M.S. Damodara Rao, Sivanandam, M. Meenakshisundaram, K.R. Kanthimathi Bai, T.S. Jaya, Lakshminarayana Bhagavathar, ‘Dhaadi’ R.V.K. Mudaliar, N. Shanmugam, T.P. Maanoji Rao, P.S. Sivabhagyam, Jayalakshmi, K.R. Lakshmi, C.K. Sellvaambal, ‘Baby’ M.R. Mangalam
The story of Bhishma, whom some consider the best character in the epic The Mahabharatha, was made into a film around 10 times since the Silent Era. The first silent version was produced and directed in 1921 by the now forgotten Indian film pioneer R. Prakash (then known as R. Suryaprakash or R.S. Prakash). In 1922, two silent versions were made, and a few of the versions had the title Bhishma Pratigna (Bhishma’s Vow). Interestingly, the first talking picture version was made in Tamil in 1936 by Parshwanath Yeshwant Altekar. A sound engineer-turned-noted filmmaker of his era, he directed quite a few Tamil films, and this was one of them. This film too had two titles — Bhishma and Bhishma Pratignai. The songbook, however, carries the title Bhishma.
In 1937, the first Hindi version was made. A Bengali version was made in 1942. In Telugu, it was first made in 1944 by Chithrapu Narayanamurthi and produced by Raja Saheb of Mirzapuram with noted stage and screen actor Gowrinatha Sastri and Krishnaveni. It was made again in 1962. This version was directed by B.A. Subba Rao, with N.T. Rama Rao and Anjali Devi in the lead. Yet another Hindi version was made in 1950 as Bhishma Pratigna. It is clear that the story of ‘the Grand Old Man of Mahabharatham’, as an Indian filmmaker described him, has been extremely popular.
A few years ago, Bhishma became an icon and cult figure of the Indian mass media, thanks to the mega television serial Mahabharat, produced by the then leading Hindi filmmaker B.R. Chopra. Mukhesh Khanna, unknown earlier, played Bhishma, and became a household name. The success of this role, not surprisingly, took him to Hindi cinema. But, for some reason, he did not meet with the same success. This film narrated the familiar story of Shanthanu maharaja’s romance with the river goddess Ganga who drowns their seven daughters at birth. Their eighth child is Bhishma. To make his father happy and keep his promise to Ganga, Bhishma makes a vow that he will not marry.This film was produced by Salem Films. Popular actor of the day, Damodara Rao played Shanthanu maharaja; Kanthimathi Bai, a stage star played Ganga; and T.S. Jaya played Sathyavathi. Comic relief was provided by P.S. Sivabhagyam and K.R. Lakshmi.There were as many as 23 songs with some of them adapting popular Hindi film tunes of the day. One of the songs, rendered by fishermen, contained words such as ‘acchha’, ‘kushi’ and ‘besh besh’!No details are available about the music composer, lyricist and others, but friends of this writer have told him that Papanasam Sivan wrote the lyrics and composed the music. Songs were adapted from Tyagaraja compositions such as ‘Entha Nerchina…’ in raga Udhayaravichandrika. The film was produced in Calcutta at the East India Film Studios and the songbook proudly advertises that it is “the wonderful first Tamil talking picture of the producers!” The film was only a reasonable success at the box-office mainly because of the familiar story and songs.
Remembered For The familiar epic tale being made in Tamil, and the melodious music.