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blast from the past

Manonmani 1942

P. U. Chinnappa, T. R. Rajakumari, Serukalathur Sama, T. S. Balaiah, T. R. Mahalingam, K. K. Perumal, A. Sakunthala, N. S. Krishnan, T. A. Mathuram, Kali N. Ratnam, L. Narayana Rao, S. S. Kokko, C. T. Rajakantham, P. R. Mangalam, P. G. Venkatesan, T. R. B. Rao, M. E. Madhavan, ‘Buffoon' Shanmugham, J. M. G. Sarada and G. Saraswathi


The mammoth Modern Theatres' production was made at an enormous cost for the day — Rs. 2,00,000, — by T. R. Sundaram, the Salem-based Indian movie mogul. It was he who introduced the novel idea of seeking public opinion on the choice of the female and male leads. He advertised in the press, asking moviegoers to suggest the names of artists for the lead roles, and the almost unanimous choice was the ‘Dream Girl of Tamil Cinema' Rajakumari as Manonmani and the multi-talented star Chinnappa as the prince-hero. It is perhaps the only incident of its kind in the history of world cinema and certainly in Indian cinema.

Noted Tamil scholar and professor of philosophy, and a high ranking official in the old Travancore maharaja-ruled state P. Sundaram Pillai (1855-1897) wrote an immortal epic play in verse in 1892, ‘Manonmaneeyam'.

Indeed he was inspired by the classic work ‘The Secret Way' by the British aristocrat writer, Lord Lytton. Pillai also wrote the famous Tamil Nadu state anthem, ‘Neeradum...'

Manonmani, the Pandya princess (Rajakumari), falls in love in her dream with a prince (Chinnappa) who too does likewise with each unaware of the other's identity! But their love grows deeper in their hearts. The Rajaguru (Sama) is keen on bringing the two kingdoms together and builds a ‘secret way' from one kingdom to the other. However, the King (Perumal) is under the influence of the scheming minister Kutilan, (Balasubramaniam, the name was obviously inspired by the celebrated Kautilya, Chanakya.) The minister's son Balaiah has an eye on the princess, and the father and son try to manipulate the king's mind…

After many twists, the lovers meet and the two kingdoms come together and the ‘dream lovers' marry….

An interesting tale of kings, princes and princesses, Rajaguru and evil ministers, Manonmani was a box office hit with Rajakumari and Chinnappa stealing the show. Sakunthala (Mrs. Chinnappa in private life) played the princess's companion, while the ‘comedy track' was taken care of by the inimitable Krishnan-Mathuram supported by Narayana Rao.

The now forgotten but popular artiste of his day Kokko (Pasupuleti Srinivasulu Naidu), a former circus acrobat, was famous for his gimmicks like throwing a cigarette and catching it between his lips! Sadly, he committed suicide.

Mahalingam, the later day singing star-producer, plays a minor role. Perumal impresses with his performance. He was a regular in almost all the Modern Theatres' productions. Balasubramaniam, the well-known character actor of the day, attracts attention as the evil minister, while Balaiah was his usual self.

S. Velsami Kavi worked as associate director on many of Sundaram's projects. The lyrics were by Papanasam Rajagopal Iyer (Sivan's brother) and Velsami Kavi, and the music was by Kalyanam-Mahadevan. Another close associate of Sundaram, D. V. Chari, wrote the script.

Somewhat ironically, the only song that became popular among so many others was a comedy duet ‘Ooooonnnu oru vaaarthai…' rendered by Krishnan-Mathuram! Manonmani is still fondly remembered by Tamil moviegoers even after 75 years, the hallmark of a film classic.

Remembered for: the interesting storyline and good performances by Rajakumari, Chinnappa and others.

RANDOR GUY

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