“O Nela Raja Vennela” – Bhatti Vikramarka (1960) – Telugu Feature Film

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Faded Into Oblivion Series by Vicky Iyengar is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Faded Into Oblivion Series (6)


Bhatti Vikramarka – భట్టి విక్రమార్క (1960) – “O Nela Raja Vennela”- ఓ నెల రాజా వెన్నెల” (Raga Bhimplas – రాగ భింప్లస్) Composed by Pendyala Nageswara Rao (పెండ్యాల నాగేశ్వర ర్మ్), Voices: P Susheela, Ghantasala Venkateswara Rao (ప్ సుశీల, ఘంటసాల వెంకటేశ్వర ర్మ్)
Patti Vikramadhithan – பட்டி விக்ரமாதித்தன் (1960) – “O Ezhil Raja” – ஓ எழில் ராஜா (ராகம் பீம்பிளாஸ்/ஆபேரி) இசை: பெண்டியால நாகேஸ்வர ராவ், குரல்: பி சுஷீலா & சீர்காழி கோவிந்தராஜன்
Chakravathi Vikramaditya – चक्रवर्ती विक्रमादित्य (1964) – “O Chanda Re” – ओ चन्द रे – राग भिम्प्लस/अंबेरी, संगीत: पेंद्याला नगेस्वरा रऑ, गायिका: सुमन कल्याणपुर & मुहम्मद रफ़ी

The 50s & the 60s were considered the “Golden Era” of Telugu Mythologicals beginning from the acclaimed “Maya Bazaar” (1955) by Vijaya-Vauhini followed by “Bhaktha Prahlada” (1967). The mythological movie making began with the original “Bhakta Prahlada” in 1932 made by H M Reddy (with Surabhi Kamala Bai & Valluru Subbiah in the lead), a pioneer of Indian cinema culminating in the hugely popular “Maya Bazaar”. The mythological assured an honored place for itself with Nandamuri Taraka Ramarao (NTR) cementing his status as a “go to artist” adorning many mythological films with élan in a number of movies. He gradually evolved into the number one choice for either the hero or the villain’s role in mythologicals. His tryst with mythologicals began with the role of Nalakubara in ‘Maya Rambha’ (1950). As one famous for his glamorous roles in socials, it was daring of NTR to agree to act as ripe old Bheeshma in the movie of the same title. He had his make-up done as a very old man specially, by the doyen of make-up artistes, Hari Babu, and studied the stills carefully before okaying them.


Bhatti Vikramarka (భట్టి విక్రమార్క) is a 1960 Telugu film directed by Jampana Chandrasekhara Rao and produced by Polisetty Veera Venkata Satyanarayana Murthy. It is a commercial hit film ran for 100-days. Written by Anisetty the cast included N T Ramarao, Anjali Devi, Kantha Rao & S V Ranga Rao in the lead. The cinematography was handled by Adi M. Irani and Pendyala Nageswara Rao providing the musical score.


The story is based on the historical characters of Bhatti and Vikramarka. It also shows some of the Bethala Kathalu (Stories of Vetala). Indra invites Vikramarka to Heaven and requests him to decide who is the best dancer between Rambha and Urvasi. Vikramarka gives two garlands to them to wear and dance. The garland worn by Urvasi stays fresh, whereas that one worn by Rambha withers. He judges Urvasi as the best dancer, as she is fearless about her performance and win. As a token of gratitude, Indra gifts him a Simhasanam with 32 Salabhanjikas.

Prachandudu performs 99 yagnas and in search of 100th yagna to achieve some magical powers. Mantrikudu tells him to invite Vikramarka for the sacrifice. He agrees and reaches the Smasanavatika, where he told him to get bhetala, who is hanging from a tree. He cuts the rope and gets bhetala on his back. While returning, he narrates a tricky social problem and asks Vikramarka to answer. After successfully answering all the stories, bhetala instructs him about the ill intention of Prachanda. Prachanda on his return asks Vikramarka to perform Sashtang Pranam. The cautious Vikramarka tells him as a king he does not know how to do it and requests him show how to do it. He kills Prachanda while he is on Pranam and gets the magical powers.


