Vaira Maalai 1954

A .C. Pillai, a bank clerk-turned-film producer, was active for a short while in the 1950s, making movies along with Congress worker and theatre person Sri Patha Shankar. Their most successful film was the award-winning Mangayar Thilakam, directed by L. V. Prasad. Pillai also produced the historical movie Rani Samyuktha with M. G. Ramachandran and Padmini in the lead. But the film bombed at the box office.

Vaira Maalai was a situation comedy based on a stage play by ‘Thottakara' Viswanathan, a corporate executive and noted amateur theatre person and playwright popular in the early 1950s. His play, ‘Thottakaaran', was a success and hence the prefix to his name! Today, he is barely remembered except by old-timers and theatre buffs of the bygone era.

Vaira Maalai was built around a diamond necklace that goes missing. The screen story is highly complicated with the switching of identities between two young men (Manohar and Mali), the -known Kannada film comedian and producer Vaadhiraj playing a woman, and an insane aunt (Chellam) creating problems for one and all. Padmini and Ragini play the two young women providing the romantic interest, while comedian Thangavelu and noted stage and screen actor Raghavan play the roles of father and uncle! Well-known character actor of the day VPS Mani plays a police inspector. This film was one of the early efforts of the legendary music composing duo Viswanathan-Ramamurthy and the noted Kannada film music composer and talented instrumentalist G. K. Venkatesh who sings a song off screen.

The lyrics were by Kuyilan, Kanakasubbu and Kannadasan, who was fast creating a niche for himself in the industry. Expectedly, there were dance numbers and a dance drama by Padmini and Ragini. During that period, many stage artistes made their way to the silver screen such as Manohar (the hero of the movie), Nagesh, ‘Major' Soundararajan, Y. G. Mahendra, Cho, ARS, V. S. Raghavan, Mouli, ‘Crazy' Mohan' and Visu. Playwrights too started making movies, the most successful of them all being K. Balachander, who introduced new trends in Tamil cinema. Indeed, the contribution of Tamil theatre to cinema since the early days of the ‘Boys' Company Movement and the successful amateur theatre movement deserves a detailed study and awaits to be written by a competent theatre and film historian.

One of the assistant directors of this film was G. Ramakrishnan, who later directed Tamil movies with distinction. (Now retired, he is the nephew of the legendary K. Ramnoth.)

Art direction was by Ganga, while the dances were composed by A. K. Chopra and Govind Gopal. Chopra was quite popular then and appeared occasionally on screen like in the song sequence in the Hindi version of the S. S. Vasan ‘magnum opus' Chandralekha .

The cinematography was by P. L. Rai, while the cameraman was H. S. Venu (M. L. Vasanthakumari's brother). The later day leading lensman P. N. Sundaram was an assistant in this movie.

This film was shot at Vauhini Studio, which was then at the height of film production activity in more than one language.

The film was directed by N. Jagannath. Few remember him today. Hailing from Andhra, he was active for some years, making movies both in Telugu and Tamil. His wife Kalyanasundari Jagannath was a well-known short story writer. ‘Vaira Maalai', the popular stage play, did not repeat the success on the silver screen.

Remembered for the humorous dialogue and the complicated switching of identities.

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