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Mala Pilla (1938)

APK | July 07, 2007

Gudavalli Ramabramham -
a revolutionary filmmaker.
The 1930s in India was an era of rebels and revolutions. Telugu cinema was full of mythological set-ups and storylines borrowed from stage plays.

Gudavalli Ramabramham was a revolutionary of sorts. He directed a social drama taking Chalam's story 'Mala Pilla' as the base, a love story between a Brahmin and a Harijan.

Ramabramham ran a stationary shop, was a theatre critique for 'Swarajya' magazine and ran a theatre group 'Bharata Muni Brindam'.

After that he worked for Samadarsani paper and entered movies by helping with the publicity of Vel Pictures. He had the lofty ambition of changing the society through movies, and not merely viewed for entertainment.

'Mala Pilla' was the first venture of 'Sarathi Films' that he and a few others started. It was a risky venture and sure enough, created quite a stir when it was released.

The story goes thus: While some try to end discrimination against Harijans in a village, the Brahmins oppose it headed by priest Sunderama Shastri. His photographer son Nagaraju falls in love with Shamapalatha, a Harijan girl and elopes with her to Calcutta where he teaches her to read and write. The two sects fight over water and work. After Shastri's wife is saved by the Harijans from a fire accident, his view of them changes. With the police and a few civilians, the situation in the village calms down while Nagaraju and Shampalatha are married with Shastri's blessings.

Some people tried to stop the screening; in retaliation Bramham gave free passes to Brahmins who wanted to watch it. While some became converts, there were others who went home and bathed to get rid of the sin of watching such a movie.

This set several trends and records. First of all, the Bookish Telugu used generally was traded for colloquial slang in Mala Pilla. Social dramas became big after this movie. Issues such as civil rights, cruelty to animals and alcohol prohibition are addressed in the movie. The songs borrowed heavily from Janapadam; Bheemavarapu Narsimha Rao and Basavaraju with music and lyrics gave a popular set of songs.

A rare poster of the first revolutionary social film.
Govindarajula Subbarao debuted with this as the haughty and irrational Brahmin. Generally the projection of this caste was that of Rishis or Gurus, but this character was conflicting and contradictory to the given trend.

Kanchanamala, the popular and glamorous star back then, had a totally deglam look in the first half. The second half has a still of her with a 'modern' outfit in Calcutta which found its way into all Telugu homes' calendars. Still photographer Satyam started out with this movie, where he was an office boy and filled in for an absentee photographer.

Bramham also made Raithu Bidda, Apavadhu, Illalu, Patni among others. Mala Pilla remained one of his best ventures and more than anything, an original of sorts which set many trends.

During the filming of Palnati Yuddham, he succumbed to cancer. Mala Pilla came as a breath of fresh air in an era ridden with Myth and superstition and was a brave attempt by a revolutionary filmmaker.