T.R. Rajayee (later T.R. Rajakumari), C.D. Kannabhiran, S.S. Kokko, M.S. Murugesam, M.R. Mahalakshmi, G. Gopal, Saradha, M.K. Meenatchi Bai
A new face — with stunning looks and a talent for acting and singing — entered the Tamil film world in 1938 without any fanfare. She was Thanjavur Ranganayaki Rajayee. She was trained in music by her grandmother, a well-known Carnatic singer in Thanjavur. Meanwhile, her family wanted to make her a film star. As a teenager, Rajayee travelled to Madras to meet her aunt SP.L. Dhanalakshmi who played the lead in a few films. When the aunt was shooting for Ellis R. Dungan’s Kavi Kalamegam (nagaswaram wizard T.N. Rajaratnam Pillai played the title role), Dungan spotted Rajayee. However, he could not take her in as all roles had already been filled. But, Rajayee stayed back in Madras.
Then came the opportunity in 1938 when she faced the camera for Kumara Kulothungan. Even though the film was completed in 1938-1939, there were no takers for the film and it was released only as her third film after the thumping success of Katcha Devayani (1941). The film, directed by Indian movie pioneer K. Subramanyam, was, in fact, her third, the second being the Italian cinematographer in Madras, D.S. Marconi’s Mandharavathi. Katcha Devayani made her a star overnight. In the initial press ads of Kumara Kulothungan, her name appeared as T.R. Rajayee, and when the film was released later, she was credited as T.R. Rajalakshmi. In Katcha Devayani, she was T.R. Rajakumari.
Under her screen name T.R. Rajakumari, she blossomed forth as a top heroine of Tamil cinema and was hailed as the ‘Dream Girl’ of Tamil movies. During the 1940s, she reigned supreme. Her films such as Katcha Devayani (1941), Manonmani (1942), Sivakavi (1943), Haridas (1944), and Chandralekha (1948) are etched in public memory. Especially S.S. Vasan’s colossal Chandralekha, which was screened around the world.
Her first film Kumara Kulothungan, a pseudo-historical, was produced by Deccan Cinetone in its own studio in Kilpauk off Harley’s Road. This studio was a thatch-and-tarpaulin affair and went out of existence soon after, leaving behind no trace, except of course fast-fading memories.
It was directed by R. Dwarakanath. Lyrics were by Nataraja Mudaliar while Mama Shinde handled the camera.
Sadly, not many details about the film are available today. The film did not fare well, and only created a footnote in the history of Tamil cinema as the debut of Rajakumari (The iconic Tamil writer Kalki once described her as ‘Kollum Vizhiyaal’ — one who could kill with her eyes!)
Kumara Kulothungan also featured old-timers such as C.D. Kannabhiran and S.S. Kokko. Kannabhiran, the hero, was popular on stage and on screen but today, he is totally forgotten. Kokko, well-known comedian, was an expert in gimmicks such as throwing a lighted cigarette and catching it with his mouth. His original name was Pasupuleti Sreenivasulu Naidu.
Remembered For Being the first film of T.R. Rajakumari, though it was released as the third movie.