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Song of the Day # 809

From: bb on:  Wed Sep 13, 2006 11:22 pm

Song of the Day: A Hundred Songs of Bhanumathi - Part II

- Saravanan writes:

ippadiyum oru peN

~ A Hundred Songs of Bhanumati ~

Part II: Entry in Tamil Cinema

Thus when Bhanumathi came to Tamil cinema, she was already a name to reckon with in Telugu, and was consolidating her position therein day by day. With her well-established credentials and stern demeanor that would brook no nonsense, and being a married woman and a mother to boot, her co-actors, members of the technical team and even her directors and producers held her in awe and treated her with deference. Her arrival in Tamil cinema was unprecedented in grandeur. For never before had the ruling male stars of Tamil cinema vied with each other in trying to get Bhanumati to pair with them. They considered it a rare privilege to make it known that Bhanumati was to co-star with them in their forthcoming movies. She acted with reigning legends like M.K.Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, P.U.Chinnappa, Honappa Bhagavathar, N.S.Krishnan, T.R.Mahalingam and M.K.Radha and complemented their performances with her own, be it acting or singing. She progressed with equal ease to pairing with the actors of the next generation. As in Telugu where she was senior to A.Nageshwara Rao and N.T.Rama Rao, she had become an acclaimed heroine in Tamil when MGR was still climbing his way up and no one had even heard of Sivaji Ganesan. Gemini Ganesh was only a casting assistant in Gemini Studios when Bhanumati came to act in Gemini’s ‘apoorva sagOtharargaL’. In fact, MGR and Sivaji never addressed Bhanumati by name- they called her ‘amma’. She acted with them all, and carved an enviable niche for herself as an actress who could carry a film on the strength of her performance alone. Long years after actresses stopped singing, Bhanumati continued singing her own songs and made fetching forays into other areas of film making as well. Her first Tamil film was released in 1948, her last Tamil film was released in 1992, and she acted in 48 Tamil movies in all. And she sang in most of them. Bhanumati has thus left behind indelible prints in the archives of Tamil Cinema, and we will go year by year and try to pick out each silken thread of this glorious tapestry…

As we have seen, with ‘swarga seema’, Bhanumati plunged into her renewed career with vengeance, and Telugu film offers came pouring in. She cemented the success of ‘swarga seema’ by another fine performance in ‘grihapravEsam’ (1946/Sarati Films). This was the first film directed by L.V. Prasad, and he donned an important on-screen role as well. But it was Bhanumati playing the modern girl Janaki and spewing feminist views at the drop of the hat who stole the show with her breezy nonchalance.

Tamil producers and actors were watching this phenomenon called Bhanumati hold the Telugu film world in a spellbound trance, and realized that it was to their advantage to hasten and harness her talents in their Tamil ventures. The first overture came from Murugan Talkies who were planning an extravaganza titled ‘ratnakumar’ with the redoubtable singing star P.U.Chinnappa playing the title role. The producers approached Bhanumati to play the leading lady opposite Chinnappa and booked her dates by paying her Rs. 25,000/, a sum unheard of those days, that too for a debutante!

And the whopping sum had arrived at the right time, for it was just then that Bhanumati and Ramakrishna were toying with the idea of establishing their own production company and make movies of their choice to canalize their creative urge and at the same time make commercial profits. And this amount was the catalyst that transformed what was mere wishful thinking into a realistic proposition. With this sum as the initial outlay, the couple floated their company, calling it ‘Bharani Pictures’ after their son.

As ‘ratnakumar’ was filmed in infrequent spurts and its progress was way off the schedule, Bhanumati went ahead and launched the first film under ‘Bharani Pictures’- the Telugu movie ‘ratnamala’. Scripted by Samudrala, ‘ratnamala’ was based on an ancient folklore of a woman who is forced to marry the infant prince Chandrakant; Of course, as the result of her penance, the Gods transform the child into a handsome youth. Filled with the wondrous compositions of C.R.Subburaman and directed by Ramakrishna, ‘ratnamala’ (1947/ Bharani Pictures) was a grand success and proved an auspicious harbinger of the greater successes that would grace ‘Bharani Pictures’ in later years.

