The Tamil film Maragatham was made in 1959 by S.M. Sriramulu Naidu at Pakshiraja Studios, a jewel in the crown of cinema in Coimbatore
Kungumapoovey konjupuravey… sings Chandrababu. He likens his sweet heart to kungumapoo (saffron) and the peace-loving konjupuravey (a dove). The song from Tamil film Maragatham is remembered by film lovers even today. So is Chandrababu’s singing, and his extraordinary dance ‘stunts’. Maragatham — Karunkuyil Kunrathu Kolai made by movie mogul, S.M. Sriramulu Naidu at his Pakshiraja Studios is based on a crime novel by T.S.D. Sami in the 1920s. Sivaji Ganesan, Padmini and Sandhya (Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa’s mother) acted in it. The film recalls a time when cinema thrived in Coimbatore. “The song kept the film alive,” says Pon. Chandran of Konangal. ‘Kungamapoovey’ has a modern touch and Chandrababu renders the song in bass style which in itself is a revolution, he adds.
In Maragatham, a zamindar is murdered and his innocent brother (Balachandar) and his wife (Sandhya) are blamed. Sivaji Ganesan plays a prince, and Padmini, his lover. The lovers get separated and reunite when the murderer is revealed. “The film, made 50 years ago, has a gripping narration style and is engaging even today. It runs for two hours and 70 minutes. But, we enjoy it because of the treatment of the subject, and its presentation,” Says Chandran. He rates Maragatham as one of the fine examples of an adaptation of a pulp fiction.
The film, shot at Pakshiraja Studios, also features some iconic buildings of Coimbatore. One of them is Ratnalaya, located on the North-East corner of Race Course, adjacent to Abdul Rahim Road. It is named after Ratnammal, mother of A.T. Devaraj Mudaliar, who owned the building. “It appears in the film as the house of the British resident,” says film enthusiast Rajesh Govindarajulu. “An art deco bungalow, it has two floors, a lift, a palatial verandah, and beautiful door frames that exist even today.”
One of the zamindari palaces shown in the film is the Rajalakshmi Mills bungalow in Singanallur. “It happens to be the house of B. Rangasamy Naidu, the founder of Rajalakshmi Mills. He also purchased the Central Studios in 1939. The house had the best of furniture and utilities in those days,” Rajesh adds. Tamil Nadu Agricultural University also appears in the film. “TNAU is existent from 1910, the Race Course bungalow belongs to the 1920s and the Rajalakshmi bungalow was built in 1940. They feature in the film and are heritage structures.”
In the 50s, a number of eminent people were invited by S.M. Sriramulu Naidu to watch films at the preview theatre in the studio. “Renowned textile scientist V.R. Sivakumar watched the film with his grandfather R.K. Venkatachalam. My father K. Govindarajulu, recalls going to the studios to watch shoots of Maragatham and the song ‘Kungumapoovey’,” Rajesh shares.
D. Ratnavel of Royal Theatre also watched the film at the preview theatre. He recalls it as being a long film, but one that was well made. “R. Rammohan, grandson of R.K. Ramakrishnan who founded Central Studios also recalls watching the shooting for Maragatham. Rammohan is over 60 years old. He named his dog ‘Frank’ after the tiger which featured in Sabaramalai Ayyappan, the first ever film on Ayyappan made in Pakshiraja Studios. He remembers playing with the tiger,” recounts Rajesh.
Murasoli Maran was the dialogue writer and much-feted for his work in the film. “Chandrababu was at his zenith . He always appeared with the main actors in lead roles. His style of comedy and body language has inspired a generation of actors, including Nagesh, Thengaai Srinivasan, and Suruli Rajan who came much later,” he adds.
Rajesh says Maragatham is a period film. “For example, the horse-drawn coaches were shown with vensaamarai, big hand-held fans to provide breeze to the zamindaars.” Sandhya fit the role of a zamindari woman with finesse and elegance. She was always well-dressed with flowers in her hair. Padmini, at the peak of her career, gave a superlative performance. And, Sivaji Ganesan was extraordinary. “He was all of 32 years and portrayed romance subtly. The romance between Sivaji Ganesan and Padmini, the yearning, the separation and the reunion was tastefully portrayed. It highlighted trust in love.”
The title also deserves a mention. Maragatham, the green stone is colourful, attractive, expensive, delicate and considered a natural accompaniment to diamonds. “We enjoy the subtle and calmness of the film with all the elements of suspense even today. That is why it is a classic.” The film was screened as part of Coimabtore Vizha at DJ Conference Hall, CII building, that is located near the Pakshiraja Studios where the film was shot. It is called Vignesh Mahal now.