“Chinni Pichuka Chinni Pichuka” – Town Bus (1957) – Telugu Feature Film

Faded Into Oblivion Series (4)

టౌన్ బస్సు (Town Bus 1957) – “Chinni Pichuka Chinni Pichuka” (చిన్ని పిచుక్క చిన్ని పిచుక్క); Voice: P Susheela (పులపాక సుశీల), Composed by Krishnankoil Venkatachalam Mahadevan (K V Mahadevan – కే వ మహదేవన్)

Released on March 3rd 1957,Jairam Productions ‘Town Bus” (టౌన్ బస్సు) starring Anjali Devi, Kannappa, T K Ramachandran, Karunanidhi, Venumalai, P T Sambandam, M N Rajam T P Muthulakshmi was a different kind of bilingual (Tamil-Telugu) flick for its period — the 1950s that attracted attention because of its unique storyline (the female bus conductors were played by T P Muthulakshmi & Anjali Devi) that revolved around bus transport company based in Coimbatore and a brilliant score by K. V. Mahadevan (KVM) with lyrical support from Bhairagi. The Telugu film was directed by Y Ranga Rao.

The Tamil version with the same title was produced earlier in 1955 by M A Venu under MAV Banner and directed by the legendary K Somu (aka Jupiter Somu who apprenticed under the famous Ellis R Duncan). Acclaimed writer A P Nagarajan was in charge of screenplay-dialogue. The cinematography was by V K Gopal who captured some of the scenic roads & locales about 50 years ago. With Kavi Ka.Mu. Sherif’s support, K V Mahadevan’s score for songs especially “Chittu Kuruvi Chittu Kuruvi” (M S Rajeswari), “Ponnan Vazhvu” (M S Rajeswari, Radha Jayalakshmi, Tiruchi Loganathan), “Lady Lady” (S C Krishnan, Seerkazhi Govindarajan, U R Chandra) became instant hits. The title music (KVM used “Vetri Ettum Thikkum Etta” from “Naam Iruvar” by D K Pattammal) was performed by an upcoming “Nadaswaram” Artiste Namagiripettai Krishnan. The Telugu Version had “Chinni Pichuka” (P Susheela), “Lady Lady” (P B Srinivas, Pithapuram, P Susheela), “Letha Valapura” (Radha Jayalakshmi), “Paadaye Bratuku” (P Susheela, Ghantasala), “Vrudha Jeevitha” (Ghantasala), “Brindavanamu” (Pithapuram).

Storyline: Kannappa (his first film being Modern Theatres “Devaki” in 1952) meets the woman conductor (Anjali Devi of “Gollabhama-1947” fame that catapulted her to stardom) and joins the transport company as driver and love blossoms. The company owner’s daughter (Tambaram Lalitha) falls in love with him, but her father wants her to marry a relative, who is the manager of the company (T K Ramachandran). He is after wealth and a womanizer. The driver’s friend Karunanidhi has an eye for T P Muthulakshmi. The manager dismisses the two drivers after which the hero becomes an autorickshaw driver. Soon he sets up his own company and tastes success in a short span of time. He marries the conductor and has a child through her. Success goes to his head, his lifestyle changes and he falls for a dancer (M N Rajam). The wife comes to know about her husband’s affair with the dancer. After many twists & turns, the heroine finds that her husband’s sweetheart is her long-lost sister! The manager locks up the hero in a room trying to get rid of him and the two women and the bus owner’s daughter, who remains single, join hands to save the hero. In the process, the manager shoots the dancer and is arrested by the police. The husband, wife and child are united and live happily thereafter. Anjali Devi as the devoted wife gave an impressive performance, while M N Rajam played her part neatly as the dancer-mistress. The film did fairly well at the box office.

One of the earliest stars of the B/W era & a contemporary of C Krishnaveni, Kannamba, Paluvayi Bhanumathi & Savitri, Anjanamma (aka) Anjali Devi (1927–2014) was well known for her role as the mythological Sita in Lava Kusha as well as for the titular roles in movies like Swapna Sundari, Suvarna Sundari, Anarkali, Bhaktha Tukaram, Anarkali,Runanu Bhandham, Kanavane Kan Kanda Deivam, Chakravarthy Thirumagal, Manalane Mangaiyin Bhagyam, Mangaiyar UllamMangadha Selvam. Anjali Devi was born in Peddapuram, East Godavari district in Andhra Pradesh, India, as Anjani Kumari. She changed her name to Anjani Kumari when acting in dramas. Later, director Chittajallu Pullaiah (C Pullaiah) changed her name to Anjali Devi. She was a theatre artiste before venturing into movies. Her debut film role was as Lohitasya in Raja Harishchandra in 1936. Her first movie as a heroine was “Kashtajeevi” by L V Prasad in 1940, but that movie was abandoned after three reels shooting. Later, C Pullaiah discovered her and providing the opportunity to star as Mohini in “Gollabhama” (1947). Based on her acting ability and looks, she became a star overnight in 1947. She eventually acted in more than 350 Telugu films and a few Tamil and Kannada films as the heroine.

