Whether it is Mohini or Shanta or Lakshmi or Swapna Sundari, if there was one person that could fit the bill and get into the skin of the character, it is, undoubtedly, the beautiful and talented Anjali Devi. Born on August 24, 1927, in Peddapuram in East Godavari district as Anjamma, her name was changed to Anjani Kumari for stage. Later, for the big screen, she was rechristened Anjali Devi – a name that would go on to become a household name over the next few decades.
Like most veteran actors of those days, an avid interest in acting made Anjali look at theatre as a viable option and she has acted in plays before entering into films. Her debut film Gollabhama (1947) got her noticed and enabled her to bag many challenging roles right at the beginning of her career.
Balaraju that followed a year later, where she appears in the role of a Devakanya called Mohini, catapulted her into fame and Anjali became a sensation overnight. And then, there was no looking back for this beautiful young girl who would go on to steal many a heart with her looks and acting skills.
Whether it is Keelu Gurram, Swapna Sundari, Nirdoshi, Paradesi, Anarkali, Chenchu Lakshmi, Jayabheri, or Bala Nagamma… the ’50s era literally belonged to Anjali Devi when she was mostly paired with legendary actor Akkineni Nageswara Rao.
Anjali Devi bags her first challenging role as a demon, Guna Sundari, who captivates the heart of Vidarbha King who marries her. However, the new demon queen eats elephants and horses at night but blames the queen when bones are found. The king wants the pregnant queen to be killed, but the commander takes pity, blinds her and takes her eyeballs as proof, leaving her alive in the forest. There, she gives birth to a son,
Vikrama (ANR) who, upon knowing the truth from his mother, sets out to seek revenge. He uses a mechanical wooden horse – designed by a fortune teller, a priest and a blacksmith – to his advantage. This film has ANR playing the role of Anjali Devi’s stepson while Lakshmi Rajyam plays the hero’s love interest. With its graphics (albeit amateur), especially the portions where Vikrama rides the mechanical horse, the movie attracts viewers of today as well.
Director: Raja Saheb of Mirzapur
Producer: Raja Saheb of Mirzapur
Cast: Akkineni Nageswara Rao, Anjali Devi, AV Subbarao, Surabhi Kamalabai, Relangi
Release date: February 19, 1949
An adventure fantasy action thriller of sorts, Swapna Sundari is about a beautiful girl that a young warrior called Prabhu (ANR) dreams about and desires to marry. He sets out in search of the girl of his dreams along with his friend Abbi (Kasturi Sivaram) and meets Rani (G Varalakshmi), a tribal queen who falls in love with him. But, he rejects her and finally meets his Swapna Sundari (Anjali Devi), an angel from heaven.
However, the angel is captured by a wizard Pittala Rayudu (Mukkamala) and Prabhu seeks the help of Pedarasi Peddamma to know her whereabouts. When he enters the fort of Rayudu, the wizard captures him as well. Rani and Abbi reach the place searching for Prabhu. The climax scenes are worth a watch.
Director: Ghantasala Balaramaiah
Producer: Ghantasala Balaramaiah
Cast: Akkineni Nageswara Rao, Anjali Devi, G Varalakshmi, Mukkamala, Kasturi Sivaram
Release date: November 10, 1950
The movie revolves around a ‘paradesi’ (city lad) Chandram (ANR) who arrives at a hillside village Seethagiri to recuperate his health as per doctor’s advice and falls in love with a local girl, a flower seller called Lakshmi (Anjali Devi) and marries her in a temple. Lakshmi, who gets pregnant, tells her father Rangaiah (SV Ranga Rao) about her marriage to a paradesi. However, Lakshmi finds out that Chandram left for the city. Unable to tolerate the insults and taunts of the villagers, Rangaiah commits suicide. Lakshmi, an outcaste now, gives birth to Tara (Vasantha).
Tara falls in love with Anand (Sivaji Ganesan) and the distraught mother tries to dissuade her from getting entangled with a ‘paradesi’. The plot takes many interesting twists and turns before ending on a happy note.
Director: LV Prasad
Producer: P Adinarayana Rao
Cast: Akkineni Nageswara Rao, Anjali Devi, SV Ranga Rao, Sivaji Ganesan
Release date: January 14, 1953
The greatest movie of all time, made in the evergreen combination of Nageswara Rao and Anjali Devi, Anarkali did to Telugu viewers what Mughal-e-Azam did to Bollywood. The love story of a Persian girl Nadira (Anjali Devi), who becomes the court dancer of Akbar, and the latter’s son, Prince Salim, is a tale told in myriad interesting ways. Nadira impresses Mughal Emperor Akbar with her mellifluous voice and brings the latter’s son Prince Salim, who is grievously injured in a battle, to consciousness from coma.
Salim falls in love with Nadira aka Anarkali, upsetting Gulnar, another court dancer who desires to marry the Prince and plots against Anarkali on the day of Salim’s coronation ceremony. An angered Akbar orders Anarkali to be buried alive.
Director: Vedantam Raghavaiah
Producer: P Adinarayana Rao
Cast: Akkineni Nageswara Rao, Anjali Devi, SV Ranga Rao, Kannamba, Chittoor Nagaiah
Release date: April 28, 1955