The soundtrack consisted of over nine songs rendered by Ghantasala Venkateswara Rao, P Susheela, P Leela, A P Komala, Madhavapeddi & Jikki. They were “Jaire Jambhaire” (Madhavapeddi, Jikki), “Kannepilla Sogasu”(Jikki), “Kommulu Thirigina” (Jikki), “Manasaara Preminchinaara”(P Susheela, A P Komala), “Natinchana Jagalane”(P Susheela, P Leela), “Ninu Nammi” (Padyam), “O Nelaraja Vennela” (Ghantasala and P. Susheela), “O Saila Sutha” (P Susheela), “O Sundari Andame” (P Susheela), “Satyamayaa Guruda”(Madhavapeddi), “Suklam Baradharam” (Ghantasala), “Intha Aina Vidhi” (Ghantasala).  P Susheela had five songs to her credit.


A Note on the Raga: Set to to tune in Raga “Bhimpalasi” (Hindustani) or Abheri (Carnatic), this duet is a stunner. The Madhyam (fourth) is the most important note – an important ‘nyaas’ sthaan (note for rest) with emphasized elaboration around this note – S g M, M g M, g M P, M P g M P (M) g (M) g M… The Rishabh (second) and the Dhaivat (sixth) are skipped in Aarohi (ascending) passages, but are given due importance when descending (Avrohi). Use of the Dhaivat and Rishabh is symmetric and both are approached via the succeeding notes (D from n, and R from g). The raag has komal Ni and Ga. It is an Audava-Sampoorna raga, implying that it has 5 notes in Arohana and 7 in Avarohana. It is a late afternoon raga.


ఓ నెల రాజా వెన్నెల రాజా
నీ వన్నెలన్ని చిన్నెలన్ని మకేలో
మా వెన్ను తాటి పిలిచింధీ నీవేనో
ఓ నెల రాజా
O nela raja vennela raja
Nee vannelanni chinnelanni maakeloi
Ma vennu thati pilichindhi neevenoi
O nela raja

Listening to the opening lyrical stanza, one cannot but feel the orchestra, composer and the vocalists  are at the top of their game. Next comes the sensational actress Anjali Devi, the handsome Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao & the Divine Songstress P Susheela endowed with a gorgeous voice and her flawless singing (“o nela raja” – “nee vannelanni chinnelanni maakeloi”). The set and costumes actually place you in a distant time machine.


చల్లగాలి జాడాలో తెల్లమాబ్భు నీడలో
కొంటె చూపు నీకేలా చంద్రుడా
న వెంతానంతి రాకోయి చంద్రుడా
ఓ నెల రాజా వెన్నెల రాజా
నీ వన్నెలన్ని చిన్నెలన్ని మకేలో
మా వెన్ను తాటి పిలిచింధీ నీవేనో
ఓ నెల రాజా
Challagaali jadalo thellamabbhu needalo
Konte choopu neekela chandruda
Na ventananti raakoyi chandruda
O nela raja vennela raja
Ni vannelanni chinnelanni makenoi
Ma vennu thati pilichindhi neevenoi
O nela raja

Listening to the first charana (first lyrical stanza) was purely transcendental – that voice, that passion are unequaled. Always under control, everything is revealed, laid bare. In “challagaali jadalo thellamabbhu needalo” – you hear everything, and the unprecedented depth, power and richness of the orchestra singing with a unknown intensity. Listen to that “konte choopu neekela chandruda na ventananti raakoyi chandruda” – performance that she “plunges into the score absorbing every note and expression mark, nailing every singe high note. And the process of re-hearing Susheela’s recordings has reminded me why she was really in a class apart, there is not much point listening to other singers perform the same music, she is just so superior.

