Thyagabhoomi and the rise of the people’s movement 

Image credits – The Cinema Resource Centre, The Indian Express Archives and The Internet. 

As I write this post, thousands have gathered at various points in the state expressing their solidarity for what they consider their birthright – to save the culture for their future progeny. For the past 3 years, an event that has been happening since aeons and which has closely been associated with Tamil culture has been stopped by the might of the state. Citing arguments against animal brutality, Jallikattu has been stopped dead in its tracks. The only trouble though is that the the argument is littered with hypocrisy as has been proved in the last few days – Why only Jallikattu, why not ban horse racing is just one of them? 

80 years ago, Colonial India too was in a very similar mood. Having been deprived of their right to freedom, national movements were springing up through out the country. While sporadic incidents of violence did take place, millions of Indians took up the path of non violence and followed the path shown by Mahatma Gandhi. One of the core principles of this movement was Swadesi – the boycott of foreign made goods, something that is also becoming very relevant today. 

Thousands of people wore Khadi to show the support for the nation. 

The Swadesi non-violent movement was at its peak in the mid to late 30s, before the appearance of The Second world War changed things in India. After the war, even the British conceded that it was only a point of time. 

It is in this background that K.Subhramanyam, a nationalist film maker made the third of his social films. Balayogini and Sevasadanam had already established him as a man who would strongly use the film medium to bring about and highlight social injustices, but Thyagabhoomi took on the might of the British Lion itself. 

The story deals with Savithri, a plain kind hearted and innocent girl who transforms into a bold woman after being abandoned by her husband. In Later years, her husband wishes to get acquainted with her, now that he is rich, but Savithri refuses. The matter goes to court, but she agrees to give him compensation but refuse to live with him. When the court insists, she prefers to take part in the freedom movement rather than live with this man. 

The film has several direct and indirect references to the on-going Freedom movement. Scenes of the charka and Mahatma gandhi are shown, with Savithri’s father Sambu Sastry (Papanasam Sivan) and daughters Charu (Baby Saroja) taking part in the movement. 

The underlying strong point of the story was that India could very well take care of her own needs (Savithri’s independence), a concept that was truly bold for its Time. 

The story written by Kalki Krishnamurthy and nationalist tunes written by Papanasam Sivan, the film truly achieved in kindling what it was meant to do – fan the flame of Nationalism. 

Understandably, the film was banned sometime in late 1939, about 20 weeks after its release in May 1939.

Although some historians have cited that the film was banned after independence, this is untrue.(The film banned after independence was Burma Rani made by TR Sundaram)  The ban on Thyagabhoomi lasted for 7 years, before it was lifted in the year 1946, when it was well and truly clear that India was on her path to independence. 

Today hundreds have come online and vowed to stop consuming products made by Foreign Multinationals to safe gaurd and support our own farmers and local businesses, much the same way, as our ancestors chose to not wear clothes or products manufactured by the British. 

This post is dedicated to all the brave hearts following the same principles of nonviolence and fighting to save the culture of ‘our past’ for ‘our future’. 

Have we lost the last Vestiges of Silent Tamil Cinema?

Most of contemporary Research around Tamil cinema, typically starts with the Talkies.. i.e Kalidas. This is understandable, since there are hardly any Silent Indian Films, and none of them, Tamil at all. Infact, there is only one known surviving print of a South Indian Film – Raja Marthanda Varma.

So, Most researchers inevitably have to fall back on Print material to make their assessments. Moreover, these material, which in itself must be 80-100 years old, must already have started decaying.

Very recently, I came across a print of a Research paper done by one Dr.Joseph Bernard Percy. The paper had been written in the year 1999. It is still available on the Internet here.

In one of the chapters, Dr.Percy mentions that the films Dharmapathini(1929) by A.Narayan and Anadhai Penn* ( Raja Sandow) had been preserved in the ‘University of California, Los Angeles’, although the print quality had deteriorated terribly.

16 Years have passed since then. I raised this issue with Dr.Krishnaswamy, Film Researcher ( Incidentally, the Son of Dr.K.Subhramanyam) during my conversation with him. He said he had no knowledge of this information, and would take this up when he next went to the U.S

Since then, I have tried to contact Dr.Joseph Percy, but unfortunately, have not been able to. So, I decided to send an email directly to the University of California, LA itself.

I am amazed at their response speed. I first spoke with a Chat support Librarian, who guided me in a day to contact the library directly, with the apt-URL. The next day, I sent an email directly to UCLA asking the status and making the citation done by Dr.Joseph Percy.

