Sivaji Ganesan, P. Kannamba, T. R. Rajakumari, S. S. Rajendran, Girija, ‘Kaka’ Radhakrishnan, S. A. Natarajan and Sadasiva Rao
Pammal Sambandam Mudaliar’s most popular play was “Manohara”, which he staged in several places, including Rangoon. He himself played Manohara in his Suguna Vilas Sabha production. When it was filmed in 1936, Sambandam Mudaliar played the king in it. This film ran into several problems during its making in Bombay with directors being replaced — none of them knew Tamil! The film sank without a trace.
K. R. Ramasami, one of the leading stage and screen stars of yesteryear, successfully staged “Manohara” under his own banner, playing the hero. Jupiter Pictures, which had created film history with Velaikkari, also a stage play of Ramasami’s written by C. N. Annadurai, announced the film version of “Manohara” with Ramasami in the title role and A. S. A. Sami of Velaikkari fame as the director.
The star screenwriter of his day, Elangovan, was engaged to write the script. However for many reasons, this project was shelved much to the chagrin of Ramasami, and Sivaji Ganesan was brought on board. Elangovan worked on the script for sometime under the new setup, but for some reason he was replaced by Karunanidhi who went on to create screen history with his script and scintillating dialogue. Ramasami never forgot this insult which had a curious consequence. Well, that’s another story.
Sivaji Ganesan after playing anti-hero roles in his earlier films made a splash with Manohara produced by M. Somasundaram of Jupiter Pictures but under a different banner and directed by L. V. Prasad.
The Sivaji Ganesan-L. V. Prasad production was distinct, becoming a cult classic. Karunanidhi virtually rewrote Mudaliar’s play, introducing interesting changes like the climactic sequence for which he drew inspiration from “Samson and Delilah”, especially the part where the blind Samson pushes the pillars down. Mu. Karunanidhi’s writing was superb with a contemporary touch. His dialogue had punch, satire, wit and humour. Sivaji Ganesan was excellent in his dialogue delivery and P. Kannamba who played the queen mother was equally brilliant. Her line, ‘Poruthathu podhum, pongi ezhu, maganey’, became quite famous.
(During a chat years later, Sivaji Ganesan told this writer that Kannamba stole the film from him with that single line, and at that time he almost wished he played the queen’s role. Interestingly, when he was a stage artiste, he had played the role of the queen in ‘Manohara’! The play, of course, did not have this line, much to his regret.)
Others in the cast were Telugu starlet Girija as the princess-heartthrob of the hero, T. R. Rajakumari as the king’s ambitious mistress Vasanthasena. Not so young at that time she was still attractive and carried off her role with conviction.
Kaka Radhakrishnan, Pandari Bai, Javert Seetharaman, S. A. Natarajan, T. P. Muthulakshmi and Sadasiva Rao, (a Telugu actor as the king) also did their roles well. The film was dubbed into Telugu and Hindi but these versions did not do as well as the original.
Remembered for the brilliant performances of Sivaji Ganesan and Kannamba, and for the scintillating dialogue of Mu. Karunanidhi.RANDOR GUY