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Updated: March 2, 2013 16:49 IST

Arasilankumari 1961

Randor Guy
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Arasilankumari: This film took as long as five years to complete for many reasons.
Arasilankumari: This film took as long as five years to complete for many reasons.

M.G. Ramachandran, M.N. Nambiar, Padmini, Rajasulochana, R. Nagendra Rao, S.A. Asokan, K.A. Thangavelu, M. Saroja and R.M. Sethupathi

Rafael Sabatini (1875-1950), with an Italian father and English mother, was a successful writer of adventure on the high seas and Ruritanian romance. He was popular during the late 19th Century and early 20th Century and had written novels, plays and non-fiction. His most successful novels were The Sea Hawk, Captain Blood and Scaramouche. Not surprisingly, his novels have been filmed more than once with success. Scaramouche was first filmed in 1921 (silent film) with the Hollywood star of the day Ramon Navarro, and was remade with greater success in 1954 with top stars Stewart Granger, Janet Leigh, Eleanor Powell and Mel Ferrer.

The Stewart Granger-starrer had long runs in India, including Madras City. It was adapted into Tamil by the successful college professor-turned-writer and director A.S.A. Sami (Velaikkari, Thanga Pathumai and Rajakumari) as Arasilankumari with MGR, M.N. Nambiar, Padmini, Rajasulochana and R. Nagendra Rao in major roles. Mu. Karunanidhi wrote the dialogue with alluring alliteration. (Rajasulochana who played one of the two major female roles, the other being Padmini, told this writer that Mu. Ka. was present on the sets coaching her and other artistes on the dialogue delivery.)

This film took as long as five years to complete for many reasons. Naturally, its success quotient on release was affected. Sami, who directed the major portion, had some differences with the hero and others. So he was replaced by editor-turned-director A. Kasilingam who completed the film. A period drama, Arasilankumari narrates the story of Arivazhagan (M.G. Ramachandran) and his sister Anbukarasi (Padmini). Anbukarasi falls in love with Vetrivelan (M.N. Nambiar), who is commander-in-chief of the royal army, but he tells Anbukarasi and Arivazhagan that he is just an ordinary citizen of the kingdom and marries Anbukarasi. Arivazhagan leaves on a mission after his sister’s marriage. After some time, Vetrivelan deserts his wife and child and returns to the palace. He starts plotting against the royal family. How his plans are set at nought by the hero and how his wife fights for him against her own brother form the rest of the film.

Padmini stole the film with her superb performance as the abandoned wife and her wonderful dialogue delivery. Rajasulochana as the princess and MGR’s love interest also created an impact though her role was somewhat limited.

The famous staircase sword fight scenes in the Hollywood movie were well adapted in this film with MGR-Nambiar. According to informed sources, these sequences took nearly a year to shoot.

The music had a good impact and one song, ‘Chinna payale’ (lyrics: Pattukottai Kalyanasundaram), filmed on MGR and sung off screen by T.M. Soundararajan became a hit. This song had meaningful lines, which contributed to its success and popularity. Even after half a century, it is still popular. Nambiar as the villain was his usual self. The veteran multilingual actor Nagendra Rao also contributed to the high standard of acting.

Despite the interesting storyline, successful adaptation of the Hollywood classic, pungent dialogue, melodious music and fine performances, the film did not fare well at the box office much to the disappointment of all concerned.

Remembered for: the melodious music, the catchy song ‘Chinna payale’ and fine performances by Padmini, Nambiar, MGR and Rajasulochana.

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