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Nallathambi 1949

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movie with many messages From Nallathambi
movie with many messages From Nallathambi

N. S. Krishnan, T. A. Mathuram, P. Bhanumathi, S. V. Sahasranamam, C. S. Pandian, ‘Kaka’ Radhakrishnan, M. N. Rajam

The 1936 American Depression-Period, celluloid poet Frank Capra’s immortal classic Mr. Deeds Goes To Town (Gary Cooper in the title role) had a successful run during the late 1940s in a Madras City cinema. S. V. Sahasranamam, a close associate of N. S. Krishnan, saw the movie and felt it would make a good vehicle for NSK and his socio-reformist views. He invited C. N. Annadurai to watch the movie, and impressed by it, Anna worked out a storyline in which the rural relative (Krishnan) of a deceased zamindar inherits his estate. The daughter (Bhanumathi) falls in love with him and the two are expected to marry soon. There is also an estate manager (Sahasranamam) with designs on the estate and the daughter.

However, NSK completely altered this storyline, bringing T. A. Mathuram as his sweetheart and sidelining Bhanumathi’s role. Interestingly, a love duet (!) planned to be shot on Bhanumathi and Krishnan was earlier recorded. In the altered situation, the song was inserted as a dream sequence (Ghantashala lending voice for NSK!) with the tune, a straight lift from the noted Edmundo Ros’ famous ‘Coconut’ song, (Music C. R. Subbaraman).

N. S. Krishnan launched this film as a vehicle to propagate his political and rationalistic views and pet theories such as prohibition. By now C. N. Annadurai was fast emerging as a force in Tamil Nadu and broke away from his mentor E. V. Ramaswamy Naicker, forming a new political party Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (DMK). This party and Tamil cinema forged strong links, creating history at many levels.

Besides NSK in the title role, Sahasranamam, Mathuram and Bhanumathi played major roles in Nallathambi. NSK really let himself go in this movie, filling it with his brand of social reforms in the form of songs, plays and discourses - an excellent exhibition of creative talent, but hardly cinematic. Consequently, the story element got sidetracked, making Nallathambi more of a socio-political tract than a movie, which Krishnan-Panju directed.

Nallathambi was critically acclaimed but did not prove as successful as expected at the box-office. However, the songs achieved popularity, especially those highlighting the evils of drinking, and the greatness of Tamil Nadu. NSK’s image as a cult figure and a socially-conscious reformist grew in good measure. Known as the ‘Charlie Chaplin of India’, he not only made people laugh but also think.

To appease his disappointed distributors and financiers, he at once announced his next film Thambidurai to be written by C. N. Annadurai (without his consent), but this project did not take off, as the latter showed no interest in doing another script for NSK. The famed writer felt his work (the Nallathambi script) had been maimed and mangled beyond recognition!

One of the telling sequences… the new zamindar (NSK) visits a mother and daughter living in a hut. They come out to meet him one after the other but never together. The stark truth that they possess only one sari hits him like a thunderbolt, and he distributes the zamindarini’s saris to the poor. This sequence was inspired by a real-life experience of Babu Rajendra Prasad during his electioneering visit in 1937 in rural Bihar.

Remembered for: Its socio-reformist song and dance sequences, and Harikatha kalakshepam, “Kindanar”, a take-off of “Nandanar”, highlighting the need for abolishing untouchability and caste discrimination. A worthy cult movie.RANDOR GUY


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