blast from the past
T. R. Rajakumari, Kothamangalam Seenu, Kothamangalam Subbu, Vidwan Srinivasan
first dream girl of South Indian Cinema T. R. Rajakumari in Katcha Devayani
Pioneer filmmaker K. Subramanyam came out with his Katcha Devayani, starring T. R. Rajakumari as Devayani, daughter of Sage Sukracharya, in early 1941. Subramanyam had gone on record saying that he had discovered Rajakumari for this film in the house of her maternal aunt and actor S. P. L. Dhanalakshmi. When he called on the aunt, a dark girl happened to serve the customary cup of coffee. He mistook her for the maid, but felt she was too lovely to be a mere maid! On learning who the girl was, he arranged for a screen test. His make-up man Hari Babu, an import from Bengal and one of the best in India, almost refused to apply powder because of her dark skin! But the boss insisted and lo, a star was born — that was T. R. Rajakumari!
A charming tale indeed, like the story of Hollywood stars being discovered at soda fountains, but facts are somewhat different. Katcha Devayani was not the debut of Rajakumari. Her first film was Kumara Kulothungan (1939) and when K. Subramanyam launched Katcha Devayani she was already working on her second film, the Italian cinematographer in Madras, T. Marconi’s Mandaravathi. And when Ellis R. Dungan began work on Kalamegam in which Dhanalakshmi played heroine, the niece came for a break and was offered a comedy role, but both aunt and niece Rajayee (that was her given name!) refused for she had different ambitions!
However, Katcha Devayani was her first released movie; the other two came out much later.
Anyway, it goes without saying that Subramanyam’s brilliant presentation and packaging of Rajakumari bestowed stardom on her almost overnight. The sleeveless blouse that highlighted her shapely shoulders, the sari tightly wound round her body, the clinging garment when she stepped into a pond to bathe… Rajakumari teased the viewer with her smile and beckoning eyes. Indeed, sex appeal entered Tamil cinema with Rajakumari. Besides being beautiful, she could act and sing well. A true professional, Rajakumari was shy and reticent.
Katcha Devayani was a big success and Rajakumari turned out to be a sensation. In one scene, when she and her screen lover Kothamangalam Seenu, a singing hero of that day, climbed on an elephant and the damsel said “uto!” (‘Get up!’ in Hindi!) and when the animal stood on all fours, the male moviegoers felt like obeying her command and offering their help to carry her! No wonder, Rajakumari was called “Dream Girl”, the first in South Indian Cinema.
Folks may forget K. Subramanyam’s Katcha Devayani, but T. R. Rajakumari will live forever in public memory.
Kothamangalam Seenu, who was ‘Katcha’, was a popular actor of the 1930s and 1940s. A cousin of the sadly underrated music director S. V. Venkataraman, Seenu underwent training in Carnatic music as a lad. Dropping out of school, he went on stage joining one of those “Boy’s Companies”. His singing brought him recognition and in 1935 he graduated to films with Sarangadhara made in Bombay. He played hero and character roles in many films over a decade — Sugunasarasa (1939), Thirumangai Alwar (1940), Mani Mekalai (1940), Katcha Devayani (1941), Dasi Aparanji (1944) and Ekambavanan (1947). Somehow Kothamangalam Seenu did not make it to the top and never made a movie after 1948. Hale and hearty, he led a contented life in his Adyar home, rarely moving out of his neighbourhood. But the artistic thirst was very much in him and his ambition was to appear on the new medium, television! Sadly that too did not happen. He passed away some years ago unsung.
Remembered for: Rajakumari, and Subramanyam’s brilliant presentation.
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