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Updated: August 13, 2011 17:36 IST

Blast from the past - Prahalada 1939

Randor Guy
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‘Master' T. R. Mahalingam, M. R. Santhanalakshmi, R. Balasubramaniam, Nagercoil K. Mahadevan, M. G. Ramachandran, N. S. Krishnan, T. A. Mathuram, P. S. Gnanam and T. S. Durairaj

The story of the demon king Hiranyakasipu, and the antagonism between him and his young son Prahalada over the worship of Lord Vishnu which leads to the Narasimha avatar — Lord Vishnu emerging from a pillar and destroying Hiranyakasipu — is a popular Hindu mythological tale. It has been made into a movie since the Silent Era, and as a talkie in many languages more than 20 times! The languages include Hindi, Gujarati, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Bengali and Assamese.

Indeed, it could be said without fear of contradiction that this is the one and only story which has been made so many times, often with success in the history of world cinema. A fact not many are aware…..

H. M. Reddi, founding father of South Indian Cinema, created history by making ‘Bhaktha Prahalada', the first Telugu talkie in 1931. The earliest silent version was made in 1917, twice in the same year. One version was made as recently as 1983. One or two movies were made under the title ‘Narsimhavatar' during the1920s.

Salem Shankar Films (producers of the box office bonanza, the M. K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar and K. Aswathamma-starrer Chintamani -1937) launched in association with the Coimbatore-based Central Studios the tale of Prahalada. It was directed by noted filmmaker of the early decades of Tamil Cinema, B. N. Rao, assisted by T. C. Vadivelu Naicker who wrote the script and also worked on the sets.

Young singing star T. R. Mahalingam, who was billed in the credits as ‘Master' Mahalingam, played Prahalada. Successful in Tamil theatre as a boy actor, he made a mark in movies with Nandakumar (1938) produced by AV. Meiyappan in association with Marathi filmmaker Keshav Rao Dhaibhar who directed the film. Later Mahalingam scaled great heights as a star. He also produced films and attempted direction. In later years, he played supporting roles such as Narada.

Noted character actor R. Balasubramaniam played Hiranyakasipu, while well known actress of her day M. R. Santhanalakshmi played Prahalada's mother. The others in the cast were M. G. Ramachandran in a minor role, N. S. Krishnan, T. A. Mathuram and T.S. Durairaj. Nagercoil K Mahadevan, a trained Carnatic musician, played Narada, his usual role. He was popularly known as ‘Naradar' Mahadevan in film circles in those days. He surprised moviegoers and critics when he played a fashionable young man, the hero in the AVM hit, En Manaivi (1942).

This was the sixth movie of MGR (debut in Ellis R.Dungan's 1936 movie Sathi Leelavathi), who played Lord Indra. One of the interesting features of this film was a sword fight sequence between MGR and Santhanalakshmi. The lyrics were by Papanasam Sivan and the music was by Sharma Brothers. The two were then working in All India Radio as music producers and were considered experts in orchestration. The music attracted attention. Mahalingam and Mahadevan sang many songs.

The comedy track of NSK-Mathuram-T.S. Durairaj proved popular. Prahalada was only an average success.

Remembered for being one of the early films of MGR who played a mythological role, and also the singing of the boy actor Mahalingam and ‘Naradar' Mahadevan.

Keywords: Kollywood

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