And realizing that ‘ratnakumar’ would be some time in the making, Ramakrishna decided to launch his wife in Tamil under their own banner, and Bharani Pictures’ ‘pulEndiran’ starring the young T.R.Mahalingam and Bhanumati was announced with great fanfare. However, due to various reasons, ‘pulEndiran’ could not make headway.

In the meantime, Bhanumati got a few other prestigious offers in Tamil, and many of them were released before ‘ratnakumar’ eventually saw the light of the day in late 1949.

Let us now proceed to a chronological retrospective of Bhanumati’s Tamil movies, enumerate her songs therein, and listen to many of them.

On to the ramble in nostalgia…

* * * *

1. rajamukti (9.10.1948/ Narendra Pictures)

M.K.Thyagarja Bhagavathar was acquitted in the Lakshimikantan murder case and released on April 25, 1947. Emerging a free man at around 11 in the forenoon, Bhagavathar went first to Vadapalani Murugan temple and then proceeded to Trichy, where he spent a few days in the blissful company of his family. He was soon approached by producers who wanted him to return to the arc lights. But Bhaagavathar had had enough of these avaricious and ungrateful men- for they had shown themselves in their true colours when he was in prison. They had not only demanded back the advances that he had taken for acting in their movies before his incarceration, but without a second thought got him replaced by other actors in their movies, believing firmly that Bhagavathar would remain behind bars for many years to come.

Bhagavathar thus decided to produce a movie himself. Calling his banner ‘Narendra Pictures’, Bhagavathar’s first venture was an elaborate costume drama called ‘rajamukthi’. He commissioned the legendary Pudhumaipitthan to pen the dialogues. Nanjilnaadu T.N.Rajappa had a hand in writing part of the dialogues. Raja Chandrasekhar drafted the screenplay and directed the film.

Bhagavathar played the hero- King Rajendra Varman of the Vyjayanti empire. V.N.Janaki played his wife, Mrinalini. An upcoming MGR played the neighboring king and rival Mahendra Varman. M.G.Chakrapani played the wily minister, and Bhanumati played the minister’s daughter Kannika who is in love with Rajendra Varman, and aims to attain him at any cost. Serugalathur Sama, P.S.Veerappa (debut), M.R.Swaminathan, P.G.Venkatesan and C.T.Rajakantam were the others in the cast.

Hesitant to shoot the movie in the city where he had been imprisoned for more than 2 years, Bhagavathar booked the legendary Prabhat Studios in Poona and took on lease a sprawling bungalow to accommodate his cast. Most of the technicians- editor M.D.Jadhav, art director Vasudev Stolikar and cinematographers Pandurang Naik and Surendra Pai who worked in the movie were from Prabhat Studios.

It was Bhanumati’s exquisite delineation of an interesting character with shades of gray in ‘swarga seema’ that must have prompted Bhagavathar to pick her for the role of Kannika, for this role too had subtle shades that oscillated between good and bad, though finally settling on the latter. V.N.Janaki might have been the official heroine, but it was Bhanumati who cornered a greater share in the proceedings.

Ramakrishna and the little Bharani had gone along with Bhanumati to Poona. One day, seeing the child moving his hands as though playing a violin when a song was being rehearsed, the delighted Bhagavathar is said to have presented Bharani with a new violin!

And this convoluted tale of palace intrigue, suspicion, unreciprocated love, seduction, villainy and piety was interspersed with excellent music- Papanasam Sivan’s lyrics set to C.R.Subbaraman’s enticing tunes. Way back in 1945, CRS was booked to compose music for a movie called ‘udayanan-vasavadattai’ with MKT and Vasundra Devi as the lead actors. Excited at the thought of Bhagavathar singing under his baton, CRS had worked painstakingly on the songs when Bhagavathar was arrested and sent to prison. The movie was later taken up with GNB playing the lead role and C.S.Jayaraman composing the music. CRS had bitterly disappointed at the turn of events, and so was naturally thrilled now that Bhagavathar had singled him out to compose music for his comeback vehicle.

