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VIPRANARAYANA (1937)

m.l. narasimham
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Kasturi Venkata Lakshmi Narasimha Rao, Kanchanamala, Vangara Venkata Subbaiah, Ramanimani, K. Parthasarathi.

Kanchanamala and Kasturi Narasimha Rao in Vipranarayana
Kanchanamala and Kasturi Narasimha Rao in Vipranarayana

Film companies during the early talkies looked towards successful stage plays for content. The Calcutta based Aurora Films chose the story of Vipranarayana for their second Telugu film and entrusted the job of directing it to Bengali theatre and cinema's illustrious son, Ahindra Chowdhary. Having made, Sati Anasuya he was no stranger to Telugu cinema. Kasturi Narasimha Rao and the doe-eyed beauty Kanchanamala were signed to play the lead characters – Vipranarayana and Devadevi.

The story is set in the eighth century during the Chozha rule in Thirumandanagudi near Kumbakonam. Vipranarayana, a staunch devotee of Lord Vishnu felt that the Lord has assigned him with the job of spreading his message and chose to start his journey from Srirangam. He was so enthralled by the deity that he decided to stay there and developed a flower garden, nandanavanam in the temple precincts.

He was not distracted by worldly pleasures. Goddess Lakshmi one day asked Vishnu how can there be a person who never expressed his love to a woman. Vishnu smiled and told her to see what's going to happen soon. As part of the Vishnu leela, two courtesan singer-dancers, Madhuravani and her sister Devidevi came to Srirangam to perform at the Chozha King's court. Devadevi was fascinated by the flower garden, through her elder sister she gathered that Vipranarayana grew the garden and he never looked at women. Devadevi took it as a challenge and after a while cast her spell on Vipranarayana resulting in many ordeals for the devotee including branding him as thief. Devadevi, now a changed woman, gives up her wealth and becomes a devotee. Kasturi Narasimha Rao immortalised the role of ‘Vipranarayana,' on stage. While he played the title role, another stage stalwart, Sthanam Narasimha Rao acted as Devadevi. Kasturi Rao later acted in Valmiki and few other films.

Hailed as the Greta Garbo of Telugu cinema, Kanchanamala made her screen debut with C. Pullaiah's Sri Krishna Thulabharam (1935), in an inconsequential role of Mithravinda based on a play by Telugu cinema's first lyricist Chandala Kesava Dasu. Relangi Venkataramaiah played a bit role in the movie. Her next role was as Uthara in Veerabhimanyu (1936) produced by Sagar Movietone in Bombay. Kodavatiganti Kutumba Rao debuted as a dialogue writer with this film. Mesmerised by her beauty, Jaddan Bai, actor and producer and mother of later day Hindi cinema's most elegant actress Nargis, asked her to stay back and act in Hindi films. Mehaboob Khan and popular hero of the time Motilal also told her to learn Hindi so that they can make her a big star in Hindi cinema. Still a teenager, Kanchanamala spurned their offers. Her third starrer, Vipranarayana catapulted her to stardom. The young audience swooned over her. So were the elderly.

She was not only good looking but has a melodious voice and learnt music under the guidance of her paternal uncle Veeraswamy, a violin player. Daughter of Dasari Narayana Das, her most famous play besides, Vipranarayana was Sakkubai where she played the title role.

The later day popular comedian and character actor, Vangara Venkata Subbaiah made his screen debut with Vipranarayana, in the humour filled role of Srinivasa. Ramanimani played Madhuravani and K. Parthasarathi Lord Vishnu.

Legend from Bengal

A legendary figure in Bengal stage and cinema, Ahindra Chowdhary had acted in about 80 Bengali films from silent era to talkies and directed four films, two of them in Telugu. He was also the first in the country to introduce monthly wages in cine field. He created history on Bengali stage with his very first appearance as Kama (Manmadha) in Kama Arjuna in 1923 which ran for 260 consecutive nights at Calcutta, a record that stands unbroken even today. A recipient of the Sangeetha Nataka Academy award, he was awarded Padma Shree in 1963. His two volume autobiography Nijere Haraye Khunji (Searching for my lost self) reflects the rich legacy he left behind of his life and career. Ahindra passed away on November 3, 1974.

Remembered for: Kasturi Narasimha Rao and Kanchanamala's acting. And their rendition of Prema Nagaramuna Paalimpa Priya, and Bharimpa Priya besides Kanchanamala's solo rendition, Gathinchega Jeevitha Bhagyamu written by Thripuraribhatla Veera Raghavaswamy (who also wrote the dialogue) and set to tune by Chunduri Sathyanarayana Murthy.

m.l. narasimham

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