A Living Portrait of India
India Heritage:Performing Arts:Cinema In India:Regional Cinema



The eternal battle between good and evil, between endurance and vaccilation, justice and oppression - divine intervention may or may not solve matters! Nonetheless, love triumphs and justice prevails - most of the time. And with directors like K.Subramanyam, we will know the difference.

1931 - Kalidas.

Directed by H.M. Reddy, the film starred T.P. Rajalakshmi, Thevaram Rajambal, T. Sushila Devi and L.V. Prasad.

The first sound film of Tamil cinema, it was based on the story of the poet-playwright Kalidas. A princess is tricked into marrying the illiterate cowhand and prays to the goddess Kali who bestows literary genius on the groom - hence his name, Kalidas.

The film included approximately 50 songs, and the dialogues were in Tamil, Telugu and Urdu.


1934 - Lavakusa.

Directed by C. Pullaiah, the film starred Parepalli Subba Rao, Sriranjani Sr., Master Bhimarao, Malleshwara Rao and Parepalli Satyanarayana.

On the episode of the epic Ramayana of Sita's twin boys Lava and Kusa - their indomitable courage in blocking the progress of the ceremonial horse of the asvamedha yagya being performed by Rama.

The film was the singer Sriranjani's debut film, and the Telugu version ran for more than a year in some parts of Andhra Pradesh.


1937 - Ambikapathy.

Directed by Ellis R. Duncan, the film starred M.M. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, Serukalathur Sama, P.B. Rangachari, N.S. Krishnan, T.S. Balaiah and P.R. Mangalam.

The hero is the son of the eleventh century poet Kambar (author of Kambaramayana); the heroine is a princess. The king is willing to consent provided the hero can prove his will-power.

The film was highly successful and the second renowned historical film after Raja Desingu. The singer-musician K.C. Dey surpassed with his music. Bhagavathur achieved critical fame with this film.

1942 - Ashok Kumar.

Directed by Raja Chandrasekhar, the film starred M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, Chittor V. nagaiah, P. Kannamba, T. V. Kumudini, N.S. Krishnan, Ranjan, and M.G. Ramachandran.

The Mauryan king Ashoka's second wife develops a passion for her stepson, but he loves another. She falsely accuses him, resulting in Ashoka exiling him and ordering him to be blinded. The Buddha heals the prince's eyesight once Ashoka has repented.

The film was immensely successful - Bhagavathar's performance (as the prince) dominated the film, and the music has since passed into Tamil lore.


- Nandanar.

Directed by Murugadasa, the film starred Dandapani Desikar, Serukalathur Sama, Narayana Rao, and Rajam Iyengar.

This was a 'Saint film'. A lower-caste worker's (Desikar) desire to worship at the Chidambram temple - and his gradual rise to the status of a saint. His landlord gives his conditional consent for the temple visit and the worker succeeds in his task. However, once at the temple, he purifies himself (i.e. of his lower-caste origins) by stepping through fire.

The finale was upsetting to many workers and the star Desikar had to render his apology in person. Desikar's performance in the film was stupendous.


1948 - Chandralekha.

Directed by S.S. Vasan, the film starred T.R. Rajkumari, M.K. Radha, Ranjan, Sundaribai, L. Narayan Rao, P. Subbaiah Pillai, and Surabhi Kamalabai.

A spectacular film and an immensely successful one. It tells of the rivalry between two princes for power and the love of a dancer, Chandralekha (Rajkumari). The villainous prince tries forcing the heroine to marry him - she agrees on condition that there be a drum dance. The immense size of the drums allows the hero's men to conceal themselves within, and overpower the villain's henchmen after the dance.

The dance itself, the picturization, the ensuing sword fight - the longest of all Indian films - have made the movie one of the most famous of Indian films. The dance sequence followed on Uday Shankar's composition for the film Kalpana of the same year. The film was 5 years in the making.

The film Kalpana (1948) is remembered as an exquisitely choreographed dance film, symbolizing the dreams and aspirations natural to a new nation. James Joyce commended Uday Shankar's dancing in a letter to his daughter --'He moves on the stage like a semi-divine being. Believe me, there are still some beautiful things left in this poor old world.'

The films Chandralekha (1948) and (the dream sequence of) Awara (1951) were inspired by this film.


1949 - Velaikkari.

Directed by A.S.A. Sami, the film starred K.R. Ramaswamy, M.N. Nambiar, T.S. Balaiah, V.N. Janaki, M.V. Rajamma, Lalitha and Padmini.

The film was based on the very successful play by C.N. Annadurai, the future Chief Minister of the state. Annadurai was the leader of the recently-formed DMK political party and the play was a vehicle to expound the party's ideology.

The hero returns home and finds that his father has been driven to suicide by the evil landlord. He seeks justice with the assistance of a DMK kind of person, while the landlord's son falls in love with a maid. The twin themes of caste and economic barriers and the horrors perpetuated by them have been presented forcefully. The deceased's son holds forth in the temple and the courtroom - with a strong condemnation of society's ills.

Many felt that the denunciation had been extreme, and the film thus closed with the conciliatory words 'only one God and only one community'.


1953 - Avvaiyyar.

Directed by Kothamangalam Subbu, the film starred K.B. Sundarambal, Kushala Kumari, G. Pattu Iyer, M.K. Radha, and Gemini Ganesh.

