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Savithiri (1941)

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M. S. Subbulaksmi, Y. V. Rao, Shantha Apte, V. A. Chellappa, K. Sarangapani, ‘Appa' K. Duraiswami, T. S. Durairaj, ‘Golden' Saradambal, T. S. Krishnaveni, Sripad Shankar

CASTING COUP Shantha Apte in Savithiri

Yaragudipati Varada Rao, better known as Y. V. Rao, was the first Indian filmmaker to make movies in four languages — Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Hindi. It was quite an achievement during his day. He came up with an innovation in 1940-41. He directed Savithiri, a mythological for Rayal Talkie Distributors of Madurai. To play Savithiri, the legendary woman who won over the Lord of Death, Yama, (played by Chellappa) to get back her dead husband Satyavan (Rao) alive, Rao brought in the famous Marathi and Hindi star Shantha Apte, heroine of the V. Shantaram classic, Duniya Na Mane.

She didn't know Tamil, but insisted that she would learn to speak and sing in Tamil. Hence a tutor, noted dialogue-writer T.C. Vadivelu Naicker, and a lady from Mylapore, married and settled in Poona, spent nearly a year teaching her the lingo. Shantha disguised as a maid would visit the lady's house in Poona through the rear door, much to the latter's delight! Such was her dedication.

That's not all. For the role of Sage Narada, Rao cast M. S. Subbulakshmi. For obvious reasons, this mythical sage had to have his (her!) torso covered. Maybe not strictly according to the Hindu epics, but the director did not care nor did he have any choice after casting MS!

This was the first time in South Indian cinema, Narada was played by a female. Narada is synonymous with music, and showing the sage descending from the skies to the earth was a cliché. (In the era before ‘double printing' was possible, to show Narada sailing across the skies, the actor was made to walk on a compound wall of the studio, carrying his musical instrument and singing, while the camera, positioned very low, panned the sage, the sky beyond and all! Some of the Naradas, who were fat and not so agile, often fell off the wall, bruising themselves!)

A word about the ‘tambura' Narada was shown carrying. According to the Hindu epics, it is the veena that's associated with the sage. If so, how come the tambura substituted the veena? The logical explanation was the veena was much heavier to carry (especially while balancing on the compound wall!) Besides, it was more expensive than the tambura.

Savithiri was produced in Calcutta, and one of the heroine's playmates was a slim, unknown young woman. Her name? V. N. Janaki!

Papanasam Sivan wrote the lyrics. The music was composed by the sadly underrated Carnatic musician, Thuraiyur Rajagopala Sarma, and noted Bengali film music composer Kamaldas Gupta was in charge of orchestration, arranging and fine tuning. (He also lent his voice to Rao's singing in Tamil!)

MS and Shantha Apte sang many songs but only those rendered by MS drew attention. They included ‘Bruhi mukundehi', ‘Sollu kuzhandaai', ‘Deviyai poojai', ‘Agniyendru', ‘Mangalamum peruvaaai' and ‘Manamey kanamum maravaathey' which was the most popular of them all.

In spite of the presence of MS, Shantha Apte and Y.V. Rao, Savithiri was not a success.

Remembered for: the fine performances of MS, Rao, Chellappa and Shantha Apte, and MS's songs many of which became hits.

RANDOR GUY

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