m. l. narasimham
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Santhakumari, Bhanumathi, Uppuluri Hanumantha Rao, Rallabandi Kutumba Rao, PeddapuramRaju, Adinarayanaiah, Master Kumar, Baby Lakshmi.

Santhakumari and Hanumantha Rao in ‘Dharmapathni'
Santhakumari and Hanumantha Rao in ‘Dharmapathni'

When Pullaiah decided to make his first social, his friends from the Marathi film industry and his partner at Famous Films, Shiraz Ali suggested the works of popular Marathi writer Vishnu Sakharam Khandekar (the first Marathi litterateur to receive the Gyanpeeth award). Pullaiah picked up Dharmapathni from Khandekar's stories and wrote a scenario. He took his wife Santhakumari for the title role and after watching Varavikrayam he felt that Bhanumathi suited for the second heroine Uma's character as Uma was as assertive and modern thinking as Kalindi from Varavikrayam .For the hero's character, Hanumantha Rao son of popular stage actor Uppuluri Sanjeeva Rao was signed.

He made the film at Shalini Cinetone Studios, Kolhapur, taking technicians from Maharashtra - cinematographer S.K. Pai, music director Annasaheb Mainkar, art director H.S. Gang Naik and editor Baburao Barodkar.

Though Viswanatha Sathyanarayana was assigned to write the dialogues but since they were too grammatical, Aluri Venkata Subbarao (better known as Chakrapani, then already popular for his Telugu translations of Bengali writer Sarathchandra Chatterjee's works) was roped in, thanks to Pullaiah's good friend B.S. Rama Rao (later the General Manager for Chandamama Publications for several decades).

The theme of Dharmapthni was both progressive and traditional. Five year old Radha (Baby Lakshmi)'s dying mother (Narimani) hands the custody of Radha to the devadasi Sridevi (Peddapuram Raju) who promises henceforth she would lead a pure life. Sridevi teaches the child the virtues of a housewife. In the school Radha befriends Mohan (Master Kumar) and as they grow love blossoms between Radha (Santhakumari) and Mohan (Hanumantha Rao). Mohan takes her to the temple and pledges before the deity that she was his dharmapathni .

The lecherous Ananda Rao (Rallabandi Kutumba Rao) informs Mohan's father (Adinarayanaiah) that his son was seeing the daughter of a harlot Sridevi. Mohan's father forces his son to marry Uma (Bhanumathi) from a rich family. Uma traces Mohan's disinterest in her to Radha and leaves him. Leela (Susila) a victim of Ananda Rao saves Uma from Rao's trap. Ananda Rao murders Leela and implicates Mohan. Radha in order to save Mohan decides to meet Ananda Rao who assures her he had the evidence to prove Mohan's innocence. Finally truth gets out and Mohan is saved from the gallows. His parents accept Radha. Uma realises her folly and unites with Mohan.

Debut actor Uppuluri Hanumantha Rao later acted in two more movies – Bhishma Pratigna and Vandemataram before settling down to a more secure job as a Municipal Health Officer in Bhimavaram.

Peddapuram Raju, an attractive woman with a melodious voice, rendered the song – pathiye sathiyau…pathini deivamani bhavinchina sathiye sathiyau while she taught the virtues of a wife to Baby Radha. This song along with Bhanumathi's peppy renditions – Nilu Niluma Neelavana… Nee Lalitha Nikunjamaraavaka and Anuragamu Leka Anandamundha Telusuna are available on the internet. Daita Gopalam wrote the lyrics tuned by Annasaheb Mainkar whose real name was Shankar Vinayak Mainkar. He rose to fame with Master Vinayak's Chaya (1936). His progressive thinking and quest for experimentation brought him closer to Pullaiah. Mainkar composed for several musical hits in Hindi and Marathi till 1949. Dharmapathni was the lone Telugu film veteran had composed.

A master of scenario writing, Pullaiah so convincingly put it that if there is total love and understanding between the spouses - they can live together without a formal wedding.

The audience sympathised with Radha and accepted her as they accepted Uma. Needless to say the film was a commercial success.

The thespian worked on subtle emotions instead of melodrama. He avoided routine shot taking. In one scene in Dharmapathni when his father brings a new dress for Master Mohan, the camera pans a close up of the dress and the shot cuts to show the boy in the new dress. That is called the director's touch.

If Pullaiah and Santhakumari's eldest daughter was born during the making of Venkateswara Mahathmayam and was named Padma after the character Padmavathy that Santhakumari played in the film, just ten days before the release (date January 10, 1941) of Dharmapathni their second daughter was born and she was named Radha, after the role that Santhakumari enacted in the film.

Though in a small role, Dharmapathni also marked the debut of one of Telugu film industry's later day doyen Akkineni Nageswara Rao.

His brother Ramabrahmam took him to Kolhapur hoping ANR would get the hero's childhood character. ANR was 15 and too old for the role. Pullaiah signed him as one of the ten school children for the song sequence – Anandamayega mana Mohanudu Pelli kodukayega mana Radhamma Pelli koothurayega Years later Akkineni played the hero in Pullaiah's hit film, Ardhangi . Well… that's another story.

Incidentally 2011 marks the birth centenary of P. Pullaiah fondly known as peepulaiah a man of the masses who made successful classics!

m. l. narasimham



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