T. R. Mahalingam, Kumari Rukmini, N. S. Krishnan, T. R. Ramachandran, T. A. Mathuram
Sri Valli catapulted AV. Meiyappan to fame. While AVM’s creative man A. T. Krishnaswamy worked on the script, Meiyappan was busy planning the production. Whom to cast as the divine hero and the earthly heroine? Thyagaraja Bhagavathar would have been the automatic choice but he was out of bounds for several reasons. For Valli, he had fixed Vasundhara Devi, who insisted on her choice for the hero. Many names were suggested, but she rejected them all. Somewhat exasperated, Meiyappan decided to go in for fresh talent and cast T. R. Mahalingam, the boy star of his Nandakumar. After that initial success, Mahalingam did appear in some films, but his career showed no signs of taking off and he kept a low profile dreaming of better morrows. Came the call from AVM and this singer-actor was hired almost for a song!
Meiyappan chose a slim attractive teenager, not new to films, known as ‘Baby’ Rukmini, now ‘Kumari’ Rukmini.
In the early days of Tamil movies, ‘Nungambakkam’ Janaki, a dancer, was a known name in Madras film circles. She had done supporting roles in some films and Rukmini was her only child. Hailing from such a background, the daughter received training in dance and music. During the making of Harishchandra (1935) in Calcutta by Pioneer Films in which Janaki played a small role, the producer-pioneer Samikannu Vincent was on the look out for a boy to play Lohidasa. His eyes fell on the girl and thus ‘Baby’ Rukmini entered films in a male role!
K. Subramaniam cast her in his famous film revolving around children, Balayogini (1937) and Rukmini got noticed. Subsequently, she acted in quite a few movies. But when she came of age, all she got were only supporting roles. It was Meiyappan who then gave her the big break. So Sri Valli had Mahalingam and Rukmini playing the lead. The other major artistes were T. R. Ramachandran, N. S. Krishnan and T. A. Mathuram. The film, planned as a musical, had many songs rendered by Mahalingam and Rukmini. The film was shot by ATK at the Pragathi Studio and the outdoor scenes were picturised in and around Adayar, including the famous Theosophical Society premises. Sri Valli was released all over Tamil Nadu and scored heavily at the box office. Mahalingam’s singing in the legendary S. G. Kittappa style attracted attention.
But something seemed to have gone amiss — Rukmini’s singing. Cinema house managers and AVM’s travelling representatives told Meiyappan that the heroine’s songs were a minus point, especially in comparison to Mahalingam’s. The entrepreneur boldly decided to replace Rukmini’s voice in all songs in the film which was running to packed houses! Unthinkable, yes. But dashing achievers like Meiyappan are made of such stuff. At once, Meiyappan sent for actor-singer P. A. Periyanayaki to sing Rukmini’ songs.
Hailing from Panrutti, a small town, some hundred miles from Madras, Periyanayaki was blessed with a ringing, bold, melodious voice. Her musical talent helped her make a foray into films when she was 10 in C. V. Raman’s Urvashiyin Kadhal and she gradually pushed her way up mostly in small but singing roles. She attracted attention in T. R. Raghunath’s Prabhavati. Her big moment came when Meiyappan sent for her for Sri Valli.
Overnight, Periyanayaki sang the songs and AVM’s technicians worked round-the-clock to get them ready on film. In an unprecedented move, Meiyappan recalled the film prints being screened all over and the reels of Rukmini’s songs were replaced with that of Periyanayaki and the corrected prints rushed back by cars and trains. The reception was overwhelming and there was an increased inflow of cash at the box-office. Tamil moviegoers liked the songs in the film and Periyanayaki emerged as a much sought-after playback singer. Sri Valli made Mahalingam and Kumari Rukmini stars, and Meiyappan leapt ahead in the movie league.
Remembered for the melodious music and hit songs of Mahalingam and Periyanayaki.