After the phenomenal success of Parasakthi (1952), which marked Sivaji Ganesan's debut, came Panam, his second movie once again written by Mu. Karunanidhi. The movie was bankrolled and produced by AL. Srinivasan under his Madras Pictures banner.
The lyrics for all the songs were written by Srinivasan's brother, ace lyricist Kannadasan, with the exception of one song, which was written by Bharathidasan, the rebel poet of Pondicherry. Sivaji Ganesan and Padmini played the lead, while the other members of the NSK drama group such as T. K. Ramachandran,V. K. Ramasami, C. S. Pandian, Krishnan and Mathuram played significant roles. Old-timers such as B. R. Panthulu, C.V.V. Panthulu, V.P.S. Mani, ‘Kottapuli' Jayaraman, T. V. Sethuraman and S. D. Subbulakshmi were also in the cast. The movie was directed by N. S. Krishnan and the music composers were the up-and-coming duo Viswanathan-Ramamurthi.
The screen story was by Mu. Karunanidhi, while the storyline incorporating progressive ideas of social reform was said to be the creative contribution of NSK. There was a song ‘Thina Muna Kaana ….' which, of course, refers to the DMK — to avoid any trouble with the Film Censor Board, it was supposed to stand for ‘Thirukural Munnani Kazhagam. There was also a significant song about ‘money' (the title of the movie, Panam ). NSK sings it with many interesting satirical and socially relevant lines and refers to places where money could be stacked, spent or circulated — at Tirupathi-Tiruvannamalai temple ‘hundis,' in the black money market, at the Guindy race club, on buying votes in elections… the song, rich in content, became popular and can still be heard on TV channels.
The movie narrated the tale of a greedy, rich man with an only son who marries a poor native doctor's daughter. The promised dowry could not be given; the money-minded father-in-law sends the poor daughter-in-law away; and a police inspector who saves the girl from someone's clutches lusts after her. He imprisons her in a deserted bungalow. Meanwhile, the villainous father marries his son to a rich man's daughter who is in love with someone else. On their wedding night, she reveals her love affair, and the heart-broken husband walks out on her the same night… More complications follow resulting in a murder in the bungalow, which is captured on film by an amateur photographer. The hero is arrested for the crime and tried in court. During the climax, the abandoned camera is recovered and the pictures developed, revealing the real killer. The complications are solved and the two couples are united once more to lead a happy life. Karunanidhi's punch-rich dialogue in high flown Tamil and attractive alliteration became popular. Despite the star-studded cast and fine performances by Sivaji Ganesan, Padmini and others, the film failed to fill the coffers of the producers.
Remembered for the meaningful dialogue of Mu. Karunanidhi written in his inimitable style, and the songs about money, misers and, of course, the fast-progressing Dravidian movement, which would soon alter the history of not only this part of the country but also the entire nation.