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Updated: January 13, 2014 17:07 IST

Chandrahari (1941)

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N.S. Krishnan, T.A. Mathuram, L. Narayana Rao, Radhakrishnan, C.P. Kittan, ‘Alwar’ Kuppusami, M. Thiruvenkadam, Kamalam Narasimhachari, Sankaramurthi Velupillai, Lakshminarayanan, Babuji Lalitha (dancing girl)

(Part 2)

Pammal Sambandam Mudaliar was one of the two founding fathers of modern Tamil theatre, the other one being Sankaradas Swamigal. Mudaliar promoted the famous and history-making Suguna Vilas Sabha (SVS), an amateur dramatic association, even while he was a student of the famous Presidency College, Madras. SVS was an association consisting of no women, and the members were all from the upper crust of society — Sir. C.P. Ramaswamy Aiyar; legendary lawyer and High Court judge V.V. Srinivasa Iyengar; Congress leader and ace parliamentarian S. Satyamurthi; noted statesman R.K. Shanmukham Chetty; top lawyer, dramatist and satirist V.C. Gopalratnam; top lawyer T.G. Raghavachari (later Acharya, famed filmmaker); and several others. Mudaliar was blessed with a delightful puckish sense of humour and sarcasm and was a master of the art of the spoof. Even his chats with his friends were full of wit, puns, and sarcasm. He created many short plays of humour (known as farces), enacted by SVS. One of the big hits was the one with two characters, both being duffers — one the master and the other the servant. It was later made into the hit movie Sabapathi by the sadly neglected writer-director-producer A.T. Krishnaswamy and A.V. Meiyappan with comedians T.R. Ramachandran and Kali N. Ratnam. Mudaliar, with his knowledge of English and Tamil literature, wrote several plays, adapting the famed works of Shakespeare, such as Romeo And Juliet, Merchant Of Venice (Vanipurathu Vanigan) etc. He played the lead in most of his plays, and acted in a couple of movies such as the first version of Manohara, in which he played the king and father of the hero.

One of his plays was Chandrahari, in which he spoofed the character of Harishchandra, who never told a lie even under gravest provocation. Mudaliar created an antithesis of the character called Chandrahari, a king who never spoke a truth even by mistake. His wife Chandramathi became Mathichandra; sage Vishwamitra became Mitravishu; and Lohidasa, the king’s young son became Dasalohi. Only Yama, the Lord of Death, retained his original name.

This play was made into a film by N.S. Krishnan under his Asoka Films banner and shot at Central Studios, Coimbatore, and bankrolled by S.M. Sriramulu Naidu. As it was not a full length movie, NSK Chandrahari as a two-in-one package along with Ezhandha Kaadhal .

The story was all about sage Sistavasi having a challenge with Yama that he will make Chandrahari speak truth at least once and leaves for Bhooloka. He meets king Chandrahari and tells him that he has 9,000 gold coins and asks the king to give him 1,000 coins to make it 10,000. Chandrahari at once tells him that he does not have even a copper coin. The sage gives the king his 9,000 coins as loan and walks away. One day when the king goes sightseeing around his kingdom, he meets two good-looking women in a hut and misbehaves with them. Hearing about the incident, the sage takes the two women to the king and compels him to marry them. The king abdicates his kingdom, giving it to the sage and walks away with his wife and child. Needing money, the king sells his wife, and more complications arise. In the end the king wins the challenge, and the sage restores everything to normal.

The film was directed by K.S. Mani and edited by Surya. Cinematography was by E.R. Cooper. NSK and Mathuram played the king and his wife, while Kuppusami played the sage and ‘Kaka’ Radhakrishnan played the son. Other roles were played by the members of the NSK Nataka Sabha. Narayana Rao, famed comedian and character actor, played a supporting role as the tenacious money collector Easa Natchatra! However, the film did not do well mainly because the audience of the day were not in favour of an epic character such as King Harishchandra being spoofed.

Remembered For The humorous dialogue with satire and the performances of NSK and Mathuram as the lead pair.

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