M. G. Ramachandran, P. Bhanumathi, M. G. Chakrapani, T. S. Durairaj, Sriram, D. Balasubramaniam, P. S. Gnanam, E. R. Sahadevan and Sai-Subbulakshmi (dance)
The crowning glory of the Coimbatore movie mogul S. M. Sriramulu Naidu's career was Malaikallan (1954). The film established M. G. Ramachandran as a box office hero. Besides Tamil, Naidu forged ahead to produce and direct Malaikallan in Telugu ( Aggi Ramudu), Malayalam ( Taskara Veeran), Kannada ( Bettadha Kalla), Hindi ( Azad) and Sinhala ( Soorasena).
The Hindi version Azad (the first film of Dilip Kumar as a swashbuckling hero, cast opposite Meena Kumari) proved a raving hit! (Years later, Naidu told this writer that he had dreams of making it in English but wiser counsel prevailed to his benefit!)
Malaikallan was written by the famous Tamil scholar and poet Namakkal Ramalingam Pillai, inspired by “Mark of Zorro” and “Robin Hood.” The screenplay and dialogue were by Mu. Karunanidhi. S. M. Subbaiah Naidu scored the music, while the lyrics were penned by Namakkal Ramalingam Pillai and Thanjai Ramaiah Das. Bhanumathi played the female lead well supported by D. Balasubramaniam, M. G. Chakrapani, T. S. Durairaj and P. S. Gnanam. The film won a Central Government award. The music also contributed to its success, with one of the songs, a satire on social conditions, ‘Ethanai kaalam thaan ematruvaar indha naatiley', becoming a hit. This song rendered off-screen by T. M. Soundararajan and filmed on MGR riding a horse set the trend for many future MGR movies which had similar thematic songs sung by TMS.
All the versions of Malaikallan were box office hits and the best of them was Azad, the Hindi version. This film broke all box office records and proved to be a moneyspinner. Naidu was a no-nonsense person who never tolerated indiscipline and believed in calling a spade a spade. While launching Azad (1955), he approached Dilip to play the lead. The tragedy king of Hindi Cinema was amused that a Tamil film producer based in Coimbatore, whom he had never heard of before, should have come all the way to Bombay to engage him to play a swashbuckling role in his first Hindi film production! Naidu, who would never take ‘no' for an answer, persuaded Dilip to work in the Hindi version. He also brought on board Meena Kumari which proved to be one of the memorable movies of Hindi Cinema. During that period, there were no star-hotels in Coimbatore, and Naidu took Dilip around many bungalows in the city and the rooms in Pakshiraja Studios. Dilip chose to stay in the studio and so did Meena Kumari — something incredible today.
The pleasing music score by C. Ramchandra was also a major attraction with lyrics by Rajendra Krishan. Songs such as ‘Radha na bole re', ‘Apalam chapalam' and ‘Kitna haseen hai mausam' were hits. Naidu used some of these tunes in some versions of the film.
Not many are aware that the multi-talented Tamil filmmaker A. P. Nagarajan was cast as a police inspector wearing a turban and all. However, after shooting some scenes with him, Naidu for some reason chose to replace him with M. G. Chakrapani.
Even after half a century and more, Malaikallan, one of the most memorable movies of Tamil Cinema, sustains interest and is often revived on television.
Remembered for: the popular storyline, tuneful music, excellent onscreen narration, and good performances by MGR and Bhanumathi.