left a huge impact on people’s minds Pattinathaar
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).
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.