T. R. Ramachandran, Anjali Devi, R. S. Manohar, T. V. Kumudhini, Mynavathi, K. Sarangapani, T. P. Muthulakshmi, V. K. Ramasami, K. A. Thangavelu, ‘Pulimoottai' Ramasami, P. D. Sambandam, T.R.B. Rao, T. E. Krishnamachari, K. V. Srinivasan, Ramaiah Sastri, K. Srinivasan, Chandran and ‘Ponvayal' Susheela (dance)

‘Kalki' (Ra. Krishnamurthi ) is rightly hailed as one of the finest writers of Modern Tamil Literature and the master of historical fiction, a genre he virtually developed and made almost an art form with his classic novels such as ‘Sivakamiyin Sapatham' and ‘Paarthiban Kanavu.'

Many are unaware that Kalki had a desire in the beginning of his literary career to become a screenwriter and worked on a screenplay based on the true story of a highway bandit in his native district of Tanjore (now Thanjavur). Titled ‘Kalvanin Kadhali,' he tried hard to impress movie producers of the day without success, and when he joined Ananda Vikatan owned by the Indian movie mogul S. S. Vasan, the latter published it as a serial in the popular Tamil weekly. It attracted much attention, bringing name and fame to Kalki as a fiction writer. Interestingly, the story was not made into a movie for several years even though many announced their intention to do so. Finally, it was made with Sivaji Ganesan and P. Bhanumathi during the 1950s. However, the film was not as successful as expected. Kalki wrote a serial in his own weekly magazine Kalki, titled ‘Poimaan Karadu' about a vast stretch of dry land in Salem District where a hillock resembled a deer at rest, and hence the name of the place!

In the screen story, Sengodan (Ramachandran) owns 10 acres of land which prospered through his sheer hard work — it came to be called ‘Ponvayal' (Golden Farm). There were strong rumours that an incredible fortune in gold lay buried in the land!

Sengodan is in love with his cousin Semba (Anjali Devi). Esraj (Thangavelu), a counterfeiter, plans to get at the fortune. He seeks the help of a graduate Bangaru (Manohar) and his lover (Mynavathi). Without his knowledge, a cop (Sarangapani) and an actress ‘Savaal' Kannamma work against him and the smart couple succeed in spoiling the evil designs of the counterfeiter. Meanwhile, Sengodan is arrested on a charge of attempting to murder Bangaru. However, the smart detective helped by his girlfriend finds out the truth and all is well that ends well.

Noted writer-director-producer A. T. Krishnaswami (ATK) wrote the screenplay and dialogue based on Kalki's story and directed the movie. He co-produced it with the comedy star Ramachandran and others. However, ATK did not get the recognition he richly deserved for his skills. His memorable movies include Sabapathi, Sri Valli, Vidyapathi and Arivaali.

The music was composed by noted Carnatic musician Thuraiyur Rajagopal Sarma and R. Rajagopal, under the supervision of another forgotten theatre personality N. P. Abdul Khader. The lyrics were by Yogi Suddhanantha Bharathiyar and Sundara Vathiyar who were popular during that period. The cinematography was by noted lensman Nemai Ghosh who also made films and documentaries. Shot in the Vauhini Studio, the film was bankrolled by AL. Srinivasan, one of the leaders of South Indian Cinema, under his Madras Pictures banner.

The dances by Susheela impressed the audience so much that she came to be known as ‘Ponvayal' Susheela.

To unravel the mystery, Sarangapani disguises himself as a travelling peepshow artiste carrying a peepshow magic lantern box, which in decades gone by was an attraction in many areas, especially during temple festivals and fairs. Mounted on wooden poles, it was a contraption fitted with small peep-windows through which the spectator could see stills of movie stars and places, and the man operating it usually sang the background score! Sarangapani operating the machine sings a catchy tune ‘Ennavinodham paaru…' in which one can see the artistes appearing in the movie and also political leaders Nehru, Rajaji and even Abul Kalam Azad!

Despite the interesting storyline, humorous dialogue by ATK and impressive performances by Sarangapani, Manohar, Ramachandran, Mynavathi and Muthulakshmi, the movie did not do well at the box office. Sadly, no print of the film exists.

Remembered for the interesting storyline, catchy music and dances by Susheela.

Keywords: Ponvayal 1954