Golden Oldies – Utthami(1942) – The First Depiction of Picture Morphing in Cinema?

The Movie ‘Utthami’ has been published by ‘Urimai Kural’ DVD Publishers. You can contact them to get a copy of this movie. UK Golden Movies – RamaPuram, Chennai. Phone – 98417 01807

Note – The author has no personal affiliations with this publishing company.


Natesan and Meena's child marriage.
Natesan and Meena’s child marriage.
Introduction of 'Daasi' Singaari
Introduction of ‘Daasi’ Singaari
Singaari in conversation with a customer
Singaari in conversation with a customer
Natesan and Meena begin their happy married life.
Natesan and Meena begin their happy married life.
Meena(l) seeks justice. ( The Climax of the Movie.)
Meena(l) seeks justice. ( The Climax of the Movie.)

In the late 90s, a furore erupted over the leaked nude images of a North Indian heroine. Most of us hardly knew anything about PhotoShop or its subsequent impact in our daily lives, going forward. It was however the first time that i heard the word ‘morphing’, a criminal act where a person’s face is superimposed with another person’s body, and is typically used to defame a person..

Although the concept of morphing plays a small yet important aspect in the climax of the movie, the movie touched upon social issues, prevalent at that time. This was the time, when both commercial cinema typically produced by Sriramulu Naidu of PakshiRaja productions starring M.K.Thyagaraja Bhagavathar and P.U.Chinnappa, mostly based on mythological subjects were at their peak.

Parallely, as the war raged in Europe, and the spirit of Nationalism was at its peak, as India was on the verge of gaining her independence from Britain, legendary movie Makers like K.Subhramanyam were making movies like ThyagaBhoomi(1939). From the period of 1935 onwards, after the making of the now lost movie, Dumbachari, Social satire movies were also made. K.Subhramanyam himself had established himself strongly through the Social Satire movie – Balayogini(1936).

Utthami is based on the evils of Child Marriage and the Dowry system which were then very prevalent at that period in time.

Natesan and Meenal are married off at a young age. Meenal’s father ( informally called Meena in the movie) promises to pay a huge sum of dowry to the groom’s father. Ten Years Roll by. ( The Movie uses a slide to make certain aspects of the story clear to the audience, a practice that was frequently used in the silent era, but was slowly fading out in the era past 1931, when Sound Films came into existence.)

Ten Years later, Meenal’s (T.S.KrishnaVeni) father, a poor priest is financially destroyed. He has no means of sending his daughter from his little village ThiruMalai, to her in-laws. Sensing this, Natesan’s father and his cunning-ultra conservative grandmother decide to cut off the alliance. They poison Natesan’s (?) mind making him believe that Meena has become a vibachari ( a prostitute) and make him write a letter to Meena’s father to inform him that the marriage is off. Natesan’d father and his grandmother had done this with the intention of getting her married to a rich girl.

Meenal and her family are destroyed to learn off the accusation. Meenal decides to go alone and meet her husband and ask him, if he indeed felt the same, and if he said the same, she would die at her husband’s feet.  So, she sets off alone to the city.

The movie shows a slide, that the city is also the place, where Daasi-Singari ( played by the legendary T.P.RajaLakshmi) lives. Singari’s business is suffering a lull, and they need a young girl to incite more customers. Along with her assistant, Vichu, they set off looking for a girl. They come across the innocent girl Meena, fool her and bring them to her house. But Meena, refuses to co-operate.

One day, Natesan sees Meena in the park. He is obsessed with her. Vichu says that this particular girl is fraught with risk and charges Natesan a huge amount of Rs.2000, and gives Natesan their address and he tells him to comes over to #13, HELL ROAD ( The Address of Singari). Natesan comes over the next day.

Meena is adamant that she will not bow down to any body other than her husband. Torn between the money that is going to come and Meenal’s not agreeing, Singari forces her, for which Singari regrets and cries for help.  A man on the street hears her pleas and sees Singari’s customer coming towards the house. He happens to know him, and on knowing that he is going to a whore house, shouts at him. Singari’s customer (Natrajan) runs away in fear.

After coming to know that the girl although staying in a Daasi house, refuses to sleep with men and that she is also a Brahmin, Natrajan now decides, he wants to get married to her. He tells this to his friend. But his friend warns him, that could be tantamount to going against the girls wishes. But the man is convinced that she will agree, as he is promising her a better life.

Vichu and Singari now are in a problem. They have taken the money from Minor Natrajan ( Indeed Meena’s husband, who is now obsessed with her), but Meena is not agreeing. ( without knowing that it is her husband). Natrajan’s friend comes to Singari’s house telling her about his friend;s obsession with Meena and that he would die if he did not get Meena. He offers to talk directly to Meena and convince her. But when he comes near Meena, she protests and threatens to tie her saree around her own neck and kill herself. The man tells her not to do so, and that he has come with really good intentions, after he heard pleas of help from this house, #36, and that he has come to rescue her. Meena trusts him and tells him her sorry story, that she had come to meet her husband, but was cheated and trapped by Singari and her men. The man is incidentally also from Sirumalai and offers to help her.

The man then tells Meena the good news that the man who is obsessed with her, is her real husband. Meena is happy. He tells her that she should behave like a Daasi, and assures her that all will go well. Act like a Daasi, seduce him, and get married to him via register marriage, and he leaves.  Singari and Vichu are shocked to know that Natrajan wishes to marry off Meena. They had thought he would be a prospetive customer. But Natrajan insists. They now claim that a marriage would be a loss of business for them and demand Rs. 5000 instead, which Natrajan writes them a cheque.

Natrajan and Meena get married via register marriage. Without the knowledge of his parents, Natrajan clandestinely lives with his wife. A child is born to the couple. Life is Rosy for them. But with Meena gone, Singari’s business faces turmoil. They have not been able to find any other girls, and Singari warns Vichu to bring back Meena at any cost. Vichu, fools an aspiring ( stupid) photographer asking him if he can morph Meena’s face on another body to appear as if she is with another man. He does not tell the photographer who the real girl is, and tells that the girl is related to him and offers him 15 Rupees. Without knowing the truth, the photographer completes the job.

Using the morphed photograph, a seed of suspicion is planted in Natrajan’s mind. Natrajan without saying a word, leaves Meena and comes back home. A marriage is fixed for him. On the date of the marriage, a faithful servant comes home and brings the bad news to Meena. Meena, on the verge of hunger has sold all that she had , including her Thaali to feed her child. She comes to the Mantap to seek justice. Natraj initially protests, accusing her of being a woman with a loose character. But thanks to Natrajan’s friend and the village’s zamindar, the photographer is traced, who points the fingers at Vichu telling the truth that indeed Meena is a virtuous woman.

At the end of the movie, Natrajan regrets his actions. He blames his misfortunes entirely on the child marriage being perpretated across two individuals without their permission and also his father, who poisoned his mind, accusing his wife of being a ‘vibachaari’.

Natrajan apologies to his father in law and Meena. Meena wants to know who took the photograph that caused her life to go in chaos. Meena is taken to Seenu, and Seenu tells the truth that he did it only for 15 rupees and become a famous photographer. He is stupid and every one understands that he did not do it intentionally.. The movie ends in a happy note..

The movie has other characters like Mariyamma, a woman married off to a much elder man and ‘Pudalangai’ Thirudan, a man who initially chose to steal ‘Pudalangai’s, but could not get the stigma off his back, even after he joined the police force. He plays a crucial role in the film, tracking down Meena. In the end, seeing no other way out to eraze his stigma, he decides to do a business on Pudalangai’s itself.