BLAST FROM THE PAST Chittoor V. Nagaiah, M. V. Rajamma, T. E. Varadan, P. K. Saraswathi, P. S. Veerappa, T. K. Bhagavathi, M. S. Draupathi, T. R. Rajani, S. M. Kumaresan, ‘Pulimoottai’ Ramasami, M. R. Swaminathan, E. R. Sahadevan, Sayeeram, T. K. Sampangi, Kunchithapaadham Pillai, V. T. Kalyanam, T. V. Sethuraman, ‘Appa’ K . Duraiswami, M. Lakshmiprabha, C. K. Saraswathi, K. S. Angamuthu, K. Aranganayaki, N. R. Sakunthala, G. Saroja, ‘Baby’ Lakshmi Kumari, Kamala (folk dance), Lalitha-Padmini (Bharatanatyam), Dara Singh-Ali Riza Bey (wrestling) and Wong Buck Lee (referee).
During the 1940s and up to the early 1950s, many Sri Lankan producers made their movies in Madras, Madurai, Salem and other places. Indeed, the first Sinhala movie, Kadavunu Porundova (Broken Promises), was made in 1947 in south India by S. M. Nayagam, one of the pioneers of Sri Lankan Cinema.
The main persons who acted in it were the Jayamanne Brothers and Rukmini Devi. Nayagam had his own studio Chitrakala Movietone near Madurai. (The studio has vanished and only the ornamental front entrance exists with the name ‘Muthuramalinga Thevar’ written on it!)
One such producer MHM Moonas was in Madras for some time and he made the film Ulagam in Tamil and Telugu. Moonas was a very wealthy man. The story was written by Mrs. C. P. Moonas, while Moonas wrote the dialogue and lyrics. It had a star-studded cast; practically everybody active then (in the early 1950s) played a role in it! Moonas included several entertaining features in the film such as different kinds of dances and wrestling bouts which were then popular in Madras City.
The film was shot at the now extinct Star Combines Studios situated where the Kodambakkam Bus Terminus functions today. This was the first studio to be established in Kodambakkam. Noted editor of the day L. S. Ramachandran directed the movie, while Moonas took credit for ‘Supervision.’
The story is about a poor man and his wife who become wealthy. They have two sons whose lives run on different lines and complications follow their marriages. The story has many twists and turns, but it all ends happily before the final fadeout!
Nagaiah, Rajamma, Varadan, Saraswathi, Draupathi and Bhagavathi played major roles in the movie. There were also two dances by Kumari Kamala and Lalitha-Padmini and a group dance by too many to be listed here!
The music was composed by M. S. Gnanamani. The playback singers included P. A. Periyanayaki, MLV, Tiruchi Loganathan, A. M. Raja, Jikki and N. L. Ganasaraswathi. The latter day iconic south Indian film music composer K. V. Mahadevan also sang off screen and his name appears in the list of so many off-screen singers. His great days were just round the corner.
Interestingly, the producer offered prize money to the tune of Rs.1 lakh, a fortune then. The first prize was Rs. 25,000 and there were also bonus prizes for those sending in the maximum number of entries! One had to buy a ticket and enclose it with answers to questions such as naming the character that touched their heart, that which elicited maximum sympathy and rating the hit songs!
Despite the star cast, attractive prizes and more, Ulagam did not do well in both languages. The hype created by the publicity blitz did not help the movie either.
Remembered for the stunning star cast, prize schemes and the avalanche of publicity released by Moonas which old-timers will never forget!