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Updated: October 12, 2013 16:08 IST
blast from the past

Vikrama Stri Sahasam (1937)

RANDOR GUY
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Vikrama Stri Sahasam
Special Arrangement Vikrama Stri Sahasam

T.K. Sundarappa, Puliyur Duraiswami Ayya, ‘Papa’ Lakshmikantham, T.K. Rukmini, Satchithanandam, M.K. Gopalan, T.R. Krishnaveni, ‘Master’ Srinivas, Lazar M.R. Subramanyam, Ramudu Iyer, P.D. Kumarasami Pillai and S. Kannammal

Ananthanarayanan Narayanan (1900-1939), one of the pioneers of Tamil cinema, was the first producer-director in south India to establish a studio in Madras city with sound recording equipment facilities. Before this, producers went to places such as Bombay, Poona, Calcutta and Kolhapur for recording. The studio — Srinivasa Cinetone — was named after his son and set up at Nadar Gardens in Kilpauk-Vepery area. Narayanan’s wife Meenakshi Narayanan, clad in a madisaar, worked in the studio as a sound recordist.

An enterprising man, he went to Hollywood working for the Ardeshir Irani of Imperial Films, Bombay, to distribute Anarkali. During his stay in the ‘Mecca of Movies’, he met many historic figures of Hollywood such as Douglas Fairbanks, his star-wife Mary Pickford, and Cecil B. DeMille.

This film was produced by Narayanan and directed by writer-director T.C. Vadivelu Naicker, a Tamil scholar who worked in a city college before he migrated to cinema. Today he is forgotten. Narayanan’s son plays a role in the film.

Sundarappa, a popular stage- and screen-actor played Vikramaditya, the legendary king whose stories are still popular. The film depicts the eternal clash between the sexes and the race to win praise for indomitable will and unflinching courage.

The film song book written and designed by Narayanan, part of which is in English, contains lines such as ‘Fair and free as a lily, and yet firm as a rock, that is a woman!’ and ‘Man in his shortsighted haughtiness suffers from superiority complex, and Vikramaditya was after all a man.’

The king finds that the resources of the kingdom come to nothing before the unflinching courage of a girl named Gangu. The king announces in public with drum beats that the king, a man, is all powerful. Gangu disagrees and smashes the royal drum! Vikramaditya is enraged, marries her and banishes her to a lonely palace he builds for her in the middle of the sea.

(One can see parallels between this story and the popular Mangamma Sapatham, a box-office bonanza in 1943 produced by S.S. Vasan for Gemini Studios directed by lawyer-turned-filmmaker T.G. Raghavachari who worked under the pseudonym Acharya. More interestingly, there are some parallels between these stories and Shakespeare’s play All’s Well That Ends Well)

One day, Vikramaditya saves two celestial women from the clutches of a demon and as gratitude, they take the king to Indraloka. Gangu prays to Kali and gets two boons — one is to find her way from her palace, and another is to be able to assume any form she wishes. Disguised, she travels with her husband to the court of Lord Indra. She changes into a celestial dancer Mohini and seduces Vikramaditya who marries her and promises her to make their son the king. She returns to her palace and soon begets a son. How she succeeds in making her son the king, and wins the challenge forms the rest of the story. Old-timers who remember this film told this writer a few years ago that the film did well because of the interesting storyline and the impressive manner in which Naicker directed the story.

The English song book was an innovation, printed as it was on art paper with many stills and a cover page having a cutout behind which the heroine’s picture is visible. Many trick sequences were contributed by T.V. Krishnappa, today totally unknown. No details about the lyric writer or the music composer is available today.

Remembered For The interesting storyline and skilful direction.

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