Blast from the Past Friday Review

Jayabheri (1959)

A still from Jayabheri

A still from Jayabheri  

Starring A. Nageswara Rao, Anjali Devi, Santhakumari, Gummadi, S.V. Rangarao and Rajasulochana.

Poet Ram Joshi of Sholapur (1762-1812) who was born in an upper class Brahmin family, was attracted towards the Marathi tamasha theatre which was considered of low social status. The kirtan poet soon became a hugely popular Lavani poet and performer. He was disowned by his family and outcaste by his community for marrying the tamasha singer-dancer Bayabai. Fame and wealth soon turned Ram Joshi into an alcoholic. His eventual return to poetry and greatness formed an interesting episode in the history of Marathi theatre and literature. In 1947 V. Shantaram produced a bilingual biopic on Ram Joshi in Marathi ( Lokshahir Ram Joshi) and Hindi ( Matwala Shayar Ram Joshi) and directed it along with his mentor Baburao Painter. Jayaram Shiledar and Manmohan Krishna played Ram Joshi in Marathi and Hindi films respectively with Hansa Wadkar donning Bayabai in both. With an excellent musical score by Vasant Desai, both versions were blockbuster hits.

T.V.S. (Pratibha) Sastri saw the film and wished to produce one such message driven musical movie in Telugu. Twelve years later his wish was fulfilled thanks to Katragadda Srinivasa Rao, the Navayuga film distributor’s chief. Srinivasa Rao suggested to his friends Vasireddy Narayana Rao who made the first dubbing movie in Telugu ( Ahuti dubbed from R.S. Junnarkar’s 1946 Hindi movie Neera Aur Nanda that introduced Sri Sri as a screen writer) and ‘Pratibha’ Sastri to produce a film which he would fund. Thus was born Sarada Films and the making of Jayabheri inspired by the story of Ram Joshi. P. Pullaiah, Acharya Athreya and Sastri were involved in evolving the movie script.

The Story: Kasinath Sastry (ANR) is brought up by his elder brother Viswanath Sastry (Gummadi) and his wife Annapurnamma (Santhakumari) like a son and he mastered classical music under Guru Viswambhara Sastry (Nagaiah). Bachanna Bhagavathulu (Ramana Reddy and Relangi) are performing at Vidyanagaram. Kasinath accepts the challenge posed by their star singer-dancer Manjuvani (Anjali Devi) and defeats her. His guru throws him out for sharing the stage with the low caste singer. Kasinath argues that music and literature have no boundaries like caste and creed. But the Dharmadhikari (Mukkamala) castigates him and his orthodox brother has no option but to send him away from home. Kasinath marries Manjuvani and the duo take music to the common folks staging shows. King Vijayanandarama Gajapathi (SVR) invites Kasinath to join his court. An irked Dharmadhikari plots with the court dancer Amruthamba (Rajasulochana) to defame Kasinath. Amrutha entices Kasinath and turns him into an alcoholic and forces the king to send him out. How Annapurnamma intervenes facing the wrath of her husband and brings Kasinath back to his normal self forms the rest of the story.

Cast & Crew: Excellent teamwork made the movie a memorable one. Cinematography (P.L. Rai and operative cameraman K. Ramakrishna Rao), editing (R. Devarajan), sound designing (A. Krishnan), art (S.Krishna Rao and G.V. Subbarao), choreography (Vempati Peda Sathyam), literature (apt and forceful dialogues by Athreya and tuneful lyrics from Malladi Ramakrishna Sastry, Sri Sri, Arudra, Kosaraju and Narapa Reddy) and music (Pendyala Nageswara Rao), all these sections and more worked in tandem and gave a brilliant on-screen presentation, deftly helmed by the wizard moviemaker P. Pullaiah. K. Raghavendra Rao and U. Visweswara Rao worked as his assistant directors.

Remarkable acting came from ANR, Anjali Devi, Gummadi, SVR and Santhakumari whose virtuoso act as the traumatised and concerned mother-figure won her the coveted national award as the best supporting actress.

Pendyala’s mesmerising melodic score in Jayabheri made the movie an all time great musical hit. Though all the 14 songs/ slokas enthralled the audience, the hugely popular ones were – ‘ Madi Sarada devi mandirame…(Ghantasala, P.B. Srinivos and Raghunath Panigrahi who also acted in the scene), Raagamayi raave…’ ‘ Rasikaraja thaguvaramu kaamaa’ (Ghantasala had a ten day rehearsal for this song before its recording), ‘ Yamuna theeramuna…’ (Ghantasala, Susheela) and ‘ Neeventha Nerajaanavoura…’ (M.L. Vasanthakumari’s rendition complimented by Rajasulochana’s eloquent classical dance). Though released on Gramophone records the other popular song, ‘ Needaana nannadira…’ was deleted from the film as prohibition was in force then and censor officer G.T. Sastry ordered a cut. In a first for any Telugu movie, the song sequence, Sri Sri’s ‘ Nanduni charithamu vinumaa’ (Ghantasala) was bought by the Andhra Pradesh Government to propagate social equality.

Trivia: Shyam Benegal reconstructed a sequence from Lokshahir Ram Joshi as the opening scene in Bhumika (1976), a biopic on Hansa Wadkar. Pullaiah also retained one scene from the movie, the ‘sawal-jawab’ (musical question & answer contest) song sequence in Jayabheri ( sawal sawal anna chinnadana…) with a new lyric and tune.

Though his name appeared as one of the producers on the gramophone records, for reasons best known to him, ‘Pratibha’ Sastri preferred to credit Vasireddy Narayana Rao as the producer in the title cards leaving his name out.

Jayabheri was simultaneously made in Tamil retaining ANR, Anjali Devi, Santhakumari, Rajasulochana, Nagaiah and SVR and with popular Tamil actors – Sahasranamam, Thangavelu, T.P. Muthulakshmi etc., for the other characters. C.V. Sridhar wrote the dialogues. When he found it hard to sell it, Sastri approached his friend, the legendary Tamil actor M.G. Ramachandran who after watching the movie found the theme nearer to his belief of a casteless society. MGR told Sastri, to reshoot the film with him in the lead for which he will provide all help. When he knew that doesn’t happen as both Sastri and ANR were close friends, he called some of his distributors and told them, ‘brother made a good movie, see and buy it’. It was he who named the movie, Kalaivanan. Though the Tamil version did not do well, thanks to MGR, the producers were left with minimal loss.

Released on April 9, 1959 Jayabheri had a good run and earned decent profits. Besides it won the certificate of merit at the national awards and the Filmfare award for best picture in Telugu.

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Printable version | Jul 10, 2020 8:07:23 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/jayabheri-1959/article7895558.ece

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