Production began in early 1954. The film was simultaneously shot in Tamil as Missiamma, with an altered cast. Missamma tells the story of two unemployed people of different religions and mentalities: M. T. Rao and Mary. They pose as a married couple to obtain jobs in a high school founded by Gopalam, the zamindar of Appapuram. As Rao and Mary fall in love, Gopalam's nephew A. K. Raju (an amateur detective) learns that Mary is Gopalam's missing elder daughter Mahalakshmi; she is unaware of her true identity.
N. T. Rama Rao and Bhanumathi Ramakrishna were originally cast as the lead pair, with Gemini Ganesan reprising the former in the Tamil version. After a dispute with Bhanumathi, Chakrapani replaced her with Savitri. Akkineni Nageswara Rao, Jamuna, S. V. Ranga Rao, Rushyendramani, and Relangi Venkata Ramaiah were cast in supporting roles; K. A. Thangavelu and K. Sarangkapani reprised the roles of Nageswara Rao and Relangi Venkata Ramaiah in Missiamma. Ramana Reddy and M. N. Nambiar were cast as the antagonists in the Telugu and Tamil versions, respectively. C. P. Jambulingam and Kalyanam edited the film; Marcus Bartley was the cinematographer, and S. Rajeswara Rao composed the music.
Principal photography took place in and around Madras (now Chennai) and wrapped in December 1954. Missamma was released on 12 January 1955, two days before Missiamma's theatrical debut. Both versions were commercially successful, completing 100-day theatrical runs. The bilingual film brought recognition to its cast and studio, and words and phrases from Missamma became part of Telugu vernacular. AVM Productions remade the film in Hindi as Miss Mary in 1957, Prasad's Bollywood directorial debut. Bapu, Mullapudi Venkata Ramana and Raavi Kondala Rao rewrote and adapted Missamma as Pelli Pustakam in 1991.
Gopalam, the zamindar of Appapuram, is the principal of a high school named after his elder daughter Mahalakshmi. As a child, she went missing during a pilgrimage to the Godavari River pushkaram in Kakinada. Conditions at the school deteriorate due to mismanagement by Gopalam's nephew, A. K. Raju, an amateur detective. This is exacerbated when Panthulu, an ayurvedic doctor, teaches the children. Gopalam decides to replace them with a male and a female graduate (preferably a married couple) capable of training his younger daughter Sita in singing besides teaching children at the school.
Mahalakshmi was found and adopted by a Christian couple, Mr. and Mrs. Paul, who named her Mary. After graduation, Mary looks for a job to ease her family's financial situation. She accepts a loan from I. P. David, who offers to waive the debt if she marries him. Mary and her former colleague M. T. Rao decide to pose as a married couple and apply for the jobs at Gopalam's school. Devaiah, a con artist and a beggar, befriends them and Rao asks him to accompany them to Appapuram. They find accommodation in a small house behind Gopalam's bungalow. Unaware of her true identity, Mary decides to call herself Mahalakshmi.
Gopalam and his wife Ammi, jovial by nature, treat the couple like their own children. Although Mary finds the Hindu customs strange, she says nothing to Gopalam and Ammi because she needs her job to repay David. She vents her frustration to Rao and Devaiah, who bear it patiently. Although Sita wanted Mary to teach her music, Mary's short temper diminishes her confidence and Rao takes over her music lessons.
In desperation, Mary decides to tell the truth to Gopalam and Ammi. To save their jobs, Rao makes up a far-fetched story that Mary is possessed by the soul of a Christian woman named after the mother of Jesus. Gopalam lies that he will marry Sita off to Rao. Raju, like Gopalam, is unaware of Rao's deception. In love with Sita, he wants to keep Rao away from her and turns to Mary for help in teaching music (which ends in disaster). At the end of their first month at the school, Rao and Mary receive their salaries and Mary repays her debt.
Raju begins to suspect that Mary is the missing Mahalakshmi. When Ammi tells him that Mahalakshmi had a mole on her right foot, he plans to sneak into her room at night but the plan backfires when they awaken her. After dreaming that Rao rescues her from David, she begins to fall in love with him.
