Gemini Ganesh, Padmini, Vyjayanthimala, T. K. Shanmugham, P. S. Veerappa, Pasupuleti Kannamba, K. A. Thangavelu and M. S. Sundari Bai
The Indian movie mogul, S. S. Vasan, launched yet another major production, Vanjikottai Vaaliban. This movie was a cloak and dagger Ruritanian adventure and turned out be an excellent mix in the true Gemini mould and a box-office hit. The traditional ingredients of a Gemini Studios' movie were all present in liberal doses — expensive sets, exquisitely choreographed dances, melodious music, fast-paced onscreen narration and pleasing visuals.
Vanjikottai Vaaliban was a well-woven drama of love and lust, sacrifice and revenge, patriotism and adventure. As usual, the story was the creation of the Gemini Studios story department which for this film consisted of Kothamangalam Subbu, Ki. Ra., C. Srinivasan and K. J. Mahadevan. ‘KJ' with his wide knowledge of Western literature, cinema and culture wrote the screenplay, which was more than partly responsible for the success of the film.
C. Srinivasan worked for Gemini Studios for some years and later directed the Gemini film, Vazhkai Padagu (1965). He underwent training for a short period in Hollywood and came to be known as ‘Hollywood' Srinivasan!
The icon of Hindi film music, C. Ramchandra, scored several hits in this film. Kothamangalam Subbu wrote the lyrics and the dialogue. M. A. Parthasarathy worked as the executive producer, while the veteran A. K. Sekhar was the associate producer. P. Ellappa who was on the rolls of the studio for many a year was the cinematographer with another veteran C. E. Biggs in charge of sound recording. Being a period film, art direction played a major role requiring elaborate sets, properties and period costumes which were in the able hands of Sekhar.
N. R. Krishnaswamy, a veteran of film editing who later edited the movies of trendsetter and star-maker K. Balachander under the name ‘N. R. Kittu' was the editor.
Vasan produced and directed Vanjikottai Vaaliban. The movie had an impressive cast with Gemini Ganesh playing the lead, and Vyjayanthimala and Padmini, the heroines. Kannamba, Shanmugham, Veerappa, Sundari Bai and Thangavelu were the supporting artistes.
The opening sequence of a ship getting caught in a storm and capsizing is an excellent example of onscreen presentation of a scene of distress rarely seen in South Indian films of that period. Vasan, who had a penchant for editing, reportedly spent days editing this single sequence, and the result not surprisingly is remarkable. Usually in a Gemini Studios' production, scenes of confusion, conflict and unrest were always picturised excellently and this is one such sequence.
Expectedly, C. Ramchandra's music proved a major plus point. So were the dances composed by the well-known choreographer of the day Hiralal. A song-dance contest sequence between the two heroines (Padmini and Vyjayanthimala) was brilliantly choreographed, picturised and edited. The sequence created film history. Even today, mention Vanjikottai Vaaliban, and one only talks about this breathtaking dance sequence. Both Padmini and Vyjayanthimala, trained classical dancers, vied with each other. They were at the height of their careers and there was professional rivalry between them! Interestingly, the real-life envy did creep into the reel-life dance drama which added its own sugar and spice to the impact of the sequence.
However, the film suffered from too many ‘process screen' shots (known popularly as ‘Back projection'). Besides many shots from Chandralekha were used and an observant viewer can make out shots of Ranjan and his gang riding on horses! Also a passing motor car is seen in a shot! An incredible anachronism in a Gemini Studios production.
However, the Tamil moviegoers ignored the drawbacks and flocked theatres making the movie a grand success.
One of the consequences of the popularity of Vanjikottai Vaaliban was that a new expression entered the Tamil lingo. In the famous dance sequence between Padmini and Vyjayanthimala, the villain (P.S. Veerappa) exclaims at the start of the song, “Shabhash, sariyana potti!” (Bravo, an excellent contest!) in his characteristic style. This expression became a catchline, still used by the people of Tamil Nadu. Vasan remade the film in Hindi as Raj Tilak with the same lead players, Gemini Ganesan, Padmini and Vyjayanthimala.
Remembered for the dances and the production values, Gemini style!