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Balayogini (1937)

m.l. narasimham
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Starring Baby Saroja, Baby S. Varalakshmi, Arani Sathyanarayana, Vangara Venkata Subbaiah, Kamala Kumari.

A still from 'Balayogini'
A still from 'Balayogini'

Rewind to 1937, a year before Gudavalli Ramabrahmam made the path-breaking social, Malapilla. After working as a production director for Draupadi Vastrapaharanam and Kanakathara (he introduced ace writer Samudrala Raghavacharya with this film), Gudavalli happened to see the Tamil movie, Balayogini written, produced and directed by the lawyer turned pioneer of Tamil talkie, Krishnaswamy Subramanyam. The message-oriented movie on class differences and the plight of widows attracted him so much so that he wished to remake it in Telugu.

The story's about a young unemployed graduate caught in a debt trap and jailed when he resists an attempt to auction his house. His daughter runs to the sub-collector's house to plead with him to stop the auction. The sub-collector dismisses his servant who allowed the child inside.

The sub-collector's widowed sister Janaki and her child Saroja take pity on the servant's child and offer shelter. The angry sub-collector throws his sister and her child from his house. Without an alternative, the two live with the servant and his child in the slum. The intelligent child Saroja with her sensible arguments brings a healing touch removing the poisons of caste-ism. With children playing the lead roles, Balayogini was touted as the first full length children's film in Tamil.

What appealed to Ramabrahmam was the way K. Subramanyam (KS) dealt with the theme focusing on the travails of unemployment, exploits of society by the rich, evils of caste-ism and the cruelty meted out to defenseless widows. He met KS to acquire the Telugu remake rights. He requested Ramabrahmam to join as his co-director. Gudavalli readily agreed.

Baby Saroja who played the widow's daughter in the original version was retained for the Telugu version too. Incidentally she was the daughter of KS's brother K. Viswanathan who played the sub-collector's role in the Tamil version with a screen name K.B. Vatsal (after his wife Vatsala's name).

Child actors Rao Balasaraswathi Devi (yesteryear popular singer who also acted in a few films in lead roles) and Baby Rukmini (later day heroine and mother of popular actress Lakshmi) also acted in the Tamil film. For the Telugu version, the casting mantle fell on Ramabrahmam.

He chose Arani Sathyanarayana for the sub-collector's character. Arani hailed from Guntur and at 14, he made his stage debut as Sathyabhama in the play, Gayopakhyanam. For four decades he ruled the stage playing both male and female roles. He made his first screen appearance in R.S. Prakash's silent film, Dasavatharalu (1921) where he played five roles — Vishnu, Rama, Krishna, Buddha and Kalki. With his imposing personality and impeccable diction, he created an impact as the sub-collector in his first social film, Balayogini.

For the servant's character Gudavalli signed the versatile Vangara who shot to fame with his peculiar style of dialogue delivery that created humour in later films.

While scouting talents for the child actors, Gudavalli came to know of this child prodigy, a good singer born in Jaggampeta but brought up by her aunt in Kurnool. He went all the way to Kurnool and found Baby Saride Varalakshmi (later day singing star S. Varalakshmi) barely 8 then the ideal choice to play the lead. But by then it was decided to retain Baby Saroja for the main character. Baby S.Varalakshmi was taken to play the servant's daughter. Moti Babu and Maruti Seetharamaiah composed the music while Kamal Ghosh who assisted Sailen Bose in the original version was elevated as cinematographer. B.T. Raghavacharya was roped in to write the dialogue.

Unfortunately due to a fire mishap in his studio the prints of ‘Balayogini' along with some of K. Subramanyam's Tamil classics were lost.

Remembered for: The bold progressive content and also as the first Tamil social film to be remade in Telugu.

m.l. narasimham


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