Sunday, August 1, 2021

Pre -Independence Heroes and Heroines of Tamil Cinema

{P.U Chinnapa}






  Tamil cinema had established a place for itself even before the independence of India.Though technically it was on the way to upgradation,there was no dearth of storyline nor was there any paucity for acting skill. 

  As the stage for drama was well laid much earlier than the inception of cinema,there were men of calibre to lift Tamil Cinema to the next stage.It was not yet the time of mass heroes like MGR and Sivaji Ganesan.Though MGR set his foot in Tamil cinema before India's independence he could establish himself as an independent hero only at the dawn of independence.However there were high sounding heroes of popularity like Honnapa Bhagavdhar,as well as the astounding super heroes like M.K.Thiagaraja Bagavadhar and P.U Chinnappa with their singing voice mould capable of enchanting a huge line of audience.

  Honnappa Bhagavadhar who hailed from the Kannada region was busy with Tamil Cinema from 1941 to 1959.His films like Krishna Kumar,Sri Murugan{in which MGR also joined him} Arundhadhi,Valmiki,Sadhi Sukanya,Prabhavadhi,Sodhanai,Deva Manohari were some of his widely received films.His female pairs were T.R.Rajakumari,U.R.Jeeva Rathinam, N.C.Vasanthakokilam,K.Malathi,Pandari Bhai and P.Bhanumathi.Besides acting Honnappa Bhagavadhar also produced the famous film Uzhavukkum Thozhilukkum Vandhanai Seivom released in 1959.This film had Prem Nazir and E.V.Saroja playing the lead roles and it was directed by M.A.Thirumugam.

  Mayavaram Krishnasami Thyagaraja Bhagavadhar and Puthukkottai Ulakanadha Pillai Chinnappa were contemporary heroes who moved to stardom as the first super heroes creating a conflict of interests between their fans. Bhagavadhar was six years older than Chinnappa and appeared first in Tamil Cinema in 1934 with the film Pavalakodi directed by K.Subramanyan. Chinnappa's first film was Jupiter pictures' Chandrakantha.Both were talented singers but Bhagavadhar's scintillating voice conquered the hearts of music lovers with grace charm and extraordinary reach.Nevertheless both the heroes could make only their short innings because of various depressing events in their life.

  Bhagavadhar's list of films were,Ambikabadhi,Haridas,Sivakavi,Thirneelakandar, Amara Kavi Ashok Kumar Rajamukthi{in both these films MGR also did roles}Naveena Sarangadhara, Sathyaseelan{in which Bhagavadhar did dual roles}Chintamani,Pudhuvaazhvu and Sivakami {which was released after his death}.Bhagavadhar also produced the films Sathyaseelan and Pudhuvaazhvu.His female pairs were,S.D.Subbulakshmi,M.S.Devasena,K.Aswathamma, M.R.Santhanalakshmi,P.Kannamba,S.Jeyalakshmi,N.C.VasanthaKokilam,T.R.Rajakumari, V.N.Janaki,S.Varalakshmi,Lalitha and G.Varalakshmi.Most of his films were great hits and Haridas ran for three years at the Sun Theatre in Broadway,Chennai.

  Though P.U Chinnappa was introduced by Jupiter films,it was Modern Theatres that made him stamp his power of acting through the mega hit film Uthama Puthiran.{Later Venus Pictures came out with Sivaji Ganesan's Uthama Puthiran which was also a great hit}Chinnapa's other films with the Modern Theatres were Thayalan,Dharma Seelan and Manonmani.He did a few more films for Jupiter pictures of which Kannagi and Mahamaya stand out as Chinnapa's prime entries with that production house. His other major hits were Jegadhala Pradhaban,Aariyamala and Mangayarkarasi,all with Pakshiraja films.His film Rathnakumar inducted MGR in an important role.Chinnapa's most frequent female pair was T.R.Rajakumari followed by P.Kannamba and P.Bhanumathi

  Bhagavadhar was entangled in the murder case of Lakshmikanthan along with N.S.Krishnan and suffered imprisonment for two years which demoralised his frame of mind,besides affecting his fortunes.Though he had a spiritual bent of mind and dedicated most of his vocal wield for devotional songs his last days were really miserable and he died before seeing fifty years.Whereas Chinnappa died a sudden,untimely death when he was just thirty five years old.Though he had made a lot of fixed assets as houses in Pudhukottai his unforeseen death created shock waves in the film circle and his death was followed by poverty striking his wife and son,the reasons for which are said to be a case of mystery.

