Malapilla (1938)

At a time when mythology themes were ruling the roost, Gudavalli Ramabrahmam ushered in a new era in Telugu cinema by making films on contemporary social issues, Malapilla on the Harijan movement was first among them.

Kanchanamala's above still from the film's promotional calendar adorned many a home. Such was the craze the wide eyed beauty, once rejected by Ramabrahmam, generated among the cine goers. During his stint as a production director with Vel Pictures, Ramabrahmam felt that she was not fit for acting and rejected her. As she rose in career, he realised he was wrong and signed her for the harijan village girl Sampalatha's character in Malapilla based on Gudipaati Venkata Chalam's unpublished novelette. Sceptics commented that the original glamour doll of Telugu cinema was a misfit for such a complex character. But she proved them wrong and came up with an earthy and scintillating performance in the first half as an illiterate downtrodden village belle and as the literate modern city woman in the later portions.

The theme dealt with issues like untouchability, taboo on harijans entry into temples, social equality besides Gandhi-ism and national-ism. Inspired by Gandhiji, Radhabayamma (Hemalatha Devi) launches Harijan movement in Kalyanapuram village much to the chagrin of the orthodox Brahmin community and the upper castes. When harijans try to enter the temple, the trustee Sundara Ramasastry (Dr. Govindarajula Subbarao) stops them. His son Nagaraju (Gali Venkateswara Rao) a photographer falls in love with Sampalatha. Chowdharayya (P. Suribabu), a Gandhian, makes a futile attempt to bring a compromise between the upper castes and the harijans. Nagaraju and Sampalatha elope to Calcutta where he finds a job. Anasuya (Sundaramma) Sampalatha's sister accompanies them. Nagaraju educates Sampalatha. In the village, Chowdharayya leads a non-violent movement by harijans against the upper castes. Dalits save Sundara Ramasastry's wife from a fire accident and Sastry is a changed man now agreeing to allow harijans into the temple. With his father's blessings, Nagaraju marries Sampalatha.

A popular LMP doctor in Tenali, Govindarajula Subbarao, a veteran stage actor, created a strong impact playing the antagonist Sundara Ramasastry. At first he refused to take up the assignment as he was asked to shave his head and moustache. After his mother gave him permission to do so, he relented. A researcher, he corresponded with Albert Einstein and wrote a book, ‘Inorganic evolution.'

Gudavalli Ramabrahmam hailed from Nandamuru in Krishna district. A college dropout, he started ‘Friends & Co' a stationary shop in Vijayawada that became a meeting point for writers and poets like Basavaraju Apparao, Samudrala Raghavacharya and Andhra University Vice-Chancellor Cattamanchi Ramalinga Reddy. Tapi Dharamarao wrote the screenplay for Malapilla, while most of Chalam's dialogues were retained. The film was shot in 40 days at K. Subrahmanyam's Motion Picture Producers Studio in Mount Road, that was later acquired in an auction by S.S. Vasan who renamed it Gemini Studios.

Bhimavarapu Narasimha Rao (BNR) composed mostly using the folk music for the 17 songs and 5 poems. Ramabrahmam took three of Basavaraju Apparao's by then popular lyrics – Kollayi gattithe nemi, (rendered by Suribabu), Nallavaade Gollapillavaade (Kanchanamala, Sundaramma) and Aa mabbu…ee mabbu (Gali Venkateswara Rao, Kanchanamala and Sundaramma) besides Jayadeva's ashtapadhi, Savi rahe thava deena (Gali) and the rest were written by Basavaraju and Tapi for the film version. The songs were a rage. Malapilla was released in a record 12 centres on September 25, 1938 and was a big hit.

Although Premavijayam (1936) was the first social film in Telugu, Malapilla's success kindled interest in other filmmakers to go for social themes. Incidentally it was the 50th talkie in Telugu.

Remembered for: For its bold theme and performances by the film's lead actors besides BNR's compositions.

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2021 10:37:55 AM |

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