starring G. Varalakshmi, Madhavapeddi Ramgopal, V. Sivaram, Rangaswamy, Ramachandra Rao, D. Sadasivarao, Mikkilineni Radhakrishnamurthy, Seshamamba, Annapurna Devi, K.V. Subbarao, Ramana Reddy, Chadalavada Kutumba Rao, Master Sudhakar, Master Kundu, Chittibabu

Bengali literature, more so the novels of Sarath Chandra Chattopadhyay, had great influence on early Telugu film-makers. One of Sarath’s classics, Ramer Shumoti (The return of Rama to sanity) was translated into Telugu as Ramuni Buddhimanthithanamu , by the eminent scholar Veluri Sivarama Sastry. Ever since he read the masterpiece, Kovelamudi Surya Prakasa Rao toyed with the idea of making a film of it. Five years later, he was able to realise his dream when he launched the movie Deeksha . A master screenplay writer, Prakasa Rao, brought many changes to suit the Telugu nativity, while at the same time retaining the story’s original flavour. Thapi Dharma Rao wrote the dialogue. Acharya Athreya made his debut as a lyricist with this film.

Balaiah (Vallabhajosyula Sivaram) and his wife Yasoda (G. Varalakshmi) live in a village. Before her death, Balaiah’s step-mother hands over her son Gopi (Ramgopal) to Yasoda, requesting her to treat him as her own son. Yasoda keeps her word and brings him up as affectionately as she does her own son, Ramana (Master Sudhakar). Gopi turns into a mischievous lad and there are complaints against him from the villagers. But Yasoda ignores them. Her mother Durgamma (Seshamamba) dislikes Gopi and plots to create trouble for him. She plucks two jack fruits, which he worships as Rama and Lakshmana and prepares a curry with them. In a fit of rage, Gopi throws a stone at her, but it hits Yasoda. Gopi leaves home and heads for the city, where he sees the plight of the common man, and now understands the truth behind Yasoda’s preachings. He returns home and, under her tutelage, learns about the lives of great men, who had made sacrifices for the country. Time passes and now he is being hailed by the people as Sardar Gopalam. Yasodamma is happy about it. The movie is a tribute to motherhood.

The media and the audience hailed the film as a masterpiece. Without any love scenes or romantic duets, Prakasa Rao presented human relationships and the conflict between an individual’s freedom and society’s rigid rules in a very convincing manner. No wonder, it was termed a must watch film for every child and parents. The characters in the movie do not just talk to one another, but also address the audience directly. This was a novel attempt and had its impact on the spectators. Every song in the movie (composed by Pendyala Nageswara Rao) takes the story forward. Prakasa Rao was supported with good camera work by R.R. Chandran and B.S. Ranga and editing by M.V. Rajan.

As a simple woman with an affectionate heart, G. Varalakshmi as Yasoda scored over the rest of the cast. Accustomed to seeing her in glamour roles and as a vamp, many had wondered whether she would be able to do justice to such a role. She proved them wrong with a sterling performance. Also she herself sang her songs. Though it was his first film, Madhavapeddi Ramgopal as Gopi gave a brilliant portrayal. Prakasa Rao was looking for a young lad who should look pleasing and at the same time arrogant. One day he went for a movie at the New Elephestone theatre in Madras. It was dark inside and when he went to his row, he found a boy sitting in a chair with his legs stretched on a front seat. He was also smoking. Prakasa Rao asked him to give way. Without removing his legs, the boy recklessly told him to find his way. Not to pick up a row, the director quietly made his way to his seat and observed him during interval. The boy, though arrogant, had a pleasant appearance. Prakasa Rao felt he had found his Gopi. He met the boy’s father, Madhavapeddi Kalidas, a lawyer from Bapatla, who was in the city then and signed Ramgopal for the role. After a week’s training, Ramgopal faced the camera. Interestingly, though he won kudos for his performance, Ramgopal did not pursue acting as a career. He later worked as an assistant director for the 1963 classic, Narthanasala . Prakasa Rao picked up artistes from the Praja Natya Mandali and one such luminary was Mikkilineni Radhakrishnamurthy, who made his debut with Deeksha .

Kilambi Venkata Narasimhacharyulu, better known as Acharya Athreya, was to have made his debut with Vijaya’s Shavukaru . Director L.V. Prasad was so impressed with his plays that he took him as a writer, but, as Athreya himself later admitted, he could not concentrate on his work as he developed a love affair and had to quit his job. Later, Prasad took him as an assistant director for Jupiter Pictures Tamil venture, Manohara , which he was directing. It was during that period Athreya got an opportunity to write lyrics for Deeksha , including the hit numbers – ‘Manushulante Veellena…,’ and ‘Pora babu po…,’ a background song rendered soulfully by M.S. Ramarao which is still popular, besides ‘Emouthundo Inkemouthundo…’ rendered by Master Venu under the baton of fellow music director Pendyala Nageswara Rao.

Prakasa Rao made Deeksha simultaneously in Tamil too as Anni (sister-in-law), retaining G. Varalakshmi, but he replaced Ramgopal with Master Sethu for the Tamil version. Sethu had acted in a few Tamil films before taking up a job in The Hindu as an editorial staff. Both Deeksha and Anni celebrated 100-day runs and helped Prakasa Rao set up his own studio complex--- Prakash Studios at the entrance to Saligramam in Madras, where now a housing complex is coming up.

m. l. narasimham