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Updated: July 6, 2013 18:28 IST
blast from the past

Bhakthi (1938)

RANDOR GUY
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Bhakthi.
Bhakthi.

R. Nagendra Rao, M.V. Subbaiah Naidu, Lakshmi Bai, Kamala Bai, P.R. Mangalam, P.G. Venkatesan, M.S. Saroja, K.R. Saradambal, K. Hiranaiah, M.K. Gopala Ayyangar, M.S. Subbanna, H. Ramachandra Sastry, V. Krishnappa, N. Ramasami Pillai, K. Ramakrishna Rao and R. Anantharamaiah

Murugadasa (originally Muthuswami Iyer), K. Ramnoth and A.K. Sekhar were a formidable trio who created history in many ways in Tamil cinema. Murugadasa began his career as a film critic for a popular British-owned eveninger The Mail, and later promoted a monthly magazine Sound And Shadow, devoted to film and other arts. To help with the layout and designing, he took in Sekhar, an art director. An aspiring photographer from Trivandrum trying to break into films sent him an article on cinematography. Murugadasa took him in at once — it was K. Ramnoth! The trio, and especially Ramnoth-Sekhar, created during 1930s many memorable movies that were technically far advanced then. At a time when there was hardly any technical innovation, Ramnoth created magic on celluloid.

One such film was the popular mythological tale Bhakthi, which had an alternate title Ambharishan Charithiram. In this film, for the first time South Indian cinema, Ramnoth created a scene that stunned moviegoers — it showed paddy raining on parched, famine-stricken land ruled by King Ambarish. Audiences cheered wildly and many lit camphor as an offering to the gods. Some marvelled how the scene was shot!

Ramnoth shot the scene with miniatures. It was the first time miniature photography was used in Tamil cinema. The film was produced by M.T. Rajan, who began as an electrical contractor and rose to become distributor, theatre-owner, studio owner and, of course, producer. His company Vel Pictures’ studio was situated on Eldams Road in a palatial bungalow owned by the Maharaja of Pitapuram. Since the area behind the studio was mostly vacant or wooded, most of the outdoor sequences were shot there.

When the space was not enough, the studio shifted to Mount Road in Guindy where it functioned successfully for quite some years. Later, it was acquired by coffee magnate V.L. Narasu who named it Narasu Studios, where he produced movies in more many languages, including Hindi. The studio closed down due to losses and that site was taken over by soft drink makers Campa Cola.

Bhakthi was a successful play staged in Kannada by the famous Mysore-based Shri Sangeetha Sahitya Nataka Mandali, promoted by Kannada theatre and cinema icons R. Nagendra Rao and M.V. Subbaiah Naidu, and their life companions — leading actresses of the day Lakshmi Bai and her sister Kamala Bai. They were supported by the famed comedian Hiranaiah. As most of the members of the cast were Kannada artistes who acted in this film in Tamil, the producers cast some Tamil cinema artistes of the day — K.R. Saradambal, P.R. Mangalam, M.S. Saroja and singing star P.G. Venkatesan to prevent the impression that it was a dubbed film.

The film was directed by Murugadasa with Ramnoth handling the camera and Sekhar being the art director. Many are the legends associated with King Ambarisha, and this film dwells on the personal life of the king, his agnostic brother, their queens and meetings with the sage Durvasa, who was famed for his extreme temper.

When the sage asks the king whether penance or devotion is important, the king tells him it is devotion. At once the sage flies into a rage, and curses the king that his kingdom will suffer famine and the citizens will die of ravaging hunger. The king prays to Lord Vishnu who creates a torrential rain of paddy, much to the delight of the citizens. The film did quite well mainly because of the stunning sequence of the paddy rain and a lot of devotees apparently watched the film several times.

Remembered for The interesting but familiar storyline and amazing sequence of the paddy raining from the skies.

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