Cinema

Raja Desingu (1960)

Gingee or Senji in Tamil Nadu has a rich history that dates back to 200 BC. The main name that crops up in its history is that of Raja Desingu, who ruled the kingdom, though for a short period, but with great valour during the 18th Century. The epic saga of Raja Desingu became part of Tamil folklore. Ballads, stories, puppet shows, dance dramas, stage plays, and therukkoothoo (street plays) have been inspired by the tragic tale of this brave hero of Gingee.

Raja Desingu, the film based on this hero’s life, was produced by Lena Chettiar (S. M. Letchumanan Chettiar) under his banner, Krishna Pictures. It was written by Kavingnar Kannadasan and Makkalanban, and directed by T.R. Raghunath. G. Ramanathan composed the music and M. A. Rehman was the cinematographer. Lyrics were penned by Kannadasan, Udumalai Narayana Kavi, and Thanjai Ramaiah Das.

The story goes thus. Swaroop Singh (O. A. K. Thevar), the ruler of Gingee, treats both Hindus and Muslims with fairness. He and his wife Rambai (Rushyendramani) beget a son whom they name Tej Singh, pronounced Desingu (MGR) in Tamil. Swaroop meanwhile has an affair with Jaan Bibi (Lakshiprabha), and they have a son, Dawood Khan (MGR again), who is a little older than Desingu. Fearing that Dawood might pose a threat to the succession of the throne in later years, and upon the advice of his commander and close confidant Yusuf Khan (T. K. Ramachandran), Swaroop Singh persuades Jaan Bibi to leave Gingee, taking little Dawood with her. Desingu grows up with his childhood friend, another brave young man called Mohammed Khan (S. S. Rajendran).

Some years later, the Sultan of Delhi (M. G. Chakrapani) offers to free any State coming under his dominion, whose ruler manages to tame a wild horse from his stable. With the intention to free his kingdom, Swaroop Singh leaves to Delhi without informing his wife and son. But he fails to take the wild horse, and is therefore imprisoned by the Sultan. The news is broken to Desingu by the minister (Karikkol Raju) and he rushes to Delhi and seeks his uncle Bheem Singh’s (M. R. Santhanam) advice. Desingu manages to tame the horse and rides it amidst loud cheers by the huge gathering. The Sultan frees Swaroop Singh and grants Gingee’s independence. Desingu marries Ranibai (Bhanumathi), his uncle’s daughter. Meanwhile, Mohammed Khan (SSR) falls in love with Ayesha (Padmini).

In the meantime, Dawood (MGR), who is growing up as an illegitimate child, vows to rule Gingee some day. His mom, when in her deathbed, requests Dawood not to cause any harm to Desingu. Dawood goes to Arcot and wins the confidence of the Nawab, who appoints him as his General. When Dawood expresses his determination to subjugate Gingee, the Nawab says it is impossible as Desingu has the written proclamation of Ginjee’s independence in his custody. Desingu dismisses his general Yusuf Khan from service for molesting a woman; the humiliated Khan turns traitor, joins hands with Dawood, and gets hold of the written parchment from Desingu’s wife. As suggested by the royal astrologer, Desingu and his wife decide to be separated for three years, as an antidote for inauspicious placement of their stars. He lives alone and rules Gingee. Later, in a turn of complicated events, the brothers (MGR and MGR) are engaged in a bitter duel. Handicapped by his oath to not harm Desingu, Dawood is soon vanquished and lies mortally wounded. Yusuf Khan now informs him that Dawood is none other than his brother. His friend, Mohamed Khan (SSR) is also killed. Desingu is horrified by the death of his brother, and in a moment of abject remorse, he kills himself.

The film was in production for more than two years due to various problems. Changes were made in casting as well. Padmini, who plays a Muslim girl Ayesha, was initially cast as a Hindu princess. The director had already shot a Bharatanatyam song-and-dance sequence by Padmini, and when her character was changed into a Muslim, the song became incongruous. MGR objected to it, and it was removed from the film. Also, MGR’s fans did not want their superstar hero to die in the film, and they did not throng the theatres to see the film.

As a consequence, the film suffered in many ways, in spite of the melodious music composed by G. Ramanathan. There are 12 songs in the movie; most of them were melodious, and some of them like ‘Vanamevum rajakumara’ (Sirgazhi Govindarajan and Jikki) and ‘Sarasa Rani Kalyani’ (CS Jayaraman and P. Bhanumathi) became hits. These melodious songs, however, did not help the success of the film. The film was declared a flop as it hardly stayed in the theatres for 6 to 7 weeks.

Remembered for: The tuneful music and acting of MGR, Padmini, Bhanumathi, SSR, and others.

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Printable version | Nov 29, 2020 12:00:00 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/tamil-film-raja-desinghu-1960-featuring-mgr/article7544279.ece

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