When Hugo played in Tamil

With a musical version of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables being staged in the city this weekend, here’s a flashback from randor guy of Ezhai Padum Padu, the 1950 Tamil movie adaptation of the classic

Published - June 28, 2014 07:26 pm IST

This weekend (June 28 and 29), the Kuku Company presents the musical of Victor Hugo’s immortal French classic Les Miserables at Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao Auditorium. Since its original publication in 1862, the novel has seen innumerable adaptations in movies, TV and radio shows, theatre, animated films, and musicals. As a movie, it has been adapted more than 35 times in almost every conceivable language, including Turkish, Spanish, Korean, Japanese, Italian, and, of course, French and English. In India, it was remade in Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam.

The 1935 Hollywood version, directed by Richard Boleslawski and starring Fredric March, Charles Laughton, Rochelle Hudson and others, is considered the best adaptation. Celebrated British stage and screen star Charles Laughton created movie history with his portrayal of the tough police Inspector Javert, which became the role model for several others. The film was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, but sadly missed winning it.

The Tamil version, Ezhai Padum Paadu, was a Deepavali release in 1950 and showed at Casino on Mount Road. This cinema had, since its inception in the early 1940s, only screened English films and this was the first time it was showing a Tamil movie, creating city entertainment history.

The sadly underrated K. Ramnoth, master lensman, screenwriter, editor, director, and producer, directed the hugely successful film. The multilingual Chittoor V. Nagaiah played Jean Val Jean superbly, earning the title ‘Paul Muni of India’ from the stormy petrel of Indian film journalism, Baburao Patel of Filmindia .

However, passionate literature student and co-actor N. Seetharaman, stole the film away with his portrayal of Inspector Javert, so much so that he became known as 'Javert' Seetharaman for good.

Others in the cast included Serukalathur Sama, T. S. Balaiah, V. Gopalakrishnan, T. S. Durairaj, Lalitha-Padmini (the Travancore Sisters) and ‘Lux Soap Beauty’ Kumari N. Rajam. (Now in her 80s and known as Thanjavur N. Rajalakshmi, she is a successful Bharatanatyam guru.)

The song ‘Vidhiyin Vilaivaal’, sung by (Radha)-Jayalakshmi and picturised on Rajam was shot in a single take without a cut, a technical marvel then. Even today, the film (often screened on television) leaves a stunning impact on both film technicians and viewers.

Here’s an interesting anecdote involving the young actor Gopalakrishnan and producer Sriramulu Naidu, who was known for his autocratic attitude. On the day that a dream sequence had to be shot, Ramnoth sent word that he could not come to work because his wife was ill. The shot was a song sequence of Lalitha fantasizing about Gopalakrishnan, who she is in love with. The young Gopi, all of 18 or 19, a true blue disciple of his director, went back to his hotel room in the absence of Ramnoth. An annoyed Naidu sent for him, saying he would direct the shot in the absence of Ramnoth. Gopi refused to come and, after heated argument, was sent packing back to Madras. Naidu shot the dream scene with Ragini, the youngest Travancore Sister, dressing up as a boy and doubling for Gopi. Naidu used long shots and mid-shots, mostly of her back, but he did complete the scene!

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.