A successful banner can inspire its efficient staff to branch out and start a company of their own. Bhanumathi and Ramakrishna’s Bharani Pictures became the grooming ground for its production chief D.L. Narayana and dance director Vedantam Raghavaiah to form Vinoda Pictures, along with eminent writer Samudrala Raghavacharya and music director C.R. Subbaraman. Raghavaiah not only worked as a choreographer at Bharani, but also assisted every department of the film craft. It was decided that for their proposed movie, D.L. would take care of the production aspect, Raghavaiah would debut as the director and Subbaraman would compose the music. To play it safe, they selected a folklore and Samudrala penned the story, dialogue and lyrics for Stree Sahasamu . The movie was also made in Tamil and was a commercial success in both languages, thanks to the taut screenplay and pleasant music. Interestingly, Samudrala not only wrote the script but also supervised the debut director’s work.

The story is about Prince Rajasekhar (ANR), who is reluctant to marry, but yields to his father’s (Sadasivarao) pressure on condition that the princess should fulfill his three wishes – build a palace with precious stones without any help either from her parents or in-laws, conceive a child through him without his knowledge, and finally get him (the Prince) married to the woman he loves. And all these in 18 months. Princess Manohari (Anjali Devi) agrees to his conditions and the marriage is performed. Soon after, Rajasekhar leaves the kingdom along with his friend Ammanna (Sivarao). Manohari too leaves the palace with the Minister’s daughter Rani (Suryaprabha). To raise money for the palace, she disguises herself as a dancer and gives performances. Rajasekhar reaches Pakshiraja’s (Relangi) kingdom and falls in love with his daughter Komala (Girija). How the Princess manages to build the palace, conceives a child through the Prince without his knowledge and ultimately gets him married to the woman he loves constitute the sub-plots in the narrative, which have all been well presented. The story ends with the Prince taking both Manohari and Komala as his wives.

Though there are many sub-plots within the plot, nowhere do the viewers feel confused as the narrative is smooth and straight. B.S. Ranga’s cinematography also helped Raghavaiah to come up with neat work in his maiden attempt. Vedantam Raghavaiah hailed from Kuchipudi Agraharam in Krishna district. He used to act as Kusa, Lava and Prahlada in his father Vedantam Ramaiah’s street plays. Raghavaiah later learnt traditional dance forms from Chintha Venkataramaiah. His life changed in 1932 when he participated in a Natya Kala Parishad competition and won a first prize in front of such luminaries as Kasinathuni Nageswara Rao Panthulu, Gudavalli Ramabrahmam and Dr. Govindarajula Subbarao. Director Chitrapu Narasimha Rao created a dance sequence for him in Mohini Rukmangada , his debut movie. But it was Gudavalli’s Rythubidda in which he enacted the ‘Dasavatharalu’ ballet that won him recognition. His role in Mayalokam (1945), as ANR’s grandfather brought him closer to the young hero, a bonding that made it easy for ANR to portray the protagonist in Stree Sahasamu . Such roles by then were a cakewalk for both ANR and Anjali Devi.

Suryaprabha as Rani stole the show. Interestingly, she later married Raghavaiah and yesteryear popular actress Subha was their daughter.

The centre of attraction in the movie was its well- choreographed dance sequences, particularly the special dance featuring the Travancore sisters, Lalitha and Padmini. An interesting anecdote was once narrated by Lalitha. Raghavaiah was filming the group dance scene with Lalitha, Padmini. It started early in the morning and the director was determined to complete it at one go. It was likely to go beyond midnight and the tired dancers could not convey it as Raghavaiah was known for his anger. Lalitha, an expert in playing pranks, called her driver and asked him to bring some chocolates, which she gave to the dancers. After a break, when the director commenced the shoot again, he found the dancers heading for the loo.

Some one from the unit said that perhaps it was due to food poisoning. Raghavaiah had no other option but to postpone the shoot to the next day. What Lalitha had given the dancers was a laxative in the form of chocolate. Despite the prank, Raghavaiah retained the talented danseuse- actress Lalitha to play one of the lead roles along with ANR and Savithri in Vinoda’s third movie, (the second film Shanti did not do well), the all time classic Devadasu .

m. l. narasimham

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