Blast from the past Columns

Ambikapathi (1957)

A still from Ambikapathi (1957)  

Ambikapathi was directed by Pa. Neelakantan, who also wrote the dialogues along with Ma. Lakshmanan. Another version of the same film in 1937 was directed by Ellis R. Dungan and with M. K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar and M. R. Santhanalakshmi playing the lead roles.

Ambikapathi is about the immortal love story of Ambikapathi and Amaravathi, which took place in the 12th century. Ambikapathi (Sivaji Ganesan) is the son of a poet, Kambar (M.K. Radha), the asthana poet  of the king, Kulothunga Chola (Chittoor V. Nagaiah ). Ambikapathi falls in love with princess Amaravathi (P. Bhanumathi) and looks forward to marrying her. 

King Kulothunga who comes to know of their love, challenges Ambikapathi to compose 100 poems extempore extolling the virtues of Divine Bliss ( Perinbam in Tamil) without bringing in mortal love. Ambikapathi, takes up the challenge and begins his narration by invoking God.  Amaravathi, seated in the King’s court, mistakenly counts the invocation song as part of the 100 poems. Seeing Amaravati emerge from a balcony, Ambikapathi assumes he has completed narrating the 100 songs and celebrates by singing a song about his lover’s beauty. Finding that Ambikapathi has failed in the challenge, the king orders him to be beheaded. Ambikapathi is beheaded and Amaravathi, who rushes to meet him, also dies in a state of shock.

Though the director cast M. K. Radha as Kambar, he was reportedly keen on casting M. K. Thyagaraha Bhagavathar. MKT, however, refused to play this minor role.

Also, there was considerable criticism over the casting of P. Bhanumathi as Amaravathi, as she looked old and did not quite fit the role. This was one of the reasons why the film did not do well, even though it has stellar performances by the cast and excellent music by G. Ramanathan. The screenplay was written by Chinna Annamalai, Sakthi Krishnaswamy and Ma. Lakshmanan. Cinematography was by V. Ramamurthi.

Lyrics were by the leading songwriters of Tamil Cinema then, including Thanjai N. Ramaiah Das, Kavingnar Kannadasan, K. D. Santhanam, Ku. Sa. Krishnamurthy, Ku. Ma. Balasubramaniam, Pattukottai Kalyanasundaram and Aadhimoolam Gopalakrishnan. There were a total of 30 songs sung by P. Bhanumathi, N. S. Krishnan, T. A. Mathuram, T. M. Soundararajan, C. S. Jayaraman, Sirkazhi Govindarajan, V. N. Sundaram, A. L. Raghavan, N. L. Ganasaraswathi, P. Susheela and L. R. Eswari.

Some songs like ‘Sinthanai sei maname’ (TMS), ‘Aadattuma konjam paadattumaa’ (P. Susheela), ‘Satrey sarindha kuzhaley’ (TMS), ‘Kannile irupathenna’ (TMS and P. Bhanumathi), ‘Masila nilave’ (TMS and PB) and ‘Vaada malare thamizh thene’ (TMS and PB) were hits.

The film was also known for its comedy track by NSK and T. A. Mathuram. NSK, sadly, passed away before the movie was completed. As a mark of gratitude, the movie was dedicated to him.

Despite the excellent cast, fine music and stellar performances by the lead artists, the film did not do as well as expected. The main reason cited for the failure of the film was that the 1937 version was still in the memory of Tamil movie-goers.

Remembered for: The fine performances of Sivaji Ganesan, P. Bhanumathi, M. N. Nambiar, Chittoor V Nagaiah and M.K. Radha, and the music of G. Ramanathan.

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Printable version | Apr 13, 2021 1:58:59 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/cinema-columns/tamil-film-ambikapathi-released-in-1957/article7855066.ece

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