The pin up girl of the 30s
The pin up girl of the 30s.A glamorous dream girl with sleeveless jackets, large earrings, wide eyes, smiling lips, plaited hair and a coffee cup in her hand; this was the image of Kanchanamala during her ten year stint as an actress.
A glamorous dream girl with sleeveless jackets, large earrings, wide eyes, smiling lips, plaited hair and a coffee cup in her hand; this was the image of Kanchanamala during her ten year stint as an actress. She was the pin-up girl in every household during the 1930s.Kanchanamala was the first glamorous heroine of Telugu industry. She is also famous as a ‘Mala Pilla’, which was also the title of the film which shot her to fame. In the film, an orthodox brahmin marries Kanchanamla, a mala pilla or Harijan girl, which was taboo in those days. The film created waves.
Born in Tenali, Kanchanamala started her career as a drama artiste in days when women did not dare to come into the open and act. She learnt music and was a good singer. When an announcement was made in the newspapers by Kalaprapoorna Chilakamarthi Lakshminarasimham Panthulu that a woman was required to play a role in drama, she was immediately taken to Rajahmundry by musician Dasari Narayanadas to meet Chilakamarthi.
Excited at the response to his advertisement, Chilakamarthi tutored her. Seeing Kanchanamala’s enthusiasm for acting, Chilakamarthi described Tenali as ‘Andhra’s Paris’ as Paris was synonymous with modern culture and fashions of the day.She acted in two more dramas, ‘Sakkubai’ and ‘Vipranarayana’, before making a silverscreen debut with a small role in the Telugu film ‘Sri Krishna Tulabharam’ in 1935. The film was based on a play by Telugu cinema’s first lyricist Chandala Kesava Dasu.
Production director Ramabrahmam, during his stint with Vel Pictures, felt that Kanchanamala was not fit for acting and rejected her for a film. But he later realised that he was wrong and signed her for the role of a Harijan girl, Sampalatha, in ‘Mala Pilla’, based on Gudipaati Venkata Chalam’s unpublished novella, in 1938. Skeptics commented that she was a misfit for such a complex character. But she rendered a scintillating performance in the first half as an illiterate downtrodden village belle and as a literate modern city woman in the second half.
Her next role was as Uthara in ‘Veerabhimanyu’ (1936) produced by Sagar Movietone in Bombay. Kodavatiganti Kutumba Rao debuted as a screenwriter with this film. Mesmerised by her beauty, Jaddan Bai, actor and producer and mother of Hindi cinema's most elegant actress, Nargis, asked her to act in Hindi films. Mehaboob Khan and popular hero of the time Motilal also told her to learn Hindi so that they could make her a big star in Hindi cinema. Kanchanamala, still a teenager then, said no to their offers. Her third starring role, Vipra Narayana catapulted her to stardom.
In ‘Vandemataram’, Chittoor Subrahmanya Pillai's “Madhuranagarilo Challanamma Bodhu” was used as a duet rendered by Nagaiah and Kanchanamala.Till the 50s she acted in 11 films. Of these five were blockbusters and she became the Telugu film industry’s very own dream girl. She later acted in a Gemini Pictures’ ‘Bala Nagamma’, a socio fantasy film. After this, she appeared in a slew of supporting roles.
During the later part of her life, Kanchanamala slipped into depression and her career ended. She became mentally ill and died in 1981. She spent her last days in her sister’s house in seclusion. She was married to Gali Venkaiah, who died of tuberculosis. She owned a house at Nazerpeta which was later sold. The purchaser built a shopping complex and named it as ‘Kanchana Towers’.
By Ravi P Benjamin