Balanagamma (1942)

A still from Balanagamma. Photo: Special Arrangement  

It is interesting to note that two legends of Tamil cinema tasted their first success through Telugu films. While A.V. Meiyappan of AVM Productions had his first commercial hit with Bhookailas(1941), the next year it was the turn of Gemini Films' S.S. Vasan to achieve huge success with Balanagamma. This folktale was by then popular as a Burrakatha. Balijepalli Lakshmikantha Kavi wrote the taut script in tandem with veteran Chithajallu Pullayya who was signed by Vasan to direct the movie.

Vasan's success lay in choosing a perfect cast – Kanchanamala for the title role, Govindarajula Subbarao as Mayala Marathi, Pushpavalli as his paramour Rani Sangu, the versatile Banda Kanakalingeswara Rao as Karyavardhi Raju and Master Viswam as Balavardhi Raju. Balanagammacelebrated silver jubilee runs all over and Vasan presented big silver cups to the actors and technicians. The only one missing at the function was the star who contributed largely

to its success, Kanchanamala!


After the death of his wife Bhoolakshmi (Bellary Lalitha) due to a curse of the serpent king Nagendra (Addala Narayanarao), King Navabhoja Raju (Balijepalli) remarries and his new wife goads him to leave her seven step daughters in the forest. Bhoolakshmi's aura saves the children and they grow up in the forest. Meanwhile One day young Balanagamma, the last of the seven sisters, is spotted by Karyavardhi Raju, her cousin and youngest of the seven sons of Ramavarma Raju, her maternal uncle, i.e. Bhoolaksmi's brother. The seven sisters were married to the seven princes.

Elsewhere, the wicked mantrik Mayala Marathi, shows his paramour Rani Sangu that there is a more beautiful woman than her, and kidnaps Balanagamma from her palace after that. He turns Karyavardhi and his army who confronts him into statues. Balanagamma resists Mayala Marathi by telling him that she is on a 12-year vratha; the mantrik agrees to wait to savour her beauty. Years pass by, by which time Balanagamma's son Balavardhi Raju is told by his aunts that his parents have been held captive by Mayala Marathi. Young Balavardhi enters the mantrik's den, meets his mother and learns of the secret behind the mantrik's life. Soon, he sets off on an adventurous journey that takes him across the seven seas to bring the parrot in which lies the mantrik's life. He kills the mantrik, frees his parents and returns home to be anointed as the Prince.

For a whole generation of children Balavardhi Raju was a folk hero. Master Viswam lived in that character, so did Banda Kankalingeswara Rao and Pushpavalli as the seductress. Govindarajula Subbarao left an indelible mark as Mayala Marathi. Interestingly the heavily wrinkled face of Kapali (make up Haribabu and Mangayya) that the mantrik dependedon to know about Balanagamma, was played by one of the film's music directors M.D. Parthasarathy. Lanka Sathyam provided the comic relief as Chakali Thippadu while Relangi matched him as Kothwal Ramasingu. The charming Bellary Lalitha and the portly Balijepalli Lakshmikantha Kavi played their roles well. But it was Kanchanamala who stole the show as Balanagamma. (Lanka Sathyam and Relangi also acted in the 1959 remake version directed by Vedantam Raghavaiah with Anjali Devi, N.T.Ramarao and S.V. Rangarao in the lead.)

The film had excellent trick work (unfortunately the title credits did not carry the cinematographer's name) and opulent sets. (Art director S.V.S. Rama Rao a staffer with Gemini left the production house to form Gemini Pictures and made Santha Balanagammaduring the same time and released it much earlier but that film met with failure).

Apart from performances, Balanagamma'ssuccess is due to its music composed by Saluri Rajeswara Rao and M.D. Parthasarathy. Kanchanamala was at her best in her renditions of Vasantha sumano vasantha sumano vanamuthe lullaby Jo jo balaka jo jo nandanaand the duet with Banda Anandamadi Yedho… andala sirikaado. The songs were a great hit.

Today's generation talk about how Ilayaraja had used the sad Sivaranjani raga for the peppy Abba nee thiyyani debbain Jagadeka Veerudu Athiloka Sundari' but way back in 1942 S. Rajeswara Rao composed the oomph number Naa sogase kani marudeyasudu gaadaseductively rendered and performed by Pushpavalli in Sivaranjani raga! Such was the genius of the first generation maestro.

The film had its share of woes that delayed the production. Kanchanamala signed a four-film contract with S.S. Vasan. But by then she had developed an attitude problem. During the making of Illalushe picked up a row with her mentor Gudavalli Ramabrahmam so that he never repeated her again in his films.

A sort of an arrogance and diffident attitude coupled with her husband's illness (she admitted him during that time at the Tambaram TB sanitorium for treatment) and his mismanagement of her finances added to her developing a schizophrenic frame of mind. A disciplinarian C. Pullayya could not tolerate her behaviour and mid-way through the film he quit. Vasan brought Balakrishna Narayana Nair better known as B.N. Rao to complete the film. There is a story behind the talented Rao's name.

Though he hailed from Tellicherry (now Talasserry) in Kerala, the family shifted to Bombay as his father found a job there.

On the plea of his father, a Maharashtrian neighbour joined Balakrishna Narayana in the school where instead of writing his full name in the register the neighbour wrote B.N. Rao. For him all South Indian names ended with Rao! And that name stuck to him. B.N. Rao later directed for Vasan such Tamil hits as Mangamma Sabathamand Bhooloka Rambhabesides writing the scenario for Vasan's magnum opus, Chandralekha.

Fortunately he had no problems with Kanchanamala and she completed her work, but she refused to honour her contract with Gemini Films. Vasan dragged her to court. This was not the first time that Vasan went to court for contract violation.

After purchasing Gemini Studios in an auction from his friend K. Subrahmanyam (KS), he also made him sign a contract to direct films for him. KS was willing to direct films for Gemini and he had also plans to make films for others. But Vasan was adamant that he should fulfil the contract first.

The matter went to court and on the day of final hearing everyone thought that the judgment would go in favour of Vasan. At that time, a close friend of KS came to know that Rolland Bradell an eminent lawyer from England was on his way to Singapore and the ship was anchored in Madras port. A human rights activist, Bradell on hearing the case, personally appeared for KS and argued just for ten minutes that under British jurisprudence no citizen can be curtailed his professional liberty, more so in the case of any artistic and creative avocation. Hence his client be asked to perform his contractual obligation by directing a film for Gemini at the same time directing his own films. Needless to say that K. Subrahmanyam won the case. Kanchanamala could have engaged a good lawyer and cited this judgment but by then she was in a diffident state of mind and was not in a mood to trust anyone.

She left for Tenali. Years later her co-star of Illalu'Lakshmi Rajyam brought her back from hibernation and signed her for a cameo in Narthanasala(1963) but it was a pathetic sight to see the first glamour doll of Telugu cinema as a forlorn woman. Such is the vagaries of this glamour world.

Vasan remade the film in Hindi as Bahut Din Huye(1954) with Madhubala, Rattankumar Agha, Savithri and Pushpavalli , Suryaprabha and M.K. Radha. It was also a hit.

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Printable version | May 15, 2021 7:42:55 PM |

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