At the end of the next month, Mary wants to visit Madras and the Pauls. At first Rao asks her to stay, but her reluctance makes him change his mind and he plans to lie later that Mary died after an illness. Gopalam and Ammi misunderstand, thinking that Mary is pregnant; they host a party, and Mary is confused. The night before she is due to leave, Rao pretends his leg is broken in an attempt to delay her departure. David arrives in the morning and tells Raju that Mary, a Christian, is posing as a Hindu for the job. Raju retrieves a necklace, stolen by David from Mary's house in Madras, which Mahalakshmi was wearing when she disappeared.
David wants to marry Mary, but she declares her love for Rao. The Pauls arrive at Gopalam's house; Raju solves the mystery, and David is arrested. Although Mary learns that Gopalam and Ammi are her birth parents, she maintain her relationship with her foster family. Learning that Rao and Mahalakshmi are not yet married, Gopalam announces their wedding and that of Sita and Raju.N. T. Rama Rao (Telugu) as M. T. Rao
Savitri as Mary / Mahalakshmi
Akkineni Nageswara Rao as A. K. Raju
Jamuna as Sita
S. V. Ranga Rao as Gopalam
Rushyendramani as Ammi, Gopalam's wife
Relangi Venkata Ramaiah as Devaiah
Ramana Reddy as I. P. David
Valluri Balakrishna as Govinda
Doraswamy as Mr. Paul
Meenakshi as Mrs. Paul
Allu Ramalingaiah as Panthulu
Gummadi Venkateswara Rao as the interviewer (cameo appearance)
B. Nagi Reddy and Aluri Chakrapani signed L. V. Prasad to direct a bilingual film for Vijaya Vauhini Studios. The film's script, by Chakrapani, was based on Rabindranath Maitra's Manmoyee Girls School and Sharadindu Bandhopadhyay's Detective. Chakrapani thought the plot of Manmoyee Girls School, about two unemployed young people who pretend to be married to gain employment and fall in love, was too limited for a full-length film. He added the basic storyline of Detective, in which an enthusiastic detective finds a missing woman and marries her. Prasad's relationship with Khan, a Muslim tailor near Kohinoor Studios in Bombay (now Mumbai), was the basis of the film's friendship between two men of different religions. The film was titled Missamma in Telugu and Missiamma in Tamil.
Pingali Nagendrarao and Thanjai N. Ramaiah Dass wrote the dialogue for the Telugu and Tamil versions, respectively. Marcus Bartley was signed as director of photography, and C. P. Jambulingam and Kalyanam edited the film. Madhavapeddi Gokhale and Kaladhar were its art directors. The film was processed at Vijaya Laboratory and recorded by Western Electric. M. S. Chalapathi Rao and Jagannadham were its executive producers.
Although Pathala Bhairavi (1951) and Pelli Chesi Choodu (1952) were the first bilingual films shot in Telugu and Tamil, the same actors were used in both versions. Missamma was the first bilingual film from Vijaya Vauhini Studios with different male actors. The producers cast N. T. Rama Rao and Bhanumathi Ramakrishna as the lead pair in the Telugu version, with Gemini Ganesan (then known as R. Ganesh) replacing Rama Rao in the Tamil version. S. V. Ranga Rao and Rushyendramani and Doraswamy and Meenakshi were cast as the title character's biological and foster parents, respectively, in both versions. Although all the actors in both versions used the same range of costumes, Ranga Rao wore a veshti for the Tamil version in accordance with Tamil custom.
Prasad had completed four reels of film with Bhanumathi. She wrote to the producers, informing them that she would shoot only in the afternoon because Varalakshmi Vratam was being held at her home. The letter went astray and Chakrapani, a strict disciplinarian, chastised her for arriving late on set. When Bhanumathi refused to apologise, Chakrapani burnt the four reels in front of her and she quit the film. Although Nagi Reddy learned about the letter and tried to mediate, Chakrapani and Bhanumathi refused to reconcile. Chakrapani ordered Prasad to replace Bhanumathi with Savitri, who was initially cast as Sita. Jamuna was signed later for Sita's role, upon Savitri's recommendation.
