Blast from the past Columns

Balamani 1937

Balamani  

In the early 20th century, detective fiction was very popular not only among the Tamils living in the Madras Presidency as it was then known, but also in other countries such as Malaya (later divided into Singapore and Malaysia), Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and certain parts of South Africa. Writers such as Vaduvoor K. Duraiswami Ayyangar, Arani Kuppusami Mudaliar, and Vai. Mu. Kothainayaki Ammal were very well known. Duraiswami Ayyangar belonged to Vaduvoor but lived in Kumbakonam and later in Triplicane, Madras. Many of his books were bestsellers and some like Menaka, Digambara Samiyar, and Balamani were made into movies. Ayyangar’s novels, which ran into several volumes, were largely inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and G.W.M. Reynolds. Reynolds wrote a 20-plus volume called The Mysteries of the Court of London, exposing the Royal scandals during the reign of George IV of England, which was banned in the British Empire but printed on the sly even in places like Madras and sold well. His novel Robert Macaire the Bandit was the inspiration for the Gemini Studios-S.S. Vasan magnum opus Chandralekha (1948).

Balamani is based on a two-volume novel by Ayyangar alternatively titled Pucca Thirudan. In this story, a rich young girl Balamani is to marry a wealthy man. But after a robbery in her palace one night, she and her fiancé are apparently abducted. When the girl regains consciousness, she finds herself in a dark cave, with no idea of what happened. Her fiancé abandons her and gets away. Balamani tries to get back home but, while wading across a river, she finds the body of a child. She decides to take the body with her and bury it, but suddenly the cops appear and arrest her, charging her with the child’s murder. Balamani is given a life sentence. On appeal before the Salem District Court, her family engages Eardley Norton (the real-life legendary barrister of Madras and later Calcutta) who defends her in court and gets her acquitted. The real crooks are caught, the mystery solved, and the lovers reunited.

Sahasranamam plays Ranjit Singh, the detective who investigates cases in most of Ayyangar’s crime stories. The attractive T.S. Jaya played Balamani; despite her good looks, the actress never made it to the top. T.K. Shanmugam played the male lead.

The film was directed by P.V. Rao, known for his indiscipline and licentiousness on the sets. The producers Shanmughananda Talkies and TKS Brothers were shocked and furious at the way the movie was finally presented. Not surprisingly, the film fared badly at the box office.

TKS Brothers took revenge in their next movie Gumasthavin Penn, where they created the character of a film director V.P. War (P.V. Rao reversed!) who does nothing right. The role of the nutty director was played by K. R. Ramasami, later the star of Velaikkari and other movies.

Remembered for: the storyline

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2021 9:18:04 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/cinema-columns/blast-from-the-past-balamani-1937/article6625126.ece

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