m. l. narasimham
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starring Dr. Garikapati Rajarao, Nippani Jamuna, Perumallu, Mikkilineni Radhakrishna Murthy, Tikkavarapu Ramana Reddy, Chadalavada Kutumbarao, Allu Ramalingaiah, Koduri Achaiah, Ramakoti, Surabhi Kamala Bai, Suryasri, Ramani, Nasser and troupe.

At the turn of the 1950’s, family dramas revolving around contemporary social issues took predominance over folklores and mythologies. The decade also saw progressive act ors and technicians entering the film field from the stage. One noted personality was Dr. Garikapati Rajarao, a practicing doctor, stage actor, playwright, producer and director, and above all a founding-member of the Praja Natya Mandali and its organiser. He believed that art was not a mere entertainment medium, but had a purpose, to create awareness among the people, especially youth, towards building a better society. He proved his point through his popular plays, acting in them whether as a factory owner in ‘ Parivarthana ,’ a patwari in ‘ Maa Bhoomi ,’ Rahim in ‘ Eenadu ,’ Khilji in ‘ Khilji Rajyapathanamu ’ or as Rutherford in ‘ Alluri Seetharamaraju .’ Rajarao won the appreciation of such stalwarts as Balraj Sahni and K.A. Abbas when his troupe staged the last-mentioned play in Bombay. A good dancer, his ‘ Tandava Nruthyam ’ in the climax scene of the play, ‘Hitler ,’ is still remembered by theatre-lovers.

Following in the footsteps of some of his colleagues at Praja Natya Mandali, Rajarao too stepped into films by launching Raja Productions. He wrote a story about a strong-willed woman who, against all odds, rises to the occasion, helps her parents and leads a life independent from her wayward husband, and titled it, Puttillu . He signed his theatre colleagues, Sunkara and Vasireddy to write the dialogue and lyrics. Most of the artistes and technicians were taken from Praja Natya Mandali.

Debutante Jamuna, whose mother tongue is not Telugu, but Kannada, was born on August 30, 1936 at Hampi to Nippani Srinivasa Rao and KousAlya Devi, a musician. Her family shifted to Duggirala near Tenali when her father started an export business. Encouraged by her mother, Jamuna started acting in stage plays from a young age. One such play was ‘ Maa Bhumi ’ in which she played the sister’s role with aplomb. During her schooling at Duggirala, the later day doyen of Telugu cinema, Kongara Jaggaiah, was her teacher. She would never have dreamt that one day she would be playing heroine to him in many hit movies. When Rajarao was looking for fresh faces to play the female lead, Jamuna met him through his (Rajarao’s) paternal aunt. Rajarao sent Jamuna’s photographs to his cinematographer V.N. Reddy, a popular cameraman in Bombay. Neither Jamuna nor her father heard anything after that.

Meanwhile they signed B.V. Ramanandam’s Jai Veera Betala ’ The hero of this movie was a newcomer, Gummadi Venkateswara Rao. When Rajarao knew about it he was furious and said that since she had already signed another film, she lost the opportunity to work with him. But when V.N. Reddy sent him a telegram stating that she resembled Nargis (that’s how she came to be referred as ‘Andhra Nargis’), and suggested that she be signed for the movie, Rajarao relented. Jamuna was back as the heroine and at the young age of 16 carried the heavy role with great ease.

The story: Dharmayya (Perumallu), a traditionalist and upright farmer, leads a simple life with his wife Santhamma (Ramani), son Suryam (Mikkilineni) and daughter Suseela (Jamuna). He decides to get her married despite Suseela’s desire to study further. Perayya Sastri (Allu Ramalingaiah) brings a match for her and the marriage is fixed with Raghava Rao (Rajarao) on condition that Dharmayya should finance Raghava Rao’s higher education. Suseela suffers at the hands of her mother-in-law Mahalakshmamma (Surabhi Kamala). Her father-in-law Venkaiah (Chadalavada) is a mute spectator of all this. Her pleasure-seeking husband leaves for the city to join a college where he meets Paul (Ramana Reddy) who introduces him to a woman of low morals, Jimmy (Suryasri). Once money stops coming from Dharmayya, Raghava Rao returns home and shows his ire on his pregnant wife. Suseela delivers a boy, and when Dharmayya comes to drop her at her mother-in-law’s house. Mahalakshmamma does not allow her to step in. Raghava Rao plans to marry Jimmy and demands money from Suseela, who pleads with him not to desert her and their child. In a fit of anger, Raghava Rao sends her out of the house. A determined Suseela decides to lead an independent life. How she earns the respect of all and manages to save the honour of her parents is narrated in a telling manner.

Rajarao’s directorial abilities and V.N. Reddy’s photography were well appreciated by all, but as a screen hero Rajarao failed to impress.

Full marks were given by critics to Jamuna (This is referred to as her debut movie as Jai Veera Betala was abandoned midway through the shoot due to the demise of its producer-director B.V. Ramanandam). As Perayya Sastri, all that Allu Ramalingaiah had to do in his debut screen appearance was to re-enact his role from Rajarao’s play, Paschathapam .

Most of the songs tuned by Tatineni Chalapati Rao and Mohan Das, both debuting, were rendered by A.P. Komala. Jikki sang two songs, a solo, ‘Toli choopule yeda dochera ‘and the duet with Pithapuram Nageswara Rao, ‘Ohho beauty…It’s my duty’. The tune for one of the songs that A.P. Komala rendered, ‘Kanumoyi O Nelarajaa…’ was a straight copy of the popular Hindi song, ‘Ghar Aaya Mera Pardesi…’ (Awara) shot on Nargis as a dream song. In Puttillu too it was picturised on Jamuna in a dream sequence!

Though Puttillu was not a box-office success, Rajarao presented through it two talented artistes to the Telugu film industry - Jamuna and Allu Ramalingaiah.

m. l. narasimham



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