m.l. narasimham
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starring N.T. Ramarao, Govindarajula Subbarao, V. Sivaram, S.V. Rangarao, Srivatsava, Relangi Venkatramaiah, S. Janaki, Santhakumari, Kanakam

Young legendsActors Janaki and N.T. Rama Rao in a still from the movie
Young legendsActors Janaki and N.T. Rama Rao in a still from the movie

After taking over the management of Vauhini Studios in 1949, B. Nagi Reddi, along with Chakrapani, launched Vijaya Productions. Akkineni Nageswara Rao was just married and held a reception in Madras. (His marriage invitation was printed by Nagi Reddi at the BNK Press). Nagi Reddi and Chakrapani, while greeting ANR at the reception, told him about their plans and invited him to star in their maiden production, though they had not by then finalised the story. However, ANR expressed his inability to give immediate dates as he was tied up with other assignments.

Subsequently, Chakrapani came up with the story of Shavukaru , a pleasant and heart-warming rural theme that unveiled Telugu nativity. The duo signed L.V. Prasad to direct the film. The proven Dr. Govindarajula Subbarao was a natural choice to play the title role. The up and coming coming artiste, N.T. Ramarao, who had made his debut with Prasad’s Manadesam , was chosen for the male lead. Interestingly, this was not only the first solo-hero movie for NTR but also his first release in a lead role. Though he had earlier signed B.A. Subbarao’s Palletoori Pilla , Shavukaru was released three weeks ahead of it, on April 7, 1950. No wonder NTR considered Vijaya banner his alma mater.

As per the plot, Chengaiah (Govindarajula Subbarao) is a rich money-lender in a village. Ramaiah (Srivastsava alias Teegela Venkateswarlu) is his neighbour and close friend. Chengaiah’s son Satyam (NTR), a college student in the city, and Ramaiah’s daughter Subbulu (Sankaramanchi Janaki) are fond of each other and the elders too decide to perform their marriage. But soon differences crop up between the two families.

Due to a plot hatched by Chengaiah with the help of a local rowdy Rangadu (S.V. Rangarao), Ramaiah’s son Narayana (Vallabhajosyula Sivaram) lands in jail. Satyam too is put in the same jail due to a foisted theft case. From there on the story takes a few twists and turns. Chengaiah repents for his folly and the two families live in harmony ever after.

The popular Telugu daily of those days, Andhra Patrika , in its review hailed Shavukaru as an ‘ Uthama samajika chitram ’ (best social film). Kodavatiganti Kutumbarao praised it as the first progressive movie in Telugu that portrayed in stark reality the rich-poor conflict. Those who deserved the credit for this were Chakrapani, for the neat story with crisp and simple dialogue, and L.V. Prasad, for the masterly narration sans melodrama. Marcus Bartley contributed with his excellent photography. The props and the sets were realistic (art directors: Ramaraju, Gokhale, Kaladhar and Ramarao). The overall production values clearly indicated what was to come from the Vijaya banner in the years ahead.

Govindarajula Subbarao literally lived the role of the miserly, rich money-lender. Neither NTR nor the debutante Janaki ever looked like newcomers. Most actors were signed on a contract basis by Vijaya. NTR was paid a princely salary of Rs.500 a month. When the contract was over, Nagi Reddi told him that he was free to sign outside banners. But NTR replied, “I will sign them only on one condition that whenever I get a call from Vijaya Productions, my priorities would be with them.”

Janaki was a popular radio artiste. One of her popular radio play was ‘ Patnavaasam ,’ produced by Achanta Janakiram. B.N. Reddi was at the AIR station watching the play. Impressed by Janaki’s diction and expressions, he recommended her to Nagi Reddi and Chakrapani. The duo took her despite some well-wishers expressing doubts about her as “she lacks glamour.” Chakrapani’s retort was that they needed a performer, not a glamour doll, for the role. Janaki proved her worth and the film’s title stuck to her name ever after.

S.V. Rangarao brought a whiff of fresh air to the rowdy character. Till then rowdies on Telugu screen looked menacing, but SVR imitated a rickshaw puller he knew, his soft demeanour, his walk and talk.

Though not a financial hit, Shavukaru earned so much critical acclaim that it became a milestone movie in the annals of Telugu cinema. And one of the key contributing factors for it was the film’s music. Every song of the movie, tuned by Ghantasala Venkateswara Rao (lyrics: Samudrala Raghavacharya), was melodious. Master Venu conducted the orchestra and also played the Hammond organ, reportedly used for the first time in a South Indian film. Among the popular songs were Chiluka Thelupavelane… (Rao Balasaraswati), Deepavali Deepavali Intinta Ananda Deepavali (Balasaraswati, Santhakumari), Yemanene Chinnaari Yemanene Vannela Sigapoova (Ghantasala) and Palaka raadate Chiluka… (Ghantasala).

The film was so close to Nagi Reddi’s heart that during his twilight years, when he seriously fell sick and was depressed, his son, B. Viswanatha Reddi, played its audio cassette to him and it had a soothing effect. In 1965 when Vijaya Productions decided to remake it in Tamil, Chakrapani asked Nagi Reddi to direct the movie, which was titled Engaveetu Penn ’ ( Maa Inti Ammayi ), starring debutante Nirmala and A.V.M Rajan in the lead. Just before its completion, Nagi Reddi fell ill and Taapi Chanakya stepped in to complete it. And like ‘Shavukaru’ Janaki, Nirmala also became popular as ‘Vijaya’ Nirmala.

S.V. Rangarao, who played rowdy in the original version, was retained to play the role. By then a popular actor, SVR criticised Vijaya Nirmala’s selection stating that she looked too frail to play the female lead and asked the producers to change her. Nagi Reddi coolly cancelled the day’s shoot.

A dejected Vijaya Nirmala felt that she was out of the project. To her surprise, the production car came to pick her up the next day. And on the sets, she found SVR replaced by popular Tamil actor S.V. Subbaiah!

m.l. narasimham

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