S. Rajam, M. S. Vijayal, Mathirimangalam Natesa Iyer, Sreemathi, Panchu Bhagavathar and Kamala
Rukmini, Lord Krishna’s wife, is one of the most popular and important characters in Hindu mythology. Personified as the perfect wife, she was in sharp contrast to the other popular wife of Krishna, Sathyabhama, a figure of glamour and ego who when necessary could take up a bow and arrow as she did to save Krishna in his legendary battle against demon Narakasura.
Expectedly, this epic tale with many elements of romance, wifely devotion and such values attracted the attention of motion picture makers, right from the Silent movie era. The first silent version was made by R. Nataraja Mudaliar in 1922, while another version, titled Rukmini Haran, was made by the founding father of Indian Cinema, Dadasaheb Phalke, in 1927. Yet another silent version was made in 1929 by Sarpotdar. The first talkie version in Gujarati was made in the early 1930s, the Tamil version under review in 1936, a Telugu version in 1939 and a Hindi version in 1946.
Rukmini Kalyanam (1936) was produced and directed by the Phalke Award winner and noted Marathi filmmaker, Balji Phendarkar, the younger brother of the founding father of Marathi Cinema, Baburao Phendarkar. Known as the Phendarkar Brothers, their contribution to Marathi and Indian Cinema has been immense. Lord Krishna in this version was played by S. Rajam, the handsome musician, musicologist, music guru and painter. Son of a noted Mylapore lawyer Sundaram Iyer, Rajam was the first disciple of the legendary Carnatic music composer Papanasam Sivan. Stunningly handsome with a fine voice, he faced the movie camera as a teenager in Seetha Kalyanam (1933) which was produced in Kolhapur and directed by Baburao Phendarkar. It was a big hit, and his younger brother, seven-year-old Balachandar, also faced the camera as a kanjeera player in Ravana’s court. His sister Jayalakshmi played Seetha, while his lawyer father was Janaka.
Seetha Kalyanam was a success and in its train followed two more Kalyanams — one was Radha Kalyanam (1935) made by C. K. Sachi, one of the popular personalities in the world of arts in South India, and the other was Rukmini Kalyanam (1936). Rajam played Krishna in all three. M. S. Vijayal played Rukmini in Rukmini Kalyanam.
The others in the cast of Rukmini Kalyanam were well-known Carnatic musician Mathirimangalam Natesa Iyer, Sreemathi, Panchu Bhagavathar and Kamala. However, Rukmini Kalyanam did not meet with the same success as Seetha Kalyanam and after this, Rajam, by now married, had to give up acting on his wife’s persuasion!
However, he did face the camera once more in the 1940s in the M. K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar hit Sivakavi where he played Lord Muruga. Indeed he escorted his married sister Jayalakshmi to Coimbatore where the film was shot. Later he also composed the music for the dubbed version of V. Shantaram’s bilingual movie in Hindi and Tamil, Apna Desh. He also lent his voice to a song which attracted much attention.
Remembered for the appearance of Rajam as Lord Krishna, and the interesting on-screen narration of the epic story by director Balji Phendarkar.
Keywords: Rukmini Kalyanam movie