T. Suryakumari, Vijayakumar, T. S. Balaiah, T.R. Ramachandran, T. S. Durairaj
Not many are aware that Sankaradas Swamigal wrote a play ‘Cymbeline’ based on the lesser-known play of William Shakespeare. It made its journey into Tamil cinema under more than one title. One such name was Chaya which though did not see the light of day is of some significance in the history of Tamil cinema. K. S. Narayana Iyengar (Narayanan and Company) began producing it independently in 1941. His manager, K. P. Varadachari, was in his time a familiar figure in Tamil cinema. First as the manager of Saraswathi Stores, and then as the right hand man of Iyengar. Varadachari was not only a good production man but also had a flair for writing. He loved Western Literature and wrote ‘Chaya’, adapting it from ‘Cymbeline’. The singing actor of yesteryear, T. V. Kumudhini, was cast as heroine and M. G. Ramachandran as hero, the first major break in his then not-too-bright career. Though handsome and athletic, he had played only minor roles till then.
Noted director Nandlal Jaswantlal (of the Hindi musical Anarkali fame) began shooting the film at Central Studios, Coimbatore, but he was unhappy with MGR’s performance and insisted on a replacement. Though the producers refused to drop MGR, they had to do so as the director persisted; and P. U. Chinnappa was engaged to play the role. Anyway things did not seem to progress smoothly and the makers closed down the production and Chaya never made it to the silver screen. But Varadachari didn’t give up hope. In 1947, he re-launched ‘Cymbeline’ as Katakam which his old friend, the lawyer-turned-noted filmmaker, T. G. Raghavachari (pseudonym ‘Acharya’ who made Mangamma Sabatham and Gemini’s Apoorva Sahotharargal) directed. Very few are aware that he directed a good part of Chandralekha, including the famous drum dance sequence.
Produced by S. Soundararajan under his Tamil Nadu Talkies banner at Modern Theatres studio in Salem, Katakam had the lovely singer-actor T. Suryakumari and a handsome newcomer Vijayakumar in the lead.
It had an interesting story of a prince and princess falling in love, she wearing his ring, enemies scheming to damn her as unchaste, the court-jester playing a trick and stealing the ring… finally all’s well that ends well…!
The film had 12 songs (lyrics by Papanasam Sivan and music by G. Ramanathan) and most of them were sung by Suryakumari. She was a well-known singer in more than one language in her day. She was the first to be chosen as ‘Miss Madras.’ She did a few Hindi films and later migrated to the U.S. and then to England, where she established Indian cultural centres with much success. She also worked with Alfred Hitchcock on his TV Series. Regrettably Katakam failed at the box office. After a few films, Vijayakumar sadly faded into oblivion.
Remembered for: As the only Tamil film featuring Suryakumari as heroine, who later made international headlines as an icon of Indian culture.