History & Culture

Sahasra Siracheda Apoorva Chintamani (1960)

Blast from the past  

The advent of talkies drew some affluent entrepreneurs towards movies. One such young man was Tiruchengodu Ramalingam Sundaram whose family was in textile business in Coimbatore. T.R. Sundaram after studying textile engineering in Leeds, England was looking after the family business. Finding a huge potential in movies, he along with S. S. Velayudham formed Angel Pictures in Salem and produced a couple of Tamil films. Sundaram later turned independent and founded Modern Theatres Ltd., in Salem with a fully equipped studio. The first film Sundaram directed was Sati Ahalya (1937) and the next year he had produced the first Malayalam talkie, Balan. From then on there was no looking back and he was the first to produce 100 films under one banner. He himself had directed most of them. Later D. Ramanaidu broke this record of producing most number of films by an individual to enter into Guinness Book of World Records.

One of Sundaram’s big hits in Tamil was Aayiram Thalai Vaangiya Apoorva Chinthamani (1947) based on a popular Tamil folklore story which also found its way to Telugu. Thirteen years later, he remade this movie in Telugu titled, Sahasra Siracheda Apoorva Chinthamani promoting Syed Lal his talented associate director to wield the megaphone. Syed Lal signed his name as Sd. Lal but a title card artist wrote his name as S. D. Lal in the credit titles and that name stuck to him.

The Story: Princess Chinthamani (Devika) aims for eternal fame. A wicked sorcerer in the guise of a sadhu, with an ulterior motive of gaining absolute power promises to fulfil her wish if she follows his advice. He gives three questions to her that are in fact his misdeeds, to pose to the princes and if the answers are wrong he will signal her from a secret chamber and she has to behead them. The first person to be beheaded thus was Chinthamani’s suitor the Purandhara king (Haranath). When the score reaches 999 prince Pratap (Kantharao) enters along with his companion Kali (Ramana Reddy), befriends Kamalakshi (Girija) the confidante of Chinthamani, gets the questions, sets on an adventurous journey, returns with the answers. Eventually the fake sadhu is beheaded by one of his victims, a king (Rajanala), and all the 999 slain princes are brought to life and thus the story ends on a happy note with Pratap marrying Kamalakshi and Chinthamani her beau Purandhara Maharaja.

Cast & Crew: The Tamil original version ran to nearly four hours with 20, 050 ft. length. S.D. Lal trimmed it down to 17,000 ft. He had deftly linked the three sub plots to the main story and presented the third sub plot by showing the actual incidents as inter cuts. This technique was appreciated by both audience and the critics. With high production values and well choreographed action scenes the movie, released on April 1, 1960 had a fairly good run. C.A.S. Mani and Madhavan Nair handled the camera and Balu edited the movie. Interestingly, Lal’s younger brother Syed Shaheed (S.S.) Lal also debuted as an assistant cameraman. Athreya wrote the dialogues.

Gummadi excelled as the fake sadhu and Ramana Reddy was at his usual best. Lanka Sathyam in a brief cameo showcased how to enact comedy without resorting to gimmicks. Acting honours were equally shared by Kantharao, Devika, Girija and Chayadevi who was paired with Ramana Reddy. Haranath, Rajanala, Allu Ramalingaiah, Kaikala Satyanarayana, Rajasri, Jayanthi (as Kamala Kumari), B.S.Saroja, Jayasri played guest roles.

K.V. Mahadevan composed the music for Athreya and Kosaraju’s lyrics. ‘ Gootilona Chiluka goodu vadili raadu’ (P.B.Srinivos) and the duet ‘ Anuragamulo mana yogamulo…’ (PBS, P. Susheela) were among the hits.

Trivia: Jaggaiah was the original choice to play the hero and a few days work was also done on him. Despite polite requests not to smoke on the set, when Jaggaiah continued with his habit, T.R. Sundaram settled his account and called Kantharao who was chosen to play one of the princes for a fresh make up test and took him for the lead role.

S. D. Lal later directed many successful films, most of them starring N.T. Ramarao. He is remembered by the industry folks more for his tireless efforts in building a colony for directors and other technicians in Chennai’s film town, Kodambakkam. During his stint with Modern Theatres he came in contact with one of the company’s partners Rajaram who later became a minister in the then DMK Government. Lal met him and apprised him of the need for a housing colony for directors. The result is the present day Rajaram Directors Colony which still houses many film luminaries. Again, it was S.D. Lal along with B.S. Narayana who founded the South Indian Film Directors’ Association (SIFDA).

S. D.Lal’s son S. D. Meer, a cinematographer is a reputed director of television serials. He is married to Bhuvaneswari, daughter of yesteryear actors Nagabhushanam and Rakthakanneru Sita. Their eldest son Abid Bhushan is an actor and plays Nachiketh in the crime serial, Real Detectives and their younger son Asif Bhushan is a visual effects expert. Lal’s younger son S. D. John is a popular cinematographer and is married to actress Hema.

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