Columns

Blast from the past: Missamma (1955)

A still from Missamma, rated as one of the best films made in the Telugu industry.  

In Vijaya Productions’ 1955 blockbuster hit Missamma, you find traces of Bhanumathi’s influence on Savitri both in expressions and modulation while delivering the dialogue in a few scenes. When Chakrapani wrote the script for Missamma, based on two of his translated tales from Bengali (Rabindranath Maitra’s ‘Manmoyee Girls School’ and Sharadindu Bandhopadhyay’s ‘Detective’) he seems to have had clearly in mind Bhanumathi Ramakrishna for the female lead. The film’s director L.V. Prasad even completed four reels of the movie with her playing the character. Due to a religious ritual (Varalakshmi vritham) at home, Bhanumathi intimated producers Nagi Reddi-Chakrapani and director L.V. Prasad that she would report to the sets only in the afternoon that day. Unfortunately, none of them noticed the letter kept by her assistant on Chakrapani’s table. Chakrapani, a stickler for discipline picked up a row with her when she came to the sets in the afternoon. The strong-willed Bhanumathi walked out of the movie as she saw no reason for her to apologise. Chakrapani immediately ordered for replacing her with Savitri who was playing the second lead in the movie. However this incident did not strain the cordial relations between Bhanumathi and Nagi Reddi-Chakrapani. Bhanumathi continued to write for the special numbers of ‘ Yuva’ a popular literary magazine edited by Chakrapani who respected her versatility in films and literature. And she was continued to be treated as a family member by Nagi Reddi and his wife Seshamma so much so that later Bhanumathi dedicated her autobiography, ‘ Nalo Nenu’ to the couple.

By that time though Savitri had shown great potential as an emerging actress with author-backed roles in films like Devadasu and Kanyasulkam it was Missamma that catapulted her to star status overnight. Complimenting her performance Bhanumathi then said, “Over a trivial issue I missed a good role. But I am happy that my opting out helped the industry find a fine actress called Savitri.”

The Story: Circumstances lead a young Christian woman and a Hindu young man to act as spouses, to land in jobs as teachers in a village school run by the local zamindar in his eldest daughter’s name who went missing some 16 years earlier when she was four. The zamindar’s nephew fashions himself as a detective and is on the lookout for the missing daughter. Travelling smoothly through light banter, the movie ends in a family reunion after it is revealed that the young Christian woman who came to teach music to the zamindar’s second daughter is none other than the zamindar’s missing daughter.

Cast & Crew: Prasad was known for making the job of his actors easy by enacting the scenes to them. Chakrapani made Prasad’s job easier with his excellent script work. The duo was backed by mesmerising cinematography from Marcus Bartley and musical score by Saluri Rajeswara Rao. NTR as M.T. Rao the job seeking youth charmed his way through a subdued performance. Savitri stole the show as the simple but assertive woman Mary whose aim was to get rid of the loan shark David (played with aplomb by Ramana Reddy) and for that agrees to act as Rao’s spouse to get the job. ANR voluntarily chose to play the detective Raju just to prove that he is capable of doing any role even as a comedy actor and also to get rid of being branded as a tragic-romantic hero. S.V. Rangarao as Appapuram Zamindar, Rushyendramani as his wife and Jamuna as their pampered daughter Sita acted well. Allu Ramalingaiah played the local teacher and Ayurveda doctor, Doraswamy (as Paul) and Tamil actress Meenakshi as the foster parents of Mary and Balakrishna as the detective’s assistant. Gummadi played a cameo as an interviewer. Relangi as the street singer cum beggar Devaiah sang two popular songs – Babu Dharmamsey babu and Sitaram Sitaram…Paina pataram lona lotaaram… His usage of the word, ‘ thailam’ for money to give answers to the detective’s queries, became synonymous with cash by such means and is still in circulation.

Rajeswara Rao’s music and Pingali Nagendra Rao’s situational lyrics was a major contributor for the film’s stupendous success. Popular among them to this day are - Avunante Kadanile… and Telusukonave yuvathi…(A.M. Raja), Balanuraa Madanaa… (P. Susheela), Telusukonave chelli… Karuninchu Mary Maathaa… Yemito ee Maya…(P. Leela), and the duets, Brindavanamadi Andaridee… (A.M. Raja and P. Susheela. Hemanth Kumar used the same tune for the film’s Hindi version) and Ravoyi Chandamama…(A.M. Raja and P. Leela).

Trivia: Missamma was the first truly bilingual film produced by Vijaya Productions. Though Pathalabhairavi and Pellichesichoodu ( Kalyanam pannipaar in Tamil) were shot simultaneously in Telugu and Tamil they had the same actors. But the Tamil version of Missamma ( Missiamma) had different set of male lead actors – Gemini Ganesh (replacing NTR) Thangavelu (ANR), M.N. Nambiar (Ramana Reddy), K. Sarangapani (Relangi), etc. A.M. Raja’s rendition by then was popular for Gemini Ganesh and it was decided to use his voice for both versions. Incidentally, Ghantasala composed music the same year for Vijaya’s Tamil film, Gunasundari (remake of Gunasundari Katha).

Wordsmith Pingali Nagendra Rao’s coinage Aaduvari Maatalaku Ardhaale verule… in a lyric from the film became an idiom in Telugu language. Decades later, the song was used in the Pawan Kalyan starrer, Kushi (rendered equally melodiously by late Murali) without any alterations in lyric and tune and met with great success.

The four year old girl shown in the photograph as the zamindar’s missing daughter was Nagi Reddi’s younger brother and veteran cinematographer (remember Vauhini’s Malleswari) B.N. Konda Reddi’s daughter.

Interestingly in an earlier incident, in Samsaram, L.V. Prasad replaced Savitri with Pushpalatha as he felt Savitri did not measure up to the standard and gave her a minion role of heroine’s friend but in Missamma he took her for the lead role replacing versatile Bhanumathi!

The school and the bus stop near it where the hero and heroine board a bus were shot in Chandamama Buildings.

When A.V.M. Productions acquired the Hindi remake rights, Nagi Reddi insisted on retaining Prasad as the director for Miss Mary. Meiyappan obliged and L.V. Prasad made his directorial debut in Hindi cinema. Ravi Kondala Rao rewrote the story of Missamma and Bapu-Ramana filmed it as Pellipusthakam that won a couple of Nandi awards including the best writer for Ravi Kondala Rao.

An interesting incident happened on January 23, 1955 at Roxy theatre in Madras (now Chennai). While watching the Tamil version of Missamma, the 19 year old Muniamma gave birth to a baby girl in the theatre. An ambulance was arranged immediately and the mother and child were rushed to the Egmore Maternity hospital. The baby was named Missiamma by her parents.

Missamma was released on January 12, 1955 and the Tamil version two days later. Both celebrated 100 days run.

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Nov 20, 2020 6:53:27 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/cinema-columns/blast-from-the-past-missamma-1955/article6505603.ece

Next Story