Te. Po. Krishnaswamy Pavalar was a Tamil scholar and playwright of the early decades of the 20th century. He wrote plays about the Indian freedom movement and for the upliftment of Tamil culture. One of his Tamil plays, Khadarin Vetri (Victory of Khadhi Carter), with the Indian freedom movement as its theme was staged with success in faraway London in 1923 and was well received by even Britishers! His other play Pathi Bhakthi was also filmed and its rehash came out as a cult hit film Sathi Leelavathi (1936). It also introduced many new talents to Tamil cinema, such as S.S. Vasan (as writer), Ellis R. Dugan (director), M.K. Radha, T.S. Balaiah, N.S. Krishnan and last but not the least, M.G. Ramachandran in his movie debut as a police inspector.
One of his plays in Tamil was Punjab Kesari (The Lion of Punjab) which was successfully staged all over the Tamil-speaking areas of the old Madras Presidency and also neighbouring nations like Ceylon, Malaya (now Singapore and Malaysia), Burma.
It is a matter of regret that today he has been forgotten. However, for the tricolour portrait of his by the famed artiste and painter K. Madhavan commissioned by MGR, the world would not have known how this great scholar and patriot even looked like! Punjab Kesari also garnered much fame and name during the 1930s. Interestingly the title bears an allegorical reference to one of the forgotten leaders of the Indian Freedom Movement Lala Lajpat Rai, known as “The Lion of Punjab”.
With the success of the play, Punjab Kesari was made into a Tamil movie in 1938 with K.P. Kesavan who played the title role. An import from Tamil theatre Kesavan was quite popular during the early years of Tamil cinema. A rationalist and an agnostic he did not believe in playing roles in films of Hindu mythology or ones containing superstitious elements and illogical happenings. He opted out of such films which sadly cost him his career and he faded from public memory. Today only old-timers and film and theatre historians remember him. Later, Kesavan acted in a social film Iru Sahotharargal directed by Ellis R. Dungan.
Punjab Kesari (1938) had a conventional hero in the film, which was played by the popular stage actor then making his way into Tamil cinema, P.U. Chinnappa who soon rose to become one of the top singing stars of the1940s. The movie was directed by a Bombay-based Parsi filmmaker then active in Tamil Cinema, Frem Sethna. However, the movie met with only limited success.
The screen story of Punjab Kesari is long, full of twists and turns and somewhat predictable. It is about a freedom loving man named Punjab Kesari (Kesavan), a detective, and his assistant (Kali N. Ratnam) who calls himself by an unusual name ‘Karapaanpoochi’ (cockroach). Sundaranathan (Chinnappa) is a young man in love with a young woman Padmabai (Rajalakshmi), the daughter of a rich man Somanathan Prabhu (H. H. Sarma). The rich man decides to get his daughter married to the young man but there is a villain, (Perumal) who covets her and her wealth, with a gang behind him. They kill the rich man and foist the murder on the hero. He goes to prison, and a kind doctor (Kannan) engages the detective Punjab Kesari to find out the truth. Punjab Kesari and his assistant unmask the killer and the truth. Sundaranathan and Padmabai marry and live happily.
The film opens with a song, ‘Vande Matharam’ and Tamilians are urged to participate in the freedom struggle. Interestingly there is a Carnatic music composition of Saint Thyagaraja ‘Tholi nenu chesina pooja palamu’ sung by the heroine, Rajalakshmi.
The film was produced at the National Movietone Studio in Kilpauk, Madras, where today the famous Seetha Kingston School is situated. It was produced by Star Films. In spite of the interesting story line and popular actors of the day film, the film was only a reasonable success.
Remembered for: The storyline and impressive performances by the cast.