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1948 207’ b&w Tamil/Hindi? d/p S.S. Vasan pc Gemini s Gemini Story Dept. dial K.J. Mahadevan, Kothamangalam Subbu, Sangu, Kittu, Naina[T], Pandit Indra, Aga Jani Kashmiri[H] lyr Papanasam Sivan, Kothamangalam Subbu[T], Pandit Indra, Bharat Vyas[H] c Kamal Ghosh m Saluri Rajeshwara Rao, Balkrishna Kalla lp T.R. Rajkumari, M.K. Radha, Ranjan, Sundaribai, L. Narayan Rao, P. Subbaiah Pillai, V.N. Janaki, Surabhi Kamalabai, N.S. Krishnan[T], T.A. Mathuram[T], T.E. Krishnamachariar[T], N. Seetaraman[T], Pottai Krishnamurthy[T], Yashodhara Katju[H], H.K. Chopra[H]

One of India’s most famous films, started in 1943 and costing a massive Rs 3m this was the first major effort of a Tamil studio to attempt an all-India distribution. The film’s nationwide success encouraged many others, e.g. AVM and Prasad, to follow suit. It is a period adventure film sometimes compared with The Prisoner of Zenda (1922, 1937). The basic plot is one of sibling rivalry between two princes, the good Veer Singh (Radha) and the bad Shashank (Ranjan). The object of desire and bone of contention between them is state power equated with the possession of the village maiden Chandralekha (Rajkumari). In the process, the hero and the heroine become circus artistes. The villain grabs the girl and enforces a wedding. She agrees provided there be an elaborate drum dance: the enormous drums, in the Indian cinema’s most anthologised sequence, contain the hero’s soldiers who burst out of the drums after the dance overwhelming the baddies followed by the longest sword duel in Indian cinema. Although the genre itself was not new to the Tamil cinema, its aggressive redefinition of entertainment mobilised Hollywood-style orientalism for an indigenist mass culture and became a landmark in the codification of an Indian mass entertainment ideology after Independence. Many of the spectacular dance sequences can be seen as continuations of the choreography in Uday Shankar’s Kalpana(1948), shot earlier that year at Gemini by many of the same technicians. The choreography was arranged by Jaya Shankar, Mrs Rainbird, Natanam Nataraj and Niranjala Devi.

T.G. Raghavacharya started directing the film and probably shot most of it. Vasan took over direction later. According to Randor Guy, the initial plot stems from G.M.W. Reynolds’s novel Robert Macaire, or The French Bandit in England (1848). V.A.K. Ranga Rao notes that the film’s music shows influences from Carnatic, Hindustani, Bharatnatyam, Latin American and Portuguese folk music as well as a Strauss waltz. The chorus by the circus members apparently adapts the Donkey Serenade from R.Z. Leonard’s film The Firefly (1937).