Sivaji Ganesan ( Double Role), Padmini, M.N. Nambiar, Pasupuleti Kannamba, Ragini, O.A.K Thevar, K.A. Thangavelu, ‘Stunt’ Somu, Venkatachalam Pillai, M.S.S. Bhagyam, ‘Gemini’ Chellam, M.K. Radha.

The above named movie was the second version of the story in Tamil. The first was produced by T.R. Sundaram of Modern Theatres during the early 1940s in which the top star of that day P.U. Chinnappa played the twins, the first double role in Tamil Cinema. In 1958 came this version with Sivaji Ganesan playing the twins which was excellently directed by noted Indian filmmaker T. Prakash Rao. The film was produced by S. Krishnamurthi, popularly known as ‘Venus’ Krishnamurthi, T. Govindarajan, also known as ‘Venus’ Govindarajan, and noted Indian writer, director and producer Sridhar. The story of the twins goes back more than a couple of centuries in France. In French history, there was a mysterious prisoner who was jailed for long terms with his face masked so that his identity was kept hidden. No one really knows who he was though there have been many guesses. One of them was by the legendary French philosopher and writer Voltaire who wrote that the man in the iron mask was an illegitimate brother of the famous French emperor Louis XIV who kept the look-alike brother in the iron mask so that he would not cause problems for him and France.

This suggestion made by Voltaire was picked up by French fiction writer Alexandre Dumas, master of several French novels such as The Corsican Brothers, The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. Dumas wrote a sequel to his novel The Three Musketeers titled The Vicomte de Bragelonne which was so long that it was published in three parts, the second being Louise de la Valliere, and the third was The Man In The Iron Mask.

The story of the masked man became extremely popular and many films were made with this character in many languages — the first was in Italian in 1909 as a silent film. In 1939 came the first talking version The Man In The Iron Mask starring the popular stars of the day, Louis Hayward and Joan Bennett, and was directed by noted filmmaker James Whale. The talkie was a big hit. There was even a movie, The Lady In The Iron Mask, in 1952 in colour. There were movies made for television not only in the US but also in the U.K. and in 1979 there was another movie titled The Fifth Musketeer featuring Ursula Andress, Cornel Wilde and others. In 1998 came another version with Leonardo DiCaprio, John Malkovich and others. In the 1958 Tamil version, Sivaji Ganesan played the twins while the evil uncle was enacted by M.N. Nambiar and the mother was Kannamba who has no knowledge that she gave birth to twins both of them living, and yet been informed that one was born dead! A faithful servant (Stunt Somu) saves the other twin and brings him up in the woods. Rebelling against the playboy king (Sivaji Ganesan again), the twin reaches the capital and finally is captured by his enemies in the palace. He is thrown in prison with an iron mask covering his face. His friend (Thangavelu) and his sweetheart (Ragini), who is the companion to the minister’s daughter (Padmini), succeed in getting the key to the mask and set him free. After many interesting twists and turns, the playboy king is exposed, and the good twin wins the support of the people and is crowned the king.

The film was excellently scripted by Sridhar. The dialogue was in keeping with the theme of the film and the period of the story, with alliterations and cascading expressions which were beautifully delivered by Sivaji Ganesan. Somewhat surprisingly, the playboy twin’s role became very popular because of Sivaji Ganesan’s performance and his striking body language.

The film was excellently directed by Indian movie maestro Prakash Rao with excellent cinematography by Aloysius Vincent who was part of Sridhar’s film unit.

Another plus point was the melodious music composed by G. Ramanathan with many lyricists contributing to the songs. For the first time in Tamil Cinema, rock ‘n’ roll dance was introduced by Ramanathan for which the famed dancer from Bombay, Helen, was brought to Madras. The song and dance sequence, ‘Yaaradi Nee Mohini,’ with Helen, Rita and ‘Gemini’ Chandra became a hit and is still popular after half a century.

Uthama Puthran was a mega box office hit running for 100 days and more in several cinemas in this part of the country and still attracts attention whenever it is telecast. It was a major triumph for Sridhar, Sivaji Ganesan, G. Ramanathan and, of course, Prakash Rao. Fine performances by Nambiar, Kannamba, Padmini, Ragini and Thangavelu also contributed to the success of the film. Many songs such as ‘Mullaimalar Meley’ Kaathiruppan Kamala Kannan’ and ‘Pullivaikkiran’ became hits.

Remembered for the excellent screenplay, fine dialogue, music, Sivaji Ganesan’s superb performance and Prakash Rao’s impressive direction.