Bhagavathar sang several appealing songs in ‘rajamukthi’: ‘unai allaal oru thurumbuasaiyumO, O paaNduranga!’, ‘maanida jenmam meeNdum vandhidumO’, ‘nee paLLi ezhunthaal allathu uyirgaL uRakkam theLiyumO’, ‘piRavikkadal thaaNdiyE’, ‘manam ninaindhEginEnE’ etc. CRS introduced a new female singer called Madras Lalitangi Vasantakumari to Tamil cinema through ‘rajamukti’. Though MLV had already made a mark as a vocalist of rare merit, it was through ‘rajamukti’ that she made her debut as a playback singer. She sang for V.N.Janaki on screen, and her songs include ‘kulakkodi thazhaikka’, ‘aaraarO nee aaraarO’ (both solos), and ‘ingum angum engum inbamE’ and ‘enna anandam’ (duets with Bhagavathar). Serugalathoor Sama sang ‘indirajaala vidhdhaikkaaran’ and P.G.Venkatesan sang the comic song ‘machchi un mugathil meesaiyai kaaNOm’ .

In the midst of this formidable array of stalwart singers, Bhanumati distinguished herself in her songs ‘sarasa sallabam seiyya arugil vaarumaiyya’ (solo), ‘swami arunkanigaL ivaiyE paareer, amudhathil meLaana theenchuvaiyaagum’ (with Bhagavathar) and ‘sandhOshamaai anbar varuvaaradi’ (with MLV).

Bhagavathar got T.N.Rajaratinam Pillai to play the nadaswaram for a sequence. The music records of ‘rajamukti’ witnessed record sales even before the movie’s release. But for all its impeccable testimonials, ‘rajamukti’ was not a success. Not only ‘rajamukti’, all of Bhagavathar’s subsequent ventures were commercial catastrophes; ‘rajamukti’ marked the beginning of the end for Bhagavathar. Nevertheless, Bhanumati had made a praiseworthy debut, eliciting notice even when pitted amongst a challenging ensemble.

The following year saw five movies of Bhanumati release in quick succession.

* * * *

2. nallathambi (4.2.1949/ NSK Films & Uma Pictures)

N.S.Krishnan was pronounced a free man on the same day as Bhagavathar. At that time, his NSK Films was in the midst of making a film starring S.V.Sahasranamam, MGR, T.A.Mathuram and others. Now that NSK had returned, a role was created for him and the story slightly modified accordingly. Titled ‘paithiyakkaran’, the movie did good business.

NSK’s next venture was ‘nallathambi’. Krishnan-Panju were the directors, and the movie introduced C.N.Annadurai M.A. as the story and dialogue writer. However, truth was the story was lifted from the 1936 English movie ‘Mr.Deeds Goes To Town’. Based on Clarence Budington Kelland’s story ‘Opera Hat’ and adapted for screen by Robert Riskin, ‘Mr. Deeds Goes To town’ was directed by Frank Capra. It told the story of a small-timer Longfellow Deeds (Gary Cooper) who suddenly finds himself the heir to an enormous fortune. When his eyes open to the travails of the unemployed poor, he decides to put his fortune to good use- he offers the poor vast farmlands for free if they would work on them. A crafty attorney who had planned to usurp the fortune by keeping Deeds under his thumb finds all his calculations going awry at this unexpected gesture of Deeds. He joins forces with some relatives of Deeds and tries to get Deeds declared insane. However, Deeds proves his mental competence and all is well that ends well.

Sahasranamam and director Krishanan had been highly impressed with the movie, and now sat with Annadurai to work on this story and amend it appropriately to suit the native milieu. Accordingly, Annadurai created the Soppanapuri Zameen. Pushpa and her cousin Nallathambi are the joint heirs. While the city bred Pushpa is highly conscious of her status and upbringing and has the haughtiness of the idle rich, Nallathambi is a diehard socialist, passionate on the upliftment of the poor. Pushpa wants to marry Nallathambi, but Nallathambi has brought along with him his lover who had the same zeal for social reforms. Bhoopathi, a distant relative had been eying this enormous fortune, and now steps in to create a wedge between Pushpa and Nallathambi. He carries tales to Pushpa of Nallathambi’s secret love. At this time, Nallathambi commences on co-operative farming to help the landless poor. Goaded by the cunning Bhoopathi, Pushpa files a suit that Nallathambi is of unsound mind and not capable of managing the property. As in the English original, Nallathambi proves his saneness in the end.

