blast from the past Columns

Natyarani (1949)


Natyarani, a dance-oriented film — as the title indicates, was directed by successful filmmaker of 1930s and 1940s of Tamil cinema, B.N. Rao (original name B.N. Nair) featuring Vasundhara Devi, the glamour girl of 1940s and heroine of movies such as Mangamma Sapatham and Rishyashringar. However, Vasundhara Devi (Vyjayanthimala’s mother) did not act in the entire movie due to certain reasons, and she was replaced by another multilingual star and actor B.S. Saroja. Several scenes had already been shot with Vasundhara Devi and the cost-conscious producer did not want to discard those sequences, which included song and dance sequences. In a smart move, the writer Kambadasan (now totally forgotten) came up with a brilliant idea. The heroine named Shanthala (Vasundhara) is killed in a fire, and she becomes a roving spirit that enters the body of another woman also named Shanthala (Saroja)! The rest of the film was shot with Saroja as heroine. In a small village, a swami (Raja Ayyangar) runs an ashram in which he teaches fine arts such as Classical dance and music. A young milkmaid Shanthala (Vasundhara) supplies milk to the swami every day. She has a strange dream about her future of fame, and conveys it to her friend Veni (Krishna Bai) who laughs at her. Shanthala worships an idol of Lord Shiva on the outskirts of the village and cries before Him mentioning her problem about people not taking her seriously. Shiva appears before her and teaches her a ‘mantra’ to conquer her problems. The King of Hoysala, Vishnuvardhana (Rajamani) meets the swami who is writing a treatise on Classical dance, Natya. He recites a song, which is heard by Shanthala, and she begins to dance, presenting the mudras perfectly. The king is enchanted by her dance movements and falls for her. The next day he meets her and marries her by exchange of rings. He does not tell her that he has a queen (Jayamma) and tells her that he will take her to the palace on an auspicious day.

The day dawns, but there is no trace of the king! Shanthala goes to the palace where the queen tries to poison her. What happens to her and how she joins the king forms the rest of the story. Raja Ayyangar was a popular Carnatic musician of the old Mysore State who had recorded on gramophone his songs with only the harmonium as the accompanying instrument instead of a violin. His most famous song is ‘Jagadhodharana’, which has been rendered by Carnatic music legends such as M.S. Subbulakshmi and M. Balamuralikrishna. The film had scenes involving both Vasundhara Devi and B.S. Saroja playing the same role under the same name, which caused enormous confusion; Natyarani failed at the box-office.

There were also dances by Lalitha-Padmini. Lyrics were written by Papanasam Sivan and S. Rajaram, and dances were choreographed by V. Madhavan. The legendary musician D.K. Pattammal and actor -singer Kothamangalam Seenu lent their voices to the songs, but they did not become popular. Thavamani Devi (known as Sinhalese Cuckoo for her singing abilities) played a minor role and sang a song.

Remembered For The curious storyline and presence of Vasundhara Devi.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2022 7:06:49 PM |

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