Draupadi Vasthrapaharanam (1936)

CSR as Krishna in ‘Draupadi Vasthrapaharanam'

CSR as Krishna in ‘Draupadi Vasthrapaharanam'  

Cast: C.S.R. Anjaneyulu, Yadavalli Suryanarayana, Nellore Nagaraja Rao, Lanka Krishnamurthy, P. Suribabu, P. Kannamba

By 1936 two production houses competing to make films with similar theme may not be news. But what made the difference was that unlike the earlier instances when upcountry film companies produced Telugu films with similar theme, the year saw for the first time two Telugu film producers pitted against each other making movies with the same story.

Kurukuri Subbarao of Saraswati Publishing House and Parupalli Venkata Seshaiah launched Saraswati Talkies Ltd. with the later day doyen of Telugu cinema, Gudavalli Ramabrahmam as the production controller. Though Ramabrahmam favoured a social theme, Seshaiah insisted on a mythology as it was a safer bet. After some debate they arrived at making the film version of Bellary Raghavacharya's popular stage play, Draupadi Vasthrapaharanam. By then Kavali Gupta of Sri Lakshmi Films acquired the rights and signed Raghava.

Subbarao and Seshaiah were in no mood to backtrack. So they decided to go ahead and signed the glamour star of Vijayawada stage, Yadavalli Suryanarayana, who was equally popular for playing Duryodhana. When Kavali Gupta saw Saraswati's Draupadi Vasthrapaharanam, announcement, he changed his film's title as Draupadi Manasamrakshanam and hurried the production. Both the companies signed top stage actors of the day. The later, produced in Bombay, had in its cast – Banda Kanakalingeswara Rao (Sri Krishna), Surabhi Kamala Bai (Draupadi), Munipalle Subbaiah (Bhima), Nellore Rangaswamy (Sakuni), Dr. Kuchibhotla Sivaramakrishnaiah (Karna) to name a few. Gupta engaged Ramanamurthy to direct the film but differences cropped up and the film was completed by Jagannath. Despite its technical excellence as cited by the film critic and later day popular filmmaker Kamalakara Kameswara Rao in his review in Krishna Patrika, it failed at the box office. One reason could be that Gupta released his film three weeks after Saraswati Talkies venture.

Subbarao and Seshaiah approached H.M. Reddy to direct Draupadi Vasthrapaharanam. Since he was busy, Reddy agreed to be the supervisory director with his brother-in-law H.V. Babu as the director. Pasumarthi Yagna Narayana Sastry, editor and publisher of pioneering Telugu film magazine, Chitrakala was chosen to write the screenplay and additional lyrics and poems. Madhav Tembay tuned them.

The original choice for Sri Krishna's role was ‘eelapata' K. Raghuramaiah. But Reddy found him plump for the role in the just released Bhaktha Kuchela (1935). So they signed Chilakalapudi Seetha Ramanjaneyulu (CSR) who played Lord Krishna in the play, Draupadi Vasthrapaharanam. A versatile actor and singer, he showed variance in each role he played. CSR demanded Rs. 5,000 for the role and it was agreed. But the company framed a rule that those who came late were fined a certain per cent from their salary. CSR was the most fined!

With his baritone voice and attractive physique Yadavalli Suryanarayana ruled the stage but was reluctant to enter cinema. He is said to be the first actor in filmdom to carry a personal chair and have a personal assistant on the sets. Trained under Kapilavayi Ramanatha Sastry, Yadavalli has a clear diction and expressive rendition of poems. Natural acting was his forte. Tickets were sold three days in advance for his dramas. He made his screen debut with the second Telugu talkie Paduka pattabhishekam (1932). He had his evening walks on the platform of Vijayawada railway station at 4 pm and crowds gathered around him. Such was the craze. Yadavalli died in 1939 at 52.

It was Kannamba's second film and catapulted her to stardom. The other lead actors were- P. Suribabu (Narada), Lanka Krishnamurthy (Dussasana), Vemuri Gaggaiah (Sisupala), Kadaru Nagabhushanam (Aswathama), Choppalli Suryanarayana Bhagavathar (Dharmaraja), Dommeti Suryanarayana (Arjuna), Nellore Nagaraja Rao (Sakuni) and P. Ramathilakam (Sathyabhama).

The sequences – Dushasana pulling Draupadi's sari, Krishna's appearance and a bundle of tied saris thrown from a height by a man away from the camera eye sitting on a plank were shot separately by cinematographer S.C. Shinde and the cut shots were joined at the editing table by Baburao Bhadorkar. All these sequences appear as separate frames.

A table fan without frame was placed behind the head of Krishna. The rotation of the fan covered with silver paper gave an impression of a divine halo. Draupadi Vasthrapaharanam was screened at Kamadhenu Theatre, Luz Corner (now a marriage hall), Madras during the mid-70s to a full house on one Sunday morning. The audience was in raptures when the two paricharikas (maids) standing on each side of Dhritharashtra, stopped fanning him midway and instead started shooing away the flies that were disturbing them.

Such technical faults not withstanding, the film released on February 29 leaped towards a major box office success.

Remembered for: CSR and Yadavalli's rendition of poems coupled with their performances.

m.l. narasimham

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