It was a time when Mullapudi Venkataramana, after a successful stint as a film journalist and establishing himself as a budding screen-writer (with blockbusters like Dagudu Moothalu , Rakta Sambandham and Mooga Manasulu to his credit) overcame initial apprehension to team up with his long time cartoonist friend Sattiraju Laxmi Narayana (Bapu) for a film. They were young, energetic and unafraid of the financial risks involved in producing a project. Bapu had meanwhile finished the logo design of the Nandana films banner. They were unanimous in their decision to rework Gary Cooper’s crime-thriller High Noon . Despite knowing ANR well and that his presence would boost the film’s appeal, they didn’t go overboard and wanted to play it safe. Sakshi was the title of the the film that went on to star Krishna, Vijaya Nirmala and Vijayalalitha in the lead roles, releasing in theatres on July 1, 1967. The film completes its 50th anniversary this Saturday.
Sakshi is set in an idyllic Godavari setting where Krishna plays Kishtappa, a soft-hearted villager who falls for Radha, sister of a perennially drunk truck driver Fakeeru (Kongara Jagga Rao). Munasabu, who’s consistently advised by Karanam, has a liking for Radha (Vijaya Nirmala). Fakeeru realising the same gets into a murderous rage one night and kills two people in Munasabu’s farm, which Kishtappa witnesses. Fakeeru is jailed and threatens to murder Kishtappa when he returns. The rest of the story deals with how Kishtappa overcomes Fakeeru and emerges victorious in a tense ending. The film not only lays importance on the crime angle, but also emphasises the need for humans to stand up for each other in times of crisis. The Rajamundry lingo complemented the dialogues well, with lines like ‘Serlo beddesthe neerantha kaduluddi, madisi meeda debbesthe oorantha kaduluddi’ summarised the film’s essence to perfection.
The film’s shoot was completed in a record span of 19 days and was a key aspect of the publicity campaign. Many of Bapu and Mullapudi’s counterparts in the industry joked that the film too would run just as long . Mullapudi in his book Inkothi Kommachi reveals that their predictions went wrong and the film ran for 29 days. To their surprise, the film was a profitable venture, the distributors were safe and there was adequate critical acclaim too. In fact, after watching the film ANR asked the two why they didnt approach him for the lead role; he felt that he missed a good film. That was the moment when Bapu-Ramana felt they’d made a good beginning. ANR went on to work with them in Buddhimantudu, Andala Ramudu and Srirama Rajyam, all memorable outings for the director-writer duo and thespian ANR.
Sakshi was actor Krishna’s fifth film in his career and his first with Vijaya Nirmala. He’d played a similar do-gooder role in his debut Tene Manasulu . Bapu-Ramana and Krishna later collaborated for Krishnavataram , another film that goes in the thriller-mode besides Edi Dharmam, Edi Nyayam where Krishna was seen in a guest role. Krishna also teamed up independently with Bapu for Srirajeswari Vilas Coffee Club .
K V Mahadevan composed the music for Sakshi . Mullapudi who used to fondly call him ‘mama’ arranged for a music sitting in Bangalore, to let him work undisturbed by other producers/directors in Chennai. Bapu has many a time credited cinematographer Selvaraj for equipping him with the basics of filmmaking. When Bapu-Ramana approached Navayuga distributors for funding the project, the team was impressed by Mullapudi’s confidence. Bapu had no experience in films by then, but he’d convinced them of his artistic abilities to finally earn a nod.Debutant Ranga Rao’s wily portrayal of Karanam earned him so much popularity that thereafter he came to be known as the ‘Sakshi’ Ranga Rao. The film was a musical hit too, the combination of Atreya, Arudra and K V Mahadevan produced hits like Amma kadupu challaga, Evariki vare ee lokam . The film was made with a budget of 2.5 lakhs and made it to the prestigious Tashkent film festival. (Sakshi will be screened at Prasad Labs, Hyderabad on July 2, 6 pm)