T. P. Rajalakshmi, C. V. V. Panthulu, T. S. Rajalakshmi and T. R. Mahalingam
After leaving Prabhat, Keshav Rao Dhaibar had planned the Marati version of Nandakumar, and Jayantilal Thakore of Bangalore and AV. Meiyappan joined Dhaibar to produce the Tamil version. T. P. Rajalakshmi was signed up to play Yeshoda, with C. V. V. Panthulu, as Nandagopan. T. S. Rajalakshmi (now forgotten) was Radha. To play Krishna, a new face to films but already well-known on stage as a child prodigy - T. R. Mahalingam - was cast.
Mahalingam’s rich and melodious voice had enabled him to make a mark soon on stage. One of the telling reasons for his popularity was his ability to imitate the singing style of the great S. G. Kittappa. Besides, he sang on stage the immortal songs of Kittappa which brought him tempting offers from other drama groups. One of his hit plays was “Krishna Leela” in which he played the boy Krishna. Nandakumar, directed by Keshav Rao Dhaibar with A. T. Krishnaswamy assisting him, was well received by Tamil moviegoers. Mahalingam garnered all attention and was well on his way to stardom.
Dhaibar and Meiyappan were disappointed with a song sung by the actress playing Krishna’s mother, Devaki. Understandably, they were eager to re-shoot the sequence but, for many reasons, it was not feasible. And then they came up with an innovative idea. Why not replace only the sound track with another voice and shoot the song with the actress moving only her lips in ‘sync’? (Movie world lingo for ‘synchronisation’). AVM gave the go-ahead signal, and a prominent Carnatic musician based in Bombay, Lalitha Venkataraman, was brought and she sang the song. The song was re-shot with the actress moving her lips to the Bombay musician’s singing. And, lo, the playback system was born in Tamil cinema and Meiyappan made South Indian film history! Lalitha Venkataraman took the credit of being the first playback singer of Tamil cinema.
The talented but sadly under-rated film music composer, S. V. Venkataraman also came into films with Nandakumar.
Another stage actor who made his debut in Nandakumar was T. R. Ramachandran, as comedian who rose to great heights in later years.
The ‘kid’ Krishna was played by ‘Master’ Sethuraman. Later as ‘Madurai Sethuraman’, he sang for noted Bharatanaytam dancers and toured all over the world.
T. P. Rajalakshmi objected to wearing a ‘katcham’ (a bra-like costume!). Noted star Durga Khote wore it for the Marati version without a murmur of protest. However, Rajalakshmi threatened to walk out of the movie, and left with no option, a 1930’s – Poona-fashion ‘jumper’ - blouse was used!
Remembered for: Playback singing was used for the first time in South Indian cinema. And the movie debut of T. R. Mahalingam and T. R. Ramachandran.