In the 1950s and even later, Akkineni Nageswara Rao, popularly known as ANR, enjoyed a good innings in Tamil cinema, though he was a Telugu-speaking actor. With the emergence of Sivaji Ganesan, M.G. Ramachandran, Gemini Ganesan and S.S. Rajendran, he faded away, mainly because his Tamil accent was not good enough to compete with the impeccable dialogue delivery of Sivaji, S.S. Rajendran and others. He shifted base to Hyderabad, built his own studio, and began to focus on Telugu films, with many becoming superhits. If Hyderabad is today the capital of Telugu cinema, it’s because of Nageswara Rao.
One Tamil film he made in 1959 was Kalaivaanan, directed by P. Pullaiah. It had Pullaiah’s wife, veteran actress P. Shanthakumari playing mother and Anjali Devi was the leading lady. V. Narayana Rao, about whom not much is known, produced the film under the Saradha Movies banner. Pendyala composed the music while the dialogue was penned by Sridhar. Nagercoil Padmanabhan was the ‘dialogue director’ whose involvement was necessary because some of the actors were from Telugu cinema and their accent required coaching. The lyrics were by Kambadasan, A. Marudhakasi, Thanjai Ramaiah Das, Pattukottai Kalyanasundaram, and Pazhanichami. T.M. Soundararajan, Sirgazhi Govindarajan, Tiruchi Loganathan, Ghantasala, S.C. Krishnan, M.L. Vasanthakumari, P. Susheela, Jikki, and S. Janaki were the playback singers. Noted cinematographer P.L. Rai handled the camera, while veteran audiographer A. Krishnan was in charge of sound recording and the film was shot at Vijaya Vauhini Studios.
The story of Kalaivaanan explored caste prejudices and man-woman relationships at various social levels. Many of these issues are relevant today even after half a century. Kasinath (Nageswara Rao) is an artist, singer and musician. His actor-brother Viswanathan (Sahasranamam) and wife Parvathi (Shanthakumari) treat him like their son. A singing troupe comes to their small town and throws a singing challenge. Kasi accepts the challenge and wins, in the process falling in love with Mala (Anjali Devi), the female star of the troupe. Kasi decides to leave town with the troupe, upsetting everybody in the small town, especially the high-caste folks. More complications ensue and Parvathi tries to commit suicide by jumping into the river. This finally unites the conflicting groups. Kasi takes her inert body to the local temple and prays. What happens to her and the others and how the lovers are united forms the rest of the story.
As the film is about artistes, there is much singing and dancing. There is also a dance drama about ‘ Shanthanu Matsyagandhi, ’ choreographed by Vempati Sathyam, which attracted much attention. U. Visweswara Rao and K. Raghavendra Rao, soon to blossom into reputed filmmakers, were assistant directors to P. Pullaiah (whom everybody called “Daddy!”) However, the film did not do well at the box office, as the story was predictable.
Remembered for: Pullaiah’s deft direction, impressive cinematography, and good performances by the cast.