Vagaloy Vagalu from Pathala Bhairavi

I have not indulged for quite some time in writing my favourite column, on song tunes plagiarised, oops I mean inspired, in films. It is not as though I did not come across any but it is just that my attention was taken up by other matters. And am I glad I am back, though I am not sure if the vast readership (haha) is as enthused.

In the last few months I have been obsessing over the 1951 film Pathala Bhairavi. You will recall that my last story in this series was about the song Prema Kosamai Valalo from the same movie. I have since moved on to some other gems. I think entha ghatu premayo (enna than un premayo in Tamil) sung by P Leela and Ghantasala (starring a not-equally gifted Malathi and NT Rama Rao on screen) will rank among the top 100 film songs of all time. Full marks for GhantasalaGaru for such a lovely tune and he and Leela anyway made a fabulous playback pair. But I will reluctantly tear myself away and write on two other songs that have me repeatedly going back to YouTube to watch them.

The first is Itihasam Vinnaara (Itihaasam Ketteero in Tamil), sung and danced by TG Kamala Devi aka Kamala Chandrababu and troupe. According to VAK Ranga Rao, it is set in the form of a Burra Katha, a story-telling tradition of Andhra. I love the way Kamala Devi sings and dances, and also the way her accompanists sing and move along with her. The chorus of heccarigo heccariga has all the ingredients for a perfect ear worm. The song, and for that matter the film overall, is best seen or enjoyed in the Telugu version. The actors speak Tamil with a heavy Teulugu accent and that mars the overall impact. Surprisingly, the playback stars such as Ghantasala and Jikki seem immune to this problem for their diction is perfect. Kamaladevi for the record, later became a billiards champion.

I now come to Vagaloy Vagalu (Mathavel Thanayal in Tamil). The magician, played by SV Ranga Rao has just conjured a woman out of a monkey and bids her to dance for the entertainment of the Ujjain public. The dancer is Lakshmikantha who gyved to MLV’s Ayyasami Aaoji Sami in Oar Iravu and she is just outstanding in this number as well. I seem to hear the words Oo anta Mava at one place and if so I know where the present-day hit got its inspiration from. Vagaloy Vagalu must have been the Oo antava Mava of its time. Jikki is just superb in the song – her voice all youthful and fresh. Marriage to the problematic AM Rajah was still a few years away.

It is however the refrain – Laraloo Laraloo that lifts the song to the realms of the extraordinary. And this is where VAK Ranga proved most helpful. Apparently the refrain appears originally in the 19th century French opera Carmen by Georges Bizet. There are recordings of this on YouTube and from what little I heard I think the song referred to is L’Amour, L’Amour, L’Amour. The next version is the film Loves of Carmen, starring Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth (1948). There was an earlier version in 1927 as well. I sat through huge chunks of the Rita Hayworth version and finally at 1hr and 22 minutes came the dance with the chorus Laraloo Laraloo. Vagaloy Vagalu uses this song and also moves from an earlier Spanish dance with castanets and no words from the same film at 30.09. The film Loves of Carmen can be seen here in full. Then came the Hindi version, Jadoo starring Nalini Jaywant (my maternal grandfather‘s all-time favourite) and someone called Suresh. This was released the same year as Pathala Bhairavi and has the song Jab Nain Mile Nainon Se written by Shakil Badayuni, tuned by Naushad and sung by the one and only Shamshad Begum. It deals with Laraloo differently to an extent but it is all there. You can watch it here

As the two films came at the same time, I will only say that both songs were inspired by the original Hollywood version.

In fact Vagaloy Vagalu pays a kind of tribute to it because the song has castanets at various moments coming through. The moment where Lakshmikanth shies her skirt at NTR (he being a chaste Indian hero and in love with the boring Malathi, is understandably horrified) is a direct lift from the Spanish dance. But still, the magic of Vagaloy Vagalu is all its own and for you to enjoy. I wish I could write that Lakshmikantha for all the joy she gave us lived happily ever after. But VAK Ranga Rao tells me that was not so. The lyrics for the Tamil and Telugu versions were by Thanjai Ramaiah Das and Pingali respectively.

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