The demise of renowned Telugu actor Akkineni Nageswara Rao has revived memories of his many films.Although most of his films are in Telugu, the great thespian has acted in several Tamil films too. “Devadas”, “Anarkali”, “Manithan Maaravillai”, “Manjal Mahimai”, “Engal Veetu Mahalakshmi”, “Kalyanapparisu” are but some of the films featuring Nageswara Rao who incidently is the father of Actor Nagarjuna and the grandfather of actor Naga Chaitanya.
A veritable cult classic among A. Nageswara Rao’s Tamil films was “Devadas” made simultaneously in Telugu also as “Devadasu”.Though a sad movie with a tragic ending the film was a block buster in both languages.Kommareddy Savithri who later married Tamil actor Gemini Ganesh and became Savithri Ganesh paired with Nageswara Rao in both Telugu and Tamil. Other actors in the film were Lalitha, SV Ranga Rao and MN Nambiar.
Oh oh Devadas
The film was based on the novel “Devdas” by Bengali writer Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay. Seventeen versions of the Novel have been filmed over the years in different languages including Malay.In addition the story has spawned several adaptations in different forms like the Kamalahasan-Sree Devi starrer “Vaazhve Maayam”.
The first Tamil version of “Devadas” was made in 1936.PV Rao directed and also acted in it as Devadas.GB Rajayee(Different to TR Rajakumari whose real name was Rajayee) played Parvathi or Paro. The great singer KL Saigal sang two songs in Tamil for the film.
The “Devadas” Telugu-Tamil film featuring Nageswara Rao and Savithri was made in 1953.It was produced by a company called Vinoda pictures that had made films in Telugu like “Strihasam”and “Shanti”.This film however was in Tamil and Telugu as Devadas/Devadasu.
Uravum illai pagaiyum illai
Vinoda films had four partners.They were film Editor DL Narayana,Film director and choreographer Vedantham Ragavaiah, Telugu lyricist Samudrala Ragavachaarya and music composer CR Subburaman.Both Tamil and Telugu films were directed by Vedantham Ragavaiah who also wrote the screenplay. Dialogues in Telugu were written by Samudrala Ragavacharya and Udayakumar in Tamil.
The story of Devadas is that of a son of a feudal landlord who returns home after a western education abroad. He falls in love with his childhood playmate and friend Parvathi or Paro who has grown into a beautiful woman.His authoritarian father debars Devadas from marrying Parvathy due to differences of caste and status.Too weak to defy his father ,Devadas goes away from the village abandoning Parvathi. Realising after a while the extent of his love for Parvathi,he returns only to find her married . Dejected he turns to Alcohol as solace and also strikes up a relationship with a courtesan Chandramukhi who has a heart of gold. Chandramukhi loves Devadas but he is unable to forget Parvathi. His health decays due to drink and despair.Parvathi too is concerned about Devadas.Finally Devadas returns to meet Parvathi for one last time but dies at the gates of her residence without ever seeing her.
UlagE mAyam vAzhvE mAyam
“Devadas” released on September 11th 1953 was a run away success despite being a tragic love failure.The main two reasons for the success of the film were the performance of the actors and the soul stirring songs.
Nageswara Rao as Devadas, Savithri as Parvathi and Lalitha (the eldest of the Travancore sisters Lalitha,Padmini and Ragini) gave brilliant performances. The intricate cinematography of maestro B.S. Ranga enhanced the expressions displayed and also conveyed the mood of the characters well.More important than even the acting perhaps were the songs.They were immensely popular then and even now. The manner in which they were picturised added to the attraction.
I was born a year after “Devadas” was screened.I saw the film much later in my teens when it was re-screened in the sixties.I went to see it first because of the film songs which I had heard over “Radio Ceylon” frequently.I was captivated by the songs. The film was re-screened in theatres showing old films several times in the past. Whenever possible I would be there watching.Usually I do not like to see films with sad endings but “Devadas” was an exception because of the songs. I know of many people who saw the film again and again because of the songs.
Ellaam Maayai Thaanaa
After a while I was able to get an audio cassette of the film songs.They gave me perennial pleasure.Later on I was able to obtain a DVD of the film itself.What I do now is fast forward or rewind to the song scenes and play them over and over again. In recent times the You tube enables me to view a Devadas song whenever I feel like it. After Nageswara Rao’s death I re-visited “Devadas” again to refresh my memory. This piece is written as a result.
The songs of “Devadas” are unforgettable.They were written in Tamil by lyricists Udumalai Narayana Kavi and KD Santhanam. The singers were Ghantasala, K.Rani, R.Balasaraswaithi and Jikki. The music for all but three songs were composed by CR Subburaman. Unfortunately Subburaman died while the film production was in progress. His assistants MS Visvanathan and TK Ramamurthy composed the music for three songs and also did the background score after Subburaman’s death.
Thunintha pin Manamae
Subburaman like the Tamil poet genius Pattukkottai Kalyanasundaram died young at the age of 29.The films he had composed music for earlier like “Laila Majnu”, “Chandirani”. “Velaikkari”, “Manamagal” etc showed great talent and promise.The songs he had composed music for in “Devadas” were all time favourites.
The most popular of them all was “Ulage Maayam” sung by one of my favourite singers Ghantasala.It is about this illusory world and the illusion of life. It spoke about the impermanence of things.Ghantasala sings it mournfully and soulfully. The rasping cough is an indelible memory.Incidently the music for this was composed by the Visvanathan-Ramamurthy duo and not Subburaman.The other two songs composed by the duo were two songs rendered by Balasaraswathi “Santhosham Venumendraal” and “Paaramugam Aenaiyyaa”.