  There was a breezy hero during the pre independence period called M.K.Rdha whose father Madras Kandasamy Mudaliyar was a drama teacher.M.K.Rdhakrishnan who became M.K.Radha was introduced as hero in Sathileelavadhi{1936}directed by Ellis.R.Dungan in which MGR also played a supporting role.The screen play for this film was made by Kandasamy Mudaliyar.Then it was Gemini Studios'S.S Vasan who took M.K.Radha into lime light by his mega hit films like Chandralekha,Aboorva Sagodhararkal{dual roles}Samsaram,Moonru Pillaigal and Avvaiyar.All these films made history in Tamil cinema.

   Some of the other pouplar films of M.K.Radha during the early years were,Chandra Mohana, Maya Macheendra,Vanamohini and Kannamma En Kadhali.Porter Kandan,Pasavalai and Gnana Soundari were the other post independence remarkable entries of M.K.Radha,He then took up the roles of kings in films like Vanangamudi and Uthamaputhiran.The other Sivaji Ganesan films that Radha acted were as Kambar in Ambikapathi and as Padmini's father in Pudhayal. M.K.Radha's famous female pairs were M.S.Gnanambal{who became his spouse}  Pushpavalli, M.R.Sandhanalakshmi,K.Thavamani,P.Kannamba,P.Bhanumathi,G.Varalakshmi and Pandarbhai.Reputed film columnist Randor Guy called M.K.Radha 'the toast of theatre and cinema'.M.K.Radha cherished patriotism on stage and he was awarded Padmashri by the then President of India

   During this period there was an absolutely dynamic and sparkling actor called Ranjan whose original name was Ramanarayana Venkataramana Sarma,who was introduced in the film Ashok Kumar starring M.K Thyagaraja Bhagavadhar in the role of Gautama Bhuddha and later he appeared as Rishyasringar in the film bearing his role as title.But it was the most popular film Mangamma Sabadham made by S.S.Vasan that threw Ranjan to limelight.Ranjan rose to fame again as a celebrated villain in the epoch making film Chandralekhan as the power hungry younger brother of M.K.Radha.Movie lovers of those days who are still alive,will be cherishing in their memory the vulpine smile and the sharp dialogues of Ranjan in Chandralekha.

  Ranjan's next film as hero was Devar's Neelamalai Thirudan, in which he was paired with Anjalidevi.The song "Sathiyame Latchiyamaai kolladaa" by T.M.Soundarajan still echoes in audience memory with the musical mode imitating horse's clamps.Ranjan also acted in Minnal Veeran.He was like a sudden flash of lightning on Tamil big screen and faded away all of a sudden.Ranjan was an architect by his academic records and was an avid lover of dance and music.He ran his own music and dance school in Chennai.He is said to have passed  away in New Jersey,United States.

  Yet another great actor of those days was Serukulathur Sama.He appeared in titular roles in Krishnan Thoodhu {1940}Shailak {1940}and Baathruhaari{1944}.In fact his first role itself was as Lord Krishna in Draupati Vastrapaharanam{1935} and later in MKT's Chintamani {1937} Then he became Kambar in MKT's Ambikabadhi,Kanvarishi in M.S.Subbulakshmi's Sakuntalai, Sundara mamunivar in P.U.Chinnapa's Manonmani,as vedhiyar in Nandanar,as a sage in MGR's Marmayogi and as a Budhist Monk in Burma Rani.His other notable films were M.K.T's Rajamukthi,Sivakavi and Thiruneelakandar and other well known films like Ezhai Padum Padu, Panam Paduthum Seyyum,Manithan Maravillai and Pattinathaar. 

  The other notable heroes of the Pre independence era were,K.R.Ramasamy,T.R.Mahalingam and T.R.Ramachandran.Of these,the first two were actors-cum singers and the third hero carried a comic vibe in his acting style.T.R.Mahalingam's singing wield and depth were incomparable.All the three heroes have already found a suitable place in separate articles of this blog. 

    Among the heroines of Tamil cinema, who started their career during the pre independence era many of those paired with MKTand Chinnappa,were not not to be seen with the next generation's two mass heroes MGR and Sivaji Ganesan.However V.N.Janaki who started her career as a dancer in Manmadha Vijayam in 1939,continued her dancing roles in a few more films and became a lead actress in Sakada Yokam.Her next famous film was Raja Mukthi in which M.K.T was the hero and MGR did a supporting role.

