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Updated: May 5, 2012 20:06 IST

Blast From The Past: Gangavathar 1942

Randor Guy
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Gangavathar.
Gangavathar.

N. C. Vasanthakokilam, Nagercoil K. Mahadevan, C.V.V. Panthulu, B. R. Panthulu, P. G. Venkatesan, D. Balasubramaniam, V. N. Janaki, T. S. Damayanthi, M. Lakshmanan, R. Rajagopalan, S. K. Padmadevi, T. V. Lakshmi, Kali N. Ratnam, C. T. Rajakantham, T. S. Durairaj, M. R. Swaminathan, P. R. Mangalam, T.V.A. Poorani

In Sanskrit, there is an idiomatic expression 'Bhageeratha Prayatnam' which is also used in other languages such as Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam. It means an impossible task but one that can be achieved with persistence. The expression is derived from the tale of King Bhageeratha of Ayodhya who does seemingly endless penance to the gods. Finally, Lord Shiva comes to his rescue by bringing to Earth the Holy River, Ganga. This is the myth behind the Ganga which is of great religious significance to the Hindus. The movie narrates the story of the king and his penance to bring down Ganga who threatens to destroy the world, to fulfil an oath he has undertaken...

King Sakara of Ayodhya performs an Aswametha Yagna to attain supernatural powers and become another Indra, the Lord of Angels. As part of the yagna, he sends the Aswam (horse) to go round the world and challenge brave men to capture it. Noticing it, Sage Narada meets Indra and tells him of the danger awaiting him from King Sakara.

Shaken, Indra sends his army to capture the horse and keep it in ‘Paathala Loka (the netherworld). The king's sons (he had as many as 60,000 wives!) who go to the netherworld, capture the horse, and tether it near a sage doing penance to create the impression that he had imprisoned the horse. The sons torture the sage and ultimately set fire to his hermitage. The enraged sage destroys them. His successor, King Bhageeratha, undertakes to clear the family name, which can be done only by washing the bodies of the dead sons with the waters of the Ganga. Goddess Ganga who lives in the Himalayas threatens to destroy the world.

Bhageeratha vows to bring the river down to the earth. He faces several problems from the Goddess and finally prays to Lord Shiva who promises to teach Ganga a lesson. He captures Ganga who is in a rage mood and imprisons her in the locks of his hair! But it does not serve the purpose and Shiva lets down a lock of his hair which allows the Ganga to flow down to the Earth!

An illogical tale perhaps, but then that's mythology. The film was directed by C. K. Sachi. Hailing from a family of noted lawyers of Coimbatore, C. K. Sathasivam (Sachi, for short) was drawn to the new medium of cinema. He gave up law, learnt the rudiments of filmmaking and also underwent limited training in London. A man of wide contacts in Madras, he worked as associate director with noted American Tamil filmmaker Ellis R. Dungan in his historic maiden movie Sathi Leelavathi (1936).

Sachi entered Vasanthakokilam's life and became her patron, protector and much more and promoted her as a singer-actress. In 1940, he produced the much-talked about movie, “Chandragupta Chanakya” in which Vasanthakokilam looked stunning as a princess. Her make-up materials came from London and her costumes were made by expert tailors of Madras and Bangalore. Indeed Sachi gave her a new “Hollywood look” that many found it difficult to recognise her on screen!

Gangavathar was produced at Sundaram Sound Studio, Adayar, and Madras (later Sathya Studios owned by MGR). It had an impressive cast with NCV as Ganga, singing star and “Narada of Tamil cinema,” Nagercoil K. Mahadevan as Bhageeratha, and yesteryear star C. V. V. Panthulu as Lord Shiva and T.S. Damayanthi as Parvathi. Renowned singer P. G. Venkatesan played Narada. Besides, it had an array of comedy artistes such as Kali N. Ratnam, C. T. Rajakantham, T. S. Durairaj, M. R. Swaminathan, P. R. Mangalam and T.V.A. Poorani.

The film did fairly well mainly due to its music and NCV's songs. Janaki plays a heavenly maiden sent by Indra to seduce Bhageeratha but without success. No details about the music composer and lyricist are available.

There was a comedy track, which had nothing to do with the story, involving all the noted comedians of the day led by Kali N. Ratnam. A song by Ratnam contains several words such as 'Joke' and also the famous line ‘Chinnakutty Natthana…..' which became very popular. The line was later used by T. R. Sundaram of Modern Theatres in his movie Aaravalli, which also became popular.

Remembered for the melodious music and the comic song.

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