Manohar, Gemini Ganesh, Chittoor V. Nagaiah, C. V. V. Panthulu, ‘Javert’ Seetharaman, Chandra Babu, M. V. Rajamma, Madhuri Devi, K. R. Chellam, ‘Friend’ Ramasami, T. P. Muthulakshmi and G. Sakunthala
Thaai Ullam, one of the sadly neglected film classics made by K. Ramnoth, regarded as the one-man institution of South Indian cinema, was a straightforward adaptation of the best-selling novel of 1861, “East Lynne” by noted British writer Mrs. Henry Wood.
Mrs. Henry Wood (Ellen Price, 1814-1887) was one of the most popular English writers of the 19th Century who was spoken of in the same breath as Charles Dickens. A curvature in the spine confined her to a chair and she spent her time writing novels. Two of her works, “Danbury House” and “East Lynne”, turned out to be hot sellers not only in the U.K. but also in America. “Danbury House” was the inspiration for the historic Tamil film Sathi Leelavathi directed by Ellis R. Dungan, his debut. It also marked the debut of several later day stars such as M. K. Radha, T. S. Balaiah, and the cult figure M. G. Ramachandran (he appeared in a minor role as police inspector). S. S. Vasan, then a journalist and a stranger to movies, wrote the story as a serial in his Ananda Vikatan.
A tear-jerker revolving around loving but suspicious wives, amorous manipulative villains, remarrying husbands, and gone-away wives returning as governesses to attend to the sick kid, the film had them all. Sounds familiar? This storyline has been adapted in innumerable movies in India and it all began with “East Lynne” (filmed many times in the Silent and Talkie versions in Hollywood, and also on television a few years ago in England). Thaai Ullam was the first in South Indian cinema to adapt such a theme.
Written by Umachandran and S. D. Sundaram, the film has soulful music (composed by Nagaiah and A. Rama Rao, and lyrics penned by Kanakasurabhi) and excellent performances by M. V. Rajamma, a talented multi-lingual star-actor of South Indian cinema, as the suspicious wife and Manohar (who had made his debut as hero in Rajambal) as the husband.
Veteran T. S. Balaiah was approached by Ramnoth to play the villain but his asking price was Rs. 75,000, which was fifty per cent of the budget! Then entered R. Ganesh as villain on a modest four-figure salary. He had left Gemini Studios after appearing in a couple of movies in minor roles, and was brought on board as villain by his friend Ramnoth. Soon the roles of Manohar and Ganesh were to be reversed in Tamil cinema with Gemini Ganesh emerging as a big-time hero and Manohar as a top villain!
Madhuri Devi as the second wife of the hero and Nagaiah as the first wife’s father also gave impressive performances.
Interestingly narrated, the highlight of the movie was its music, and two songs rendered off screen by M. L. Vasanthakumari, ‘Konjum Puraavey Nenjodu Nenjam....’ and ‘Kathayai Keladaa Kanney...’, became extremely popular and continue to be the favourites with MLV fans and lovers of film music of that era. Thaai Ullam is a cinematic masterpiece highly acclaimed by critics and moviegoers of the day, but regrettably it is rarely revived on television channels. Remembered for: melodious music, especially hit tunes by the inimitable MLV.