In 1944, Thyagaraja Bhagavathar released a colour ad in The Hindu on Pongal Day on the front page. It showed him seated on a white horse and the rest of the space was filled with stars inside which were the names of his movies under production. Regretfully, except Haridas, nothing else saw the light of a projector because of his arrest and sentence for his alleged involvement in the sensational Lakshmikantham Murder Case.
One of the films announced but not made with Bhagavathar was Valmiki. Editor-director Sundar Rao Nadkarni began shooting with Bhagavathar. Interestingly, the legendary star took many on the set by surprise when he conversed with the director in English! Many were not aware that Bhagavathar who had little schooling learnt to talk English to brighten his glowing image. The first shot of Valmiki had also a touch of dramatic irony, there was a dialogue which went like this, “Death sentence for the prisoner!” Of course, nobody realised then what lay in store for poor Bhagavathar.
After Bhagavathar's shocking arrest, Honnappa Bhagavathar substituted him as Valmiki, the sinner-turned-sage who, according to legend, wrote the Ramayana. A hunter known for his notorious ways, he falls in love with a princess (Jeevaratnam). She is, however, kidnapped by the villain (Balaiah). Soon, he falls in love with a young woman (Rajakumari) who saves him from drowning.
Valmiki was an excellent musical with many hit songs sung by Vasanthakokilam playing Sage Narada. The music was by Papanasam Sivan and her hit songs included ‘Sundarananda mukunda…', ‘Poi thavazhum maaya Bhoomi', (a ragamalika with Kambodhi, Simendramadhyamam), ‘Bhagawan avadharipaar' (Karaharapriya) and ‘Bhuvimeedhu…' (a ragamalika of Sankarabharnam, Naattai, Naata kurinji, Madhyamavathi, Mohanam, Kambodhi, Kalyani, Kedharagowla, Sahaana and Surutti) The last mentioned number narrated the Ramayana in song by sage Narada.
Vasanthakokilam was one of the trinity of vidushis of Carnatic music of her day, the other two being MS and D. K. Pattammal. Sadly she was relegated to the background.
Honnappa Bhagavathar who became a star after Bhagavathar's temporary exit played the lead role in many Tamil movies and later in Kannada. He played the bandit-turned-sage and created a good impression, especially in the action sequences when he escapes from capture.
He too sang some songs , and duets with Jeevaratnam but those paled into insignificance with the musical extravaganza of Vasanthakokilam.
T. S. Balaiah as the villain attracted much attention and one catchline spoken by him whenever he loses a battle, “Veerasimhaaa padaraadhey…”, became very famous and was used by commoners, especially in small towns and villages.
Rajakumari's romantic sequences with Honnappa Bhagavathar were much talked about in those days. She was then at the height of her fame, but little did she know that greater name and fame awaited her just two years away in the Gemini Studios-S.S. Vasan magnum opus, Chandralekha (1948).
Valmiki was only a reasonable success and was a Central Studios, Coimbatore production.
Remembered for: the soul stirring music and songs by Vasanthakokilam, the intimate sequences featuring Honnappa Bhagavathar and Rajakumari.