M. K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, T. R. Rajakumari, N.C. Vasanthakokilam, N. S. Krishnan, T. A. Mathuram, T. E. Krishnamachari and ‘Pulimoottai’ Ramaswami
One of the films of 1944 created history in Tamil cinema, establishing a box-office record that stood unparalleled for more than half a century till recently. That was Sundar Rao Nadkarni’s Haridas, a Thyagaraja Bhagavathar-starrer.
A folk myth about a sinner-turned-saint, this film, less than 11,000 feet long, smashed box office records everywhere. In Broadway cinema, Madras, Haridas was released on Deepavali day in 1944, and ran uninterruptedly for 114 weeks till the same festival in 1946, thus witnessing three such days till 1946 — an unbroken record for any regional language film in India.
Bhagavathar rose to great heights with his music and almost every song of his turned out to be a hit. One song in particular celebrating erotic love, “Manmathan leelayai…”, drove people crazy and became an all-time hit. Indeed, this song became part of Tamil colloquial idiom! The melody, the simple but effective orchestration, the lyrics, Bhagavathar’s sensuous rendering… everything was perfect, making the song memorable. The songs, which proved eternally popular besides “Manmathan leelayai…” (raga Charukesi, Bhagavathar and Rajakumari. In this song, Rajakumari gives Bhagavathar a flying kiss which was considered revolutionary in those days!), were “Krishnaa mukunda muraree…”, “Annaiyum thandhaiyum…”, “Vaazhvil ore thirunaal…”, “Nijamma idhu nijamma…” (all by MKT), “Kadhiravan vudhayam kanden” (Vasanthakokilam), “Ullam kavarum en paavaai” (MKT and NCV, the tune based on the famous Pankaj Mullick hit song, “Piyaa milan ko jaana” from the film Kapala Kundala) and “Natanam innum aadanam” (Krishnan and Mathuram). The lyrics and tunes were composed by Papanasam Sivan while the orchestration was by G. Ramanathan.
Indeed, the first half of Haridas was erotic and sensuous. The romantic scenes featuring Bhagavathar and T. R. Rajakumari who played his voluptuous mistress were daring. N. C. Vasanthakokilam, the well-known classical musician, played the role of his wife. N. S. Krishnan and T. A. Mathuram provided the comic touch.
The film was a great money-spinner for its producers, Rayal Talkie, and spread happiness among all those concerned with it, except perhaps its superstar Thyagaraja Bhagavathar who was arrested in December 1945 for his alleged involvement in the sensational Lakshmikantham Murder Case. He spent 30 long months in prison.
MKT underwent one of the most painful experiences when he was in jail, euphemistically known as the ‘Madras Penitentiary’, situated in the heart of the city opposite the Madras Central Railway. He would listen to his hits from Haridas being played repeatedly across the road in the famous, now non-existent, shopping centre ‘Moore Market’. As he heard the songs, he would burst into tears and keep awake for long hours in the night. Later he told his intimate friends that this was the unkindest cut in his life…
Remembered for the melodious songs rendered by Thyagaraja Bhagavathar and Vasanthakokilam, particularly the song “Manmadhan Leelayai…”, the opening lines of which became part of colloquial Tamil.