'Master' V. N. Sundaram, Rajapalayam Kuzhandaivelu Bhagavathar, K. B. Srinivasan, ‘Lady Bhagavathar' M. S. Kanna Bai and S. N. Kannamani

This film narrates the familiar story of the eternal 16-year-old devotee of Lord Shiva, Markandeya. It has been filmed several times in more than one language. In 1923, it was made twice as a silent film, one by the Madras-based film pioneer, R. Nataraja Mudaliar, and the other by the Maratta Cinema pioneer, Baburao Painter. The first talking picture of this tale was made in 1935 by Vel Pictures and directed by K. Ramnoth and his mentor Murugadasa.

M. T. Rajen, the producer, was a successful electrical contractor, who did the wiring in business houses, bungalows and cinemas. He soon graduated to distribution and later, production. He also constructed cinema houses in the city. That was not all. He built a studio known as Vel Pictures Studio originally on Eldams Road in Teynampet and later shifted to Guindy. Here it functioned for some years before V. L. Narasu of the famous Narasu's Coffee took it over and established Narasu Studios which produced movies in more than one language until it was taken over by a soft drink manufacturing company…

M. T. Rajen at first attempted Telugu films such as Krishna Leela. Markandeya was his first Tamil venture which he advertised with pride as his first Tamil offering. As was the trend those days, this film had more than one title. In English, it was known as Markandeya, and in Tamil, Bhaktha Markandeya and Markandeyar.

The title role was played by the sadly neglected singer-actor V. N. Sundaram. His name appeared in the titles as ‘Master' V. N. Sundaram. A well-trained Carnatic musician, he had an excellent voice and acted in a few movies but without much success. He later became a playback singer. Two of the songs rendered by him became great hits — one in Pathi Bhakthi ‘Rock…rock…rock... rock and roll…!' (a duet with J. P. Chandrababu, which was a mix of Carnatic and Western Music) and the other in Manamagal ‘Chinnan chiru kiliye', a Subramania Bharati composition, (also a duet with Sundaram lending his voice somewhat surprisingly to T. S. Balaiah as the seducing villain, and MLV singing for Padmini). It is a matter of deep regret that Sundaram did not get the recognition he deserved for his talent.

Markandeya had as many as 36 songs and expectedly sung by many artistes, including Sundaram, (Markandeya), Kuzhandaivelu Bhagavathar (as Sage Mrikandu, Markandeya's father), Srinivasan (Narada), and Kanna Bai (Markandeya's mother). Interestingly, Kanna Bai was known as ‘Lady Bhagavathar.' Another stage singer Kannamani played a gypsy girl, providing comic relief. In a clever move, the producers and directors showed several holy places in South India such as Chidambaram, Thiruvannamalai, Kanchipuram, and Thirukadaiyur where Markandeya was believed to have prayed to Lord Shiva. The temples in these ancient towns were brilliantly photographed by Ramnoth, one of the finest cinematographers of Indian Cinema. There were also scenes of Lord Indra's court and the durbar of Lord Yama. However, details about the lyricist and the music composer are not available today.

Thanks to the inclusion of the various holy sites in the film, Markandeya fared well at the box office.

Remembered for: the brilliant cinematography of Ramnoth, the melodious songs and good performances by V. N. Sundaram and others.