Thozhilaali was based on the real-life story of producer ‘Sandow’ M.M. Chinnappa Thevar, who rose from humble beginnings as a milk supplier to a movie studio owner in Coimbatore. Later, he started acting in minor roles in Tamil cinema. He made it big as a producer (he also made Haathi Mere Saathi in Hindi), who mostly worked with MGR as hero.
In Thozhilaali , MGR plays a handcart-puller who ekes out a living and lives with his mother (S.N. Lakshmi). The film opens with shots of MGR pulling a fully-loaded handcart. He joins a bus fleet company owned by Asokan, as a conductor. Two women fall in love with him – one is a music teacher (Ratna in her debut) and another is K.R. Vijaya, the daughter of a bus fleet owner. The villain (Nambiar) is the driver of the bus, in which MGR works as a conductor. He and his minion steal some money with which they open a rival bus company, which goes on to become a successful venture. The fleet owner faces heavy losses, loses all his wealth, and ends up living in a dharamsala with his daughter. When MGR starts his bus transport company, he goes to invite his former boss to inaugurate his company, and is shocked to find him living in abject poverty.
Finally, the villain is exposed, and the hero renders justice and marries his lover, the music teacher. The film has interesting fight sequences–the most popular one being the fight that takes place between MGR and Nambiar, inside a moving bus.
Thozhilaali was one of the earliest hit films of MGR, and ran for over 100 days. Though he has done many successful films earlier, Thozhilaali proved to be a turning point in his career (1960s), which saw him not only as a top box-office hero, but also as a cult figure and icon of Tamil cinema.
His themes included the eternal love and affection for his mother and sister, and seeking to help the poor and needy, with the characters he played generally coming from lesser means.
During a certain period, he was known as ‘Minimum Guarantee’ Ramachandran, because his films gave an assured substantial return for the producer, financier and exhibitors. This film had another reason for its success, namely the music composed by the maestro K.V. Mahadevan. The were about eight songs, and one song, ‘Andavan Ulagathin Mudalali… (filmed on MGR, voice: T.M. Soundararajan,), with meaningful lyrics became a superhit. The lyrics were by Maayavanathan, Alangudi Somu and Koothanpoondi Sundaram.
Remembered for : The interesting storyline, the music of K.V. Mahadevan and impressive performances by MGR, Asokan, Nambiar, Vijaya, Ratna and comedy by Nagesh and Manorama.