Friday Review

Blast from the past: GULEBAKAVALI KATHA (1962)

Starring N.T. Ramarao, Rajanala, Jamuna, Nagarathna.

The fantasy folk tale of Gulebakavali was filmed several times right from the silent movie era. Apart from its box office success, NAT (Private) Ltd’s Gulebakavali Katha was also remembered for bringing together two of the most talented actors of the time after a four year sabbatical.

Though he had no issues with her, in support of his senior colleague, N.T. Ramarao too avoided signing films with Jamuna. During that period, in one of their film’s shoot, Akkineni Nageswara Rao and Jamuna had a tiff; the reason for it remains a mystery.

For Vijaya Productions Gundamma Katha, Chakrapani was firm on casting NTR-Savitri, ANR-Jamuna for the lead roles. He stepped in to bring in a compromise and called them to his office, listened to them and commanding respect, he curtly said, ‘bury the past, work together,’ and over a wcup of coffee, he added in light banter, ‘my Gundamma is crying let’s start the work.’

Though the compromise was done for Gundamma Katha, NTR seized the opportunity to sign Jamuna for one of the two female leads in his on the sets project, Gulebakavali Katha.

The story originated from the Arabic folklore classic, ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ ( Alf Layla wa-Layla) popular as the ‘Arabian Nights.’ It found its way into Telugu homes through Madhira Subbanna Dikshitulu’s Kasi Majilee Kathalu.

However filmmakers made their own versions of the story retaining the central plot of a King and his treacherous brother-in-law, his useless three sons from his second wife and the valiant (but deserted) son of the first wife who finally saves the king and his throne. T.R. Ramanna’s Tamil version of Gulebakavali (1955) starring MGR had three heroines and the trickster dice player was a male, whereas in the Telugu Gulebakavali Katha NTR had two heroines and the trickster dice player was one of them.

Though the story writer’s name was not given in the titles, the film’s producer Nandamuri Trivikrama Rao was credited for ‘collecting the story’ (kathasekarana). Samudrala Jr. wrote the dialogues.

The Story: Brought up by a goatherd (Lanka Sathyam) and his wife (Hemalatha), Vijay (NTR) learns that his biological parents are king Chandrasena (Mukkamala) and queen Gunavati (Rushyendramani) and that the king’s second wife Rupavati’s (Chayadevi) brother Vakrakethu (Rajanala) had plotted against the king and made him blind. Vijay sets on an adventurous journey to get the Gulebakavali flower which had healing powers and can therefore cure blindness. He meets a trickster dice player Yuktimati (Jamuna) whom he defeats and marries and saves his three elder brothers (Nalla Ramamurthy, Peketi Sivaram, Padmanabham), sons of Rupavati. He then reaches Devaloka, woos princess Bakavali (Nagarathna), gets the flower but his brothers steal it from him. He returns to Devaloka only to find the pond dry. Vijay then offers his eyes. The pond blooms with the divine flower, an impressed Mahendra (Mikkilineni) plucks it, restores Vijay’s vision and gives him his daughter’s hand. Vijay returns to his kingdom with his two wives, annihilates Vakrakethu and the army chief Dushtabudhi (K.V.S. Sarma), cures his father’s blindness with the divine flower saved for him by Atitelivi (comedian Balakrishna) from his brothers and ascends the throne.

Cast & Crew: NTR wielded the megaphone for the second time after the super hit, Sitarama Kalyanam, again without crediting himself in the titles. His presence was everywhere from the script stage to the editing table besides playing the folk hero to the hilt. Perfect casting and experienced technicians made things easy for him. Jamuna as Yuktimati charmed her way through the brief but significant role. Surabhi Balasaraswati played her handmaiden Adhikasa. Veteran actress G. Varalakshmi’s niece Nagarathna made her debut as Bakavali and she had only a couple of dialogues like, Nanna to say.

The sets were grand (art director K. Narasimha Rao), Ravikanth Nagaich’s trick photography, the hero’s fight with the skeleton, the fire spitting dragon flying him were among the attractions.

Talent spotter NTR introduced Joseph-Krishnamurthy as music directors. However the greatest find of the movie was popular poet- academician Dr. C. Narayana Reddy. NTR brought him on board to write all the lyrics. Cinare, as he is popularly known, stole the filmgoers hearts with his very first lyric, ‘nannu dochukonduvate vannela dorasaani’ (rendered by Ghantasala, P. Susheela), an evergreen romantic song shot on NTR and Jamuna. Other popular songs were – ‘ kalala alalapai telenu manasu,’ (Ghantasala, S. Janaki), unnadi chebutha vintaara’ (Janaki, Vasantha) and madana sundara naa dora (Susheela).

Trivia: Gulebakavali was first made in Telugu in 1938 by director Kallakoori Sadasiva Rao for producer Kekubhai Desai’s Paramount Film company, Bombay with Sakunthala and Mithipati Buchi Kameswara Rao in the lead. It was also the first folklore fantasy film in Telugu.

Joseph Krishna was an assistant to maestro M.S Viswanathan. Joseph Krishna later composed music for the classic, Vijayachander’s Karunamayudu. Veluri Krishnamurthy was a sangeeta vidhwan from Vijayawada.

Interestingly, while Nagarathna played Bakavali in Gulebakavali Katha’ her aunt G. Varalakshmi acted the role in the 1955 Tamil film, Gulebakavali opposite MGR. Nagarathna (as Rathna) later played one of the heroines for MGR in Vijaya Productions Tamil super hit Enga Veettu Pillai’ a remake of the Telugu film Ramudu Bheemudu.

With the release of Gulebakavali Katha on January 5, 1962, NTR the filmmaker had continued his success streak.

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Printable version | Feb 18, 2020 1:15:07 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/Blast-from-the-past-GULEBAKAVALI-KATHA-1962/article14583602.ece

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