Friday Review


N.T. Rama Rao as Ravana.

N.T. Rama Rao as Ravana.  

HYDERABAD: Encouraged by the accolades he had received for his portrayal of Ravana in Bhukailas (1958) NTR wished to enact the role one more time unveiling the character in totality. Though he was born with Rakshasa amsa or demonic origins, Ravana was a great scholar, musician, a staunch devotee of Lord Shiva and a romantic too. His downfall came when this romanticism turned libertine, his learnedness to egotism and the boon he had received from devotion lead to arrogance. These factors fascinated NTR and he held several discussions with Samudrala Raghavacharya studying the character from various versions of Ramayana and other mythologies. At this time, NTR’s friend Dhanekula Buchi Venkata Krishna Chowdhary came up with a story which NTR liked. Samudrala Sr. wrote the dialogues, songs and poems and titled it, Sita Rama Kalyanam, though most of the plot revolved around Ravana.

NTR nurtured the idea of turning into a director for some time. The movie was planned under his home banner National Art Theatres with his brother Nandamuri Trivikrama Rao helming it. By then a huge star, NTR was also wary of how people would receive him as a filmmaker. However he went ahead with his debut directorial, without the director card in the credit titles.

The Story: To put an end to Ravana’s (NTR) atrocities Lord Vishnu (Haranath) takes the human avatar of Rama. Goddess Lakshmi (Mani) descends on Earth as Mathulungi / Vedavathi. Fascinated by her beauty, Ravana makes advances towards her. Vedavathi turns herself into ash. Ravana collects the ash in a box in the hope of bringing her back to life. Mandodari (B. Sarojadevi) sensing danger sends the box to be flung at faraway place. King Janaka (Mikkilineni) unearths the box with the child in his courtyard, names her Sita. Rama and Lakshmana (Sobhanbabu) accompany Viswamitra (Gummadi) to the forest to protect the yaga from the demons. Sita’s swayamvar is announced. Instigated by Narada (Kantharao), Ravana attends it but fails to break Shiva’s bow, a task that Rama accomplishes with ease and marries Sita.

Cast & Crew: It was like a seasoned director’s work. NTR had put into practice what he had learned by observing K.V. Reddi while acting in his films. The entire movie including the forest scenes were shot in sets erected at Vijaya - Vauhini studios by art director T.V.S. Sarma. Cinematographer Ravikanth Nagaich made brilliant use of the forest set shooting it from different angles. Incidentally, it was Nagaich’s first full length film in South India. He was assisting Hindi film’s trick photography wizard Babu Bhai Mistry till then. Nagaich himself, a trick photography expert, made huge contribution to NTR’s debut directorial. Just this one scene was enough to showcase Nagaich’s expertise — the scene in which NTR lifts Mt. Kailas, the abode of Shiva on his ten heads. Instead of using nine dummy heads, Nagaich took mask shots with varying expressions of NTR with each of the ten original heads chanting ‘Om Namasivaya.’ It needs lot of patience on the part of the actor too who had to sit for long hours while the shots were taken. I.N. Murthy was NTR’s co-director and S.P.S. Veerappa did a commendable editing job.

NTR had always pushed the envelope when it came to showcasing antagonistic characters from mythology. In such roles, with him around all the other characters seems incidental. Within the available parameters, B. Saroja Devi, Haranath and Mani who later changed her name to Geethanjali came up with neat portrayals. Then an upcoming actor, Sobhanbabu played a brief role of Lakshmana. Chayadevi appeared as Surekha Devi wife of Janaka and Geethanjali’s real life sister Swarna as Soorpanakha. Despite NTR’s powerful presence, Kantharao held his forte as Narada bringing in a certain dignity to the character.

Saluri Rajeswara Rao was signed to compose music. After composing the hit number kanaraara kailasa nivasa followed by the poem ‘ jayatwada bravibhrama’ (Ghantasala) he opted out paving way for the talented but sadly under utilised composer Gali Penchalanarasimha Rao. Gali Penchala’s popular numbers include the description of Vishnu’s avatars – Govinda Madhava Damodara (Ghantasala), O sukumara ninugani murisithira (Susheela, Ghantasala) and the immortal Seetharamula kalyanam choothamu raarandi (P. Susheela) which is played even today in almost every Telugu Hindu marriage and in Sri Rama Navami celebrations. Eemani Sankara Sastry’s veena recital for the rudraveena scene made a great impact too.

Trivia: It is said that when Rajeswara Rao sat to compose for a song, NTR vocally played a tune and asked for one such. The maestro replied, “ mee nota vachina swaraalu naa harmoniumlo palakavu saar” (my harmonium cannot reproduce the tune you have vocally rendered), got up and walked out.

Vavilikolanu Krishnakumari dubbed for B. Saroja Devi and T. G. Kamala Devi lent voice for Geethanjali.

Instead of the director’s card in the titles, it was shown that the film was dedicated to NTR’s parents Nandamuri Lakshmaiah Chowdhary and Venkatravamma with both NTR and Trivikrama Rao paying obeisance to them by washing their feet (paadapuja).

Sita Rama Kalyanam celebrated hundred days and its success emboldened NTR to have his name credited as director with Sri Krishna Pandaveeyam (1966) in which he enacted yet another antagonistic character – Duryodhana with aplomb.

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Printable version | Sep 17, 2020 11:06:10 PM |

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