T. R. Ramachandran, Sriranjani Jr., Sriram, S. V. Ranga Rao, J. P. Chandrababu, V. S . Sushila, K. R.Chellam, T. P. Muthulakshmi, T. E. Krishnamachari and V. P. S. Mani
Charlie Chaplin continues to be a favourite the world over, even decades after his demise. He was friendly with top leaders and intellectuals, including Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi. Even after movies began to speak in 1927, Chaplin continued to make silent movies which spoke volumes for his talent.
One of his many classics, and according to some the greatest, is City Lights (1931). This film continues to be popular and has been ranked by the American Film Institute in a poll as the best movie ever made.
A story about human values and love, City Lights revolves around a tramp (Chaplin) who makes many sacrifices, including suffering in jail, to restore the sight of a blind flower seller who has no idea about her benefactor.
Out of prison, he meets her selling flowers with her sight restored. When he buys a flower from her, their hands touch and she recognises her benefactor. The film ends with a close-up of Chaplin’s face, revealing love and other emotions. This is considered one of the greatest close-ups in film history. K. J. Mahadeven, son of a legendary Mylapore lawyer, educated in Madras and London, was a devoted student of cinema. He played the hero in K. Subrahmanyam’s classic Thyagabhoomi and later joined Gemini Studios as production controller. During that period, he made Rajee En Kanmani. It was an adaptation of the Chaplin classic.
Mahadevan stuck to the original storyline for the most part and cast noted comedian T. R. Ramachandran to play the Chaplinesque role.
The Telugu actress whose face suited tragic roles, Sriranjani Jr played Rajee, the blind flower seller who regains sight, thanks to the unknown benefactor.
The tramp’s friendship with a rich man whom he saves from drowning when he is drunk forms the subplot. Once he is sober, the rich man forgets the tramp which lands the latter in prison. This role was effectively played by Ranga Rao.
The doctor (Sriram) who treats the blind girl falls in love with her and ultimately marries her, a change made in the Tamil version.
Coming out of prison, the benefactor feels happy that the girl is married and walks into the sunset in a spirit of sacrifice.
Chandrababu as a boxing enthusiast raises laughs, while the hero enters the ring to win the prize money for the girl’s eye operation.
Ramachandran, though a talented comedian with many hits to his credit, was no Chaplin and his performance fell short of expectations.
The music (S. Hanumantha Rao) was impressive with one song ‘Malligai poo maalai roja...’ (voice R. Balasaraswathi), a lift from a popular western tune became immortal. In spite of Mahadevan, Gemini Studios banner, good performances by Ranga Rao, Ramachandran and Sriranjani, the film failed to click.
There was also an unsuccessful Telugu version, Raji Naa Praanam.
Inspired by the famous dream ballet scene wonderfully executed by Chaplin in the original, Mahadevan shot a similar scene for the Tamil version but Vasan, a master at feeling the pulse of the common man, felt it was too highbrow and deleted it from the released version.
Later, Mahadevan made Aval Yaar and Hullo Mr. Zamindar. Sadly Mahadevan was not as successful as many expected him to be despite his knowledge of cinema, technical skills and talent.
Remembered for: Impressive performances by the artistes and the immortal melody ‘Malligai poo maalai roja...’RANDOR GUY