However, the ‘beautiful’ thing about Susheela’s voice is her amazing control and technique, as well as putting so much feeling into the songs that if you know the language or not, you still understand every word that she is signing because of all the emotion behind it.  Ending the stanza – ni vannelanni chinnelanni makenoi ma vennu thati pilichindhi neevenoi – very expressive. Reminds me of “ai perdu mon euydice” (Orphee et Eurydice by Gluck). Many emotions, feeling and power are needed to sing this phrase and once again, Susheela doesn’t disappoint you. 


కలువల చిరునవ్వులే కన్నెల నున్ను సిగ్గులే
వెంతానంతి పిలిచినప్పుడు చంద్రుడా
వాణ్ణి విడువ మనకు తరామౌన చంద్రుడా
ఓ నెల రాజా వెన్నెల రాజా
నీ వన్నెలన్ని చిన్నెలన్ని మకేలో
మా వెన్ను తాటి పిలిచింధీ నీవేనో
ఓ నెల రాజా
Kaluvala chirunavvule kannela nunnu siggule aaaaa…..
Ventananti pilichinappudu chandruda ooooo….
Vanni viduva manaku tharamouna chandruda
O nela raja vennela raja
Nee vannelanni chinnelanni makeloi
Maa vennu thati pilichindhi neevenoi
O nela raja

The tenor (Ghantasala) should be given credit for his passionate performance in the second lyrical stanza (charana) as well with his “ventananti pilichinappudu chandruda” & “vanni viduva manaku tharamouna chandruda”.


లేత లేత వలపులే పూతాపూయు వేళలో
కలవరింతలెంధుకోి చంద్రుదా
నా చెలిమి నీధే కధత్ోఈ చంద్రుడా
కలవరింతలెంధుకోి చ్‌నద్రూడా
నా చెలిమి నీధే కధత్ోఈ చంద్రుడా
ఓ నెల రాజా వెన్నెల రాజా
నీ వన్నెలన్ని చిన్నెలన్ని మకేలో
మా వెన్ను తాటి పిలిచింధీ నీవేనో
ఓ నెల రాజా
Letha Letha valapule poothapooyu velalo
Kalavarinthalendhukoi chandrudaa
Naa chelimi needhe kadhathoi chandruda
Kalavarinthalendhukoi chandrudaa
Naa chelimi needhe kadhathoi chandruda
O nela raja vennela raja
Nee vannelanni chinnelanni makeloi
Maa vennu thati pilichindhi neevenoi
O nela raja

In the third lyrical stanza – “Letha Letha valapule poothapooyu velalo kalavarinthalendhukoi chandrudaa” Susheela’s voice climbs to the ending climatic note – she had the ability to act with her voice that left her audiences confounded and astonished. But it was a voice that wore thousands of colors, nuances, emotions, and feelings. She had a way of “pulling you” into any “song in the celluloid” she was singing, sometimes against your will (“kalavarinthalendhukoi chandrudaa naa chelimi needhe kadhathoi chandruda”). But again, there is so much richness, insight, and interpretative genius here. There has never, ever been a singer, whether popular or classical, who can even begin to approach the profound depths of Susheela’s & Lata Mangeshkar’s musical consciousness and genius. 

That is due to the fact that she is a complete artist: everything mattered to her including the “tempo & architecture” of the score – unabashed genius.


Trivia: That was March 13, 1959, on the sets of Narasu Studios, Guindy, Madras. The movie being shot was, ‘Bhatti Vikramarka.’ On the sets were Mukkamala and Anjali Devi. The scene required a fire, and a fire was made by using petrol and straw. But thanks to the pedestal fan nearby, the flames rose high and the bamboo setting was ablaze in no time. The fire spread to the adjacent sets too and caused a damage of a lakh and half rupees those days – certainly a big amount. Six fire brigades fought for more than 90 minutes to bring the fire under control. In the history of the Telugu movie till then, this was the worst fire disaster.


What can one say? P Susheela remains to this day the beacon of “art of playback singing” in the South Indian Cinema.

 


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