On the life of the saint Avvaiyyar and the miracles associated with her.

Sundarambal won tremendous acclaim for her portrayal of the adult Avvaiyyar, and was ranked with 'saint film' actors of the calibre of Vishnupant Pagnis and Chittor V. Nagaiah.

- Marumagal.

Directed by D. Yoganand, the film starred Lalitha, Padmini, N.T. Rama Rao, Relangi Venkatramaiah, and Surabhi Kamalabai.

A young bride changes the feudal set-up of her in-laws - a popular theme at the time, i.e. an educated woman changing her environment.

This was Yoganand's first directorial venture - a successful one.

1964 - Kadalikka Neramillai.

Directed by C.V. Sridhar, the film starred Ravichandran, Kanchana, Muthuram, Rajshri, Nagesh, and Kumari Sachu.

A romance set in the hills of Ooty - a young man finds employment but is fired owing to the displeasure of the boss' daughters. He sets up tent outside their house, and enlists the aid of a friend. It all ends happily after after.

The film was a hit.

1973 - Ulagam Sutrum Valiban.

Directed by M.G. Ramachandran, the film starred M.G. Ramachandran,

M.N. Nambiar, S.A. Ashokan, V. Gopalakrishnan, and San Chai.

A scientist finds a method of harnessing the power of lightning, but his secret is not safe from the villains. He is presumed murdered and his brother arrives to investigate.

The film was the last major one produced by M.G.Ramachandran, and was shot on location in Singapore, Thailand, and Hong Kong. it was very successful and ran for 50 continuous days wherever it was exhibited.

1977 - Avargal.

Directed by K. Balachander, the film starred Kamalahasan, Rajnikant, Ravi Kumar, Sujatha, and Leelavathi.

A young woman is forced to marry her father's boss. She divorces after having a child, and runs into her former lover. The affair is resumed and there is another, a ventriliquist, who loves her. The return of her ex-husband creates complications but her mother-in-law stands by her and together, the two leave for a new haven.

Very fine performances by all, particularly Kamalahasan , as the ventriloquist.

1980 - Murattu Kalai.

Directed by S.P. Muthuraman, the film starred Rajnikant, Jaishankar, Rati Agnihotri, and Ashokan.

A village youth masters a bull and has the headman's sister fall in love with him. He loves another - the headman has his sister killed and pins the blame on the hero. Finally, he proves his innocence.

The film was a major hit for Rajnikant, and included the cult song Podhuvaga en manasa thangam - oru pottiynu vandha vita singam, i.e. I am sensitive, but when challenged I roar like a lion.

1994 - Kadhalan.

Directed by Shankar, the film starred Prabhu Deva, Naghma, Girish Karnad, and S.P. Balasubramanyam.

Student leader and policeman's son, the hero falls in love with the daughter of the villanous governor of the state. Together they foil his plans of bombing several places. The hero is shown being brutally tortured.

The film was a highly successful musical, with music by the renowned A.R. Rehman. Dubbed in Telugu as Premikudu and in Hindi as Humse Hai Muqabala.

It was also dedicated to Jayalalitha, then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.


A firm believer in national reform - the elimination of the caste system, dignity for women, among other issues -, K. Subramanyam did not hesitate to launch a cinematic attack.

1936 - Balayogini.

Directed by K. Subramanyam, the film starred K. Vishwanathan, R. Balasaraswathi, Baby Saroja, and V.R. Chellam.

A Brahmin widow and her daughter are compelled to seek shelter with a lower-caste person. This upsets the caste-conscious Brahmins of the village.

The casting was amazing - the role of the Brahmin widow was played by Chellam, herself a Brahmin widow. Societal fury notwithstanding, the film makers - themselves Brahmins - proceeded to make other iconoclastic films. The director was pronounced an outcaste by other Brahmins - he chose to go far beyond caste issues and make Thyagabhoomi.


1938 - Seva Sadan.

Directed by K. Subramanyam, the film starred M.S. Subbulakshmi, F.G. Natesa Iyer, Mrs. Jayalakshmi, Varadachar and Rampiary.

A ground-breaking film on the relevant issues of women's emancipation.

Based on Premchand's Urdu novel, the work was translated into Hindi for another film - the author was not pleased with it. The Tamil version had his approval - Subramanyam had the courage to hold good to the novel's plot concerning prostitution and related matters. To appease the die-hards, Subramanyam presented the film as a musical. The film marked Subbulakshmi's debut.

1939 - Thyagabhoomi.

Directed by K. Subramanyam, the film starred S.D. Subbulakshmi, Papanasam Sivan, Baby Saroja, A.K. Kamalam, and K.J. Mahadevan.

A priest, characterized on Mahatma Gandhi, incurs the villagers' wrath for providing shelter to Harijans. He leaves with his daughter for the city : the daughter gets married to a wayward man who eventually sees the light, while the priest devotes himself to social work.

The film focused on the daughter's courage. The freedom of women was an important topic for Subramanyam, and he included documentary footage on Mahatma Gandhi. Tamil Nadu was the scene of the Temple Entry movement and this was echoed in the scene of Harijans waiting at the temple doors.



So Many Cinemas
Author - B.D. Garga
Publishers - Eminence Designs Private Limited.

Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema.
Author -Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Paul Willemen
Publishers -Oxford University Press.

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