Avvaiyar 1953

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K. B. Sundarambal, M. K. Radha, L. Narayana Rao, T. V. Kumudhini, M. S. Sundari Bai, Gemini Ganesan, ‘Baby’ Sachhu, Kushalakumari, K. Balaji, D. Balasubramaniam, ‘Friend’ Ramasami, C. K. Nagaratnam, T. V. Sethuraman, V.P.S. Mani and Kumari Vanaja

Avvaiyar was a colossal movie a la Cecil B. DeMille’s Biblical spectacles. Vasan, a dedicated motion picture producer, Tamil writer and successful journalist dreamt of making the story of Avvaiyar into a film as a tribute to the saint-poet. And the film was a major box-office success. Even today, half a century later, Avvaiyar is often telecast. K. B. Sundarambal with her distinct and powerful voice lived the role of Avvaiyar . The others in the cast included the popular hero of the bygone decades of Tamil Cinema, M. K. Radha, and Gemini Ganesan (not yet a star, in one of his early roles as a supporting character).

In promoting Avvaiyar , Vasan launched a brilliant publicity strategy. As Avvaiyar was a familiar figure in conservative Tamil-speaking homes, he organised groups of young women to go to such homes in Madras City, handing over invitations and requesting the people to see the movie. The women were only following the traditional practice of inviting people (known as ‘ voor azhaikirathu’ ) to an auspicious occasion, offering turmeric and vermillion. Vasan’s strategy took everyone by surprise and many were thrilled they were personally invited to watch the film. The invitation was designed in the form of a traditional wedding invitation!

Avvaiyar narrated the folk myth of a female child, abandoned in a forest and found by a devout, childless couple. The little one is not just beautiful but also reveals intelligence far beyond her age! They name her ‘Avvai’. Hardly six, Avvai composes devotional songs and poems and becomes an ardent devotee of Lord Ganesha. Her parents find a husband for her, but just before the wedding, Avvai dressed up as a bride feels her youth and beauty are responsible for her new status. In a spirited moment of devotion, she rushes out to the Ganesha idol and prays for old age. At once, the radiant bride is transformed into a grey-haired old woman…!

Avvaiyar sets out on her mission as ordained by Lord Ganesha to exhort people across the length and breadth of the land to lead a devout life. Her poems and songs in simple language and folksy style are lofty in meaning, thought and content.

She soon draws crowds wherever she goes. The Chola king treats her as his guru and offers her the seat of the court poet but she refuses it, preferring to tour the land and touch the lives of the common people. Famine envelops the Thagadur kingdom. Avvaiyar visits the parched land and her devotional singing brings rain relieving the people of their misery. The story, screenplay and dialogue were written by Kothamangalam Subbu and Ki. Ra. (K. Ramachandran). Subbu and the legendary Papanasam Sivan contributed the lyrics and the songs, besides the original poems by Avvaiyar herself.

The melodious music was the contribution of the Gemini Studios in-house music composer M. D. Parthasarathy, along with the well-known Carnatic musician Parur Anantharaman and Mayavaram Venu.

Remembered for Vasan’s brilliant publicity strategy, K. B. Sundarambal’s portrayal of Avvaiyar and the songs.

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