Savitri benefited the Tamil version by improving the on-screen chemistry with Ganesan; they had secretly married in 1952, before filming began. After the release of Devadasu (1953), Akkineni Nageswara Rao wanted to trade his tragic-romantic-hero image for a comic role in Missamma. Nageswara Rao reportedly accepted the role for financial reasons, until he said that Missamma was the only film of his career that he lobbied to participate in. K. A. Thangavelu and K. Sarangkapani reprise Nageswara Rao and Relangi Venkata Ramaiah's roles in the Telugu version in the Tamil one. M. N. Nambiar and Ramana Reddy were cast as the antagonist in the Tamil and Telugu version, respectively. Balakrishna and A. Karunanidhi were cast as the assistant of Nageswara Rao and Thangavelu, respectively. Although Chakrapani did not alter the character in adapting it from Detective, the actors' body language was different.
Gummadi Venkateswara Rao was recommended to Chakrapani by Madhavapeddi Venkatramaiah. After auditioning other actors, Chakrapani asked Venkateswara Rao to make a cameo appearance as an interviewer. He received ₹500–1,000 for a day's work, a generous salary for the time; actors in major film roles received ₹2,000 for 20 days of work. Chakrapani justified Venkateswara Rao's salary by saying that the actor's family included three children who had moved to Madras (now Chennai). For a photo shoot, Rama Rao lent Venkateswara Rao his coat and placed a tilaka on his forehead. Allu Ramalingaiah was cast as the comic teacher-cum-ayurvedic-doctor Panthulu.
Principal photography began in early 1954, with both versions (with different casts) filmed simultaneously. The scene in which M. T. Rao and Mary lie to each other before boarding a bus to attend an interview after they were fired from their previous jobs was shot at the Chandamama office building, and the high-school set was built nearby. Photographs of Nagi Reddy's younger brother and cinematographer B. N. Konda Reddy's daughter (the latter as Gopalam's missing daughter) were used in the film. For one sequence in which M. T. Rao jumps from a balcony, Ganesan doubled for Rama Rao.
Pasumarthi Krishnamurthy choreographed the film's songs. For "Balanura Madana" and "Brindavanamadi Andaridi Govindudu Andarivadele", Sita performed a Kuchipudi. "Balanura Madana" was a javali; Jamuna rehearsed both songs for about a month (since the actress was untrained in traditional dance), focusing on details during rehearsals. Filming was delayed because of Bhanumathi's exit and the difficulty of managing two casts simultaneously. Lasting for a year, it wrapped by the end of December 1954. The final film length was about 4,964 metres (16,286 ft). After they saw the final edited version, Nagi Reddy and Chakrapani gave Dodge automobiles to the film's principal cast.
Chakrapani described Missamma as a "film for kids which should also be watched by adults". He discouraged sermonising in entertainment films, and said that those interested in doing so could send telegrams to viewers instead of making movies. According to a reviewer, Chakrapani preferred regional sensibilities to a more universal comedic style exemplified by Charlie Chaplin. In his 2015 book Madras Studios: Narrative, Genre, and Ideology in Tamil Cinema, Swarnavel Eswaran Pillai wrote that the film interweaves romantic comedy and melodrama to tell Mary's love story, while Aditya Parankusam of The Hans India described it as a screwball comedy.
In addition to the protagonists, Missamma focuses on Mary's biological and foster parents. Four other characters—Mary's creditor I. P. David, Rao's friend Devaiah, the schoolteacher-cum-doctor Panthulu and Raju's stoic assistant Govinda—influence the plot. Believing that comedy and suspense cannot be effectively sustained together, Chakrapani reveals Mary's true identity to the audience early in the film but the characters (including Mary) are unaware of her identity until the climax. Pa Dheenadhayalan of Dinamani described Mary as the antithesis of Savitri's role in Devadasu (1953). Chakrapani used the reception of Mary's modern dress and behaviour to depict the limitations of orthodox South Indian families. The lyrics of "Adavari Matalaku Ardhale Verule", as lip-synched by Rao's character, describe the complex behaviour of women with men.
