Blast from the past - Gulebakavali (1955)


Ramanna filmed Gulebakavali, a familiar Arabian Nights tale, with M. G. Ramachandran, T. R. Rajakumari, Rajasulochana, G. Varalakshmi, S. D. Subbulakshmi and E. V. Saroja, supported by K. A. Thangavelu, J. P. Chandra Babu, E. R. Sahadevan and A. Karunanidhi. Gulebakavali was a mass entertainer with melodious song and dance numbers, well-orchestrated fight sequences (the one between MGR and a ferocious tiger was much talked about), an interesting storyline and T. R. Rajakumari providing the glamour quotient (she was then 33). Gul-e-Bakavali has its origin in the famous Persian classic ‘One Thousand Nights and One Night' (‘Alf Leila Wah Leila'). This story is also found in the famed Telugu folktale collection ‘Kasi Majili Kathalu” by Madhira Subbaraya Deekshithulu. Not surprisingly, the story has been made into a movie in India several times. The first movie version was made in 1924 as a silent film by Kohinoor Films, Bombay. Directed by Kanthilal Rathod, it featured well-known stars of that period, Jamuna and Sabitha Devi. It was again made as a silent film in 1930. Then followed four films in Hindi, in 1932, 1947, 1956 and 1963.

It was made in Telugu in 1938 as Gulebakavali directed by Kallakoori Sathasiva Rao with the noted multilingual star B. Jayamma of Karnataka as the heroine. N. T. Rama Rao made another version in Telugu in the 1960s as Gulebakavali Katha.

The first Tamil version was produced in 1935 by S. Soundararajan of Tamil Nadu Talkies with V. A. Chellappa and T. P. Rajalakshmi playing the lead.

Gulebakavali was written by the noted writer of the day Thanjai Ramaiah Das. He also penned the lyrics and the high-flown dialogue with its underlying social concern and it was effectively delivered by MGR.

The music was composed by the up-and-coming duo Viswanathan-Ramamurthy. The film had many melodious songs of which the biggest hit was ‘Mayakkum maalai pozhudhey….' An interesting but not much known fact about this hit — K. V. Mahadevan who was the composer for Goondukili created this catchy tune. Ramanna struggling to finish the MGR-Sivaji Ganesan starrer, decided not to picturise the song for many reasons. He introduced it in Gulebakavali which was sung offscreen by Jikki and A. M. Raja, and picturised it on Varalakshmi and MGR. Ironically the credit went to Viswanathan-Ramamurthy. Rajakumari, a Carnatic musician, had always sung her songs ever since her debut in the early 1940s and rendered many hit numbers in films such as Chandralekha, Manonmani and Kubera Kuchela. But in Gulebakavali, she sang in borrowed voice (P. Leela) much to the disappointment of her fans. As for the story of Gulebakavali… a king has two wives. He banishes his first wife (SDS) as an astrologer told him that he would lose his vision because of her son (MGR). The mother and son live in the woods and when he meets his father without knowing his identity, the king loses his sight. When the son gets to know about the sad tale from his mother, he sets out to bring a rare flower from Bakavali, which would restore the king's sight.

To achieve it, he undergoes many adventures — enters into a debate with a queen (Varalakshmi) and wins the battle of wits, challenges a woman (Rajakumari) held captive by a crook (Thangavelu) in a fake dice contest, and rescues a slave dancer (Rajasulochana) of a tribal chief. The hero wins them all and succeeds in getting the flower along with the three women who turn out to be princesses and siblings! Meanwhile, his stepbrothers try to steal the flower, but are exposed. Besides Rajakumari, Varalakshmi and Rajasulochana dance and so do E.V. Saroja and Chandra Babu. Thangavelu as the dice manipulator provides moments of fun.

Remembered for the excellent onscreen narration by Ramanna, tuneful music and impressive song and dance numbers.

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Printable version | Apr 21, 2021 4:02:42 AM |

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