Sunday, October 9, 2011

Pattinathar (1936)



Vel Pictures


left a huge impact on people’s minds Pattinathaar

During the late 1930s, many Tamil films revolving around the lives of saints and folk myth figures were made. They included Nandanar, Bhadrachala Ramadas, Mahatma Kabir, Arunagirinadhar, Sundaramoorthy Nayanar, Purandaradasar, Tukaram, Thulasidas, Kannappa Nayanar, Thayumaanavar, Sankaracharya and Vipranarayana.

In those days, it was the practice for more than one producer to make more than one version of a story and the producers vied with each other to release their film first. Because the stories were in the public domain and had no copyright claims, it was easy to make such films. However in their hurry to release the film, quality invariably took a backseat. The Pattinathar folk myth was filmed thrice. One was `Lotus' Pattinathar (Lotus being the name of the film company!) in 1935, starring C. S. Sundaramurthy Odhuvaar in the title role. Though he was trained to sing hymns, he was no match for Dhandapani Desikar nor did he have such a fabulous voice. The Lotus version sadly did not blossom.

A later day version came out in 1962 with T. M. Soundararajan as the saint.

However, the most successful of them all was made in 1936 which ran for 25 long weeks. Produced by M. T. Rajan (who took on-screen credit for direction) of Vel Pictures, the film was indeed directed by the sadly neglected Tamil cinema pioneer, journalist-turned-filmmaker Murugadasa (Muthuswami Iyer) with brilliant camera wizardry by K. Ramnoth and equally fine art direction by A. K. Sekhar. It was written by the Tamil scholar, screenwriter, who directed a few films, T. C. Vadivelu Naicker. The title role of the celebrated saint of Thiruvottriyur, popularly known as Pattinathaar, was played by the famed musician and Thamizh Isai exponent, M. M. Dhandapani Desikar. He played many such saintly roles in those years, including the Gemini Studios' Nandanar.

Pattinathaar composed many hymns and songs and, expectedly, the film had 52 songs, most of them rendered by Dhandapani Desikar.

Even though Desikar sang well and emoted to the best of his ability, there was considerable criticism that he was too fat to play a saint who ate only once a day throughout his life!

Desikar's film created an enormous impact on the minds of young men of that era and it was strongly believed that many of them, including married men, took to `sanyasam' donning saffron robes, long hair and sacred ash. Vel Pictures with its own studio on Eldams Road in the Pitapuram Palace later shifted to Guindy to a more spacious location where it functioned for many years, producing films in Tamil and Telugu. V. L. Narasu, coffee magnate-turned-producer, took over the studio and Narasu Studios witnessed the making of multilingual movies, including Hindi movies, until it went out of business. Campa Cola, one of the early soft drink companies, acquired the studio.

Remembered for Being the most successful saint-based film and for the saint's classical compositions rendered with emotion by Dhandapani Desikar. Sadly no print of this film exists today.

While he was living in Madurai, one of the active persons in the early decades of Tamil Cinema, T.C. Vadivelu Naicker, a screenwriter and filmmaker met him with an offer that Desikar could not refuse. The well-known Madras based movie company Vel Pictures was then launching ‘Pattinaathar,’ the story of the noble saint of Thiruvottriyur near Madras. Vadivelu Naicker was working on the movie as writer and he brought Desikar to Madras to play the lead role in the movie on a monthly salary of rupees one thousand. Thus Desikar landed in Madras where he would live for the rest of his life.

M.T. Rajen, a successful Madras City electrical contractor promoted Vel Pictures with his pals, C.P. Sarathy and P.V. Das, a businessmen from Andhra and film exhibitor. Rajen had interest in cinema and ran a distribution company and also offered electrical maintenance services to cinemas in the city and elsewhere. The talented trio, Muthuswamy Iyer, K. Ramnoth and A. K. Sekhar joined them and a joint stock company limited by shares was promoted.
Vel Pictures had its own studio, which was then situated on Eldams Road, in the sprawling bungalow of the Maharaja of Pitapuram. That area was then sparsely populated and well wooded, with hardly any traffic. Indeed at the back of the studio there were open lots and also a pond where much of the outdoor shooting was done.

Desikar played the role of the saint and the other artistes in the cast were M. Harihara Bhagavathar, ‘Master’ V.N. Sundaram. (later a noted playback singer and also actor), P.G. Venkatesan (a fine singer referred to as the Saigal of South India), D.R. Muthulaxmi, and Radhabai. Most of them were drawn from Tamil Theatre and faded after one or two films.

Rajen took credit for direction though it was done by pioneer Murugadasa, and with K. Ramnoth who handled the camera, and art direction by A.K. Sekhar. The movie was a musical and had the original compositions of the saint himself. Some other songs were written and composed by Papanasam Sivan.

‘Pattinathar’ (1936) was a major success and established Desikar as an excellent singer-actor on the ladder of success. The impact of the film was so great that many young men and also married ones gave up active life and donned saffron robes! Tamil film producers planned to make films based on the lives of religious persons and saintly beings in which there would be ample scope for the singing talents of Desikar to be exploited.

His next film was again a musical, ‘Vallalla Maharaja’ (1938). This film brought about an important event in his personal life. He acquired a lifetime companion. The heroine of this film was M.S. Devasena, a modestly successful actress of 1930s. After the 1938 film she acted only with Desikar and lived with him as his second wife. During the 1930s Dhandapani Desikar played the lead role in two more religious folk myth movies, ‘Thayumanavar’ (1938) and ‘Manickavasagar’ (1939).
Popular movie

Then came Desikar’s most successful and popular movie that is remembered to this day. That was the Gemini Studio-S.S. Vasan production ‘Nandanar’ (1942). Desikar played Nandan. The famed Tamil film star, Serukalathur Sama was Vedhiyar, the Brahmin landlord. The film was directed by Murugadasa (A. Muthuswami Iyer), now forgotten. S. S. Vasan produced it, and was one of his early ventures after he had launched his Gemini Studios in 1941. Not many are aware that Vasan wished to cast Thyagaraja Bhagavathar as Nandanar but he was not available.

  1. Language: Tamil, English

  2. Director: Murugadasa

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