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LAVA KUSA (1934)

m.l. narasimham
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Cast: Parupalli Subbarao, Sriranjani Sr., Master Bhima Rao, Master Malleswara Rao.

winsome twosome Master Bhimarao and Master Malleswara Rao with Sriranjani
winsome twosome Master Bhimarao and Master Malleswara Rao with Sriranjani

The first very successful spectacle came ten releases after the advent of Telugu talkie, thanks to the wizard called Chithajallu Pullayya. Lava Kusa with its technical finesse, powerful portrayals and melodious renditions by Parupalli Subbarao as Lord Rama and Senior Sriranjani as Sita became a smash hit and a crowd pleaser. In an unprecedented manner, people who had never stepped out of their villages, came in cart loads to nearby towns and cities where the film was shown. At Durga Kalamandir, Vijayawada, in the first week, a record crowd of 26,000 saw the film! It ran for almost a year in some theatres, defying the contract method in vogue then, where the prints have to moved out after a few weeks as per the contract and taken to other centres. Audience literally did not allow the film to be taken off the theatres. Such was the rage. The word blockbuster movie arrived in Telugu tinsel world.

East India Film Company made Sita in Hindi and Bengali with Prithvi Raj Kapoor and Durga Khote directed by Devaki Bose. Both did well at the box office. The company decided to remake it in Telugu and entrusted the job to C. Pullayya. By then the ace director was toying with the idea of making the film version of K. Subrahmanya Sastry's popular drama, Lava Kusa, an episode drawn from Uthara Rama Charitham.

Pullayya's word prevailed and he signed Vallabhajosyula Ramanamurthy to write the screenplay and Balijepalli Lakshmikantha Kavi to pen the dialogues and lyrics. The sets, costumes and props of the Hindi/Bengali film were used for the Telugu original.

Instead of taking the actors from the drama, Pullayya scouted for other talented theatre artistes. He took the handsome Parupalli Subbarao for Rama's role. Emani Venkatramaiah had close resemblance to Subbarao and hence he chose him for Lakshmana's character. By then a popular stage actor and singer, Mangalagiri Sriranjani, was a natural choice to play Sita. Master Bhimarao played Lava and Master Malleswara Rao, Kusa. The other vital actors were – K. Nagumani (Bharatha), Chari (Shatrughna), Madduri Butchaiah Sastry (Vasishta), Ch.B. Venkatachalam (Rajaka), Padmabala (Rajaka's wife), K. Ramachandra Rao (Bhadrudu), Parupalli Satyanarayana (Valmiki), Sitadevi (Urmila), V.V. Ramana Rao (Eerigadu) and Ramadevi (Dharitri).

The story in brief: A pregnant Sita banished by Rama takes asylum at Valmiki's ashram where she gives birth to Lava and Kusa. The twins challenge Rama during the course of his aswamedha yagna. Rama realises that they are his sons.

Sati Savithri was the first film to have the songs on gramophone records but the first Telugu film to have a bumper sale of its records was Lava Kusa. The sale of song books was also started with Lava Kusa. Its success brought in a revolutionary change in film projection. East India Film company replaced the nailed wooden box type projectors with single star simplex projectors in association with Calcutta-based Chatterjee and Bhoopal sound systems. Recorded on RCA high fidelity photophone system, the posters read sahaja maanava swaramunu poliyundu mrudu madhura dhwani.

Stars participation in film promotion at theatres is not a new phenomenon. Mangalagiri Sriranjani visited the theatres while the shows were on and the audience literally worshipped her as Goddess Sita by breaking coconuts, giving her ‘harathi.' Such was her realistic portrayal.

On stage she played both male and female leads. It is interesting to note that while she played Lord Krishna in ‘Radhakrishna' a role that won her accolades, Parupalli Subbarao played Radha, that in fact, got him this film assignment. Both versatile singers it was like a role reversal for them in Lava Kusa.

Lava Kusa was remade by C.Pullayya and his son C.S. Rao in colour for Lalitha Sivajyothi Films with N.T. Rama Rao and Anjali Devi in the lead in 1963, which was also a big hit.

Remembered for: Being the first superhit film and for the demigod status given to Sriranjani by the audience and also for bringing technical advancement to Telugu cinema.

m.l. narasimham


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