oft-told taleANR and Vanaja in ‘Soudamini’

oft-told taleANR and Vanaja in ‘Soudamini’  

She was barely 13 when she got an opportunity to prove her versatility as a singer and an actress in stage plays for the then popular Novel Nataka Samajam, Eluru, and gradually grew to be a top actress both in social and mythological dramas. Pasupuleti Kannamba was as much a rage in stage plays as she later was in the movies. Kadaru Bulli Nagabhushanam, who belonged to an agriculturist family of Indupalli in Krishna district, got interested in fine arts, especially in stage plays, and turned a drama contractor. During this stint, he met Kannamba, and, as both had common interests, they decided to live together. They formed their own drama troupe, Raja Rajeswari Natya Mandali (named after the deity Kannamba used to worship) and staged plays all over the Telugu country. Subsequently, attracted by cinema, they moved to Madras to pursue a career in films. Kannamba made her debut in Harishchandra (1935) and, after she had acted in a few other films, the couple floated their own banner, Raja Rajeswari Film Company, in 1941 to produce quality movies. Starting with Talliprema (directed by Jyothi Sinha), the banner produced over 30 films in Telugu, Tamil and Kannada, most of them directed by Kadaru Nagabhushanam. His Tamil film, Navajeevanam (1949), starring Nagaiah, Kannamba and S. Varalakshmi won the Madras State best film award for its progressive theme.

Gemini boss S.S. Vasan had great admiration for Kannamba’s talent. He not only distributed almost all Tamil films of Raja Rajeswari, but also financed them. No wonder then that, barring the lead stars, most other artistes and technicians were hired from Gemini by Kannamba and Nagabhushanam for their productions. Soudamini was one such movie whose Tamil version was distributed by Gemini. Except for CSR and Relangi, most of the other artistes including ANR reprised their roles in the Tamil version too. CSR was replaced by M.K. Radha and Relangi by T.R. Ramachandran. Nagabhushanam directed both the versions.

Malwa King Vikramasena (CSR) and Queen Soudamini (Kannamba) are blessed by Maharshi Bodhayana (S.B. Acharya) to have a son. The King neglects his pregnant wife and lives with the court dancer Vilasavathi (T.R. Rajini). The Minister, Mahamathi (D.S. Sadasiva Rao) advises the Queen to banish Vilasavathi from the country. Vilasavathi sows seeds of suspicion in the King that Soudamini has an affair with the Minister.

Blinded by her love, the King sentences the Minister to death and sends the Queen to the forest. The Queen gives birth to a boy, who grows to become Prince Udayasena (ANR). Meanwhile, Vilasavathi and her paramour, army chief Kamapala (K. Prabhakara Rao) literally blind the king and rule the kingdom. On hearing about the King’s fate, Soudamini sends her son to save him. On his way, the Prince meets the Kunthala Princess, Hemavathy (S. Varalakshmi), who finds in him her dream boy. Finally, Udayasena defeats the plotters, gets the King’s eyesight restored with the help of an angel Devayani (Vanaja) and reunites the family.

There was nothing original or fresh in the story, written by the Samudrala Raghavacharya. The movie was shot in Gemini Studios by cinematographer P. Ellappa. S.V. Venkatraman provided the musical score. It was one more routine role for ANR. Kannamba’s dedication, however, came to the fore again. She excelled in the scene in which she was left alone in the forest, amidst a heavy cyclone. The (rain) water was poured from above and the gusty wind was created using a giant fan, which, in those days, was called ‘aeroplane.’ Kannamba was so dedicated and sincere about her acting that she always used to wait for the director to say ‘Ok’ before getting out of the mood and the scene. Here too she did that. Though fully drenched, she did not get up even after the shot was over. When the worried unit hands rushed towards her, she said, ‘how can I get up unless the director said ok?’

Both T.R. Rajini and Vanaja were of Telugu descent, their families having settled in Madras. At home they spoke what was called ‘Madras Telugu.’ Rajini could be listed as the first generation oomph girl of South Indian cinema. Vanaja, however, was in a different league. A trained Bharathanatyam dancer, she was introduced to cinema by Srinivasa Rao, editor of the then popular Tamil cultural magazine, Naradar . In fact Naradar . first came as a supplement with Vasan’s Ananda Vikatan , but Vasan gifted it to his friend Srinivasa Rao to bring it as a full-fledged magazine. Rao introduced Vanaja to Vasan who took her under his wings and gave her performance-oriented roles in Samsaram , Avvayaar and the bilingual Moondru Pillaigal (Mugguru Kodukulu in Telugu).

Soudamini , however proved that no amount of star power could save a film if the content and its execution were not up to the mark.

m.l. narasimham

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