Nott Annaji Rao, M. D. Parthasarathy, Leela, V. S. Mani, Pramila, Rajamani, Ratnambal, Narayana Ayyangar

In 1938, 37 Tamil films were produced, a mixed bag of mythological, folklore, comedy and “socials.” One of the films which created political ripples in the princely state of Travancore, now part of Kerala, was Raja Drohi or Dharmapuri Rahasiyam. It also had a title in English, Traitor.

A Tamil Nadu Talkies production and the brainchild of its producer-director S. Soundararajan, Raja Drohi was based on the life and times of the then Dewan of Travancore, Sir C. P. Ramaswamy Aiyer, whose methods of ruling the state made him unpopular.

Sir Chettupet Pattabhirama Ramaswamy Iyer, to give his full name, was one of the brilliant sons of India. Amazingly versatile, Sir C. P., as he was known, had been a successful lawyer, silver-tongued orator, writer, master statesman, strategist and a fascinating personality.

An associate of Pandit Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi and others in the early years of his career, he soon parted company and became an ally of the British, and advisor to the rajahs and maharajas of India. He held high positions and became the Dewan of Travancore. Indeed, he was the de facto ruler of the princely state, and under his rule, Travancore advanced far ahead of the other parts of the country in many fields like education, industry and power. Sir C. P. loved living life in style which gave rise to many scandals. The actions of the Dewan, the good, the bad and the ugly, were being watched with interest everywhere; the dramatic appeal in the goings-on fascinated a shrewd filmmaker like S. Soundararajan who went ahead and made Dharmapuri Rahasiyam (Raja Drohi).

Nott Annaji Rao, a tall slim hero played the Dewan and his get-up and make-up clearly showed whom he was portraying! Leela, a pretty woman, played an important role. Wide publicity given to the film kindled audience interest. Handbills with the English title Traitor in large print were thrown from moving buses in border areas such as Kanyakumari, Tirunelveli and other places. Even to towns like Nagercoil, then part of the princely state, such handbills were secretly transported and distributed.

The film was released in a “tent” cinema, at a place called Valliyur. The tent was situated safely inside British India, away from the jurisdiction of the Maharaja of Travancore. Sir C. P. was believed to have driven (in disguise!) to Valliyur and seen Raja Drohi. At once, he banned the movie in Travancore.

Not surprisingly, the ban order catapulted public interest and Travancoreans flocked to Valliyur to watch the film which ran for over seven weeks in that obscure “tent” cinema! In border districts like Tirunelveli, the film was a major success, running for over 15 weeks in some centres. It was printed in sepia and announced as ‘Trucolor’!

Regretfully, nothing of this film remains today.

Remembered for the controversial content of the film.

Keywords: Tamil cinema