  After this Janaki was paired with MGR in films like Mohini and Marudha Naattu Ilavarasi,both Jupiter Pictures' releases.She also acted with MGR in Naam.But her most celebrated film is Aayiram Thalaivaangiya Aboorva Chinatamani produced by the Modern Theatres and she did a dynamic role play as Chintamani.Later she was paired with N.N.Kannappa in Devaki and her last film was Citadel Pictures' Vijayapuri Veeran. She became MGR's life partner and was the first woman chief minister of Tamil Nadu,for a short spell,after the passing away of MGR in 1987.

    Another exsquisite heroine of that period was Madhuridevi who was assigned a small role in M.K.Thyagaraja Bhagavadhar's Ambikapathi{1939}.Then she acted in Pandurangan and Vayadi but found a significant role in Aayiram Thalaivangiya Aboorva Chintamani along with the main star V.N.Janaki.Following this she shared screen space with Janaki in films like Rajamukthi, Mohini, and Devaki.But she will be ever remebered for her wonderful role in Mandhirikumari and the song'Vaaraai Nee Vaarai'will bring her to audience memory along with the scene showing her push down her evil husband{S.A.Natarajan} to death from a hill top,for the sake of her country. 

  Madhuri was paired with MGR in Marmayogi and Kumari,besides doing a strong role in MGR's most popular film Mohini,being paired with T.S.Balaiah.Then in Jupiter Pictures' Kanniyin Kaadhali based on Shakespeare's Twelfth Night,Madhuridevi played dual roles.She also dis a vital role in MGR's tragic film En Thangai.Her other notable films were Manidhanum Mirugamum of Sivaji Ganesan,Thai Ullam of Gemini Ganesan,{mentioned as R.Ganesh} Zamindar{another S.A.Natarajan film}Asai Anna Arumai Thambi{with A.P.Nagarajan}Mala Oru Mangala Vilakku and later in Kojum Salangai in a character role.

  There was another a performance oriented heroine called B.S.Saroja,who also like V.N.Janaki, started her career as a dancer in the film Madhanakamarajan{1941} and continued as a dancer in a few films.She was assigned a role in the film Vikatayogi{1946}.Her flair for acting soon enabled her to be paired with MGR in films like Jenoah,Koondukkili and Puthumai Pithan.With a pair of fascinating eyes like T.R.Rajakumari,B.S.Saroja gave impressive performances in films like Modern Theatre's Vannakkili &Kumudham and later as the sister of Arunagirinadhar, in the film bearing the saint's name as title.   

   Actresses like T.R.Rajakumari,P.Kannamba, Pandaribai,P.Bhanumathi,S.Varalakshmi and G.Varalakshmi continued their film journey for quite long.T.R.Rajakumari acted in the titular role in Gemini Studios'epic film Chandralekha and was seen as Sivaji Ganesan's young step mother in Anbu and then as a vamp in his films Manohara and Thangapadhumai.She acted with MGR in Gulebhagavali and Puthumai Pithan and then took up roles as MGR's elder sister in Periya Idathu Penn and finally as his mother in Paasam.She also did an impressive elderly role in SSR's film Vanambadi.She is remembered for her enchanting eyes and captivating delivery of dialogues.She has also been given due space in another article of this blog

  S.Varalakshmi was paired with MGR in Chakravarthi Thirumagal and with Sivaji Ganesan in Veera Paaniya Kattabomman.Later she did powerful mother roles in films like Panama Paasama, Poova Thalaiyaa and positive mother roles in MGR's Maatukkaara Velan and Needhikku Thalai Vanangu.G.Varalakshmi was one of the female pairs of MGR in Gulebagavali.She was paired with Sivaji Ganesan in Naan Petra Selvam.Later she appeared in a formidable mother role in AVM's Kuzhandhaiyum Dheivamum.But her most popular film was Aaravalli.Apart from V.N.Janaki,B.S.Saroja and Madhuridevi all the other actresses listed here,have found their fitting space in separate articles in this blog.

   Above all who can forget the doyen of classical music M.S.Subulakshmi?It was she who took Tamil cinema to its spiritual glory by her two monumental films Meera and Shakuntala.Tamil cinema as well as Tamil film audience literally owe a lot to these founding pillars of Tamil Cinema of whom many were singers-cum actors.This post is a passionate tribute to all of them.



  1. Bro your website is interesting. Can you please add another famous actress in your blog. would love to read about Ganthimathi. I find her to be one of the most amazing actress who has never been utilised to maximum.

  2. Thank you Bro.When I posted an article on Vadivukkarasi I actually thought of adding Gandhimadhi also,so as to bring a comparative note on both these talented actresses.Then I decided to give a separate space for Gandhimadhi in this blog.I will do it soon.