Akkineni Nageswara Rao played the characters created by Sarat Chandra Chatterjee with such precision and perfection as if they were written for him, be it as Devdas in the eponymous movie that earned him the moniker ‘tragedy king’ or Suren in Bharani Pictures’ ‘Batasari’ based on the iconic Bengali writer’s 1907 novel ‘ Bordidi’ (Elder sister) which six years later was serialised in the Bengali magazine ‘ Bharati ’ and later made twice as a movie in Bengali.
By the time he donned the makeup for the role ANR was a veteran of 91 starrers, yet he held several discussions with director P.S. Ramakrishna Rao and with Vijaya boss Chakrapani who had translated Sarat’s novel into Telugu, to better understand whether Suren viewed Madhavi, the female protagonist in the story who became a widow even before she attained womanhood, as a benevolent elder sister/mother figure who was kind towards him or was he in love with her though he had not met her personally. It was a complex character that needed lot of homework. Full credit must also go to Ramakrishna and Bhanumathi for venturing with such an offbeat theme.
‘ Bordidi ’ was first filmed by New Theatres in 1939 directed by Amar Mallick and the more popular one was director, cinematographer Ajoy Kar’s 1957 version, ‘ Baradidi ’ starring Uttam Kumar and Sandhyarani. Ramakrishna acquired its Telugu and Tamil remake rights and simultaneously shot the Tamil version, Kaanal Neer .
The Story: Surendranath/Suren (ANR) is the son of a zamindar (Ramanna Panthulu). His good-hearted step mother (Suryakantham) keeping in mind his health objects to his going to London for higher studies. A peeved Suren leaves home, reaches Madras, and stays with a rich man Apparao (B.R. Panthulu) as a tutor to his younger daughter Pramila (Baby Sasikala). Widowed even before she attained womanhood, Madhavi (Bhanumathi) the eldest daughter of Apparao learns about the distrait ways of Suren, provides him with all his needs. When she writes about Suren to her friend Manorama (Devika), Manorama cautions her about showing too much interest in him. Hurt by her servant’s (Chayadevi) gossip about her and Suren and also for neglecting his duty as a teacher, Madhavi chides Suren. Upset, he leaves on an aimless journey, meets with an accident and his father takes him home. Suren marries Shanti (‘Shavukaru’ Janaki) but his heart longs for Madhavi. After performing her brother Sivachandra (Ramanamurthy)’s marriage, Madhavi hands over responsibilities to his wife (Mohana) and leaves for her home inherited from her husband but finds that house under auction due to a plot hatched by Suren’s estate manager (Mudigonda Lingamurthy). Not knowing it was Suren, Madhavi goes to confront the zamindar. Meanwhile Suren learns about the manager’s wicked ways and despite his grave illness rushes on horseback to meet Madhavi to give her house documents. They meet. She expresses a wish to see his wife Shanti while he struggles to express his love for her. He dies in her lap.
Cast & Crew: Sarat’s characters talked in chaste Telugu thanks to Samudrala Raghavacharya’s dialogues carried the right balance of emotions throughout and heart touching in the climax scene. They were complimented by Ramakrishna’s neat and clean on-screen presentation with visuals from cinematographer V. Venkat coupled with crisp editing by M. Sundaram.
Before and during the shoot, for inspiration, ANR was asked by Ramakrishna to watch Uttam Kumar’s performance from Baradidi , a print of which he brought from Kolkata. ANR did heed to his advice and even donned the getup just like the Bengali super star but held to his own on histrionics. It was not easy to look pensive all through the film playing the introvert submerged in his own world and with measured dialogue delivery akin to method acting. ANR simply excelled. No wonder, he considered Suren as his best portrayal among his 250 plus films. For domineering actress like Bhanumathi, it was really a tough task to under play. With subdued performance, as Madhavi torn between tragic personal life and tradition, she proved one more time her brilliance. In Batasari Janaki held her own as the assertive and understanding wife of Suren.
Samudrala Sr. wrote the lyrics for ‘Master’ Venu’s compositions. The super hit songs were – ‘ O Batasari Nanu Maruvakoyi ’ (singer: hanumathi) and ‘ Kanulaku Dochi Chethi Kandani Yendamavulunnay ’ (Bhanumathi, Jikki).
Trivia: Ramakrishna gave the working title Yendamavulu but later changed it to Batasari and released it on June 30, 1961. However he gave the title Kaanal Neer (Mirages) for the Tamil version which was released on July 21, 1961. ANR, Bhanumathi, Janaki, Devika and Suryakantham enacted their respective roles. Though termed classics, both versions did not do well at the turnstile. The Ramakrishna and ANR combo returned the same year on December 9th with the box office hit, Sabhash Raja a remake of the Hindi film, Bhai Bhai .