Lava Kusa, the 1963 release directed by C Pullaiah, was a film that immortalised N T Rama Rao as Lord Rama in the hearts of Telugu audiences. The film featuring an ensemble cast comprising Anjali Devi, Kantha Rao, Sobhan Babu, Chittoor Nagaiah, had many firsts. It was the full-fledged colour film to have released in Telugu, the first Telugu film to have grossed a crore at the box office (when the ticket price ranged between 25 paise and a rupee) and to enjoy an unprecedented 75-week run in the theatres. The newspapers of the day had proclaimed that over 1.98 crore tickets were sold in a united Andhra Pradesh that only had a population of 3 crores back in the day.
The film, produced by A Sankara Reddy was completed amidst many hiccups. Several years went into its making, it went over budget and a few reels of the film were accidentally burnt owing to which several scenes were shot again. The director C Pullaiah fell sick during the filming when his son C S Rao had to take over to complete the film. There were continuity issues in the making – the children Nagaraju and Subrahmanyam, who were kids at the commencement of the film grew into teenagers. However, in retrospect, nothing could come in between Lavakusa and its record-breaking theatrical run.
Do you know that Lava Kusa was meant to be helmed by another director under a different banner initially? The iconic Vijaya Productions, under the aegis of producers Nagi Reddy and Chakrapani, was to make the epic film with a similar cast. Malleeswari, Bangaru Papa director B N Reddy was roped in to helm the prestigious project. An ashram-like backdrop for the character of Valmiki was also constructed in Chakrapani’s farmhouse in Madras. BN Reddy was ready to narrate the script to NTR as well.
The director was explaining the opening shot where Lord Rama’s (NTR) back is shown and he’s profusely weeping. Out of nowhere, Chakrapani jumps in to say, ‘Who’ll watch the film if NTR cries?’ and the narration had abruptly ended. BN Reddy was in no mood to resolve the conflict and the film was shelved even before the shoot began. A few years down the line, producer Sankara Reddy sought the permission of Chakrapani to restart Lavakusa with the same script under his banner. Chakrapani cheekily responded, ‘Ramayana is for everyone to be consumed. Who am I to say no?’ and handed over the script that BN Reddy had initially planned for Lavakusa.
The rest, as they, is history. What would have B N Reddy brought to Lavakusa? Did Chakrapani miss a trick or two by putting the project on the backburner? It’s wishful thinking but certain films are destined to make history regardless of the names or banners involved with it. Even in the future, Chakrapani on many occasions advised NTR against taking up weepy, melodramatic roles. Some of the films that the writer-producer suggested NTR to avoid include Kalisi Vunte Kaladu Sukham, Rakta Sambandham, Bheeshma and Ramu. And all of us know the popularity that these films went onto enjoy with the crowds.
(Written by Srivathsan Nadadhur)