During the early decades of Tamil Cinema, ‘Bhakthi Padam' (Devotional Movie) was virtually a genre. It extolled the lives of saints and devotees of the gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon. Such movies attracted a lot of attention then. One such film was Shantha Sakkubai. Though based on a folk tale popular in Maharashtra, it was well received in south India too. Shantha Sakkubai revolves around Sakkubai (Aswathamma), a Krishna devotee, whose husband (Sarangapani) is a ‘mama's boy'. Sakkubai's mother-in-law is a sadist, played by the Harikatha exponent C. Bannibai. Though it was her debut, Bannibai excelled in that role. Sakkubai was played by the singing star of Karnataka, Aswathamma, known as ‘Kannadatha Kogiley' (Kannada's cuckoo). A stage artiste, she entered filmdom and made a splash with Chintamani (1937). Her career was cut short by the then dreaded disease tuberculosis which claimed her life when she was still young. The gramophone discs of Kannada songs rendered by her were bestsellers and acquired by many Tamil and Telugu speaking families in south India.
Coming back to the storyline, Sakkubai goes away to Pandaripur along with a group of pilgrims and Lord Krishna in disguise takes her place in the household. Unaware of this, the cruel mother-in-law makes the ‘fake' Sakkubai's life hell. But she wins all the cruel tests. The real Sakkubai wishes to lay down her life at the feet of her Lord and dies….
Lord Krishna realises he cannot get out of the disguise, because the original is no longer alive. His wife Rukmini comes to his rescue and the mother-in-law realises the truth about her daughter-in-law and all ends happily…
The film had excellent music (composer Thuraiyur Rajagopala Sarma, lyrics Papanasam Sivan). Many songs became popular like, ‘Pandaripuram selvom' (Venkatesan), ‘Thulasimalaa dharee' (Kothamangalam Seenu as a wandering pilgrim), and a hit duet ‘Varuven kondu thanni' (Aswathamma and Sarangapani, a straight lift from a Hindi tune).
The film was a box-office success. The music composer Rajagopala Sarma appears on screen in a Pandaripuram festival sequence, singing a bhajan. The director Sundar Rao Nadkarni sings and dances an ‘abhang'.
Remembered for: the tuneful music, and the outstanding performance of Bannibai as the cruel mother-in-law.
K. Aswathamma, Bannibai, K. Sarangapani, Kothamangalam Seenu, Kothamangalam Subbu, P.G. Venkatesan, S.S. Rajamani, K. Aranganayaki, T.S. Krishnaveni, M. A. Ganapathi Bhat