her stage portrayals of Nalini inThulabharamand Chitra inChinthamani. She made her movie debut at 13 with Vel Pictures,Sri Krishna Leelalu(1935) as Radha and played Sathyabhama in P.V. Das'sMayabazaar(1936). At the invitation of Ramabrahmam, she came to Madras to take up the second heroine's role inIllalu, her fifth starrer that catapulted her to stardom. Umamaheswara Rao was a leading lawyer from Cuddapah with stage experience. The tall and handsome gentleman was smitten by cinema and invested a chunk of money as a shareholder to produceIllaluwhile debuting as a hero. He later acted in only two films – in Nagaiah's home production,Bhagyalakshmidirected by P. Pullaiah and in Gudavalli'sPanthulamma, both released in 1943. Saluri Rajeswara Rao's music, a fusion of classical and western tunes contributed greatly to the success ofIllalu.In one scene Saluri had to peddle the cycle and render a duet ‘Kavyapaanamu chesi kaipekkinaane…' with Balasaraswathi. During the filming, Gudavalli asked him to hum the tune while peddling. He was so mesmerized by Rajeswara Rao's humming that the camera rolled a good thousand feet film before Gudavalli regained his self and said ‘cut!'. This song along with the pair'sSuma Komala kanuvela…. Kala Kaadanuma Bala was a rage. The other hit numbers were,Jalavihagaali gaana vinoda… rendered by Umamaheswara Rao and Lakshmi Rajyam andKoyilokasari vachi koosi poyane maya vaana lokamantha munchi poyanerendered by S. Varalakshmi andNee pai Mohamuno Krishna Nilupagalemoyi Krishna…sung by P.Suribabu and S.Varalakshmi.
Mothers of those days used to put their child to sleep humming this lullaby,Dina Dinamu Papadni Deevinchi pondi Devalokamuloni Devathallaara…sung by Kanchanamala. A trendsetter, Ramabrahmam also introduced for the first time the element of suspicion of a husband on his wife's fidelity when Murthy suspects Leela's closeness with her doctor friend. If it was restricted to a couple of scenes inIllalu,he made it the central theme in his next film,Apavaadu(1941) starring K.S. Prakash Rao and Lakshmi Rajyam.
During the making ofIllalu, Kanchanamala who attained star status with Ramabrahmam'sMalapilla, for some reason developed a diffident attitude towards him. An annoyed Gudavalli on the sets wrote the dialogue,Puvvulu pettina chethulane karipisthava. Through Lakshmi Rajyam he conveyed this message to Kanchanamala in an intriguing scene in the movie.Illaluwas the first film to use a complete issue of a film magazine to promote a movie. Ramabrahmam funded and provided the content to bring out a special issue ofTelugu Cinema edited by Commuri Sambasiva Rao. Eminent authors like Adivi Bapiraju and Achanta Janakiram wrote eulogizing the movie. Bapiraju went a step forward when he compared watchingIllaluto eating the tasty sweets at Arya Bhavan, a popular hotel in George Town, Madras. All these gimmicks besides the performances, music and production values contributed to the success ofIllalu. In theAndhra Patrika film ballot it won the best film, best director and best actress (Kanchanamala) awards.
m. l. narasimham