T. P. Rajalakshmi, T. V. Sundaram, 'Battling' C. S. D. Singh, V. S. Mani, T. P. Rajagopal and 'Stunt' Rajoo
T. P. Rajalakshmi, the first multitalented star of south Indian cinema, is hardly known to the present generation. Hailing from Tiruvaiyaru, Rajalakshmi was married off at the age of 11. She was abandoned by her husband soon after over dowry problems which drove her temple priest father to suicide. Along with her mother, she fought a lonely battle for survival. Breaking all norms of conservative society, she entered Tamil theatre where she scaled great heights. This paved the way for her entry into silent cinema where she tasted enormous success. When the first Tamil movie Kalidas was made in 1931, she was the automatic choice to play the heroine. She played the lead in many hits. She created history by writing, directing and producing a film titled Miss Kamala. She was the first female to achieve such distinction in south Indian movie history and, perhaps, Indian cinema.
Besides writing and directing the movie, she played the title role. She was ably supported by noted actors of the day, V. S. Mani , T. V. Sundaram and ‘Battling’ Singh.
Miss Kamala revolves around a well-to-do young woman who faces several problems because of her cruel guardians. How she escapes from their clutches and succeeds in achieving her goals in life forms the rest of the story.
The film had an additional attraction — a nadaswaram recital by Thiruvavaduthurai N. Rajaratnam Pillai who charmed moviegoers of the day with his exquisite performance of ragam-thanam-pallavi in Todi and a composition in Reethigowla. According to her friend, the nadaswaram wizard refused to accept remuneration for his performance as a mark of respect for Rajalakshmi.
As a novelty, Rajalakshmi introduced a sequence in which a song is heard over the radio. It was a period when radio was not yet a familiar medium of entertainment.
Rajalakshmi employed stunt sequences to portray the kidnapping of the heroine by a hired gang for which she engaged well known stunt actors of the day — ‘Battling’ C. S. D. Singh and ‘Stunt’ Rajoo.
A staunch patriot, Rajalakshmi was associated with the Freedom Movement and the Indian National Congress and was close to the Congress leader, S. Satyamurthy. To express her devotion to the cause, she produced a film India Thai. The British Indian censors objected to the title and she was forced to change it to Tamizh Thai. Heavily mauled by the censors, this film fared badly at the box office but she did not mind the loss for she felt it was her contribution to the Freedom Movement.
She later switched to matronly roles in movies such as Idhaya Geetham. Thanks to her mother, a strict disciplinarian, Rajalakshmi became wealthy, owning sizeable property in Kilpauk, where she lived till she passed away at a ripe age.
Rajalakshmi was the first actress in south Indian cinema to be given a title, ‘Cinema Rani’, when such honorifics were virtually unknown.
Remembered for Rajalakshmi’s history making venture and also for her multi-faceted talent.RANDOR GUY