NSK played Nallathambi, Mathuram was his lover and Sahasranamam was the wicked Bhoopathi. And for the role of the arrogant Pushpa, NSK brought in Bhanumati. Bhanumati was scintillating as Pushpa; the role called for a strong-willed, overbearing woman, and Bhanumati was just the choice to define the contours of the characterization to sculpted perfection.

C.R.Subbaraman composed the music; Udumalai Narayana Kavi and K.P.Kamkshisundaram penned the lyrics. Ever conscious of the welfare of the society at large, NSK inserted into the proceedings some of his pet indulgences like the ‘kindanaar’ discourse condemning untouchability and ‘kudi keduththa kudi’, a street play to propagate prohibition. Again, it was in this movie that NSK, Mathuram and chorus sang the famous ‘naattukku sEvai seiyya naagareega kOmaaLi vandhanayya’. Besides this, Mathuram sang a song that went ‘8..7..6..’. MLV sang the lilting dance song ‘gaanalOlan madhanagOpalan’ .

Bhanumati too had some noteworthy songs in the movie. Listen first to the amazing ‘enadhu uyir Egypttu’, followed by ‘malarthanil oru azhagu mayil’. This was the famous ‘Cleopatra’ sequence with Bhanumati appearing as the Egyptian empress and NSK as the love-struck Anthony. The song is a rare instance of NSK not singing for himself. His lines are sung by Ghantasala. Ghantasala’s first song in Tamil had been ‘kuyil pOla isai paadum’ in ‘paithiyakkaaran’, and it was C.R.Subburaman who again gave him this opportunity to sing a few lines in ‘nallathambi’. Listen to the magnificent interlude, one that extends to well over 2 minutes before ‘malarthanil oru azhagu mayil’. In a careless wave of his baton, the brilliant Subbaraman transports us to the exotic banks of the Nile. The song is Bhanumati’s show all the way. Hark at the soprano’s humming she affects before declaring ‘enadhuyir Egypttu’, and the hauteur that she manages to put across the lines….Fascinating stuff!

Listen to enadhu uyir Egypt + malarthanil oru azhagu mayil

The next song is ‘varuvaarE dear varuvaarE’ which Pushpa sings with the joyous expectations of Nallathambi’s arrival (by ‘Boat Mail’!). Bhanumati bestows all this happiness into the opening humming itself, and the song portrays the love that Pushpa has for Nallathambi, much before the scoundrel Bhoopathi corrupts her thoughts.

Listen to varuvaarE dear varuvaarE

The next song is the remorseful ‘naan vaNangum deivam’ that a repentant Pushpa sings. Her song is tinged with the sorrow of a rather late realization of the error of her ways, and the innate greatness of Nallathambi. Pride, they say, goes before a fall, and the truth of this adage is witnessed all over the song. Bhanumati brings the newly found humility and penitence of Pushpa into her song.

Listen to naan vaNangum deivam

‘nallathambi’ was a grand success, and Bhanumati’s performance, her ‘Cleopatra’ extravaganza in particular, was one of the factors instrumental in this triumph. Annadurai’s lifelong admiration for Bhanumati began with ‘nallathambi’; he would anoint her as ‘nadippukku ilakkaNam’ in future years.

Speaking of ‘nallathambi’ in an interview (The Hindu/ V.Gangadhar), Bhanumati grumbled good-naturedly, “This was a film where I could not do anything even when the hero Nallathambi distributed my entire wardrobe of saris to poor women!” Touché!

* * * *

3. laila majnu (1.10.1949/ Bharani Pictures)

In the celebrated line of Romeo-Juliet, Heer-Ranjha, Sassi-Ponnu, Sohni-Mahiwal , Shirin-Farhad and nearer home- Ambikapathi-Amaravathi, there is a place of pride for Laila-Majnu, an ancient epic of love that has caught the fancy of many a raconteur over the centuries. It is an integral part of classic Sufi literature. Hashmet Shah has told it, so has Amir Khusro. Nizami Ganjavi’s 12th century version in scintillating verse filled with allegorical flourishes has been translated into numerous languages. Mian Mohammad Bakhsh’s interpretation of the epic is held as an acclaimed treatise in Pakistan till this day. The tragic tale of Majnoon and Laila is said to have its foundations in true events that occurred in the 7th century. Over the years the saga has seeped so deeply into the Muslim psyche that the names of Laila and Majnoon find place in commonplace conversation and in most proverbs and poetry that deal with love.

