N. T. Rama Rao, Sivaji Ganesan, Padmini, Chittoor V. Nagaiah, S. D. Subbulakshmi, G. Varalakshmi, T. K. Bhagavathi, N. R. Sandhya, P. V. Narasimha Bharathi, V. K. Ramasami, C. T. Rajakantham, Pushpavalli, ‘Jayakodi’ Natarajan and M. G. Chakrapani

The Ramayana, the story of the Rama avatar of Vishnu, is one of the immortal classics of India. A rich granary of story material, the epic not surprisingly excited and attracted the attention of filmmakers in the country from the Silent Film era. The first silent version came out in 1922 along with another version the same year, which was released as a serial in cinemas. The first talkie version came out in Hindi in 1933, in Telugu in 1936 and in Tamil (this version) in 1956. There were other language versions too.

Sampoorna Ramayanam, running over 22,000 feet, was produced by M. A. Venu. It had Sivaji Ganesan in the role of Bharatha, while N. T. Rama Rao and Padmini played Rama and Sita. The underrated stage and screen actor K. V. Srinivasan lent his voice to NTR. T. K. Bhagavathi with his excellent screen presence was the right choice to play Ravana. Varalakshmi as Kaikeyi was equally impressive, and so was Nagaiah as Dasaratha. Noted comedienne Rajakantham played the mischief-maker Mandhara. Also in the cast were Nagaiah, M. N. Rajam, P. V. Narasimha Bharathi, Lakshmiprabha, S. D. Subbulakshmi and T. P. Muthulakshmi.

The film had excellent music (K. V. Mahadevan) with lyrics by Marudhakasi. One song rendered by C. S. Jayaraman, filmed on Bhagavathi playing Ravana, ‘Indru poi naalai vaa,’ became an immortal melody. This song was composed in raga Thilang, which was an import from Sufi music and successfully adapted by Guru Nanak and his disciples who composed several hymns in this raga. It has been extremely popular with musical geniuses such as Ravishankar, Bhimsen Joshi, violin maestro Lalgudi Jayaraman and musicologist G. S. Mani. The great Carnatic musician D. K. Pattammal recorded a song, ‘Shanthi nilava vendum,’ in this raga on the occasion of the shocking death of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948.

Written by the successful Tamil film personality A. P. Nagarajan, Sampoorna Ramayanam was directed by K. Somu who was associated with Nagarajan on many films. Not many are aware that Somu worked with the celebrated American Tamil filmmaker Ellis R. Dungan, learning the art and craft from the great master. The film was made at Ratna Studio in Salem.

Sampoorna Ramayanam had the distinction of winning the appreciation of the eminent son of India, Rajaji, who did not think much of films. In the 1930s, he watched Ellis R. Dungan’s Sathi Leelavathi and in honour of his visit a day’s collection was handed over to him towards the Indian National Congress Party fund. After watching the movie, he sarcastically remarked that the main artiste in a charka-spinning sequence did not know how to handle it!

Remembered for the impressive performances of N. T. Rama Rao, Padmini and Varalakshmi, the melodious music of Mahadevan and the song ‘Indru Poi.’