Anjali Devi was known for her bold portrayals and held her own in both glamorous roles, when she played the vamp or even the pious roles in mythological features. Her biggest encouragement was her husband Penapatruni Adi Narayana Rao, whom she referred to as “guru, father, mother, everything” during an interview to The Hindu in the year 2011. When she was hesitant to take up to her first film role in 1946, just after the birth of her second son, it was her husband who encouraged her to take it on. Her first film “Gollabhama” by director C. Pulliah created a bit of a stir. She received flak for her bold scenes, including a kissing scene which was just a trick shot. However, braving the odds, Anjali Devi, supported by her husband, went on to establish herself in a series of varied roles, pairing with some of the leading stars of Telugu films at that time. She also formed a production house with her husband Aswini Pictures and started producing her own films. Her portrayal as goddess Sita opposite veteran actor and former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N.T.Rama Rao in ‘Lava Kusha’ in the year 1963 had led to a huge euphoria, with many women in rural Andhra Pradesh literally treating her like a goddess, and prostrating at her feet, Anjali Devi had recounted during the course of an interview to “The Hindu” in the year 1996. Anjali Devi had a good run in the black and white classics in Tamil too, starring opposite the likes of T.R.Mahalingam, M.G.Ramachandran, Sivaji Ganesan and Gemini Ganesan. In fact, she had produced what was the first acting role of Sivaji Ganesan for the film ‘Poongothai,’ a bi-lingual, but ‘Parasakti’ had released first. In all, Anjali Devi had an active acting career spanning five decades in which she acted in over 350 films, a majority of them in Telugu, around 50 of them in Tamil. She also produced a popular serial on Sai baba for the television. She was a resident of Chennai since 1946. She was honoured recently at the centenary celebrations of the Indian cinema organised by the Tamil Nadu government.

The original Tamil version of the mentioned song “Chittu Kuruvi Chittu Kuruvi” was rendered by Smt. M S Rajeswari known for her larynx manipulation (“Poo Poova Parandhu”, Kozhi Oru Kootile”, “Ammavum Neeye”) and who sang in a vulnerable, treble, hallow, childlike voice echoing traditional melancholy. The song stormed the charts in the mid 50s and received massive critical acclaim. I picked the Telugu version of the song rendered by our own Gana Saraswathi Susheelamma.

Before getting into the vocal pedagogy, one can clearly distinguish the technique adopted by both M S Rajeswari (MSR) & Pulapaka Susheela. For e.g., the vocal folds (mechanoreceptors) & vowel modification of Gana Saraswathi are amazing in their capability of reacting to intricate emotions and the finest feelings (evenly, gently, smoothly – both low and high range). Her voice suits the character (Anjali Devi) more than MSR – she is simply beyond comparison [it would be like comparing Mirella Freni (MSR) & Montesarat Caballe (Susheelamma) playing Mimi from La Boheme]. Approximately seven years into playback arena how confidently she surfs the surging waves of KVM’s conducting!

చిన్ని పిచుక్క చిన్ని పిచుక్క జాడ తేలపవే
నన్ను విడి పోయిన ప్రనసఖుడు ఊసు తలిపడే

పట్టాపారు పరచివిచ దుమ్మే రాలేను
పాలు మర్ధ గాచి దాచివుంచ వల్లగాఅరెను
చిన్ని పిచుక్క చిన్ని పిచుక్క జాడ తేలపవే

నన్ను విడి పోయిన ప్రనసఖుడు ఊసు తలిపడే
తలడురాను పూ ముదిచాన్ వాడి వాడలేను
సదా ఎదిరు చూచి పాధపడుతూ కాలుఅలెధెను
పిల్లడు అమ్మ నానేదని అడిగి ఎసను
మిచం వదతి వదతి కలగి కనలే కనలునుచాను

చిన్ని పిచుక్క చిన్ని పిచుక్క జాడ తేలపవే
నన్ను విడి పోయిన ప్రనసఖుడు ఊసు తలిపడే
చిన్ని పిచుక్క చిన్ని పిచుక్క

Firstly the credit must go to Krishnankoil Venkatachalam Mahadevan (KVM) for creating a masterpiece without over indulging in over orchestration (especially the string sections) to convey the requisite mood. In the Telugu version, the composer seems to be well served with an intellectual and emotional understanding with the beauty of the sound never being compromised. It is not quite that often that you hear so fine a balance between a singer and the orchestra.

