Veera Pandya Kattabomman 1959

Sivaji Ganesan, S. Varalakshmi, Gemini Ganesan, ‘Javert’ N. Seetharaman, O.A.K. Thevar, Padmini, V.K. Ramasami and Ragini

Published - May 09, 2015 06:22 pm IST

Chennai: 01/04/2015:  Hindu: Cinema Plus: Blast from the Past:
Title: Veerapandiya Kattabomman, Cast: Sivaji Ganesan and others.

Chennai: 01/04/2015: Hindu: Cinema Plus: Blast from the Past:
Title: Veerapandiya Kattabomman, Cast: Sivaji Ganesan and others.

One of the much-written- about and equally criticised films in the history of Tamil Cinema is Veera Pandya Kattabomman (1959). Made at a huge cost, it was shot in Gevacolor and processed and printed at Technicolor in England. According to ‘Chitra’ S. Krishnaswamy who worked on the film but took no credit, B.R. Panthulu did not make any profit as such because of the high cost of production.

Kattabomman was of Telugu descent and hailed from Kandukuru, now part of Prakasam District in Andhra Pradesh. He spoke mostly Telugu and learnt Tamil when he moved south to Panchalankurichi and became its ruler. He had a brother Oomathurai. According to historians, he was also a major character, which was played by O.A.K. Thevar in the film. It was said that Oomathurai suffered from a speech defect and did not speak at all! However, many liberties were taken with the character of Kattabomman, which was mainly the contribution of writer, scholar and politician Ma. Po. Sivagnana Gramani, who wrote a book on the hero.

The movie had music composed by G. Ramanathan. There were as many as 12 songs sung by the top singers of that period such as P.B. Sreenivos, T.M. Soundararajan, Tiruchi Loganathan, Sirgazhi S. Govindarajan, S. Varalakshmi (who played a major role in the film), V.N. Sundaram, P. Susheela, K. Jamuna Rani, T.V. Rathnam, A.G. Ratnamala, and V.T. Rajagopal (GR’s assistant). Out of these songs, three became very popular — ‘Manam Kanintharul Vetri Vadivelaney’, ‘Singaraa Kanney’ and ‘Pogathey Pogathey En Kanavaa’. The premiere of Veera Pandya Kattabomman was held in London on May 10, 1959. The film’s final length was about 5,500 metres (18,000 ft). It became a critical and commercial success and had a theatrical run of 175 days. It was dubbed and released in Hindi as Amar Shaheed in 1960. It won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Tamil under the “Certificate of Merit” section (it was expected to win the best film of the year at the National Awards but for many reasons didn’t). It again created history at the 1960 Afro Asian Film Festival held in Cairo where it won three major awards — Best Film, Best Actor (Sivaji Ganesan), and Best Music Director (G. Ramanathan) and the news created enormous jubilation in Madras. Sivaji went to Cairo to receive the award in person. Writing about it in his autobiography later, he said he was excited to see overwhelming crowds on their feet standing and cheering, which continued for five long minutes.

The film opens with the shot of a plush red curtain parting, and in walks producer-director B.R. Panthulu talking about the film.

There was considerable criticism about the character of Kattabomman as visualised in the stage play of Sivaji Ganesan and the movie from eminent critics like Theodore Bhaskaran, Babu S. Krishnaswamy and Thamizhvaanan (he called Kattabomman ‘Kollaikaaran’). His son Lena Thamizhvaanan and several others have described the Kattabomman story as more fiction than history. So did the East India Company diaries as this writer gathered in his research. The pithy and ironic comment on this film was made by a bestselling popular Tamil weekly (no prizes for guessing!) In its last line, it stated “…. a new face called Kattabomman acted brilliantly as Sivaji Ganesan!”

However, the film created history and is now treated as a cult film, mainly because of the breathtaking performance of Sivaji Ganesan as Kattabomman.

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