Blast from the Past: Chandralekha (1948)


The first announcement about S. S. Vasan's Chandralekha came in the form of an advertisement on the back-cover of the song-book of the film Dasi Aparanji (1944). Indeed, there were two announcements on it — one was about Chandralekha, and the other about Avvaiyar (this movie though announced in 1944 was released almost a decade later, in 1953!)

The ad on the song-book had K. L. V. Vasantha as the heroine of Chandralekha! No, not T. R. Rajakumari! Surprising? Yet so true!

Chandralekha was in the making for five long years (1943-1948), and it turned out to be the biggest box-office bonanza of the decade. This film was released simultaneously at 44 cinema houses in South India and set a new record in the history of film exhibition in that part of the country.

Tales of King Vikramaditya are a treasure trove of story material and the Gemini writers dug deep into this gold mine. Soon Vasan heard about the tale of a tough, talented woman so smart that she outwits a vicious bandit and slashes off his nose. Vasan found this tale distasteful and rejected it. However, one thing impressed him — the name of the woman, Chandralekha!

At once, he announced his film Chandralekha with bang-bang publicity, Vasan style. Colour ads about the film appeared in newspapers and magazines in English and Tamil all over South India. He had only a title and little else — no story, no script, nothing. However, he was not worried. Veppatthur Kittu, the Gemini staff writer and assistant director of T. G. Raghavachari in Mangamma Sapatham (1943), found a novel, “Robert Macaire, the French Male Bandit in England” (1848) written by noted writer of his day G. W. M. Reynolds, and began to read the first chapter fast.… A dark night in rural England and a mail coach convoy drawn by horses trots its way down a deserted leafy highway when suddenly, Robert Macaire, the fierce bandit and his henchmen emerge from the surrounding darkness and rob the convoy. Hiding under a seat is a young woman fleeing from a harsh, unhappy home. She is a dancer and when she refuses to dance the bandit whips her into submission.

(Those who have seen Chandralekha will at once recall this episode as an interesting sequence featuring T. R. Rajakumari and Ranjan!)

Later when Kittu narrated a storyline to Vasan with the above sequence as a start, the Gemini boss was fascinated and decided to go ahead with the film. Vasan named the young dancer ‘ Chandralekha'! The movie was off the ground with bells on and Raghavachari was asked to direct it at first and later for many reasons Vasan took over...

Initially, there were no circus sequences in Chandralekha. That part of the story was added halfway through the five-year-long production and the screenplay was suitably altered. That sadly neglected genius of South Indian Cinema, K. Ramnoth, filmed the circus scenes. Staff members, their families, and even passers-by were asked to sit as spectators in the circus scenes!

In April 1947, N. S. Krishnan came out of prison and Vasan engaged NSK and T. A. Mathuram to act in Chandralekha. Once more, the story was altered and new scenes added to fit in the famed comedy pair!

Chandralekha was a mammoth production, never ever before attempted in India — fantastic sets like palaces, a moat and draw-bridge strong enough to withstand the weight of horses, riders, crowds and all (Art Director A. K. Sekhar).

And the drum dance, the highlight of the film, the first of its kind in Indian Cinema. So artistic, so fabulous and so brilliantly choreographed (choreographer Jayashankar).

Rajakumari as the heroine rose to great heights in this film and virtually carried the movie on her shoulders. Indeed this was her career-best.

Radha was his usual impressive self. Ranjan played the villain. Brought on board at the last minute, he shot to fame as an all-India star when the Hindi version of the movie was made later....

The melodious music (M. D. Parthasarathy and S. Rajeswara Rao) also contributed to the success.

Remembered for: the excellent onscreen narration, the magnificent sets and the immortal drum dance sequence.

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Printable version | May 14, 2021 11:29:41 PM |

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