Friday Review

Played many parts

T.R. Ramachandran became an established star very early in his career with the hit ‘Sabapathy,’ produced by AV. Meiyappan and A.T. Krishnaswamy and he never looked back. During a period in the 1940s he was the most active comedian, who also played major roles in films, which included ‘Dewan Bahadur,’ ’Devakanya,’ ‘Sri Valli,’ ‘Samsara Nowka,’ ‘Vidyapathi,’ ‘We Two’ (‘Naam Iruvar’), ‘Lavangi’ and ‘Vaazhkai.’

‘Dewan Bahadur’ (1943) was a Modern Theatres production and was all about an illiterate rich man (Kali N. Ratnam) honoured with the title ‘Dewan Bahadur’ by the British Rulers in India. Ramachandran, a critic of such people, addresses meetings where he speaks perfect English! In reality, he never learnt the language but his diction, pronunciation, and accent were perfect, which took even the producer and director T.R. Sundaram by surprise. Sundaram, educated in England, was awestruck by Ramachandran and gave him a handsome bonus!

One film that did not do well at the box office but attracted critical attention was ‘Vidyapathi’ (1946). It was based on Vaduvoor K. Duraiswami Ayyangar’s novel, ‘Vidyasagarar.’ This book was also staged as a play by the TKS Brothers as ‘Vidyasagar.’ Vaduvoor K. Duraiswami Ayyangar, J. R. Rangaraju, Arani Kuppuswami Mudaliar, and Vai. Mu. Kothainayaki Ammal were the pioneers of detective fiction in Tamil with Ayyangar being the most successful.

Written and directed by noted writer-filmmaker A. T. Krishnaswamy (ATK), ‘Vidyapathi’ , a comedy, had T. R. Ramachandran, K. Thavamani Devi and Trichur Premavathi in lead roles. Jupiter Pictures produced the film at Central Studios, Coimbatore.

Ramachandran played an eccentric wealthy boy, who believes in marrying for love and reads matrimonial columns daily! He tells his parents that he will “woo panni … love panni ... marry panni….” and get his wife! (the Famous lines written by ATK).

Interested by a matrimonial ad, he leaves home to meet the woman. On the way, he is drugged and robbed by some crooks, and is left with nothing but a loincloth! A fake sadhu (M.R. Swaminathan) picks him up and converts him into a ‘bala yogi’ to make money. By his clever publicity, the yogi becomes popular.

A zamindar (Balasubramaniam), who is carrying on with a devadasi (Thavamani), neglects his wife and daughter (Premavathi).

To make money, the sadhu introduces the yogi to the young woman. The two fall in love and after many twists and turns, Vidyapathi settles all scores, and finally marries the young woman!

Despite an interesting storyline, witty dialogue by ATK and delightful song and dance numbers by Thavamani Devi and Premavathi, ‘Vidyapathi’ did not fare well at the box office. However, Ramachandran was brilliant in his multi-faceted role.

‘Lavangi’ (1946), a Tamil venture of the famed, multi-lingual filmmaker Y.V. Rao, who is sadly neglected today, was a mix of fact and fiction built around a famed poet, Pandit Jagannath, who was believed to have served the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as one of his court poets. Ramachandran was at his comic best in the film.

Pandit Jagannath, a Sanskrit poet from Andhra who is well versed in many languages. He marries a young woman (Kumari Rukmini) in his village. Looking for fame and fortune, he heads for the court of Shah Jahan (B.R. Panthulu). Meanwhile, pining for her husband, the wife leaves home for Agra where she meets Empress Mumtaz Mahal (B. Jayamma) who takes her under her wing. She changes her appearance and lifestyle and names her Lavangi! The hero, unaware that she is his wife, falls in love and offers to marry her. Ultimately, the truth comes out and the couple is united.

The film had a saucy comedy track far ahead of its time. T.R. Ramachandran wants to know what happens on the wedding night and pesters his step-mother (K.R. Chellam) about it. A gypsy woman who comes seeking alms, offers to tell Ramachandran all about it and invites him to her hut. Later, his wedding is fixed and on the day, when he is about to tie the mangal sutra, the gypsy woman walks in pregnant with his kid! Ramachandran stole the show making very effective use of his eyes with hardly any dialogue.

The scene had the audience in splits whenever the film was screened, but some conservative folks thought it was vulgar for the 1940s!

(To be continued)


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Printable version | May 7, 2022 2:59:06 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/randor-guy-on-comedianhero-t-r-ramachandran-played-many-parts/article7329320.ece