Blast from the past: Thanga Pathumai (1959)

Sivaji Ganesan, Padmini, T. R. Rajakumari, M. N. Nambiar, M. N. Rajam, E. V. Saroja, N. S. Krishnan, R. Balasubramaniam, ‘Kuladeivam' Rajagopal and T. P. Muthulakshmi

June 03, 2010 07:45 pm | Updated 07:45 pm IST

a classic   Thanga Pathumai

a classic Thanga Pathumai

One of the noteworthy films of 1959, which was also a box-office hit, was Thanga Pathumai , a Jupiter Pictures production. Directed by A. S. A. Sami, it has an interesting back story.

Jupiter Pictures entered the big league in 1942 with the phenomenal success of Kannagi , in which P. Kannamba created history with her scintillating performance in the title role. P. U. Chinnappa lent excellent support playing Kovalan.

During the late 1950s, Jupiter Somu thought of remaking Kannagi with Sivaji Ganesan as Kovalan. He projected the 1942 version to his intimate friend and mentor C. N. Annadurai who watched it along with Sami, who was to direct the second version. Annadurai rightly told them that remaking the film would not prove successful as much water had flowed under the Tamil Cinema bridge since 1942. The project was dropped but Somu carried in his mind the idea of making something similar about a woman, who is chastity personified fighting a relentless battle to win her husband back… the movie was Thanga Pathumai .

A writer who was popular during that period was Mika Waltari. He wrote ‘The Egyptian', a bestseller. The Hollywood movie mogul Darryl F. Zanuck, boss of 20th Century Fox, bought the novel and had it scripted by the well-known screenwriters of the day, Philip Dunne and Casey Robinson. He engaged Michael Curtiz (maker of the immortal classic Casablanca ) to direct the film and Leon Shamroy to shoot it. Edmond Purdon was brought in to play the lead and the others in the cast included brilliant star and actor Peter Ustinov, Victor Mature, Gene Tierney, Jean Simmons and the famous character actor John Carradine. Set in ancient Egypt, the Hollywood film was about an abandoned baby who was brought up to become the physician of the Pharaoh of Egypt. The Hollywood movie was a success in India, and Sami, a keen student of literature and Western Cinema, engaged well known Tamil writer of the day Aru Ramanathan to do the screenplay and dialogue.

(Ramanathan was well known as the editor of a monthly magazine named Kaathal which created a sensation in those conservative days!)

In the Tamil movie, Sivaji Ganesan plays the younger physician to the king (R. Balasubramaniam) and his wife (Padmini) was modelled on Kannagi as the personification of female virtues. The physician is commanded to the palace to treat the king where the princess (M. N. Rajam) falls for him and virtually enslaves him, preventing him from going back to his wife. She even goes to the extent of blinding the hero and in a long drawn out song-oriented climax, the wife prays before the gold statue of Parvathi, hence the title, and gets back her husband's sight and happiness.

Running to well over three hours (18,449 feet), the film was interestingly narrated onscreen with excellent dialogue and music (Viswanathan-Ramamurthy, lyrics Udumalai Narayana Kavi, Pattukottai Kalyanasundaram, Kannadasan, Marudhakasi).

A. S. A. Sami told this writer years later about Padmini's devotion to work. During breaks for lunch and ‘tiffin', she would walk up and down the shooting floor with the script in her hand studying the dialogue over and over and delivering it, giving it different shades of meaning. Sivaji was, of course, his usual excellent self. Rajam was impressive in a difficult role. The film also had T. R. Rajakumari, Nambiar, E. V. Saroja, T. P. Muthulakshmi and ‘Kuladeivam' Rajagopal.

The film had picturesque sets by T. V. S. Sama. Thanga Pathumai proved to be a hit in its re-release, and is one of the classics of Tamil Cinema.

Remembered for Padmini's and Sivaji Ganesan's performance, and the classic song ‘Koduthavaney'.

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