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Updated: March 25, 2010 18:45 IST

Vimochanam (1939)

RANDOR GUY
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An advertisement for the film
An advertisement for the film "Vimochanam"

Hemalatha, Kanthamani, Baby Jaya, Indira, Bhagirathi, T. P. Sundari, Selva, Suguna

Not many are aware that a full-length film Vimochanam (1939) highlighting Prohibition was produced in Tamil. The film was inspired by Rajaji who published a pro-Prohibition magazine, Vimochanam, from his ashram at Tiruchengode near Salem. (He had given up his lucrative legal practice in Salem to join the Freedom Movement. He worked from a modest tiled house on a tract of land donated by his former client. Here he lived with his son C. R. Narasimhan and daughter Lakshmi. She became Lakshmi Devdas Gandhi, mother of Gopal Gandhi and Rajmohan Gandhi). Rajaji obtained most of the material for the publication from the United States of America where Prohibition was then in force.

He had a young man of great promise to assist him, his name was Ra. Krishnamurthi, later immortalised under the pen name ‘Kalki'. With no advertisements, and rewritten and edited entirely by Rajaji and his associate, the magazine soon built up an enviable circulation. Today, it is a collector's item.

This film had a song paying tribute to Rajaji and his services for the uplift of the poor. Inspired by Rajaji's crusade for the banishment of alcohol, a group of socially conscious people launched Vimochanam, a film featuring only girl children belonging to the Chennai Sirumigal Sangeetha Vidyasaalai. The prime movers behind the project were the well-known Carnatic musician, Lalitha Venkataraman of Mylapore who married and moved to Bombay, and the well-known short story writer working for Ananda Vikatan, Sasi. Sasi's one page-short stories were well known for their surprising ending, a la O. Henry. He wrote the script and lyrics, while Italian cinematographer filmmaker then living in Madras, T. Marconi, directed the film. The music was composed by Mrs. Ramani, who later founded the well-known Ramani School of Music in Mylapore. The background score was provided by the Sarma Brothers, a well-known duo of that period who worked for All India Radio.

The story was all about a poor man in Salem addicted to drink which leads to the family begging in the streets. The introduction of Prohibition in Salem District by Rajaji soon after he became the Prime Minister of the old Madras Presidency in 1937, saves the family and brings it back to normalcy….

The film had many songs with some rendered by Lalitha offscreen, and also by drunkards celebrating the joys of drinking! Interestingly, there was a song in praise of Rajaji — a ‘gummi' song which had lines reading like this… Kallai ozhithida sattamondru Chennai Congress aatchiyil seithanarey….kallu kadaigalai moodivida Rajaji miga thurithamai sattamiyatrivittarey….. Rajagopalar buddhiyai kaanungadi…' (lyrics: Congress MLA Madurai L. Krishnaswami Bharathi). Another song had the following lines: ‘Mahaan Rajaji-yai ellorum vaazhthuvomey…Bharatha-thai magizhavey sevai seithaar…' (lyrics: Sasi) And the final song had the lines… ‘Naattuomey jayakodi…Vaazhga engal Gandhi-mahaan… Vaazhga engal Rajaji …'

The film had beautiful sets (art director D. S. Ghadgaonkar) and included government offices with the staff being young girls dressed in coat, turban and all, according to the fashion of the day.

This film received considerable attention because of the values it propagated, the artistes being girl children, and because of the melodious music.

Sadly, no print of this movie exists today, not even stills of printable quality. It is a matter of deep regret that even film historians are hardly aware of this movie.

Remembered for: the meaningful lyrics, presentation and all roles being played by girl children.

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