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Suvarna Sundari (1957)

APK | October 24, 2007

ANR

Vedantham Raghavaiah was one time Anjali Devi's dance teacher.
Music Composer Adi Narayana Rao and his actress wife Anjali Devi started Anjali Pictures in 1951. Their first venture was Paradesi in 1953, which was directed by LV Prasad. This was an average success. Then came Anarkali in '55, which was a huge hit. This was directed by Vedantham Raghavaiah, who was at one time Anjali Devi's dance teacher. Adi Narayana Rao and Anjali Devi wanted the next venture also to be directed by him.

They decided to do something on the lines of Awara (Raj Kapoor), folk tales like Kasi Majili Kathalu and movies such as Swapna Sundari and Balaraju. The storyline was given by Adi Narayana Rao himself and along with Sadasiva Brahmam, the script was written. Adi Narayana Rao did not use his name in the story credits, but used a pseudonym Adityan instead.

The story went thus: Prince Jayantha finishes his training at his Gurukul, when his teacher's daughter confesses her love to him. He rejects her, so she accuses him of misbehaving with her. He runs away, fearing that his teacher will believe her and curse him. He hides in a cave on the run, and frees a sage from a curse. So the sage gives him three gifts, which are stolen from him. Meanwhile he falls in love with a Gandharva Kantha and marries her. She is in fact a celestial being, so when she bears Jayantha's child, Lord Indra curses her. Jayantha is also cursed by one Naga Kanya wherein he is a woman by day and a man by night. The couple has an adventurous life and after several such mishaps and mistakes, they meet one another and free each other of the curses binding them.

Adi Narayana Rao composed 12 songs and 1 poem. The lyrics were written by Samudrala Raghavachari with Kosaraju chipping in the lines of one song. The movie was a musical hit. The song 'Piluvakura' was a runaway success, while 'Hayi Hayiga' rendered by Jikki was composed with several 'raagas' and is still acclaimed critically. Adi Narayana Rao received the award for best music (nationwide), an honor given by the Bombay Journalist Association. It was the first time a south Indian received that award.

When ANR was offered the role of Jayantha, he felt that there was not much scope for him to show off his acting abilities. But he accepted the offer anyway, adding graciously that the story was strong and the movie was bound to be a hit. All this because the producers were his friends. Akkineni acted in 20 folklore movies till 1951. But after that, he acted in only two folklore movies, one of them being Suvarna Sundari (1957). After the 100 days function, Anjali Devi and Adi Narayana Rao gave Akkineni a plot next to their house to show their appreciation. He built a house there, but later sold it when he shifted from Madras to Hyderabad.

Anjali Devi received the Rashtrapati Award (Best National Movie) for the film.
Relangi, Balakrishna and Ramana Reddy, mostly seen in comic roles, are seen in negative shades in this movie. The humorous song picturized on them 'Yera Manthoti Geliche Varevaru Ra..' was liked by the public. Child artiste Vasundhara of Malliswari fame is seen as the Naga Kanya. Later she changed her name to Kanchana and became a lead actor. She is seen in Bhakta Tukaram opposite ANR.

True to Akkineni's word, Suvarna Sundari ran for 100 days in 13 centers. Mayabazaar, a blockbuster hit, was released more than a month before Suvarna Sundari. But the movie stood its ground. Sentiment, fantasy and folk worked in the movie, and the audiences received it well. Rashtrapati Award for best national movie was received by Anjali Devi (producer) for Suvarna Sundari. Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, then President of India, gave away the award.

Suvarna Sundari was remade in Tamil, where Gemini Ganesan played the lead. It worked at the Box Office in Tamil too. Then the producer duo wanted to dub it in Hindi, but after Lata Mangeshkar suggested to them that a remake will work better, they thought about it. Then they remade it with the same actors and same director. Lata Mangeshkar loved the songs so much, that she refused remuneration for the playback-but finally took it upon force by the producers, but less than half of what she usually took. The Hindi version also ran for 100 days, at 20 centers. This was ANR's only Hindi movie.

Anjali Devi later asked Akkineni that she wanted to remake Suvarna Sundari with Nagarjuna in the lead, cast opposite her own granddaughter, but ANR was not convinced. Needless to say, Suvarna Sundari remains a classic till date and a folk-based fantasy that hit a century in three languages.