According to Pillai, Missamma shed light on the subtle, indirect way Telugu filmmakers dealt with the troublesome environment in Madras surrounding Tamil language and culture during the Visalandhra movement. Pillai wrote that the Krishna-Godavari River dispute between Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh enabled viewers to grasp the metaphor of Pushkaram as signifying loss. The lyrics of "Dharmam Chey" addressed the plight of beggars, and "Kavalante Isthale" addressed society's changing views. "Sitaram Sitaram" was considered a satire of corrupt politicians, particularly the line "Chandalantu Bhale Pracharam, Vandalu Velu tama palaharam" ("Fundraising becomes self-promotion, as hundreds and thousands are used for self-consumption").
Missamma also dealt with unemployment and freedom of religion. Rama Rao's character, M. T. Rao, is pronounced "Empty" Rao (reflecting, according to Santhisri of Prajasakti, the humiliation of the educated unemployed). Prasad's struggles during his early career influenced the examination of unemployment and being an educated "misfit". Pillai wrote that Chakrapani's "poignant dialogues" about the unemployment of the educated young people belied his image as a mainstream writer; in the scenes where Mary's Catholic faith is challenged, Chakrapani and Prasad "underscore their imperative to highlight the differences" and "make a plea for peaceful co-existence".
The soundtrack of Missamma was composed by S. Rajeswara Rao with lyrics by Pingali Nagendrarao. Audio mixing was supervised by A. Krishnan and Siva Ram. They were engineered by N. C. Sen Gupta and orchestrated by A. Krishnamurthy.
When Nagi Reddy told Bhanumathi that P. Leela would sing for her character, Bhanumathi (a playback singer herself) refused to allow Leela to sing for her. After she left the film, Leela was signed to sing for Savitri. Unlike their previous films, Vijaya Vauhini Studios used A. M. Rajah instead of Ghantasala Venkateswara Rao to sing for Rama Rao. Chakrapani chose P. Susheela to sing the two songs featuring Jamuna after he was impressed by her rendition of "Anuragam Virisena" in Kanna Talli (1953). Although she sang for Donga Ramudu (1955) first, Missamma was released earlier and was her breakthrough as a singer. "Balanura Madana" and its Tamil version, "Ariya Paruvamada", were Susheela's first songs for Rajeswara Rao. Despite singing "Dharmam Chey" and "Sitaram Sitaram", Relangi Venkata Ramaiah was not credited as a playback singer.
Missamma's soundtrack was released on 1 December 1955 on HMV. It was commercially successful, with "Adavari Matalaku Ardhale Verule" becoming a classic love song.
Release and reception
The Telugu version of Missamma was released on 12 January 1955 and the Tamil version two days later, for Thai Pongal. They were commercially successful, completing 100-day theatrical runs.
Missamma received positive reviews from critics when it was released. For Swatantra magazine, Govindarama (Gora) Sastry praised the film's universal theme and clean, subtle comedy. A November 2012 Times of India article said that the film's cast added a dramatic twist to the story and called its narration a "powerful", which "will grip the viewer till the end".
M. L. Narasimham of The Hindu praised the performances of Missamma's cast in October 2014, particularly Savitri. He called Marcus Bartley's "mesmerising" cinematography, Rajeswara Rao's music, Prasad's direction and Chakrapani's screenplay the film's highlights. According to Narasimham, Nageswara Rao's performance as Raju "proved that he is equally capable of carrying a comedian's role with aplomb". In January 2015, Prajasakti called Missamma a good mix of humour and message and Chakrapani's screenplay gripping.
A. V. Meiyappan of AVM Productions approached Nagi Reddy for the film's Hindi remake rights. Reddy insisted that Meiyappan retain Prasad, the director's Bollywood debut. Gemini Ganesan and Meena Kumari were cast as the lead pair of the remake, also Ganesan's Bollywood debut. Jamuna reprised her role, while singer Kishore Kumar reprised the role originally played by Nageswara Rao. The Hindi version, Miss Mary, was released in 1957 and was one of the year's highest-grossing films. Composer Hemanta Kumar Mukhopadhyay reused the melody of "Brindavanamadi Andaridi Govindudu Andarivadele" from the original. Anant Mane's 1957 Marathi-language film, Jhakli Mooth, was also based on Missamma.
