M. G. Ramachandran, Anjali Devi, Padmini, Ragini, M. G. Chakrapani, P. S. Veerappa, G. Sakunthala, ‘Kuladeivam' Rajagopal, ‘Aazhvaar' Kuppusami and Narayana Pillai
Legendary lyricist Kannadasan was also a brilliant screenwriter. He wrote quite a few films; sadly not many of them succeeded at the box office. An exception was Mannaathi Mannan, which he scripted besides writing most of the lyrics to highlight ancient Tamil history — not surprisingly, many of the songs became hits. The opening song was ‘Acchham enbathu madamaiyadaa Anjaamai Dravidar udamaiyadaa' rendered with feeling and verve by T. M. Soundararajan and picturised on the icon of Indian Cinema M. G. Ramachandran. The song with its meaningful lyrics and excellent references to Tamil culture and history (lyrics: Kannadasan; composers Viswanathan-Ramamurthi) became a superhit and is still popular. The film was produced and directed by well-known costume designer-turned-filmmaker M. Natesan who somehow did not make it to the top. Highly creative, he established himself as a costume designer for Newtone Studio situated in Kilpauk. That was the period when this studio was the busiest in south India with movies in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam being produced. Thus he came in touch with stars such as M. G. Ramachandran, Sivaji Ganesan and Gemini Ganesan.
Promoting his own firm ‘Natesh Art Pictures,' he made a fistful of family dramas. His first film Anbu, featuring Sivaji Ganesan, Padmini and T. R. Rajakumari, was an average success. (Not many are aware that Natesan filed a defamation suit in the Madras High Court against the top circulated Tamil weekly Kumudham, which published a sarcastic review in the format of the characters talking about their roles and how they figured in the film!) Natesan made En Kadamai with M. G. Ramachandran and B. Saroja Devi which did fairly well and Mannaathi Mannan, another MGR-starrer with Anjali Devi and Padmini in the two major female roles.
A prince (MGR) wins a dance contest with a court dancer (Padmini) and both fall in love and marry exchanging rings. A king (Veerappa), who is also in love with the dancer, indulges in many subterfuges to get her. The prince's father (Narayana Pillai) is eager that his son should marry the Chola princess (Anjali Devi). The Chola king (Chakrapani) speaks ill of the prince's mother (Lakshmiprabha). Complications arise with the prince kidnapping the Chola princess and finding that his first love, the dancer, has forgotten him (which is wrong, of course.) The two women meet under difficult circumstances in the River Cauvery and the hero tries to save them. The dancer unites the royal lovers and dies.
However, what helped the film achieve cult status was its melodious music and meaningful lyrics. Many songs are still popular, and the opening song, ‘Acchham,' helped MGR become a cultural icon.
There were quite a few song and dance numbers enacted by Padmini, Ragini and Anjali Devi, with some of the lyrics being written by noted lyricist Marudhakasi. Rajagopal provided comic relief with G. Sakunthala with whom he falls in love in the film. Sadly, Rajagopal faded fast from the scene, spending his final years in obscurity.
Though the on-screen presentation by Natesan appears somewhat disjointed, the film sustains interest and fared well at the box office mainly because of its melodious music and meaningful lyrics. MGR was not yet the iconic cult figure he would soon be and this film was one of the stepping-stones that elevated him to the exalted status.
Remembered for the melodious music, meaningful lyrics and dialogue, the dances by Padmini, Ragini and Anjali Devi and the impressive performance by MGR.