Kannan, Leela, R. Balasubramaniam, K.S. Angamuthu, T.S. Durairaj, N.S. Krishnan and T.A. Mathuram
One of the much-hyped films of the late 1940s, Devadasi was produced by Sukumar Pictures. It was directed by Hollywood-trained filmmaker Manik Lal Tandon who studied film technique at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles along with Ellis R. Dungan whom he brought to India. Written by B.S. Ramaiah, the screen story was inspired by the famous French writer Anatole France’s Thais, which was made into a memorable opera. It was written in Bengali as a novel and filmed by Kidar Sharma in 1941 as Chitralekha and remade by him in the 1960s with Meena Kumari in the title role.
This film was shot at Neptune Studios (now MGR-Janaki College for Women, Adyar). Leela and Kannan who played the lead are hardly remembered now. They were supported by R. Balasubramaniam, K.S. Angamuthu and T.S. Durairaj. The film was in production for nearly three years (for many reasons), and the producers and the director had the impression that the public might not accept the film as it was made.
In sheer despair, they brought on board the inimitable iconic comedy pair N.S. Krishnan and T.A. Mathuram who created a separate comedy track. NSK played a Carnatic musician and performed in style, including singing swarams while Mathuram performed a Bharathanatyam sequence; both won much appreciation from moviegoers. In those days, when any Tamil film was not sold or lacked quality, the producers at once brought on board this pair.
Devadasi narrated the story of an economically weak girl begging on the streets and picked up by a smart devadasi woman (Angamuthu). She changes the girl’s name to Devakunjari (Leela) and trains her in Bharathanatyam and other dance forms. Many wealthy people fall for the charms of the dancer, but the greedy foster mother looks for the big fish — such as the king himself, who falls for her.
However, the dancer falls in love with his friend, which complicates matters. The king tries to kidnap and force her to yield to him, but she is saved by the lover. Soon the king takes to spirituality and so does the lover, who marries the dancer. However, both are unable to forget the dancer, and wage a battle of minds. Their spiritual guru (Balasubramaniam) tries to change their minds, but not with much success. Finally, the dancer, by now deeply religious, surrenders herself to the Lord and vanishes from their midst. Udumalai Narayana Kavi and Papanasam Rajagopala Iyer wrote the lyrics. Most of the songs picturised on the hero were sung by Sundari Thambi. In spite of the high expectation, the film did not fare well at the box-office and only the comedy track became popular.
Remembered for: The comedy of NSK-Mathuram and the performance of R. Balasubramaniam.