There are very few films in Telugu Cinema which deal with the issues of caste and class. Most of the directors generally shy away from depicting these tricky issues for the fear of a controversy. There have been few directors who have tried to raise this issue but often they could not meet the commercial parameters. But one film stood out as a classic case of art exposing a social issue through artistic means yet became a success story. The film in question is JAYABHERI, which was released in the year 1959. The film was a milestone in Telugu cinema for taking a bold stand on the current social situation, though it was a period drama.
Kasinatha Shastry (ANR), brother of Viswanatha Shastry (Gummadi) undergoes Classical music training under Viswambara Shastry (Nagaiah). Though Viswanatha and his wife Annapoorna (Santha Kumari) are childless, they rear Kasinatha as their own child.
A Banjara music troupe who conduct street plays are the most popular in folk music in the village. Kasinatha happens to witness their performance and an incident happens wherein the lead dancer of the troupe, Manjuvani (Anjali Devi), challenges the audience to compete with her. Kasinatha accepts her challenge and wins. He is lauded by the citizens of the city but his act of singing in a street play irks his teacher, Viswambara Shastry who asks him to leave the school. The Brahmin community of the city also criticizes the acts of Kasinatha and decide to punish him and his brother, Viswanatha Shastry. Unable to digest the discrimination under the name of tradition and culture, Kasinatha shuns his caste and marries Manjuvani.
The newly wed couple decide to earn their livelihood by performing street plays and start touring with their troupe and visit various cities and enthral their audience. Soon they become popular and their name reverberates throughout the country. One of their performances is witnessed by the King Vijayananda Gajapathi (SVR) in Vijaya Nagaram and is honoured suitably by making him a state guest.
His felicitation by the king irritates the Court Dancer, Amrutamba (Rajasulochana) and the Dharmadhikari (Mukkamala) who presides over the Brahmin community. They design the downfall of Kasinatha by making him an addict to alcohol and a womaniser. The King realises that Kasinatha has gotten to wrong path and asks him to recommence his old ways of street plays. But his addiction to alcohol and his wayward ways are ridiculed by the society and also the near and dear. He witnesses in his inebriated state the situation of the untouchables and raises his voice against them. But his personal disintegration continues and he is saved from the situation by his Sister-in-Law, Annapurna. She tries to reform him but is disowned by her husband. She tries to commit suicide by jumping into a river but is saved by Kasinatha. The community elders of the Vijaya Nagaram realize their folly of creating false barriers among fellow human beings and the story ends with Kasinatha reuniting with his family.
Jayabheri is often referred to as a musical marvel by the industry. It was the fit case of being called a musical for the director, P Pullaiah took the route of music and arts to promote the cause of the film. He showcased the evolution of a gifted artist and the tricks the social status plays in his life. The music scored by Pendyala Nageswara Rao is of legendary stuff and one hearing to the songs such as “Rasika Raja Taguvaramu Kama”, “Madi Sharada Devi Mandirame” “Yamuna Teeramuna” “Nanduni Charitamu” are all the favorites of the new age singers too. Cinematography by PL Roy explored new standards of cinema through his picturisation of the song “Yamuna Teeramuna.”
The film Jayabheri is a film which has to be said as the acting pinnacle of ANR’s career after Devadasu. The commitment of ANR to this film can be observed by the way he lip synced the tough song of “Rasika Raja…” There are no long shots to cover the song in the picturisation of this song as the camera does not leave ANR’s close-up even for a minute during the song recital. ANR’s performance was such great that we forget that Ghantasala was the one who sang the song and ANR was just lip-syncing it. A lot of the current generation actors need to take a leaf out of ANR’s book.
The supporting cast of Anjali Devi, SVR, Gummadi and Nagaiah pitch their best job to support the effort of ANR and also the director P Pullaiah. Also the antagonists, Rajasulochana, Mukkamala do their bit to hasten the sufferings of the hero. The comedy track of Relangi, Suryakantham and Ramana Reddy is so well entrenched in the film that young script writers need to know on how to include their comic tracks within the relevance of the film and yet make a strong statement.
“JAYABHERI” is a classic which has to be on everyone’s shelves. Do not miss this film in your lifetime.