Kanchanamala etched her name permanently in the history of Telugu cinema with a career spanning just 11 films. She was the first dream girl of Indian cinema and the first pin-up girl of Telugu cinema. She was a bold actress and the first heroine of Telugu film industry to wear a bikini. After a humongous stardom and Nationwide following, her career ended abruptly to the conspiracies of the industry.
Kanchanamala was born in 5th March, 1917 in Tenali, Andhra Pradesh. She had a keen interest on music and acting since her childhood. She started her acting career with a minor role as Mitravinda in the 1935 film, Srikrishna Tulabharam. The filmmaker who popularized social films in Telugu, Gudavalli Ramabrahmam, assumed that she couldn’t act and eventually rejected her. The music director Bhimavarapu Narasimha Rao criticized her voice. But Kanchanamala rose in her career with each film. Her next role was Uthara in Veerabhimanyu, which is also another minor role.
The Bollywood actor and producer, Jaddan Bai (the mother of most elegant Hindi actress, Nargis), was mesmerized by her beauty and asked her to act in Hindi films. Even Mehboob Khan and renowned hero Motilal requested Kanchanamala to learn Hindi and promised her stardom in Bollywood. Being a teenager, she rejected all these offers and is content with her career in Telugu film industry.
Success and Stardom
Her next movie, Vipranarayana, made her a big star. She was seen in a supporting role in the film. She acted in Two sensational films in the year 1938. Kanchanamala enacted the role of a depraved dancer in the film, Gruhalakshmi, which was a milestone in her career. Gudavalli Ramabrahmam, who rejected her earlier, realized that he was wrong and signed her for the Harijan village girl Sampalatha in the film Malapilla. It is based on Gudipaati Venkata Chalam’s unpublished novelette.
During the times when inter-caste marriage campaigns are active, Malapilla narrates the story of an orthodox Brahmin guy falling in love with a Harijan girl. The critics ruled her out calling her misfit for such a complex character. But the audience embraced her performance as an illiterate downtrodden village girl in the first half of the film and as a learnt modern city damsel in the second half. Bhimavarapu Narasimha Rao, who criticized her voice, had to make her sing for the film. Malapilla turned out to be the highest grossing Telugu film of its time.
First Pin-up Girl of Tollywood
The promotional calendars of Malapilla with the picture of Kanchanamala wearing sleeveless blouse, fancy ear rings, plaited hair on shoulders with a coffee cup in her hands decorated houses all over the state at that time. Her craze was so phenomenal that sarees, blouses and bangles were sold after her name. The producers and directors started believing that her name is enough for the success of the film and lined up for her.
Her subsequent films were Vande Mataram, Malli pelli and Illalu. The leading lawyer from Kadapa with stage experience, Uma Maheswara Rao, produced Illalu while debuting as a hero. The film attained commercial success. In 1940, Andhra Patrika started their first film ballot and Illalu won best film, best director and best actress (Kanchanamala) awards. Kanchanamala sang the song “Dina dinamu papadni deevinchi pondi devalokamuloni devathalaara,” which was so popular at that time that mothers used to hum this song as a lullaby to put their children to sleep.
Conspiracies and Downfall
She was married to her childhood friend, Gali Venkaiah. She enacted the role of Chandrasena in the film Mahiravana. The founder of Gemini studios, S. S. Vasan, selected her for the title role in Balanagamma. No one knows how they’ve convinced her but Kanchanamala ended up signing the contract for Balanagamma which included clause to work only under Gemini studios. According to the contract, she couldn’t work for other studios and the permission of Gemini studios is required to work for others. She had differences with the producer and director of Balanagamma, S. S. Vasan, which lead to the legal entanglement. Balanagamma was released and became a blockbuster with huge profits to Gemini studios. There was another conspiracy happening within the Gemini studios. Some other director in Gemini studios made them not to work with her. This marked the abrupt end of her acting career.
Personal Problems and End of Career
Kanchanamala had to deal with the problems in her personal life during the same time. Her husband, Gali venkaiah, suffered from tuberculosis. She tried hard for his treatment but eventually lost him. Later fell prey to depression and lost mental imbalance. She later moved to her younger sister’s home in her hometown in Tenali. She stopped talking to people and spent her time sitting under a tree staring into the sky. Several people tried to help her but she couldn’t recover from it. Tripuraneni Gopichand announced a film titled ‘Anadha Bala’ with Kanchanamala during 1950s, but the film never happened. She later performed in stage dramas which couldn’t be as successful as her films. She stopped acting in dramas and eventually disappeared.
The producer of Nartanasala (1963), Lakshmi Rajyam, offered her a role in the hope that she could recover if she returns to Madras. After learning about her return, many admirers, friends and industry personnel met her and tried to remind her of the past. She didn’t recognize anyone. After 40 years of despair, she left this world on 24th January, 1981. We have lost our first glamourous actress to the deception and conspiracies of the film industry.