The film's script was re-written by Mullapudi Venkata Ramana and Raavi Kondala Rao for Pelli Pustakam (1991), produced by Ramana and directed by Bapu. Rajendra Prasad and Divyavani played the lead pair. The film was a commercial success and won two Nandi Awards: Best Writer for Kondala Rao and Best Dialogue Writer for Ramana. A 70-minute long Telugu-language Off-Off-Broadway version of Missamma, written by Athaluri Vijayalakshmi and directed by Rajeswari Udayagiri, was staged on 16, 17, and 18 September 2016 at Johnson and Community theatres in New York City.
Missamma was a popular 1950s Telugu film featuring Ramana Reddy and Relangi Venkata Ramaiah, considered the Laurel and Hardy of Telugu cinema at the time. According to film historian Film News Anandan, Missamma's success inspired filmmakers to cast different actors for different versions of their films. The phrase "Adavari Matalaku Arthale Verule" became a Telugu idiom and the word "Thailam", spelt by Devaiah's character in the film, became synonymous with "cash". The film was a breakthrough in the careers of Savitri and Jamuna.
P. Leela sang songs from Missamma in many concerts to a warm response. "Njaan Ariyathen", from the Malayalam-language film Jailppulli (1957), is loosely based on "Brindavanamadi Andaridi Govindudu Andarivadele". Prasad and Chakrapani later collaborated on Appu Chesi Pappu Koodu (1959), an above-average grosser before its profitable re-release. In their 2013 book, Routledge Handbook of Indian Cinemas, K. Moti Gokulsing and Wimal Dissanayake wrote that Appu Chesi Pappu Koodu, Missamma, Gundamma Katha (1962) and Ramudu Bheemudu (1964) "represented the scope comedy had in the 1950s and '60s." The storyline of Marunnattil Oru Malayali (1971) was noted for its similarity to Missamma, since its female lead (a Christian) acts like a Brahmin girl. According to B. Vijayakumar of The Hindu, this prompted Chakrapani to remake the film in Telugu as Sri Rajeswari Vilas Coffee Club in 1976.
"Adavari Matalaku Arthale Verule" was remixed by Mani Sharma without altering its melody and lyrics for the Telugu-language film, Kushi (2001). It was sung by Korivi Muralidhar, who was known as "Kushi" Murali after the remixed version's success. Although G. Neelakanta Reddy entitled his 2003 comedy film Missamma, it had no other similarity to the original. The 2010 independent Telugu film Missamma NRI was a variation on Missamma, focusing on two immigrants who enter into a sham marriage. In September 2006, a postage stamp commemorating Prasad was issued in Hyderabad. M. L. Narasimham listed Missamma with Shavukaru (1950), Samsaram (1950), Pelli Chesi Choodu, Manohara (1954) and Appu Chesi Pappu Koodu as acclaimed films by the director after the release of Mana Desam (1949) and his association with Vijaya Vauhini Studios.
Hyderabad-based Goldstone Technologies acquired the film-negative rights of 14 Telugu films produced by Vijaya Vauhini Studios in late November 2007, including Mayabazar (1957) and Missamma, to release digitally re-mastered versions in colour. Although the digitally remastered and colourised version of Mayabazar released in January 2010 was commercially successful, Goldstone decided not to remaster the remaining 14 films and said that most of the producers who sold the film-negative rights to TV channels lost control of them. According to Goldstone, ownership and copyright issues were an impediment. However, the colourised version of "Brindavanamadi Andaridi Govindudu Andarivadele" was used in the opening credits of Brindavanam (2010).
In November 2012 The Times of India listed Missamma, Gundamma Katha, Mayabazar, Narthanasala (1963) and Bommarillu (2006) in their list of "Telugu classics to watch along with family this Deepavali". Commemorating the centenary of Indian cinema, The Hindu listed Missamma, Pathala Bhairavi, Mayabazar, Gundamma Katha, Maduve Madi Nodu (1965), Ram Aur Shyam (1967), Julie (1975) and Shriman Shrimati (1982) as iconic films produced by Nagi Reddy. Hussain Sha Kiran, who co-wrote Sukumar's Nannaku Prematho (2016), entitled his directorial debut Meeku Meere Maaku Meme after a scene in Missamma in which Mary tries to teach Raju music.