P. Bhanumathi, S. Balachandar, Wahab Kashmiri, S. V. Subbaiah, M. K. Mustafa, M. Saroja, G. M. Basheer, M.S.S. Bhagyam, Lakshmiprabha, C. S. D. Singh, M.R. Santhanam, K. S. Angamuthu and ‘Baby' Sacchu
The successful 19th-Century French writer, dramatist and archaeologist Prosper Merimee's novella, ‘Carmen', was a bestseller and adapted as a Broadway (USA) musical. Besides, it was made into a motion picture more than once.
However, the most popular of them all is the 1948 version Loves of Carmen, directed by Charles Vidor, featuring the ‘Love Goddess' of Hollywood, Rita Hayworth (real name, Margarita Carmen Cansino) as the gypsy girl who destroys those falling in love with her. Another Hollywood star Glenn Ford played her soldier lover. It became a cult film and is still remembered by movie buffs around the world.
The film had a successful run in Madras City and the successful writer-director A.S.A. Sami working for Jupiter Pictures adapted the movie for the Tamil screen, writing the screenplay, and named it Rani. It was produced by M. Somasundaram for Jupiters, and the multilingual star Bhanumathi played the title role with Balachandar as the soldier lover.
A little princess Ranjani (‘Baby' Sacchu) is tattooed with the royal insignia as part of tradition, and the same night, the child is kidnapped by one of the members of the tattoo gang (Wahab Kashmiri) who brings her up as a gypsy girl renaming her Rani. Unaware of her royal lineage, she grows up hawking things on the street and getting into brawls with no punches pulled. (The famous sequence with Rita Hayworth in the Hollywood film was transplanted in the Tamil version in toto!) After several hardships, she realises the truth, and all is well that ends well. However, in the making of the film, things were not smooth and ego clashes developed among artists, filmmakers and others. To add to the problem, the film was simultaneously produced in Hindi starring Anoop Kumar (Ashok Kumar's brother) who was no match for Bhanumathi. For many reasons, Sami was replaced with L. V. Prasad who took his bow in Tamil cinema and he directed both the Tamil and the Hindi versions.
Bhanumathi excelled in the title role. (Sami told this writer years later that he made Bhanumathi watch the Rita Hayworth movie in a Madras cinema more than once.) Balachandar, slim and handsome, was somewhat miscast, and the romantic sequences between them raised laughs! (This writer, then in college, recalls a love-making sequence — the hero is seated on the ground behind the heroine in typical 1950s style — and taking in the fragrance of her curly hair, which evoked laughter in many movie houses!)
The film was shot partly at Central Studios, Coimbatore, which Jupiter Pictures had taken on lease, and also at Neptune Studios, Madras. Jupiters took it on lease after relocating from Coimbatore to Madras.
The movie had pleasing music by C. R. Subburaman. The lyrics were by Udumalpet Narayana Kavi, Sundara Vathiyar, K. D. Santhanam and Ku. Sa. Krishnamurthi. The dances were by C. R. Rajakumari and Pollachi Kamala, and choreographed by Vedantham Raghavaiah (later a successful filmmaker) and Hiralal.
The iconic Malayalam filmmaker K. S. Sethumadhavan worked as an assistant director, and M.A. Thirumugam, later a successful Tamil filmmaker, was the editor. The art direction was by the inimitable A. K. Sekhar, while W. R. Subba Rao, trick photograph wizard, handled the camera.
Wahab Kashmiri, hailing from Kashmir, moved to Calcutta where he worked as assistant director, and also acted in movies. He relocated to South India, where he worked in Coimbatore, and directed movies for Modern Theaters (Chitra) and others.
Despite the impressive cast and pleasing music, Rani flopped in both languages.
Remembered for Bhanumathi's excellent performance, melodious music and well-choreographed dances.