Sivaji Ganesan (debut), Pandari Bai, S. V. Sahasranamam, S. S. Rajendran, Sriranjani Jr., K. P. Kamatchi

1952… an eventful year for Tamil cinema, the beginning of a new period.

The film that ushered in that new era was Parasakthi written for the screen by another fast-rising star Mu. Karunanidhi.

Its genesis is interesting and deserves to be told at some length…. ‘Parasakthi' was a hit play written by Pavalar Balasundaram, a Tamil scholar with a strong atheistic stance. The play attracted attention all over Tamil Nadu. Around this time, another play, titled ‘En Thangai' (My Sister), written by Tiruchi-based T. S. Natarajan, was making waves in the theatre circuit. A tale of a brother sacrificing his love for the sake of his sightless kid sister, the play moved audiences wherever it was staged. The actor who played the loving brother was a struggling stage actor named ‘Sivaji' V. C. Ganesan.

Meanwhile, back at Central Studios, Coimbatore, ‘Jupiter' Somu ever a talent scout came to know about the play ‘En Thangai'. Noted writer-director A. S. A. Sami saw the play and liked it. But he had too many irons in the fire and suggested that Sundar Rao Nadkarni, then working for Jupiter, could be asked to do the film. Nadkarni felt it was not his cup of tea. He loved mythology and folklore, but not modern-day melodrama. Sami also saw ‘Parasakthi' at the request of his friend and film distributor P. A. Perumal of National Pictures, who had plans of producing it as a film. This play too had as its main point the love of a brother for his poor, widowed sister.

Sami suggested that both plays could be coalesced into one, rewritten and made into a movie. But that did not work, as the very idea was rejected by ‘En Thangai' Natarajan (as he came to be known). He had, meanwhile, sold his play to a producer hailing from the family, which had produced Ambikapathi years ago!

Work began on En Thangai with Tiruchi Loganathan, then a popular playback artiste, playing the role of the sacrificing brother. After a few reels were canned under the direction of Telugu film director Ch. Narayanamurthy, the makers felt that the hero's performance was poor. The footage was scrapped, and M. G. Ramachandran, not yet the superstar he was destined to be, replaced the singer.

P. A. Perumal launched his production by buying up the film rights of ‘Parasakthi'. AV. Meiyappan backed him. And Mu. Karunanidhi was signed to write the script. A great and significant moment in Tamil cinema history was born. To play the hero, Perumal chose Sivaji Ganesan who, after years of struggle and starvation, faced a movie camera for the first time in AVM Studio. The first word of dialogue he spoke was “Success”. What a significant and prophetic word it turned out to be for that newcomer!

However, it was not smooth sailing for him. The directors, Krishnan-Panju, worked hard with the new face and after a few thousands of feet were canned, AV. Meiyappan and his friends viewed the rough-cut footage and were sorely disappointed. They felt the hero, that new actor Sivaji Ganesan, was no good!

AVM suggested that the hero be replaced and K. R. Ramasami be brought on board. But Perumal was not convinced. He had great faith in Sivaji Ganesan and was in no mood to heed AVM's advice. Also he couldn't ignore AVM in toto. Therefore, work stopped for quite a while and the poor hero had no option but to undergo long stretches of intense mental agony, and insecurity, until Perumal decided to go ahead with him, come what may. And the camera whirred again in the AVM Studios…

There were scenes of a temple priest trying to seduce the helpless young widow and her brother beating him up. The dialogue in this sequence was full of irony, sarcasm and biting humour, with deft touches of atheistic propaganda. These were found in liberal doses elsewhere too. Not surprisingly, Parasakthi ran into severe problems with the censors before the certificate was issued for public exhibition.

Parasakthi opened with a bang and met with instant success. Sivaji Ganesan found himself like Lord Byron, famous the next morning. The powerful writing of Karunanidhi, the atheistic stance, the performance of the unknown newcomer all this and more took the world by storm. For a while, there were wild rumours that the picture might be banned, and that drew larger crowds to cinema houses.

Indeed the picture was the hit of the year. Sivaji Ganesan achieved star status overnight. Mu. Karunanidhi scaled greater heights. Dialogue became king in Tamil films. Tamil cinema was never the same again. A new kind of history, which would have far-reaching consequences, was beginning to be made.

Remembered for the dialogue and the stunning performance of the new hero.