Director Muktha Srinivasan’s Suryakanthi (1973), is all set for re-release in a revised digital format on September 16. The octogenarian is thrilled as of all the 43 films he made in a career spanning seven decades, Suryakanthi is most special to him. “It is close to my heart in a way that none of the other films are,” he says. On the digital release, he says, “So many old films have been getting digitally reformatted in recent times. Also, there was commercial interest in Suryakanthi .”
The title is of great significance, according to the director. “ Suryakanthi (sunflower)is special. A side of it is always turned towards the sun. The interpretation is that the wife should place her total trust in her husband, who in turn must respect her views. Like the Tamil adage that says that one’s left hand must not know what one’s right hand is giving away, what happens inside the privacy of one’s home should remain between the couple.” He believes that the “different treatment” helped cater to the taste of audiences then. “A woman told me that after she saw the film with her husband, their relationship had taken a turn for the better.”
‘Muktha’—as he was affectionately known in the industry—believes that the film easily ranks as the best of Jayalalithaa. “She lived the role. Her acting talent became known after her performance in Engirundho Vandhaal ,but it was with Suryakanthi that she hit full throttle .” Muktha says that the film also helped him do justice to the singing prowess of Jayalalithaa. “It was MGR who told me that Ammu (as Jayalalithaa was known in the industry) had a lovely voice and deserved a chance. Initially, M. S. Viswanathan was not for it, but he eventually relented.”
More interesting trivia emerges when the director asks, “Did you know it was Kamal Haasan who choreographed the famous song ‘O Meri Dilruba’ that was sung and enacted by Jayalalithaa? The song was second only to the immortal ‘Paramasivan Kazhuthil Irundhu’.” Jayalalithaa, reportedly, wasn’t too happy with her costumes when ‘O Meri Dilruba’ was first shot, after choreography by dance master Thangappan. “Kamal Haasan, an assistant to Thangappan, stepped in as the latter was busy. It was a rare thing, as retakes were frowned upon.”
The defining moment for Muktha was when freedom fighter and social activist Periyar agreed to preside over the 100th-day celebration of Suryakanthi . “He hardly watched films, but agreed to come. His message at the function—about the suppression of women’s talents—met with great response. What I had tried to convey in around 150 minutes, Periyar did in just a few.”
I ask Muktha why Suryakanthi holds such a special position in his heart. “It highlighted the plight of the middle-class, at a time when a single income was not enough to feed mouths. The film also dealt with ego issues, with the husband unable to accept the career strides of his wife. Men, those days, weren’t happy about their spouses working,” he says.
Muktha also attributes the film’s success to the performances of the lead pair, Muthuraman and Jayalalithaa. “Muthuraman was equally good at playing negative roles. He and Jayalalithaa had a healthy competition, and that really helped the film”
This was also the film in which Mouli got his break as a character artiste. “Add to all this the presence of Savithri, and the hit songs, and you will see why the film did so well.”
No conversation about Suryakanthi can be complete without touching upon the famous ‘Paramasivan’ song. Muktha turns nostalgic as he remembers how difficult it was to convince Kannadasan to act in it. “The powerful lines needed someone of his stature. By appearing in the song, he also showed that if he wanted, he could have become a competent actor.”
Muktha also remembers the 100th day celebrations at Krishnaveni Theatre, when Kannadasan had a big cut out. “Muthuraman had just a two-feet cut out. He called me about it,” says Muktha.
On the possibility of a remake, he says that a film like Suryakanthi happens rarely—like Sholay . “ Suryakanthi will bloom just once,” he says.