Nageswara Rao in particular excelled in enacting this song as a destitute seated near a dustbin and a stray dog. He is fondly remembered for this and the other sad songs in the film like “Kanavithu thaan”, “Uravumillai, pahaiyumillai” and “Thunintha pin Manamae”.The tune for “Thunintha pin manamae” is based on the Kalyani raga. Connoisseurs of Carnatic music are highly impressed by Subburaman’s innovative flair in using Kalyani raga for a song of this type by avoiding or under emphasising certain swaras.
Santhosham Tharum Savaari Povom
Nageswara Rao’s superb performance as Devadas was hailed as a milestone in acting then.Unlike stage affected histrionic displays by actors who came to cinema from drama,Nageswara Rao gave a controlled performance.His restrained acting was strikingly impressive.Director Vedantham Ragavaiah shot most scenes at night time or in poor light to bring out the looks and feelings of an inebriated soul steeped in sorrow.With disshevelled hair and stubble, Nageswara Rao played his role to perfection through underplay.Savithri and Lalitha too were very very good.
Another remarkable aspect of the film songs of “Devadas” was the utilisation of appropriate playback singers to give voice to the actors.Ghantasala was then fast becoming the singing voice for both rising Telugu stars NT Rama Rao and A Nageswara Rao.Ghantasala fitted Nageswara Rao very well in this film and others like “Anarkali”, “Manjal mahimai” and “Engal veetu Mahalakshmi”.Ghantasala evokes a sense of pathos in rendering the sorrowful songs. He is equally effective in articulating the exuberant solo “Santhosham Tharum Savaari”. Interestingly Director Bharathirajah and maestro Illayarajah used lines from this song in the film “Niram Maaradha Pookkal” starring Radhika,Rati Agnihotri,Vijayan and Sudhagar
The playback singers used for actresses Savithri and Lalitha who played Parvathi and Chandramuhi respectively, were also appropriately excellent choices.K.Rani sang as Paro for Savithri. This incredibly talented singer was a discovery of Subburaman. He heard her sing during a dance performance by Vyjayanthimala and resolved to use her as playback singer for Savithri in ‘Devadas’.
Rani was sensational and hugely contributed to the success of the film songs.The Ghantasala – Rani duo sings the mournful duet “Uravumillai,pahaiyumillai”. The impact is stunning.Some of the lines in the song like “Enathu Vaalvin Punitha Jyothi,Engay Sendraayo” by Rani are haunting.Rani’s memorable solo “Ellaam Maayai Thaanaa” soulfully explores the depths of despair.
There is also a Joyful romantic duet sung in happier times for which Subburaman uses Jikki and Ghantasala.The opening lines are “Oh oh Devadas” and “Oh oh Parvathi”. A song with the same opening lines were sung by Devadas and Parvathi as children. Subburaman used the singers Rani and Balasaraswathidevi for the song as sung by children.For the adult version Ghantasala and Jikki were used.The contrast is striking.
En Anbae Paavamaa
Also remarkable was the use of Raavu Balasaraswathi Devi as the voice for the lovable courtesan Chandramuhi played by Lalitha. Balasaraswathi Devi has an exquisite voice and unique singing style. In “Devadas” she sings a Ghazal type song “En Anbae Paavamma, Adhil Aedhum Bhethamaa”.The rendition brings out all the agony and suffering of unrequitted love.The melody was composed by Subburaman. Two other songs sung for Lalitha by Balasaraswathi Devi were composed by the Visvanathan-Ramamurthy duo. Lalitha’s dances were choreographed by Kuchipudi Exponent and Guru Vembati Chinna Satyam.
Sarat Chandra’s “Devadas” depicted on screen has come to personify the immortal lover who wilts and wanes after failing in love.A whole generation of youths who saw the film were afflicted by what was known as the “Devadas syndrome”. This was all about a defeatist deterioration of personality after failing in love. Turning to drink,growing a beard and wandering aimlessly alone singing morosely philosophical songs were the hallmarks of this syndrome.There was a time when any bearded youth imbibing strong drink was referred to as a “Devadas” look alike.
As stated earlier there have been many celluloid versions of ‘Devadas’.Among these are the Hindi versions of Bimal Roy in 1955 and Sanjay Leela Bansali in 2002. Bimal Roy had Dilip Kumar as Devadas, Suchitra Sen as Parvathi and Vyjayanthimala as Chandramuhi.Bhansali had Shah Rukh Khan as Devadas, Aishwarya Rai as Paro and Madhuri Dixit as Chandramuhi. I have seen both but continue to regard the Tamil-Telugu Devadas/Devadasu as the best of them all.
Even as I say this I am conscious of the fact that the film is essentially a Telugu movie with dialogues and songs in Tamil.From producrs to artistes and technicians most of those involved in the film are all Telugu speakers. In a sense the Tamil Devadas is merely a dubbed version of the Telugu Devadasu although both were simultaneously produced.Nevertheless I regard “Devadas” as a Tamil film and relate to the performances and songs with a Tamil sensibility by virtue of the fact that “Thamizh” is my mother tongue.I also consider it as a Tamil cinema classic.
The brilliant performances of Nageswara Rao and Savithri aside the evergreen songs of the film make the movie great. The Tamil songs of “Devadas” with- words written by Udumalai Narayana Kavi and KD Santhanam – music composed by CR Subburaman, MS Visvanathan and TK Ramamurthi-and sung by Ghantasala,K.Rani,Balasaraswathidevi and Jikki –will always remain popular and unforgettable.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org