It was the year 1953, noted director C Pullaiah has announced a project that shocked the audience, critics and industry insiders; he roped in reigning actress Anjali Devi alongside famous comedian Relangi Venkatramaiah for a film titled ‘Pakkinti Ammayi’. Moreover, it had singer AM Raja in an important role and to top it off it was an out and out comedy.
Many had doubts about the commercial viability of the project but the remake of 1953 Bengali movie ‘Pasher Bari’, minted money at box office. The movie went on to become a cult classic and was remade in Tamil, Hindi (Sunil Dutt starrer ‘Padosan’) and in Telugu as well.
The director introduced the audience to a then unknown genre called screwball comedy. Until then comedy has been an essential part in the movies but ‘Pakkinti Ammayi’ was the first out-and-out comedy movie.
Screwball comedies were a rage in Hollywood in times of the Great Depression. Fast-paced repartee, farcical situations, escapist themes and plot lines involving courtship and marriage, form the core of the screwball comedies.
In 1954, legendary director and ‘Talkie Puli’ HM Reddy made a screwball comedy with NT Rama Rao as lead titled ‘Vaddante Dabbu’. Upon release, the movie saw mixed response but it went on to become a cult classic.
Director Jandhyala remade the movie with NTR’s son Balakrishna as ‘Babai Abbai’ in 1985.Although C Pullaiah has opened the gates for the genre it was rarely ventured into. Despite acclaimed director, LV Prasad making ‘Missamma’ (1955) and ‘Appu Chesi Paddu Koodu’ (1959) which can be called screwball comedies, not many directors and actors were keen to explore the genre.
However, the stellar success of hilarious singing episode “Meeku mere, maaku meme...” between Savitri and Nageswara Rao in ‘Misamma’ or the rib-tickling “Kasiki poyanu...” song between Relangi and Girija in ‘Appu Chesi Pappu Kudu’, led to directors opting for separate comedy tracks in movies. It also paved way for writers like Anisetty, who excelled at penning such tracks.
After ‘Missamma’ Nageswara Rao put his comedic chops to best use in P Pullaiah’s ‘Preminchi Chudu’ (1965). The movie, a screwball comedy and remake of 1964 Tamil movie ‘Kaadhalikka Neramillai’, has hilarious dialogues penned by Mullapudi Venkataramana. He also wrote a song “Meda meeda meda...,” which was one of the two songs he wrote in his career.
About three years later, Mullapudi and Bapu made ‘Bangaru Pichuka’ starring Chandramohan. An ardent fan of screwball comedies, Mullapudi weaved a story around marriage and escapism. However, the movie was a disaster. The duo after nearly three decades in 1994 remade it again as ‘Pelli Koduku’ with Naresh as lead.
This movie too tanked at the box office and Mullapudi responded in his indomitable style, “The previous film was a decade too early and this was a decade too late.”
It was with the advent of Jandhyala in the 80s, Telugu audience started accepting screwball comedies. Even though the Hasya Brahma has his share of duds, most of his movies were rib-ticklers and made audience acquaint with the genre. He also opened gates for directors like Relangi Narasimha Rao, EVV Satyanarayana and others, who gave some memorable screwball comedies.
Though in the late 90s the genre saw a downfall, however, it changed its face in late 2000s, with many directors and writers successfully integrating thriller and action elements in it. With recent release ‘Ami Thumi’ being lapped up by people, it is safe to say that the genre is here to stay.