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Updated: December 7, 2013 16:57 IST
blast from the past

Ponni (1953)

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Ponni
Special Arrangement Ponni

Padmini, Sriram, Lalitha, D. Balasubramaniam, T.S. Durairaj, P. Shanthakumari, M.R. Swaminathan, M.L.N. Kaushik, V.M. Ezhumalai, N.S. Narayana Pillai, T.P. Ponnusami Pillai, P.S. Gnanam, K.S. Kannaiah, C.K. Nataraj, Ponnaiah, Pachhainayaki, ‘Baby’ Asha, C.R. Chandrakumari, and (dances) Ragini, Ambika and Sukumari

S.M. Sriramulu Naidu was one of the movie moguls of South Indian cinema who made several movies in more than one language, with many hits to his credit. His most successful film was the MGR-starrer Malaikkallan, which was made in six languages, including Sinhala. It was a hit in all the languages, with the Hindi version being a money-spinning bonanza. It featured the icons of Indian cinema Dilip Kumar and Meena Kumari in the lead. (A friend of this writer, Naidu told him years later that he had planned to make it in English too, but friends advised him against the venture!) One of his less successful films Ponni was initially directed by noted Indian filmmaker A.S.A. Sami. He began as a lecturer in Colombo (Sri Lanka) where he wrote and staged plays. Soon he migrated to his hometown Palayamkottai and made his way to movies with Jupiter Pictures, in Coimbatore. In a brilliant career, he made 27 movies with memorable ones such as the cult film Velaikkaari and Rajakumari.

Ponni was based on Sami’s screen story, with dialogue by Sami, star Tamil screenwriter Elangovan and Balasubramaniam. The lyrics were by Udumalai Narayana Kavi, Thanjai Ramaiah Das and Balasubramaniam. Music was composed by S.M. Subbaiah Naidu (no relation to the producer, though many have gone on record that they were brothers!)

For some reason, Sami opted out of the project midway, and C. Srinivasa Rao, (son of celebrated filmmaker C. Pullaiah) took over. The film was shot at Pakshiraja Studios in Coimbatore. K.S. Narayana Ayyangar originally promoted Pakshiraja Films and his nephew W.P. Sarathi joined his production company. Naidu soon took over the company and the studio, and blossomed.

The story is about a less privileged woman (Shanthakumari) left with two daughters. She loses one girl (‘Baby’ Chandrakumari, later Padmini) who is found by a wealthy man (Balasubramaniam). He changes her name to Kanmani and brings her up in luxury. She becomes proud. The struggling mother sends the other girl Ponni (‘Baby’ Asha, later Lalitha) to work in Kanmani’s house. Kanmani ill treats her and once pushes her down the staircase, which injures Ponni badly, and she lands in hospital. The rich man has an adopted son Sundaram (Kaushik). His brother, a never-do-well (Sriram), misbehaves with both Ponni and Kanmani. In the process, Ponni tries to save her sister, and lands in prison, accused of murder! However, the truth comes out and they all live happily thereafter…

A dance drama, Bhama Vijayam, the popular story of Lord Krishna, Sathyabhama and Rukmini was added to the film. It featured Ragini and her cousins Ambika and Sukumari, with dances composed by noted choreographer Hiralal. P.A. Periyanayaki, Jayalakshmi, Radha, A.P. Komala, Mariappa, Tiruchi Loganathan and C.S. Jayaraman lent their voices to the songs.

Kaushik (real name, M.L. Narasimha Sastri) was a handsome Telugu actor who acted in a few Tamil films. Sadly, he passed away at a young age due to typhoid…

An additional attraction in the film was the real-life wrestling sequence between King Kong and Dara Singh. Such fights were a major attraction in Madras those days and they were performed in Park Town near Central Station.

Ponni was only an average-success.

Remembered For The impressive performances of Lalitha, Padmini, Shanthakumari, and the dance drama Bhama Vijayam.

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