Blast from the past Columns

Jothi 1939

Jothi (1939)  

During the early decades of Tamil cinema, many movies about Hindu saints were made, most quite popular. The trend continued till the Dravidian Movement led by ‘Periyar’ E.V. Ramasami Naicker and his rationalist philosophy began to make inroads, reducing the production of such films. One of the most successful films of the 1930s was Jothi (alternatively titled Sri Jyothi Ramalinga Swamigal) made by Jothi Pictures and directed by T.R. Raghunath. A Madras University graduate, Raghunath began his career as a sound recordist and later graduated to filmmaking, working for a short while under elder brother Raja Chandrashekhar, who made films such as Ashok Kumar and Raja Mukthi for M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar.

The screenplay, based on the life of Saint Ramalinga Swamigal of Vadalur, was written by Pammal Sambandam Mudaliar who contributed much to Tamil theatre and cinema of the early years. The dialogue was written by C.A. Lakshmanadas about whom not much is known today. The lyrics and music were by Madurai Mariyappa Swamigal.

Raja Chandrashekhar supervised the making of the film besides working on the screenplay. R.S. Mani was the assistant director. With cinematography by A. Kapoor and audiography by V.B. Dathe, the film was shot at Bharath Lakshmi Pictures Studio in Calcutta.

The film traces the life of the saint from the time he was born. Interestingly, the saint’s father Ramaiah was played by the legendary nattuvanar V.B. Ramaiah Pillai, while mother Chinnammai was played by Madurai A. Sundaram who showed early promise but faded soon. Three different actors played the saint at three stages of his life — ‘Master’ Ramudu as the child, ‘Master’ Mahadevan as the teenager, and K.A. Muthu Bhagavathar as the adult. N.S. Krishnan, T.A. Mathuram, M.R. Swaminathan and others provided comic relief. There were many songs in the movie, written in high-flown Tamil and set to tune in a variety of Carnatic and Hindustani ragas including Hindustan Kapi, Kaanada, Karaharapriya, Sindhubhairavi, Chakravaakam, Navarasachandrika, Thodi, Pahadi, Vaachaspathi, Hindustan Kalyani, Mohanam, Behag, Saaranga, Kedharagowla, Bilahari, Vasantha and Desikam.

Most of the songs became popular and the gramophone discs, then known as ‘plates,’ released by Odeon Records sold well. Odeon was owned by AV. Meiyappan.

One of the incredible happenings in the saint’s life is about his end during the 1870s. He walked into a room and asked his disciples to lock it. He was never seen again and all kinds of rumours floated around about what could have happened to him. When the authorities broke open the door, they found nobody inside and no mortal remains were ever found. His disciples believed he had attained eternal bliss. A photographer tried to take pictures of him several times but nothing was recorded on film, and whatever one sees today of the saint are only paintings. Matter can neither be created nor destroyed, say scientists, but the mortal remains of the Swamigal were never found. Sadly, no print of this rare solo is available today, and even stills are hard to get. The film ran for 18 weeks, a big hit indeed.

Remembered for: its Carnatic and Hindustani music, deft direction by Raghunath, and the performances by veteran artistes.


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