The story is this: Qais Ibn Al Mulawwa, son of Shah Amri is sent to Damascus to pursue his education. There he meets and falls in love with the beautiful Laila, daughter of the Najd chieftain. Though Laila reciprocates his love in equal measure, her father opposes this match and keeps her confined in the house. Heartbroken at this separation, Qais loses his mental faculties and wanders aimlessly, always uttering the name of Laila. He is soon known far and wide as ‘Majnoon’, the obsessed.. Laila is forcibly married off to Bakth, a scion of the royal family of Iraq. But she refuses to let Bakth touch her… Overwhelming misery and wretchedness of her circumstances lead to her death; and hearing of her demise, the grief-stricken Qais too falls dead. The lovers unite in death.

Love and loss of heartrending proportions being its lead motif and replete with a surfeit of emotional twists and turns, the story has become the perennial pick for celluloid adaptation right from the time of the advent of cinema. All over the Indian subcontinent both before and after the partition, in Iran, in Iraq, in Lebanon, in Syria and in Egypt…Dream merchants across nations have filled their coffers filming this love story.

Silent movie versions of the story were made in 1922 and in 1927. In 1931 alone, two Hindi movies based on this tale were released, one directed by K.Rathod (Krishnatone) and the other directed by J.J.Madan (Madan Theatres, Calcutta). In 1945 came another Laila-Majnu (Hind Pictures) starring Nazir and Swarnalata and directed by Nayyar and Nazir. The music composed by Rafiq Ghaznavi & Gobindaram ensured the success of the movie. Shammi Kapoor and Nutan played the doomed pair in the 1953 version (All India Pictures). Talat Mehmood’s ‘chal diya karvaan’ for Ghulam Mohammad is a classic of hallowed memory. The Laila-Majnu that I have vague memories of watching on TV, however, is a much later one- the 1976 version by H.S. Rawail that had Rishi Kapoor and newcomer Ranjita Kaur in the lead roles. Madan Mohan had crafted some wonderful songs for this adaptation before he passed away, and Jaidev stepped in to complete the task. Rafi and Lata’s songs like ‘is rEshmi paazeb ki jhankaar’, ‘barbaad –e- mohabbat ki dua’ and ‘tEre dar pE aaya hoon’ have immortalized Madan Mohan’s swansong.

It was this oft-told tale then, that Bhanumati and Ramakrishna decided to tell in Telugu and Tamil in 1949. Encouraged by the success of their maiden venture ‘ratnamala’, they embarked upon producing the bilingual ‘laila majnu’ with a grand budget befitting the epic saga. Bhanumati, of course, played Laila and Nageshwara Rao played Qais. Mukkamala Krishnamoorthi, Chilakalpudi Sitarama Anjaneyulu, Kasturi Siva Rao, Arani Satyanarayana and Sriranjini (Jr) were the other actors. Lalita and Padmini made their appearance for a dance sequence. Ramakrishna directed the movie. Samudrala Raghavacharya reworked on the story to give it a happy ending. B.S.Ranga was the cinematographer and Vedantam Raghaviah choreographed the dance sequences.

Bharani’s ‘laila majnu’ is remembered even today more than anything else for the timeless enchantment of its music. Not surprising, considering that it was Bhanumati’s favourite composer C.R. Subbaraman at work. It was Bhanumati who had made CRS a name to reckon with by getting him to compose the music for Bharani’s first film ‘ratnamala’. CRS was one of the few people whose talents Bhanumati never failed to acknowledge unhesitatingly. And with his score for ‘laila majnu’, CRS soared in popularity and glittered for a brief while as a prolific Tamil/Telugu music composer before his untimely death.

