Blast from the past Movies

GUNDAMMA KATHA (1962)

Still from Gundamma Katha  

After watching a special screening of the movie, before its release, some film industry veterans commented that it lacked proper story and despite the strength of the Vijaya Productions banner, it would have a two to three weeks run. However Chakrapani was confident that Gundamma Katha would be a commercial success. When the movie celebrated its silver jubilee, veteran director K.V. Reddi wryly remarked, ‘I still cannot figure out how people liked this picture.’

Termed as an all-time favourite with generations of Telugu movie goers, Gundamma Katha was based on Vittalacharya’s 1958 Kannada hit, Mane Thumbida Hennu (woman who filled a void in the house). There is a story behind how Nagi Reddi acquired its rights. When Vittalacharya came to Madras from Bangalore to expand his base by making films in Telugu, he approached Nagi Reddi who offered him the studio facilities and financial assistance. In return, Vittalacharya gave him the remake rights of Mane Thumbida Hennu.

Initially, B.N. Reddi wished to direct the Telugu version. He made minor changes in the script along with D.V. Narasaraju. However Nagi Reddi felt that it might not sound good for a class director like B.N. handling a Vittlacharya remake. He approached veteran P. Pullaiah who showed keen interest at first but backed out after reading the script.

At this juncture, Chakrapani stepped in. He rewrote the entire story of the Kannada version taking only the three characters – Gundamma, her daughter and step daughter.

Along with NTR, Chakrapani wanted ANR too to play a lead role giving both of them equal importance. Narasaraju wrote the dialogue. Kamalakara Kameswara Rao was chosen to direct the movie.

The story: Gundamma (Suryakantham), a rich widow, treats her step daughter Lakshmi (Savitri) as a maid. She dotes on her daughter Saroja (Jamuna) and wants to perform her marriage with a groom who would stay with them. Her son Prabhakar (Haranath) is in love with Padma (L. Vijayalakshmi). Gundamma’s cousin Kanchu Gantaiah (Ramana Reddy) and his wife (Hemalatha) plan to get their jail bird son Bhupathy (Rajanala) married to Saroja to knock off Gundamma’s property. Ramabhadraiah (SVR), a friend of Gundamma’s deceased husband, sends his two sons Anjaneya Prasad (NTR) and Raja (ANR) in disguise, as suitors for Gundamma’s two daughters- Prasad as Anji, the servant and Raja as a confidence trickster posing as Ramabhadraiah’s son. Trusting the two, Gundamma performs the marriage of Lakshmi with Anji and Saroja with Raja. While Anjaneya Prasad takes Lakshmi home and ends his disguise, Raja continues acting as a conman to tame Saroja. Gundamma’s travails start after Prabhakar marries Padma and Padma’s aunt Kanakadurgamma (Chayadevi) stays with them. How she comes to terms with reality forms the climax.

Cast & Crew: During the making of the film, Chakrapani was constantly asked by Nagi Reddi’s family members how far the story of Gundamma had come. Even B.N. had such a query. There was no need now for Chakrapani to search for the title and he named it Gundamma Katha.

The film took close to a year to complete. One reason was that the stars’ dates had not been obtained in advance. Some of the scenes were shot by director Kamalakara Kameswara Rao with the actors available at that time and later they were matched brilliantly at the editing table by editors G. Kalyanasundaram and D.G. Jayaram. Marcus Bartley cranked the camera.

Narasaraju’s lithe dialogue laced with subtle humour and satire helped the movie in a big way at the box office. He coined phrases like dush propaganda and alludirikam (mother-in-law staying at son-in-law’s house) which became popular.

With more emphasis on banter in the story, the actors, without straining a nerve, sailed smoothly through their characters. As the tormented step daughter, Savitri portrayed the role more as a woman accepting her fate than as a sufferer. NTR and ANR had fun playing Anji and Raja in their tenth film together. Jamuna, with a graceful face, expressed ego, arrogance, innocence, warmth and empathy without a trace of artificiality. That explains why Chakrapani insisted on her playing the role of Saroja, a character that he had created inspired by Shakespeare’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew.’ To get Jamuna for the role, he even went up to the extent of bringing peace between ANR and Jamuna who had a tiff during the shooting of Dongallo Dora (1957) and did not sign a new film together for nearly three and half years. Jamuna’s dialogue “Amma…coffee” from the film, became a catchword with young woman of the time. However, the acting honours go to Suryakantham as Gundamma and Ramana Reddy as the schemer Gantayya.

Pingali Nagendra Rao’s lyrics and Ghantasala’s tunes contributed largely for the success of the movie. The renditions were by Ghantasala, P. Leela and P.Susheela. A duet on ANR and Jamuna was planned to be shot in Brindavan Gardens in Mysore but Chakrapani decided to shoot it in Vijaya Gardens. It was then that Pingali wrote the evergreen hit, ‘premayathralaku brindavanamu nandanavanamu yelano…’ Every song – lechindi nidralechindi mahila lokam, mounamuga nee manasu paadina, kanulu therachina neevaye, manishi maaraledu aathani, Kolu koloyanna kolo naa saami, aligina velane choodali- are being enjoyed even today by music lovers.

Trivia: A few days before the release of Gundamma Katha, the wedding reception of L.V. Prasad’s daughter was held at Vijaya Gardens. Vyjayanthimala who was to perform a dance was held up at Coimbatore. Not to disappoint the guests, Chakrapani brought an incomplete rerecording print of Gundamma Katha from the recording theatre and showed to the guests. This no producer would normally do.

The Herald (MSW 6009) car that ANR drives in the movie belonged to Nagi Reddi’s sons, B. Venugopala Reddi and B. Viswanatha Reddi. For the shooting purpose the car was made topless at Nagi Reddi’s garage as Herald did not manufacture a topless car then.

It was Nagi Reddi’s Ford Mercury car which NTR drives and in which he gives lift to ANR and Jamuna.

Gundamma Katha was NTR’s 100th film and interestingly its Tamil version, Manithan Maaravillai (Gemini Ganesan played NTR’s role) which was shot simultaneously with Chakrapani as the director was ANR’s 100th starrer.

In the titles, instead of the names of the actors their photographs were carried side by side with NTR on the left and ANR on the right and then the rest of the top actors.

Released on June 7, 1962, Gundamma Katha celebrated hundred days in many centres and a silver jubilee run in Vijayawada. The money intended to be spent for the celebrations was donated by Nagi Reddi to the National Defence Fund as the China war was on at that time.


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Printable version | Oct 17, 2021 11:08:04 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/GUNDAMMA-KATHA-1962/article16735882.ece

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