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blast from the past

Ponmudi 1950

P. V. Narasimha Bharathi, Madhuri Devi, R. Balasubramaniam, T. P. Muthulakshmi, M. G. Chakrapani, A. Karunanidhi and Dhanalakshmi



Director’s touch Ellis R. Dungan directing one of the love scenes on a beach set at Modern Theatres Studio in Salem for the film Ponmudi

One of the classics of Tamil Literature, “Edhirparaadha Mutham’ (Unexpected Kiss) by the Pondicherry-based Puratchi Kavignar Bharathidasan, was chosen by South Indian movie mogul and boss of Modern Theatres, Salem, T. R. Sundaram, to be made into a film. TRS, as he was familiarly known, was friendly with the renowned poet who had a healthy interest in the film medium. He had written the story and dialogue for the Modern Theatres box-office bonanza, Aayiram Thalai Vaangi Apoorva Chintamani. As a rationalist he did not want his name in the credits of that film, an incredible folk tale.

TRS engaged the American Tamil filmmaker Ellis R. Dungan to direct this film, and the Hollywood-trained technician, who introduced new methods of onscreen narration into Tamil cinema with his Sathi Leelavathi, invested Ponmudi with glamour, glitz and gloss, which were far ahead of its time. He introduced daring love sequences featuring the hero Narasimha Bharathi and the heroine Madhuri Devi in the film which were somewhat shocking to the conservative audiences of the 1950s. For a lovemaking sequence on the beach, he arranged for the sand from the Adyar beach to be brought to the studio in Salem and shot the sequence, , mixing it with long shots of the Elliot’s Beach.

Ponmudi had melodious music (composed by G. Ramanathan) with Ramanathan himself singing the duets with T. V. Ratnam (voice for Madhuri Devi). The lyrics were by Marudhakasi-Ka. Mu. Sheriff. Though most of such duets were straight lifts from popular Hindi movies, the songs became popular.

The epic story was perhaps inspired by the Romeo and Juliet classic and depicted the love between a young man and a woman belonging to two different families. Expectedly problems arise and many twists and turns take place with abduction by tribals and such exotic elements woven into the storyline. M. G. Chakrapani played the villainous tribal leader.

As one would expect from a Dungan movie, Ponmudi had excellent technical values with good cinematography (J. G. Vijayam) and slick editing supervised by Dungan, an excellent editor. The outdoor photography of sequences in and around the hills of Yercaud was a treat to watch. The impressive camera work by Vijayam well guided by Dungan won him much acclaim and also an award.

The lead pair, Narasimha Bharathi and Madhuri Devi, lived their roles. Well-known character actor R. Balasubramaniam played the father. In spite of the classic status of the original story, the writing of Bharathidasan, the music of G. Ramanathan, the picturesque photography and, above all, the deft direction of Dungan, Ponmudi did not do well. This was because the intimate scenes seemed to have shocked the average moviegoer.

Remembered for its pleasing music, captivating photography and taut on-screen narration of Ellis R. Dungan.

RANDOR GUY

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