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M.S. Subbulakshmi: From music to movies

M.S. Subbulakshmi. Photo: The Hindu Archives  

Madurai Shanmukhavadivu Subbulakshmi, or MS, as she is popularly known, was a musical genius. But there was another side to her; she was also an actor, having essayed fine performances in the films she was part of. Today, on her birth anniversary, we take a look at those projects…

(M.S. Subbulakshmi in Sevasadanam. Photo: The Hindu Archives)

Film: Sevasadanam (1938)

Director: K Subrahmanyam

One of the early films to advocate reformist social policies, this project, said to be a film version of a Premchand novel, was directed by K Subrahmanyam. “It was he (K Subrahmanyam) who found a star in MS,” says Film News Anandan, film chronicler, “ Sevasadanam, a film on social reform, ran very well in those days.”

(M.S. Subbulakshmi in Sakuntalai. Photo: The Hindu Archives)

Film: Sakuntalai (1940)

Director: Ellis R. Dungan

A film on Shakuntala’s life, this film was directed by American director Ellis Dungan. It featured another Carnatic musician, G.N.Balasubramaniam, in the male lead. It was also the film that had MS in tears - because Ellis Dungan scolded her in front of everyone (with the permission of her husband, Sadasivam) in order to extract a befitting the performance! Sakuntalai featured many songs; two of them were six-minute songs, at a time when three-minute numbers were the norm.

(M.S. Subbulakshmi in Savithri Photo: The Hindu Archives)

Film: Savithri (1941)

Director: Y.V.Rao

The title role of this flick was played by Marathi and Hindi star Shanta Apte, who learnt her lines in Tamil to play it to perfection. MS was also part of the team, but was cast in a male role – playing the character of Narada! This unique casting, the idea of the filmmaker (Y.V.Rao), caught the fancy of movie-going audiences and ensured that the film was the talk of the town. This project is also said to have raised funds for Kalki, the national Tamil weekly launched by Subbalakshmi’s husband, Sadasivam.

(M.S. Subbulakshmi in Meera Photo: The Hindu Archives)

Film: Meera (1945)

Director: Ellis R. Dungan

If her other films established her as an actor, MS became a national star after the release of Meera, first in Tamil and subsequently in Hindi. The historical film fully utilised MS’s singing prowess – the ‘Katrinile Varum Geetham’ number is popular to this day. The film’s Hindi version, which featured an introduction by Sarojini Naidu, catapulted Subbulakshmi to fame.


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Printable version | Jul 29, 2021 2:50:44 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/mssubbulakshmi-from-music-to-movies/article7655447.ece

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