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Manthrikumari (1950)

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a cult film Director Ellis R. Dungan (fourth from left) giving instructions to the crew during the shooting of Manthrikumari
a cult film Director Ellis R. Dungan (fourth from left) giving instructions to the crew during the shooting of Manthrikumari

MGR, M. N. Nambiar, Madhuri Devi, G. Sakunthala and S. A. Natarajan

Manthrikumari was not only a box-office hit but also created Tamil film history. Written by one of the brilliant writers of the country, Mu. Karunanidhi, it had political undertones. His dialogue was full of punch, razor-sharp and alliteratively alluring. Karunanidhi was then progressing well in movies as well as in politics. Many of his lines were repeated by the commoners for years. It had MGR, M. N. Nambiar, Madhuri Devi, G. Sakunthala and S. A. Natarajan in main roles. The newcomer, an import from Tamil theatre, Natarajan (it was his second film) stole the show with his scintillating performance (even overshadowing Nambiar) as the king’s guru’s son (a bandit by night!). His distinctive delivery of Karunanidhi’s lines made him a star.

Music was also a plus point. One of the many hit songs “Vaaraaye…..nee…Vaaraaye”, a duet sung by Tiruchi Loganathan and Jikki found its deserved place in the galaxy of immortal melodies of Tamil cinema. The song was composed by one of the popular film music composers of yesteryear G. Ramanathan. He also played minor roles in movies and sang his own compositions as playback-singer in some films. According to critics, this song from Manthrikumari is his best….

The latter half of the song was shot in and around the famous ‘Lady’s Seat’ in the Yercaud Hills, which is today a tourist attraction. But back in 1949-1950, it was all mountain, jungle, rocks and shrubs and one had to climb up the hard way like mountain-climbers. Ellis R. Dungan, the director, used three cameras (rare in those days) to shoot this song and took considerable risks to his life and limb. But all this hard work helped him reap rich dividends, when the song became a super hit. When the film was in the post-production stage, problems arose in Dungan’s personal life, which necessitated his departure from India to the U.S. The Modern Theaters’ boss T. R. Sundaram took over the film and completed it. Hence, both their names appear in the credit titles.

Manthrikumari is often screened in theatres and on television, and sustains interest even after nearly 60 years. Its strong political slant made it a cult film.

Remembered for: Its taut, tantalising dialogue, melodious music and the most popular number, ‘Vaaraaye... nee... vaaraaye....’

RANDOR GUY


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