Tukaram 1938

vintage film From Tukaram  

Musiri Subramania Iyer, K. Sarangapani, K. Seetha, R. Balasubramaniam, K. A. Chokkalinga Bhagavathar, R. Balasaraswathi

Central Studios Limited, Coimbatore, was established in 1937 by a group of mill-owners such as R. K. Ramakrishnan Chettiar (Sir R. K. Shanmugham Chetty’s brother), and a college fresher S. M. Sriramulu Naidu (later of Pakshiraja Films and Studio fame). After prolonged discussions, Chettiar, Naidu, the film director B. N. Rao and others decided to film the life of the famed patron saint of Maharashtra, Tukaram.

Prabhat Studio of Poona had filmed the story with incredible success, which obviously had persuaded Rao and his producers to make it in Tamil and Telugu so that the project would be economically viable.

Who would play the legendary saint, Tukaram? He had to sing well, be not too young and appear saintly, at least on screen. And of course, act, if he could! It was the fashion of the day to import Carnatic musicians into films. Following this trend, another giant of Carnatic music, Musiri Subramania Iyer, was chosen to play Tukaram. Born in 1899, Musiri rose to the top with his fine voice and majestic style of singing. His gramophone records sold by the sackful, with ‘Nagu momu…’ creating history as one of the all-time hits of Carnatic music. Despite his talent, Musiri was no movie actor and, all concerned had a tough time making him act. Tukaram had to sport a moustache and Musiri could not bear the itching caused by the gum in it. The spirit-gum, when dry, pulls at the skin and it could cause severe discomfort. Poor Musiri, unable to bear the torture, cried halt, and there was no option but to stop shooting and wait for the hero to grow his own facial hair!

B. N. Rao (Balakrishnan Narayana Nair from Tellicherry, how he became B. N. Rao, is another interesting story!) directed both language versions. This was his first Tamil film and he was then not familiar with the language and the on-set communication between the director and the singer-hero was in King’s English. It triggered ‘Baby’ R. Balasaraswathi (later of ‘Malligai Poomalai Rojaa.’ song fame) who played Tukaram’s daughter to ask Musiri if the film was being made in English too!

Tukaram was a success enough to keep its director on with Central Studios to make more films. Musiri, however, forgot all about films and continued his flourishing career in Carnatic music. (In the Telugu version, the famous Telugu stage and screen singing star C. S. R. Anjaneyulu played the title role.) Sadly no trace of this vintage film exists except for a few stills with the Musiri family and some song discs.

Remembered for the only movie of the iconic Carnatic musician Musiri Subramania Iyer.