HYDERABAD: After the commercial success of Pakkinti Ammayi (1953) which was based on the big hit Bengali film, Pasher Bari (Next House), veteran director Chithajallu Pullaiah waited for five years to find another light bantered Bengali story to bring it to Telugu audience. Prafulla Chakraborty’s 1958 socio-fantasy film, Jamalaye Jibanto Manush (An Alive man in the abode of Yama) starring hero Bhanu Benerjee and Basabi Nandi was running to packed houses in Bengal. It was based on a play with the same title by Dinabandhu Mitra, one of Bengal’s top dramatists of the Nineteenth century. The screen version was written by Gouri Shree incorporating satirical punches on contemporary life and social issues.
With Ch. Subbarao, a top building contractor of Madras, as Managing Director and himself as the producer C. Pullaiah founded Bhargavi Films and bought the film’s Telugu and Tamil remake rights. He along with his assistant Adurthi Narasimha Murthy and Vempati Sadasivabrahmam and Tamil writer K.S. Gopalakrishnan (later day’s popular director) expanded the story made it more humorous and titled the Telugu version, Devanthakudu and the Tamil film, ‘ Naan Kanda Sorgam ’.
The Story: Sundar (N.T. Ramarao) is a stage actor. He falls in love with Meenakshi (Krishnakumari) daughter of a miserly rich man Bhadraiah (K.V.S. Sarma) who dislikes Sundar. Bhadraiah fixes his daughter’s marriage with an aged billionaire despite his wife (Hemalatha)’s protests. Meenakshi and Sundar get married secretly with the help of his friends. Bhadraiah enters with his goons, drags his daughter home while his men brutally assault Sundar. Meenakshi jumps into a river to commit suicide. Crestfallen Sundar repents that he was responsible for her death.
The same night while he is asleep on a verandah, Yama’s men unable to find the address of a dead man, take Sundar instead with them to hell, the abode of Yama (S.V. Rangarao). Sundar finds his bull there and by unleashing it on Yama, he occupies his throne, promotes Vichitragupta (Peketi) rewrites Yamaloka’s constitution and also takes the opportunity to search for Meenakshi with the help of Narada (Raghuramaiah) which takes him to Vaikuntha, the abode of Lord Vishnu (Kantharao) and Lakshmi (Mohana) and to Indraloka, the heaven where he finds Meenakshi. With Vishnu and Lakshmi’s blessings, Meenakshi is brought to life and to Sundar and the two returns to Earth. Bhadraiah relents and accepts Sundar as his son-in-law.
Cast & Crew: From a 13 reel Bengali film, C. Pullaiah had expanded the narrative to 17 reels and made the audience immersed. Such was his versatility. Though a couple of dialogues from the Yama durbar were borrowed from Gouri Shree’s Bengali screen writings, Sadasivabrahmam largely followed his own diktat and wrote apt and appealing dialogues reflecting the 1960’s lifestyle and societal problems some of which are relevant even today. A. Shanmugam cranked the camera with crisp editing by T.R. Srinivasulu. Art director A. Krishnarao created the sets and costume designs.
Pullaiah signed experienced actors for each character and it was a cake walk for N.T. Ramarao to essay the lighter vein role of Sundar. There was a belief that if he wears different get ups, the film will be a hit. In this movie he was seen in disguises of a woman and an old dance teacher. K.V.S. Sarma shone as the miserly Bhadraiah. Peketi humours along with NTR in the Yamalok scenes. Krishnakumari, Kantharao, K. Raghuramaiah impresses. S.V.Rangarao’s special appearance as Yama was an added attraction.
Arudra wrote the poems and lyrics which were set to tune by G. Aswathama. Notable among the songs were – ‘ Go go go gongura… ’ and ‘ Yentha Madhura Seema Priyathama’ (both rendered by P.B.Srinivos and S. Janaki). Ghantasala and Raghuramaiah’s recitation of slokas and poems were also popular.
Trivia: Some critics of the time wrote that the Bengali story was copied from the 1934 Hollywood film, Death Takes a Holiday , though there was no relevance. Moreover Dinabandhu Mitra wrote the play ‘ Jamalaye Jibanto Manush ’ before his demise in 1873.
Interestingly in Naan Kanda Sorgam , Krishnakumari’s elder sister ‘Sowcar’Janaki played Meenakshi and Thangavelu, the hero.
Pullaiah shot both the versions simultaneously and after completing work on Raghuramaiah, while he was shooting the scene on the Tamil version’s Narada, Narasimha Bharathi, he noticed that one of his assistants asking Raghuramaiah to remove the garland from his neck and give it to Bharathi. The perfectionist Pullaiah found that the production team bought only one garland instead of two. He stopped the shooting asked for another garland and then resumed the work.
Adurthi Narasimha Murthy rewrote Devanthakudu for the big hit NTR starrer Yamagola . Hugely successful films with similar story were the Chiranjeevi starrer, Yamudiki Mogudu and the Ali starrer, Yamaleela ’ S.S Rajamouli also made a successful movie out of this yarn, Yamadonga with NTR Jr.
There were a few other movies too on the subject but not as successful.
Devanthakudu which had a fairly good run is remembered for setting a trend for socio-fantasy films in Telugu.