Blast from the past Art


Anjali Devi, NTR, Ravi Kondala Rao in ‘Badi Panthulu’  

Heartwarming stories with a gripping narrative have timeless appeal. One such story was The Years Are So Long written by Josephine Lawrence in 1934 on the travails of an aged couple who were forced to separate and live with their children.

Jaggaiah, Janaki in ‘Badi Panthulu’

Jaggaiah, Janaki in ‘Badi Panthulu’  

The novel was adapted as a play by Helen and Noah Leary which in turn found its way to Hollywood when producer-director Leo Mc Carey made it as the movie, Make Way for Tomorrow (1937). Since then there were several filmmakers cutting across generations who made films on a similar theme, in various languages including one in Japanese (Tokyo Story -1953) and back home, in Hindi (Baghban - 2007).

In between, there was one movie that stood out in this genre — B R Panthulu’s 1958 Kannada classic, School Master which was based on the iconic Marathi poet, author and playwright Vishnu Vaman Shirwadkar’s novel, Vaishnavi. It is not known whether the Jnanpeeth awardee who wrote under the pen name ‘Kusumagraj’ was inspired by Josephine Lawrence’s novel, but one can find similitude.

Padmini, Anjali Devi, NTR, Jaggaiah, Krishnam Raju, Ramakrishna in ‘Badi Panthulu’

Padmini, Anjali Devi, NTR, Jaggaiah, Krishnam Raju, Ramakrishna in ‘Badi Panthulu’  

Panthulu dubbed the movie in Telugu with the same title and released it in 1959. It had an average run. However, years later when producer P Perraju of Triveni Productions remade it in Telugu, titled, Badi Panthulu (1972) with N T Ramarao playing the title role, it was a super hit.

The story

Headmaster Raghava Rao (played by NTR) brings normalcy to the chaotically run elementary school in his village. This irks the corrupt school correspondent, Paparao (Nagabhushanam). He sets Raghava Rao’s house on fire. Raghava Rao is touched by his students’ gesture when they build a new house for him. Years pass by. Raghava Rao is forced to take loan from Paparao for his sons, Sathyam (Ramakrishna) and Venu’s (Krishnam Raju) college studies. Sathyam falls in love with and marries Jaya (Vijayalalitha) daughter of Rajamma (Suryakantham) and Venu marries Paparao’s daughter Santha (Jayanthi).

Radhakumari, Allu Ramalingaiah, Rajababu, Padmini in ‘Badi Panthulu’

Radhakumari, Allu Ramalingaiah, Rajababu, Padmini in ‘Badi Panthulu’  

With the help of fellow teacher Kanthaiah (Ravi Kondala Rao), Raghava Rao performs his daughter Lakshmi’s (T Padmini) marriage with the miserly Panakalu’s (Allu Ramalingaiah) son Pichaiah (Rajababu) further leading him into debts. Raghava Rao’s wife Janaki (Anjali Devi) advises him to discuss the matter with their sons to save their house from coming under the hammer. The sons express inability to clear the loans but are willing to take one parent each with them. The retired Raghava Rao has no option. He goes to stay with Sathyam and Janaki stays with Venu. Unable to bear the ordeals and the separation, Raghava Rao and Janaki leave their sons homes.

Meanwhile in the auction, Raghava Rao’s house is bought by his old student Ramu (Jaggaiah), a police officer. Ramu hands it over to Raghava Rao. Sathyam, Venu, Paparao and others realise their mistakes. The family reunites.

Cast and crew

Fastidious at work, director P Chandrasekhar Reddy made a touching presentation of this emotional story. The Pachaiyappa’s College, Madras alumni was adjudged the best actor for the play Pellichoopulu staged during his college anniversary and received the award from veteran actor Govindarajula Subbarao. His acting experience coupled with his long stint as an associate director with veteran V Madhusudana Rao helped P C Reddy as he is popularly known, to extract the best from his actors while directing his fifth movie, Badi Panthulu. He was ably supported by his dialogue writer D V Narasaraju, cinematographer K S Prasad and editor V Anki Reddy.

Ramakrishna, NTR, Nagabhushanam in ‘Badi Panthulu’

Ramakrishna, NTR, Nagabhushanam in ‘Badi Panthulu’  

As Raghava Rao, the disciplined headmaster and the distraught retiree burdened with debts and neglect from sons, NTR showcased his brilliance with subtle display of emotions giving the role a realistic perspective. Easily it was one of his best performances in contemporary family dramas. Anjali Devi matched him in histrionics playing his wife, Janaki. Rest of the cast made a neat presentation in their given characters. Suryakantham’s catch phrase ‘Bhaja Govindam Bhaja Govindam’ was enjoyed by the audience. ‘Shavukaru’ Janaki makes a cameo appearance as Jaggaiah’s wife. She has also played the role in the Puttanna Kanagal directed Malayalam version, School Master (1964).

K V Mahadevan made a large contribution for the film’s success with his compositions. Songs written by Arthreya such as — Boochaadamma Buchaadu; Mee nagumomu naa kanulaaraa rendered by P Susheela and Bharatamathaku je jelu (Ghantasala & chorus), Ninna monna reku vippina letha mogga (Ghantasala, P Susheela) were a great hit.


Sridevi in the song ‘Buchadamma...’ from the film ‘Badi Pantulu’

Sridevi in the song ‘Buchadamma...’ from the film ‘Badi Pantulu’  

It is interesting to note that Baby Sridevi who acted as granddaughter to NTR in Badi Panthulu played his heroine seven years later in Vetagadu and other movies. Tamil and Malayalam actress T Padmini made her Telugu debut with Bhanumathi Ramakrishna’s 1972 directorial Antha Mana Manchike. Paired opposite Rajababu, Badi Panthulu was her second Telugu starrer.

Interestingly, B R Panthulu himself played the title role in the 1958 Kannada and the 1959 Hindi versions of School Master besides producing and directing the movies. In both the films and in the Malayalam version, Sivaji Ganesan essayed the role played by Jaggaiah in Badi Panthulu. Saroja Devi enacted the protagonist’s daughter-in-law in Kannada and in the Hindi movie as his daughter.

Other films on the theme were — veteran actor-director Raja Paranjape’s Marathi movie, Oon Paus (1954), in Hindi, Ravi Tandon’s Zindagi (1976) and Ravi Chopra’s Baghban (2007), in Tamil, Visu’s Varavu Nalla Uravu (1990) and a remake of it in Telugu, Dabbu Bhale Jabbu (1992) produced by Allu Aravind.

Released on November 22, 1972, Badi Panthulu was a box office hit.

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Printable version | Nov 30, 2021 1:00:07 PM |

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