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Updated: August 31, 2013 20:00 IST
BLAST FROM THE PAST

Mani Malai (1941)

RANDOR GUY
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Mani Malai
Mani Malai

Ashaadabuthi — P.B. Rangachari, T.N. Vasudevan Pillai, T.V. Sethuraman, K.S. Adhilakshmi, T.S. Jaya Pankajammal Minor-in Kaathal — T.S. Durairaj, M.R. Swaminathan, T.V. Sethuraman, N. Venkataraman Babu, K.S. Adhilakshmi, P.R. Mangalam, K.V. Shanthabai; Abbuthi Adigal — P.B. Rangachari, P.G. Venkatesan, V.N. Sundaram, ‘Master’ Sivam, T.N. Meenakshi, V.N. Janaki-Krishnabai (dances); Naveena Markandeyar — Kali N. Ratnam, T.R. Ramachandran, K. Hiranaiah, M.R. Subramaniam, Ratnappa, T.V. Annapoorani

During the late 1930s and early 1940s, there was a trend in Tamil cinema — making short comedies, grouping them together and screening them under a common title. The most successful of them was a five-in-one movie with an odd title for a comedy — Sirikkaadhey (Don’t Laugh) made in 1939! Made with a different cast for each film and directed by different persons, it was distributed by S.S. Vasan. Vasan came out with an inventive publicity campaign using cartoons by the celebrated cartoonist Mali (T.R. Mahalingam, but no relation of the famed singing Tamil film star) who worked for the popular weekly Ananda Vikatan, owned by Vasan. It was a success and inspired many filmmakers to come out with such packages. N.S. Krishnan had his own company called Asoka Pictures (based in Coimbatore), backed by South Indian movie mogul S.M. Sriramulu Naidu. Some of their films were successful. Mani Malai was one such attempt, and this was a four-in-one comedy with different cast and directors for each film.

Ashaadabuthi

This film was directed by the then noted filmmaker and now forgotten Fram Sethna, who made many Tamil films. This film deals with untouchability in a lighter vein, about a bhagavathar (P.B. Rangachari) misbehaving with a domestic help (Jaya). She visits him with her husband. Scared, and with his wife at home adding to it, the man apologises for his conduct. K.S. Adhilakshmi as the bhagavathar’s wife and comedy actors T.V. Sethuraman as his disciple and M.R. Subramaniam as the village headman offered good support.

Minor-in Kaathal

Comedy actor T.S. Durairaj, who also produced films and had success as race-horse-owner at the Guindy Races, played the ‘minor’ in this film (In those days, a ‘minor’ was usually a young man with a loads of inherited money with which he led a care-free life). He refuses to marry the woman suggested by his mother, and joins a mutt to learn how to impress women. Here he falls in love with a married washerwoman (Adhilakshmi). Complications arise when the husband comes to know of it and takes his wife away. What happens to the ‘minor’ and how he learns his lessons forms the rest of the film. M.R. Swaminathan played the husband and Sethuraman contributed to the fun with his wisecracks.

Abbuthi Adigal

This film is not a comedy, but a tale of godly devotion dealt with humour. Stage and screen actor P.B. Rangachari plays Adigal, a devotee of saint-poet Appar. When Appar comes to lunch at Adigalar’s house, his young son is sent to the back yard to fetch a banana leaf. He is bitten by a poisonous snake and dies. Adigal and his wife (Meenakshi) hide the son’s body and get ready to serve Appar. Swami hides the body and asks them where their son is.

The truth comes out, and Appar, with divine help, brings the boy back to life. Singer-actor V.N. Sundaram plays the saint-poet. Interestingly, V.N. Janaki, wife of MGR (also Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu for a brief while) does a dance sequence along with the now-forgotten dancer Krishna Bai.

Naveena Markandeyar

This is a spoof on the familiar tale of Markandeya who is blessed with eternal youth. Kali N. Ratnam plays Lord Yama while T.R. Ramachandran is Markandeya. Kannada stage and screen actor K. Hiranaiah is Chitragupta, Yama’s record-keeper. The film was directed by A.T. Krishnaswamy (ATK).

The film had a few songs, but no details are available about the lyricist and composers.

According to ATK, Mani Malai did fairly well at the box-office, thanks to the presence of top comedy actors of that era. The film was shot at Vel Pictures Studio at Guindy.

Remembered For The comedy of yesteryear stars.

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