starring Chittoor V. Nagaiah, T.R. Rajakumari, Vidyavathi, Mudigonda Lingamurthy, K. Doraswamy, Ramasarma, V. Gopalakrishnan, A.V. Subbarao, B.V. Kutumbarao, S.S. Raju, Vempati Radhakrishna, Addala Narayana Rao, Prayaga Narasimha Sastry, Girija, Chayadevi, Seetha, Master Sudhakar, Master Kundu, Baby Duvvuri Kalpakam

Life at times imitates art, and Nagaiah is a fine example. When he wrote the screenplay of his movie “Naa Illu,” detailing the protagonist’s character in it, he might not have had the least idea that its traits would one day take the toll on him. The idealistic hero of the film loses everything to plotters, due to his gullible nature.

So was Nagaiah himself, whose goodness and benevolence in later years were taken advantage of by cheats and that ultimately led him to financial straits. With what great pathos he would have written these sorrowful concluding words in his autobiography, ‘Sweeya charitra,’: ‘Prathi manishi cheppe thiyyani kaburlu nijamani nammakandi. Bhrama kaliginaa nisitamga pariseelinchi avuno kado thelchukondi! Ide nenu savinayamuga andariki manavi chese vishayam. Swanubhavamtho nenu telusukunna parama satyam idi. Nenu ivala inni avasthalu padadaaniki kaaranam aa satyam thelusukoka povadame.’(Do not believe as eternal truth everyone’s sweet words. Such words may create an illusion. So analyse them thoroughly to know the right and the wrong. This is the truth I have learnt from my own experience. Today, if I am facing such hardships, it is because I did not realise the truth).

Ever since he saw the 1940 version of the English movie, ‘The Way of All Flesh’ (not related to Samuel Butler’s famous novel by the same name), directed by Louis King and its Hindi adaptation, Moti B. Gidwani’s big hit ‘Khazanchi’ (1941), Nagaiah toyed with the idea of making a Telugu version of it. And he realised his dream nine years after making his directorial debut with ‘Thyagayya’ (1946), by promoting Our India Films with a partner.

It was in the year 1927 that the film, ‘The Way of All Flesh’ was first made by director Victor Fleming with Emil Jannings, a German-American actor, playing the protagonist. The story was credited to Perley Poore Sheehan. There was a twist here.

A writer couple Ernest Maas and Frederica Maas were said to have written a novel, ‘Beefsteak Joe,’ based on the life of Ernest’s father, who had abandoned his family after making horrible mistakes in personal life. They gave the novel to fellow German-American Jannings to make it into a movie. To their dismay they found that their novel had been made into a movie with a different title. They were not only denied their remuneration, but were also not given credits. To top it all, Jannings went on to win the first ever Oscar award (instituted in 1929 and given to films released between 1927 and 1928) for best actor for his superb portrayal in both ‘The Way of All Flesh’ and ‘The Last Command’! It proves that plagiarism is not a new phenomenon.

Nagaiah took the major characters and the central plot from the English original and brought in several changes to suit nativity. The story and dialogue were credited to Devulapalli Krishna Sastry and Yadavalli Lakshmi Narayana. Devulapalli also penned the lyrics.

An honest bank manager Sivaram (Nagaiah) is sent to Bombay on official work with huge cash.

The villainous assistant manager Dhanraj (Lingamurthy) sends his paramour Leela (Vidyavathi) by the same train to seduce Sivaram and rob the money. She accomplishes the job with Dhanraj’s Bombay counterpart Harish (Doraswamy). Harish is fatally run over by a train, but everybody presumes that Sivaram is dead. Fearing that he would be framed for the lost money, Sivaram goes incognito, doing odd jobs. His wife Sarada (T. R. Rajakumari) struggles to bring up her children Gopi (Gopalakrishnan), Hari (Ramasarma) and Lakshmi (Girija). With the help of Balananda Sangham, headed by Radio Annayya (Raghavarao) and Radio Akkayya (Kameswari), she makes her children popular musicians. After a few twists and turns in the story, the truth ultimately prevails, Dhanraj is punished and Sivaram unites with his family.

Technically a well-made film (cinematography: M.A. Rahman), Nagaiah gave the family drama an investigative touch in his screenplay to make it interesting. Since he was also making a Tamil version (‘En Veedu’), he signed the popular Tamil actress Tanjavur Ranganayaki Rajayee alias T.R. Rajakumari, who was a household name all over the Telugu country too after the release of Gemini’s ‘Chandralekha.’ She came up with a sterling performance. T.S. Balaiah replaced Lingamurthy as the antagonist in the Tamil version. Later day popular Tamil character artiste V. Gopalakrishnan acted in both versions. Vidyavathi, maternal aunt of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Ms. J. Jayalalitha, made her Telugu debut with this movie.

Nagaiah and Addepalli Ramarao composed the music. If in ‘Khazanchi,’ music director Ghulam Haider intelligently mixed Hindustani classical music with Punjabi folk, in ‘Naa Illu,’ Nagaiah combined Hindustani music with Carnatic music melodiously. The song that Nagaiah teaches his children- ‘Adigadigo gagana seema… andamaina chandamama’ is still popular with music lovers. Interestingly, in the movie this song also comes in the pre-climax scene where Nagaiah watches his grown-up children singing it at a concert that reunites his family. Such family reunion songs were in vogue even in 1953.

Nagaiah has written in his autobiography that ‘Naa Illu’(released on January 8, 1953) grossed reasonably well, “but, I did not get a single paisa because my partner cheated me.” A pious and kind-hearted person that he was, Nagaiah never mentioned the partner’s name.

m. l. narasimham