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Bhakta Prahlada (1967)

APK | January 07, 2007

Cast: SV Rangarao, Balamurali Krishna, Relangi, Padmanabham, Haranath, Dhulipala, Ramanareddy, Nagaiah, Anjali Devi, Jayanthi, Kanakam, Baby Rojaramani, L. Vijayalakshmi, Geetanjali, Vanisree, Nirmala, Santha, Vijaya lalitha, Meenadevi, Manjula, Sunitha, Suseela, V. Sivaram, Dr. Sivaramakrishnaiah, Malladi Satyanarayana, Vemuri Ramaiah, Govinda Rao, Manda Subbareddy, Dr. Ramesh, Surendranath, Krishnamurthy, Rajarao, Koteswara Rao, Kolla Satyam, Kasinathtata, Jaggarao, Ajad, Polisetti Srirama Murthy, CVV Panthulu and Others.
Art: KA Sekhar.
Choreography: Vempati Satyam, PS Gopalakrishnan & KS Reddy.
Cinematography: Vincent.
Editing: R. Vittal.
Dialogues: DV Narasaraju.
Lyrics: Samudrala, Dasarathi, Kosaraju, Arudra, Padmaraju & Samudrala Jr.
Music: S. Rajeswara Rao.
Singers: Madavapeddi Satyam, Pittapuram Nageswara Rao, P. Suseela, S. Janaki, Sulamangalam Rajyalakshmi & LR Eeswari.
Assistant Directors: TS Ramarao & V. Tulasidasu.
Direction: Chitrapu Narayana Murthy.
Co-Producers: M. Murugan, M. Kumaran & M. Saravanan.
Producer: AV Meiyappan.
Banner: AVM Productions-Veerappan & Company.
Release Year: 1967.

An invaluable poster from the filmWhen the legend of the great devotee of Lord Vishnu, Bhakta Prahlada is brought up, most of us who've grown up on Telugu movies visualize only one movie. AVM's Bhakta Prahlada, with Roja Ramani as Prahlada and the veteran SV Ranga Rao as Prahlada's father, Hiranyakasyapa. This movie, which came out in 1967, had two predecessors.

The first Telugu talkie was 'Bhakta Prahlada', made in the year 1931 by HM Reddy. The first Bhakta Prahlada came out in 1926, a silent movie made by Dhundiraj Govind Phalke. It has been made and remade 10 times in more than 3 languages, but the most famous one in AP remains the 1967 version.

It all began with the director Chitrapu Narayana Murthy. He started his career assisting his younger brother Narasimha Rao in movies 'Seetha Kalyanam', 'Sati Tulasi', 'Mohini Rukhmangadhe' and 'Krishna Jarasandha'. His first directorial venture was 'Bhakta Markandeya' which starred Vemuri Gagayya and Senior Sriranjani. This movie fared well, giving the director a good name with him carving a niche for himself. Soon he went on to direct many movies, namely 'Myravana', 'Bhakta Prahlada' in Black & White in 1942 (which failed at the box-office), 'Daksha Yagnam', 'Bheeshma' and few more movies in both Telugu and Tamil. Unfortunately, he lost his son in 1963, and became emotionally incapable of working for two years after that. He was also neck deep in loses due to the failure of the movie 'Krishna Kuchela' which he himself produced.

He wanted to direct a movie for AVM to regain his financial status, and in 1965 they started work on 'Bhakta Prahlada', for the first time in color. The 58 year old director was excited about the prospect of working on this movie, which was technically far superior to the B&W version he made 25 years earlier. DV Narasaraju was chosen as the co-writer for the project, and the duo worked fast on the script. But the venture had to wait, for there were two issues. One was that there was no space in the studios owned by Narayana Murthy, as his sons were working on one movie at that time. The second and a more pressing problem in hand was a child artiste for the role of Prahlada.

AVM advertised for a child actor, and hundreds of parents turned up with their sons hoping to bag the role. Many auditions later, the makers were still looking for that touch of divinity, that spark that they felt was needed for this role. The unit members grew restless, and just as they were giving up hope, a little girl who came to visit the studios caught their attention, and so impressed were they with that kid, that she was finalized for the role. Thus Roja Ramani debuted with an astounding performance for a four year old, in a role that captured many hearts as Prahlada.

Interestingly, AVM produced 'Jeevitha', 'Vadina', 'Sangam' in Telugu which failed at the BO, all in the 1950s. The story of Bhakta Prahlada came thrice in Telugu before this, and failed at the BO. But this time, they hit bulls-eye.

Choosing the other actors was not a problem. In 1958, a hugely successful 'Chenchu Lakshmi' had the story of Prahlada in it, with SV Ranga Rao as Hiranyakasyapa and Pushpavalli (Rekha's mother) as Leelavati, her son Babji as Prahlada and Relangi as Narada. So SV Ranga Rao was the first choice for Hiranyakasyapa for AVM's 'Bhakta Prahlada'. Anjali Devi was roped in for the role of Leelavati.

The popular classical singer Balamurali Krishna played Narada in this movie. He even composed and sang three songs for the movie-'Varamosage Vanamali', 'Adiyu Anadiyu Neeve Deva' and 'Siri Siri Lali'. The rest of the songs were composed by Saluri Rajeshwara Rao-an astounding 34 songs and poems.

The dances in the movie are also quite note-worthy. Vanisri, not an established heroine at that point of time, is seen for two minutes in a dance sequence. She was rejected for AVM's 'Nadi Ada Janme' co-produced by SV Ranga Rao (which was finally done by Savithri), but AVM was impressed with her performance in a Tamil movie, and gave her this opportunity.

L. Vijayalaxmi had a dance number where her costume is reminiscent of Vyjayanti Mala's in the movie 'Amrapali'. Another dance sequence, 'Andani Suraseema Neede Noi' has danseuses Shanti, Geetanjali, Vijaya Lalitha and Venniradai Nirmala portraying the roles of Rambha, Urvasi, Meneka and Tilottama with élan.

AVM was known for its perfectionist attitude. 'Bhakta Prahlada' was dubbed into Tamil and Hindi so the scenes in the Gurukul were shot in three different languages. Since the scenes were comic, comedians from all three languages were roped in for those particular scenes for maintaining the flavor and authenticity in each lingo.

The climax had to be shot again. The climax involved Hiranyakasyapa being killed by the Lord Narasimha, who is half-human and half-lion, so they roped in a body builder for the role of Narasimha, and SVR got a dupe for the tricky shots. AVM was dissatisfied because there were no close-ups of SVR and it didn't look 'real'. Secondly, Roja Ramani, little older than a baby, was shooting night and day and looked sleepy in the climax. So an extensive re-shooting had to be done to please the boss, and once released, he was extremely pleased, both with the quality of the movie and the response critically and commercially.

A story that many of us know, 'Bhakta Prahlada', which was already made many times over, was re-created beautifully by the director Chitrapu Narayana Murthy and AVM's uncompromising production values, Saluri Rajeswara Rao's ever-green music and Vempati Satyam's elegantly choreographed dances. 'Bhakta Prahlada' stays on in the minds and memories of Telugu Cinegoers and has captured the imagination of many over the generations.