Take the case of the Tamil films ‘Gnana Soundari' (1948). Two films, with the same title and storyline, one produced by Gemini Films, with M. K. Radha and V. S. Suseela in the lead roles and the other by Citadel Films that had T. R. Mahalingam and M. V. Rajamma in the lead roles. These films were released within a month of each other. While the Gemini film flopped the Citadel version became a runaway hit, a classic.
The Malayalam film ‘Krishna Kuchela,' produced by Udaya Studios,' and ‘Bhakta Kuchela,' produced by Neela Productions', had the same Bhagavatha story of Krishna and his childhood friend Kuchela. ‘Bhakta Kuchela' was released on November 9, 1961, and ‘Krishna Kuchela' on November 18, 1961. The Neela film, directed by P. Subramaniam, was a huge hit, whereas ‘Krishna Kuchela' failed miserably.
The Telugu film ‘Krishna Kuchela,' released on June 6, 1961, was the inspiration behind the production of the two Malayalam versions. This Telugu film, directed by C. Narayanamoorthy, was a crowd puller and is considered as one of the best mythological films in the language. Kuchela, played by C. S. R. Anjaneyalu, an actor noted for his mythological roles, came up with a brilliant performance. In fact, his role in the Neela production is widely believed to be the reason behind the film's success. The role of Krishna was played by another popular Telugu star, Kantha Rao. ‘Bhakta Kuchela' was an unusual collaboration between a Malayalam producer and an array of Telugu stars.
Directed by Kunchacko, ‘Krishna Kuchela' was shot at Udaya Studios. The dances choreographed by Hiralal and cinematography by T. N. Krishnankutty were commendable. The high point of the film was its music, which was composed by K. Raghavan.
Popular artists like Sathyan, Prem Nazir, T. S. Muthiah, Kottayam Chellappan, Ragini, B. S. Saroja, and KPAC Sulochana were cast in important roles. Apart from the popular story a few sequences from the Bhagavatha, like the birth of Krishna, Radha's love and devotion towards Krishna, enmity with Sisupala, slaying of Kamsa etc. were included as a sub-plot.
The competition between these two films was apparent in music and advertisement techniques. The distinctive numbers of the 78 rpm gramophone records of the songs indicate that they were released the same day or same week. Along with the publicity notices of ‘Bhakta Kuchela', especially in the theatres, ‘aval' or beaten rice was distributed in small packets wrapped in the publicity notice itself. Not to be left behind the publicity material of ‘Krishna Kuchela' were sent to houses along with ‘aval kizhi' or beaten rice packed in a small piece of cloth.
The songs in both the films were good. In this case, however, ‘Krishna Kuchela' scored. There were 22 songs in this film. Written by P. Bhaskaran and tuned by K. Raghavan some of them like ‘Omanakuttan Govindan…' (Shanta P. Nair), ‘Marayalle mayalle Radhey…' (K. Raghavan), ‘Umma nalkuthengineyamma…' (P. Susheela) and ‘Varnippathengine nin…' (M. L. Vasanthakumari-P.Leela) turned hugely popular.
Will be remembered:‘Krishna Kuchela' did not do well at the box office but it will be remembered as one of the two films with the same story, produced at the same time, which was the first instance in Malayalam cinema. It will also be remembered for its good music.