The song is set in slow tempo with Susheelamma staying comfortable & maintaining a beautiful balance in both the larynx and in the resonance while keeping the depth in the sound – “Chini Pichuka Chinni Pichuka Jaada Thelapave Nannu Vidipoyina Prana Sakhudu Oosu Thalupade (చిన్ని పిచుక్క చిన్ని పిచుక్క జాడ తేలపవే నన్ను విడి పోయిన ప్రనసఖుడు ఊసు తలిపడే) – with her usual temperament and intelligence to interpret the Ka. Mu. Sheriff’s text – gently lands the first lyrical stanza in her own inimitable style. That’s her art. Her vocalise had always effectively lifted up the heroines (even the bad ones who cannot act or play their role properly) on the celluloid and only two divas have accomplished that effectively – Lata Mangeshkar & P Susheela. I call that ‘feminism” defined and redefined.

In the 50s era, South of the Vindhyas, I have unfortunately found that some of them (who claimed to be sopranos and mezzos) are not all that interested in the diction part of the singing process due to their nativity. We have had several categories of singers: those who love their voices and couldn´t care less about the lyrics; thus mainly concentrating on the sound reproduction. Then are those who do think about the words and have an emotional connection to the text but who cannot combine vocalise and diction resorting to lazy articulation. The last are those who love the poems, forgetting to sing out their notes, both long and short.

Moving on to the second lyrical stanza, we get to sample a “perfect singer” in – “Pattaparu Parachivuncha Dhumme Raalenu Paalu Maraga Kaachi Dhaachivuncha Vallaga Aarenu” (పట్టాపారు పరచివిచ దుమ్మే రాలేను పాలు మర్ధ గాచి దాచివుంచ వల్లగాఅరెను). When she ends “Dhaachivuncha Vallaga Aarenu” (దాచివుంచ వల్లగాఅరెను) – here one cannot but notice how Susheelamma – who loves every aspect of her vocal art had honed her skills to the finest detail, being able to sing the music with great line and beautiful sound while enunciating the words clearly and crisply, using every nuance of the text to underline the emotional context, yet without stressing unnecessary syllables. That is the perfect singer. For every time you open your mouth to sing, it is words. In the Finnish language the words “vocal” and “vowel” have the same meaning. Also the emotional context should colour the singer´s sound. Susheelamma’s voice has been endowed with both depth and substance, that it can take many different hues, depending on the meaning of the song.

The rendering of the last lyrical stanza surely consolidates her position (ability to tell a story and engage the audience ) as “the playback diva” – who would eventually go on to rule the South Indian Celluloid for over five decades. As she ascends towards her passaggio range in “thaladhuvaane pool mudichaan vaadi vadalenu sadha yedhuru choochi kasuadudhu kaalu aledhanu” (తలడురాను పూ ముదిచాన్ వాడి వాడలేను సదా ఎదిరు చూచి పాధపడుతూ కాలుఅలెధెను) giving you more overtones while keeping the depth in the sound “pilladu amma naaedaniadigi yesanu” (పిల్లడు అమ్మ నానేదని అడిగి ఎసను మిచం వదతి వదతి కలగి కనలే కనలునుచాను) while “nithyam vagachi vagachi kalagi kanale nochchenu” – hear her ability to sing with nervousness activating the higher and brighter harmonics and overtones. At the very peak of her vocal bloom and artistic powers combined – here in an unforgettable simple masterpiece not to forget the portrayal by Anjali Devi on screen. The human psyche always wants to hear a voice to sound chiaroscuro (the Italian equivalent of dark and bright at the same time) and in Susheelamma we have those highly developed skills don’t we?

In this song, Susheelamma succeeded wondrously (because it is a way to express life’s suffering in music) and brings it to life – infusing the lyrics with irony and nuance and the vocals possess the quiet intimacy of private conversations filled with longing and sadness. Built on a shared core of traditional melancholy & pathos, filtered through alternating layers of unadorned tenderness, warmth and thick, shifting textures, her vocal soundscape extend well beyond anyone’s expectations. By her vocal brilliance, she manages to reinstate a positive view of womanhood, thereby healing the wound (pain and anger that it generated) caused by her husband’s abandonment.

As American Poet Maya Angelou puts it “a bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” How true a statement!

One thought on ““Chinni Pichuka Chinni Pichuka” – Town Bus (1957) – Telugu Feature Film

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