HYDERABAD: Though various stories were in circulation on the life and times of the famed Sanskrit scholar and poet Kalidas, the most prevalent among them was the one which says that he had served in the court of King Vikramadithya who ruled from Ujjain and after his death King Bhoja of Dhaara (present day Dhar in Madhya Pradesh) invited him to join his court where he wrote some of great classics in Indian literature – ‘Meghasandesam’ and ‘Abhigjnana Sakunthalam’ to name a few that had a great influence even on Western authors.A sheppard without any basis in academics marrying a princess, turning into a great poet with the blessings of the Goddess, forgetting his past and finally reuniting with his wife attracted the attention of filmmaker Ardeshir Irani who was planning to foray into the South after successfully making India’s first talking film, Alam Ara (1931) in Hindi. He signed H.M. Reddy the same year to direct the first talkie film for South India, in Tamil language based on the life of Kalidas. Interestingly, the movie’s song and story book carried the words ‘First Tamil & Telugu talkie produced by Imperial Movie-tone’. With the film’s hero (P.G. Venkatesan) talking in Telugu, the heroine (T.P. Rajyalakshmi) in Tamil and L.V. Prasad who played the priest speaking in Hindi it is called as the first multilingual film in India, by film historians.
Three decades later, producers K. Nagamani and Puvvula Suribabu signed Kamalakara Kameswara Rao to direct a Telugu version on the eminent poet’s life titled Mahakavi Kalidasu and engaged the wordsmith Pingali Nagendra Rao to write the story, dialogues and lyrics. Made under Sarani Productions banner, the film starred Akkineni Nageswara Rao in the title role and K. Nagamani’s wife and popular actress of the time Sriranjani junior was the natural choice to play the princess.
The Story: The Avanti king (Lingamurthy) refuses to give his daughter Vidyadhari (Sriranjani) in marriage to his minister Hariharamathyudu’s (K.V.S. Sarma) son and asks him instead to find a scholarly bridegroom for his artist daughter. The villainous minister brings the illiterate sheppard Kaludu (ANR) passing him off as a great scholar, currently on a mission to promote colloquial language. After the marriage, Vidyadhari learns she has been cheated. She laments before the family deity Kali and faints. Fearing for her life, Kaludu prays and Goddess Kali (Vasanthi – guest appearance) appears before him and grants a boon that he will acquire new knowledge. Kaludu forgets his past, assumes a new name Kalidas, a Sanskrit scholar, earns kudos for his works from the kings and finally lands in the court of Bhoja Raja (SVR) who shows great admiration and respect for him. But this irks the self proclaimed poet laureate Kavi Rakshasa (CSR) who plots to defame Kalidas who stays at the ashram of Bharathacharya (P. Suribabu). But all his ploys turn against him. The court dancer Vilasavathi (Rajasulocahana) falls in love with Kalidas. Meanwhile Vidyadhari searching for her husband comes to the city of Dhaara. Kalidas fails to recognise her. Saved from a suicide attempt by Bharathacharya’s disciples, Vidyadhari stays at the ashram determined to win back her husband. How Kalidas recollects his past and unites with his wife forms the climax.
Cast & Crew: Adept at writing the screenplay for historical and mythological subjects, Kamalakara’s narrative flowed smoothly throughout. Since he believed that a director should involve himself in all aspects of filmmaking and in team work, he could extract the best from his actors and technicians. Annayya (cinematography), R.V. Rajan (editing) and Gokhale (art) worked in tandem with him.
ANR stole the show, showcasing his prowess first as the illiterate Kaludu and then as the regal poet with exceptional brilliance. Sriranjani made a neat contribution as his wife Vidyadhari. The rest were all veterans. Sandhya acted in a guest role as Bhoja Raja’s queen and Master Nagaraju as the boy who accompanies kalidasu.
Pendyala composed the music for the songs and Suribabu for the poems and slokas which were quite popular. Some of the popular songs from the album were – ‘ Jaya jaya jaya jaya Sarada.. .(P. Susheela), ‘ Srikarmagu paripaalana ’ (P. Leela), ‘ Raskiraja manirajitha sabhalo ’ (Leela, Rathnam), ‘ Aa maatante yenduku kopam ’ (Madhavapeddi Sathyam) featuring Relangi who acted as Suthradhar in Rajasulochana’s troupe. Among the slokas – ‘ Manikya veena mupalaayantheem ’ (Ghantasala) was the most popular. Pasumarthi Krishnamurthy and Vempati (Pedha) Sathyam choreographed the song sequences.
Trivia: In one scene Pingali wrote the following dialogue for Relangi – pragjna meedi, pratibha aamedi, pradarsana maadi (wisdom is yours, talent hers, the play is ours) after delivering the dialogue Relangi teasingly says ‘ aa, aa, ah ah aaa .’ Today, a similar usage is made popular by Pawan Kalyan through his .
In 1994 Kalidasa Academy, Ujjain established by the Madhya Pradesh Government honoured ANR with the ‘Kalidasa Kausthubha’ award.
Released on April 2, 1960, the Telugu version opened with mixed response at the box office but was hailed as a cult classic and won the silver medal in the regional film category at the National awards.