Blast from the past Friday Review

Namminabantu (1960)

ANR in a still from the film

ANR in a still from the film  

Since movie making involved huge money and high financial risks, to get back the revenues early filmmakers /distributors resorting to innovative ways of publicizing their films was not a new phenomenon; it has been in existence from the decades of the talkies. At times such publicity gimmicks drew the ire of general public/fans as well as people from the film industry. One such incident happened during the promotional campaign for Sambhu Films maiden venture, Namminabantu. The movie starred two well-trained sturdy bulls called Ramudu and Lakshmanudu besides an impressive star cast led by Akkineni Nageswara Rao, Savitri and S.V. Rangarao. To promote the film, posters carrying the two bulls and with the caption – ‘ Meti Natulakanna Minnaga Natinchina Ramudu-Lakshmanudu’ (Ramudu-Lakshmanudu acted better than the top stars) were put up. While it raised curiosity among the movie goers it also invited the wrath of its lead actors.

Set in the rural milieu, Namminabantu’s theme borders on the exploitations of poor farmers by a rich landlord and the revolt against him by his once trusted lieutenant. Yarlagadda Venkanna Chowdhary himself a rich landlord from Karamchedu picked this theme written by the socialist writer Sunkara Sathyanarayana for his debut production. He had signed Adurthi Subbarao to direct the movie. Sunkara and Tapi Dharma Rao wrote the dialogues.

The Story: Bhujangarao (Gummadi) a cruel landlord employs Chandraiah (SVR) in his mango orchards and after successfully cultivating it, instead of the promised fertile land, he gives Chandraiah a barren piece of land. Chandraiah’s daughter Lakshmi (Savitri) wins the bull race defeating Rao’s trusted servant Prasad (ANR) and the reward money is used to dig a bore well. Peeved by this Rao asks Prasad to poison the bulls Ramudu and Lakshmanudu which Prasad refuses and leaves his service to join Chandraiah and the poor farmers to cultivate the barren land. They are supported by Rao’s daughter Sarala (Girija) and nephew Devaiah (Relangi) who advocates cooperative farming. This irks Rao and he plots to thwart their plans but ends up falling into a bog and dies.

Cast & Crew: Adurthi’s mastery in filming songs came to the fore once again with the way he had conceived playing with light and shade for the song – ‘ thela thela vaarenu levandamma…’ and his cinematographer B.S. Jagirdar capturing the early morning fog and the rising sun with such brilliance. Credit also goes to Editor Akkineni Sanjeevi. Incidentally, the film was co-produced by Daggubati Lakshmi Narayana Chowdhary, brother-i-law of Venkanna Chowdhary.

ANR’s character of Prasad had shades of grey at first as he faithfully follows the dictums of his cruel master and when he learns the truth about him, he goes all out to support Chandraiah and the oppressed farmers. ANR showcased the smooth transition from a ‘ namminabantu’ (trusted servant) to a rebel leader with ease. In fact S.V. Rangarao was first offered the landlord’s role, but SVR preferred the downtrodden farmer Chandraiah’s character as he found it more challenging. He proved his worth. Savitri as his daughter Lakshmi was in her usual best. Gummadi played the inhuman villain Bhujangarao and Lanka Sathyam, his aide and clerk who was party to his misdeeds. Girija and Relangi made a neat contribution. Trained by Jagarlamudi Guravaiah and Krishna Reddy, the two bulls Ramudu and Lakshmanudu need special mention as their feats attracted kids as well as elders.

Namminabantu was made as a bilingual in Tamil and Telugu and Saluri Rajeswara Rao was signed to compose music for both the versions. Saluri composed tunes for three songs before he developed differences with the Tamil version’s lyricist Udumalai Narayana Kavi and quit the project. It is then Master Venu stepped in to record those three songs and to compose music for the rest. For the Telugu version, Kosaraju wrote the lyrics. Rajeswara Rao’s tunes were the hugely popular- ‘ chengu chenguna ganthulu veyyandi’, ‘ thela thela vaarenu levandamma’(P. Susheela) and ‘ pogarubothu potlagithara…’ (Ghantasala). The Venu composition, ‘ yenthamanchi vaadavura…’ (Susheela- Ghantasala) was also a hit.

Trivia: With his relatives taking to film production, Daggubati Ramanaidu, just 23 then, joined them in the project as a ten (per cent) paisa partner. It was he who made all the necessary arrangements for the shoot at his native village Karamchedu and impressed the likes of ANR, SVR, Savitri and Adurthi Subbarao. Namminabantu was also Ramanaidu’s debut film as an actor. He acted as the body double for ANR driving the bullock cart in long shot scenes besides donning the district collector’s role.

Certain incidents said to have happened during the shoot were later circulated among the unit members as jokes. One such was — a production manager who was new to film business was asked by the producer whether anyone bothered to find out if a film negative roll really contained thousand feet. The naïve man took it seriously, opened the can and measured the film and discovered it was short by two feet. The camera department was aghast to find that the entire can was exposed to light and become a waste film. The same man was asked to fetch ANR and Savitri dates in February that year. ANR had told him that he was booked till February 28. The simpleton asked him whether he can allot dates on February 29, 30 and 31. In jest ANR said he can and before he went to meet Savitri, ANR telephoned her about it. She too played along and the man happily went back and told the director about his achievement!

The Tamil version Pattaliyin Vetri also starred ANR, Savitri, SVR while T.S. Balaiah and Thangavelu replaced Gummadi and Relangi respectively. Namminabantu was released on Jan 7, 1960 and enjoyed a fairly good run. It won the President’s silver medal in the regional film category at the national awards. It was also screened at the San Sebastian film festival in Spain and in Russia, Rangoon (now Yangon in Myanmar) and Malaysia.

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Printable version | Sep 20, 2020 7:28:48 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/namminabantu-1960/article7945135.ece

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