Another person who shot to prominence with ‘laila majnu’ was Ghantasala Venkateswara Rao. Ghantasala had made his debut as a playback singer in ‘swarga seema’, singing the duet ‘aarEhaa iyE yennela irajimmu’, and it was none other than Bhanumati who had sung with him. And though CRS, who had taken him as an assistant, managed to fetch Ghantasala a few singing opportunities, it was by singing the ‘laila majnu’ songs that Ghantasala finally arrived as a playback singer of repute.

The Telugu lyrics were penned by Samudrala, and the Tamil lines by Kambadasan.

Listen first to the delightful duet ‘iga vaazhvinil kaathal mahajOthiyE maarumaa’ by Ghantasala and Bhanumati:

Listen to indha vaazhvinil kaathal

Another duet- the hauntingly melancholic ‘vaaraayO, enai maRandhanaiyO’, by Ghantasala and Bhanumati (The corresponding Telugu song was ‘raavO naanu marachitivO’)

Listen to vaaraayO ennai

Listen now to the famous Bhanumati solo ‘pRemaithaan polladhaa’. (The Telugu version went ‘prEmE nEramounaa’) Bhanumati is said to have picked a tune from Laurence Olivier’s 1948 adaptation of Hamlet, and asked Subbaraman to build the song on it. ‘prEmaithaan pollaadhaa’ is said to have been immensely popular in its time. I can still recall an old-timer whom I met in a recording center – he spoke animatedly about the songs of ‘laila majnu’. ‘pRemai thaan pollaadhaa’ was for him the first among the equals. When I protested laughingly citing the sudden slowing of the charaNam lines, he glared at me in undisguised contempt!

Listen to pRemaithaan pollatha

Listen now to the pick of the album, (a truncated version, I’m afraid!) ‘enadhu uyir urugum nilai solluvaai nee vaanmathi’ by Ghantasala and Bhanumati. (The Telugu equivalent ‘chelunigani nijamidani telupuma O jaabili’)

Listen to enathu uyir urugum nilai

While I have Ghantasala’s heartrending solo ‘paRandhu sellum painkiLiyE’ and Ravu Balasaraswati’s graceful ‘veeN pazhi thaanE prabhO en mEl’ from ‘laila majnu’, I am not able to find in my collections the other songs sung by Bhanumati in the movie. I guess there must be at least 3 more songs sung by Bhanumati in ‘laila majnu’, apart from these 4 featured.

Two versions of ‘bilhaNan’ (Mubarak & TKS Brothers) and two versions of ‘gnanasoundari’ (Citadel & Gemini) were released IN 1948. Similarly when Bharani’s ‘laila majnu’ was being made, F.Nagoor was also shooting his adaptation of ‘laila majnu’ for Balaji Pictures, with T.R.Mahalingam and M.V.Rajamma playing the lead roles. But it was Bharani’s ‘laila majnu’ that tasted success, and a grand, grand success at that. Nothing succeeds like success and hence all those involved in the making of Bharani’s ‘laila majnu’ looked well set for a comfortable future in tinsel town.

Akkineni Nageshwara Rao had made his debut as a fifteen-year old boy in ‘dharmapatni’ (1941/Famous Films), which had Bhanumati playing a significant role. He had also enacted a minor role in Bharani’s ‘ratnamala’. Bhanumati now gave ANR an excellent break by casting him as the hero opposite her in ‘laila majnu’, and the two went on to pair in many unforgettable movies in later years, especially the ones that came from the Bharani stable like ‘prEma’, ‘vipranarayaNa’ and ‘baatasaari’. And at a condolence meeting at the Film Chamber in Hyderabad a day after Bhanumati’s demise, ANR spoke at length on his long years of association with the venerable veteran. His voice choked with emotion, he said “ Bhanumati and I were born in the same month and year, just 13 days apart. She had entered the film industry before me and had worked with stalwarts such as Nagaiah and Narayana Rao. I may have worked in many successful films made under our banner but the films I did for Bharani Pictures were real gems. Sometimes our opinions clashed but I have always had a special regard for her. There was no area of filmmaking which she did not know. And she had such great command on whatever she did. We all considered working with her a great fortune in those days…” - a heartfelt tribute to one great artiste from another….

- More to come…

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