P. U. Chinnappa, T. S. Santhanam, T. V. Kumudhini, A. K. Rajalakshmi, Kali N. Ratnam, T. R. B. Rao and P. Saradambal
1939... the Freedom Movement in the country had gained momentum involving millions of patriotic Indians. Hanumappa Reddy Muniappa Reddy, better known as H. M. Reddy, hailed as ‘the Grand Old Man of South Indian Cinema,' made Mathru Bhoomi, a film focussing on the Freedom Movement, during that tumultuous year. It was the era of British Rule and to escape censorship, he set the story in a different age and locale — in the period after the invasion of North West India by Alexander the Great.
The film, an adaptation of a controversial Bengali play ‘Chandragupta' (1911) by Dwijendralal Roy, was an allegory for the Freedom Movement. Minander (Singh) is left in charge by Alexander and Ugrasena (Santhanam), founder of the Maurya dynasty, opposes him. Seleucus Nikator's daughter Helen (Rajalakshmi) falls in love and marries the king Chandragupta. Kumudhini (T. V. Kumudhini), the patriotic heroine dumps her husband Jayapala, a courtier (Santhanam, again), when she learns he is a Greek spy. Her brother Prathapan (Chinnappa, the later day star in an early supporting role) backs her. Ugrasena wins the battle and founds the Maurya dynasty……
Rajalakshmi, an attractive young woman, played Helen but sadly her career did not take off and after a few films she retired from movies.
Reddy wanting to cast new faces travelled to Madurai, where he interviewed many young women to play Kumudhini. He chose a lady with singing talent and named her after the role — thus ‘T.V. Kumudhini', the noted singing actor of yesteryear, entered the scene. She acted with M.K.T. Bhagavathar in Ashok Kumar (1941) and Chaya. Later she played maternal and character roles in many movies.
Though the film had the Greek story as the background, there were many songs rendered by Kumudhini highlighting the Indian Freedom Movement — ‘Namadhu Janmabhoomi….namadhu Janmabhoomi…' and ‘Annayin kaalil vilangugalo….muppadhu koti makkalai eenra Bharatha Thayin kaalil vilangugalo….' to name a few. The music and the lyrics were by Papanasam Sivan. Kumudhini attracted much attention with her performance and singing.
The battle scenes were shot at the Gingee Fort and Krishnagiri, making the expenses run to Rs. 2 lakh, which was big money then. There were strong rumours that the movie might be banned and Mounted Police kept constant vigil at Broadway cinema, Madras, where it was released. (Kumudhini told this writer years later that the release became possible, thanks to the efforts of the Indian Congress leader, brilliant orator and parliamentarian S. Sathyamurthi who was then the Mayor of Madras.) There was a brief ban on the film which was later lifted.
‘Namadhu Janmabhoomi' became a huge hit and in later years was sung as a prayer song in many schools. The film was shot at Vel Pictures Studio, Guindy. D. V. Chari who wrote the dialogue and worked in the directorial department was a popular screenwriter associated with many of the films of T. R. Sundaram and Modern Theaters.
Remembered for the story, Sivan's inspiring music and the songs rendered by Kumudhini.