Cast: ‘Master' V. N. Sundaram, P. B. Rangachari, M. R. Santhanalakshmi, Dr. P.C. Seetharaman, C. S. Saradambal, J. Susheela Devi, M. R. Subramania Mudaliar, K. S. Subramania Iyer, S. Kalyanasundaram Iyer, D. Sundaram Iyer, ‘Master' Ramudu, Miss Rajam and P. Ramaiah Sastrigal

The folk myth of Chandrahasan, known in Sanskrit as “Chandrahasopakyanam”, has been popular story material with Indian filmmakers, right from the Silent Era dating back to the earliest decades of the 20th Century.

The first silent film version was made in 1921 by the noted filmmaker of that era, Kanjilal Rathod. Inspired by the success of the earlier version, Rathod remade it in 1928, again as a silent film. Dadasaheb Phalke made his version of the same epic as a silent film in 1929.

The first talking picture version of Chandrahasan was in Hindi made in 1933 by the leading filmmaker of his era, Sarvotham Badhami, for his unit Sagar Movietone. He made films in more than one language, including Tamil. The tale was made in Telugu by M. L. Rangaiah, like the others, in 1941. A Hindi version was again made in 1947. Noted south Indian cinematographer, producer, director and studio-owner B. S. Ranga made this story in two languages, Kannada and Telugu, in 1965. There was also a Malayalam version. There was another Hindi version in 1947. This Tamil version was made in 1936 by noted Bengali filmmaker Profulla Ghosh. He also directed the AVM production of Ratnavali during the mid-Thirties.

This film was shot in Calcutta at the Pioneer Studios, a popular venue of Tamil films then. The film had 40 songs composed in many ragas, mainly inspired by Hindustani Music.

The familiar tale was all about Chandrahasan, a young boy (Master Muthu) who had the charisma and the potential to become a king, and an evil-minded minister (Rangachari) who plans to kill the boy, hiring assassins. However, the boy escapes and grows into an attractive teenager (Sundaram). Coming to know that the enemy is still alive, the minister plans to eliminate him by sending a message to the king through him to kill Chandrahasan with poison (‘Visham' meaning ‘poison' in Sanskrit). While Chandrahasan sleeps in the woods, a lovely princess named Vishaya (Saradambal) notices him and falls in love with him. Besides, she reads the letter and cleverly changes the word ‘Visham' to ‘Vishaya'! The king gets the two married.

However, complications arise, with another princess (Santhanalakshmi) wishing to marry him. As it often happens in epic tales, the hero marries her too and lives happily with two wives thereafter.

The title role was played by the handsome Carnatic musician V. N. Sundaram. Hailing from Visalur in Thanjavur District, then the seat of music, dance and other cultural forms, he learnt music as a boy. However family circumstances compelled him to opt for theatre and he joined a Boys' Drama Company, and played lead roles. Making a mark with his handsome looks, excellent voice and singing skills, he entered Tamil Cinema in 1935 with Markandeya. Then followed films such as Chandrahasan, Kannappa Nayanar, Manmalai (a short film of a package known as Abboothi Adigal) and Dhana Amaravathi.

Sadly, his acting career did not progress and with opportunities becoming rarer, he had no option but to lend his voice to artistes — playback singing. Somewhat surprisingly, two songs he sang for the brilliant character actor T. S. Balaiah in Manamagal, an N. S. Krishnan movie with music by noted composer C. R. Subburaman, won everlasting fame — the song by Subramania Bharati ‘Chinnan chiru kiliyey', he sang with M. L. Vasanthakumari, is still a favourite with many. Another song that won him fame, though he did not like it much, was again a duet with J. P. Chandra Babu in Bhim Singh's Pathi Bhakthi. A mix of Carnatic Music and Rock ‘n' Roll, the song ‘Rock and roll… shake... and shake…!', became a hit and continues to be popular. Sadly, Sundaram did not receive the recognition he deserved and had a tough time in his later days. He passed away a couple of years ago.

Chandrahasan was only a reasonable success.

Remembered for the music and the 40 songs, many of which were rendered by Sundaram.

Keywords: Tamil cinema