In the George Town area of Madras City, there was a street known as ‘Vaikunta Vaathiyar Street'. According to a local legend, an orthodox Brahmin priest of that area used to perform certain rituals and bless people on their deathbed to ensure they reached heaven fast! Obviously, he was in great demand. Hence the name.
C. N. Annadurai must have heard of the street because he used it in his play “Bairavan,” in which the king's priest wished to build a place to enable devotees to reach heaven and named it ‘Sorgavaasal'. This play was one of his earliest attempts to propagate the Dravidian political and rationalistic philosophy but, according to Kalyani Ramasami (Mrs. KRR), it was not staged for many reasons.
In 1954, Jupiter Pictures (along with a partner N. K. Kaliappa) produced it under the banner Parimalam Pictures (Parimalam was Anna's eldest adopted son) as Sorgavaasal. Anna loyalist K. R. Ramasami played the hero, who rebels against orthodoxy, superstition and meaningless rituals. The film was shot partly at Central Studios, Coimbatore (which Jupiter Pictures had taken on lease during the mid-1940s) and at Neptune Studios, Adyar, Madras, where they had shifted during the mid-1950s.
Mathivaanan (Ramasami) is a reformist poet who works hard to change society and wishes to find a suitable match for his sister (Anjali Devi). She falls in love with a young man (Rajendran), and the ambitious king (Veerappa) sends the poet to a neighbouring kingdom to persuade the princess (Padmini) to marry him (king). However, she falls in love with the poet.
The king under the thumb of the ritualistic guru (Balasubramaniam) who plans to build his ‘Sorgavaasal' creates trouble for the poet and his sister. But ultimately the lovers unite and live happily thereafter!
Many of the songs had a strong atheistic and rationalistic angle. Expectedly many songs were rendered by Ramasami with his usual verve. One of the lines in a song runs as follows…. ‘Engey sorgam.....engey sorgam enrey thedugireer….emaarndhu odugureer…athu angey illai…athu ingey undu….!' The lyrics were by Udumalai Narayana Kavi, and the music was by C. R. Subbaraman and his talented assistants who soon created history — M. S. Viswanathan-T. K. Ramamurthi.
One song breezily rendered by KRR, ‘Raja magal ranee puthu rojamalar meynee, beshana oru maami varaporal paru nee...' became popular.
The movie stirred up quite a controversy. The political innuendoes in it led to Censorship problems, which ultimately left the film mauled. For example, there was a song in which a line referred to the Congress Party leader, K. Kamaraj. (‘Rajaathiraja namma raja, intha rajiyithai aalavandha kamarajaa…!') The shocked censors deleted the line and it was replaced with some innocuous words. Some scenes even had to be re-shot in a hurry.
(One of the assistant directors told this writer years later that some sets had to be re-erected which included a jail in which Anjali Devi was imprisoned. The director (editor-turned-filmmaker A. Kasilingam) instructed the actor not to hold the prison bars tightly in bursts of emotion because the paint was still wet and would stick to her palms!
The art direction was by the great production designer A. K. Sekhar who also excelled in other departments of filmmaking. G. N. Velumani was the production manager who would soon become a successful producer, making films with Sivaji Ganesan and others.
In spite of the impressive cast, Anna's powerful writing and tuneful music, Sorgavaasal did not fare as well as expected at the box-office because of the controversy and mauling by the Censors. Yet thanks to the same controversial content, the film achieved the status of a cult movie.