With the advent of Film Restoration technology over the years, I was hoping against hope, that these films or atleast, part of it, could have been saved. But, this was the information that i received.

Dear Es Chris,

I am afraid that we do not have record of these films in the collection at UCLA.

Mark Quigley
Manager, Archive Research & Study Center (ARSC)
UCLA Film & Television Archive

*Director K.Subhramanyam who was assisting Raja Sandow during the making of this film, wrote the story. The film was produced by Associated Pictures – Padmanabhan and was one of the last main stream Silent Films, before the Talkies broke through. 

Subhramanyam’s Pamphlet at the Tenth Anniversary of Madras United Artists Corporation – September 13, 1945

On the tenth anniversary of his film company, M.U.A.C, K.Subhramanyam had an event organized where he invited the press, celebrities and also the public. After the event was over, he had issued a pamphlet to the press, expressing his views on various events and his opinions on them. Thankfully, the Editor has reproduced the same article in its entirety, which provides us information not only about K.Subhramanyam’s Films, His thought flows, but his general attitude towards cinema, which was taking a different shape at this time.
My observations : Without going into much detail on this historical document, I just share my views in summary.
This event happens at a time when MKT and NSK were in Jail, due to the sensational Lakshmikanthan case ( you can see subtle references that he makes in this note, about sensational journalism that tears into the personal and social lives of those who are in the performing arts. He also makes mentions about his movement towards allied forms of art like Dance. He seems to have been in good relationships with Chithirai Thirunaal Maharaja, who funded the just completed ‘Ananthasayanam’ – the story of the PadmanaBhan temple in Trivandrum. [ I had just been to this temple a year ago, but I did not know its historical significance then 😦 ]
Subsequently, K.Subhramanyam’s finances plummetted, especially during the making of his magnum opus Ballet – Narthana Murali. Subhramanyam then made a handful of movies, before he slowly quit the Industry and started taking allied interests to support the Industry from the flanks.
The original article was written in Tamil. It has been translated to English by me. You can find the original in the October 1945 Edition of Pesum Padam in Roja Muthiah Research Library, Chennai. 

2222_K_Subrahmanyam
A stamp released by The Government of India in 2004 to honour the iconic Director – The Father of Tamil Cinema. 

When i was preparing this notice, I was filled with happiness, sorrow, regret, disappointment and pride. I started this company ten years ago on September 13(**). In these ten years even the company has grown. Whether this company needs to be praised, criticised, whether it has got a good name or bad name  I leave the judgement entirely to you. Each person can make their own individual assessments.
 
On September 9, 1935,  i had a dispute with the people of my house and left home with a banian, a towel and 8 Annas in my pocket. From that day onwards a lot of events have happened in my life. If i had The patience of today back then it is doubtful if i would have quit my lawyer’s job and joined this art industry. But just because I said this you do not have to think that I regret my decision.
I wish to share my experiences of these ten years in the industry  openly with all of you, through this notice.
 
The events which have occurred in my life are more interesting than the fictional ones. Whatever little i have achieved in this field, I could feel proud of it,but rather there are more things which I want to do for this field of art, but which I am unable to, but which I only dream off, the mere thoughts of these desires make me feel happy which gets lost within me.
 
I wish to make an important statement here. Anyone who is associated with any form of this cinema industry, is looked down upon by the general public. For those not associated with this industry, for them people associated with the cinema industry are identified with those having lose morals.
 
Due to this attitude,  families of cinema people face many challenges in social life, inconvenience and hardships thereby bringing unhappiness to them. If there is a possibility that someone who wants to do good for art, even this is not acceptable by the people.
 
So even if such people come to Cinema breaking accepted social barriers and practices with a broad mind, they are either not encouraged enough or end up at the mercy of the wrong people. There are sinners across all walks of life.
 
But people in the cine industry face challenges from a different set of sinners. They become victims of gossip mongers or people who make use of their pen, with evil intentions. This danger increases day by day.
 
Due to this reason not only is family peace lost but socially they face challenges also. Although I myself have dedicated to this art and Film. Industry, i still hesitate to encourage anyone else whom I know to come to this industry.
 
The common public are largely influenced by people of the industry. They want to observe there day to day life style and follow them. But this is just a smoke screen. Beneath the smiling face of everyone in the industry is a layer of. Pain and sorrow. Hidden deep beneath them..
 
This is the truth. I feel sorry for the people in this industry. For money, for others happiness to entertain, they speak, they sing  they laugh..
 
Now let is come to the cinema. The people who made the Atom bomb had no knowledge of its destruction capabilities until it was tested directly upon human lives.
 
In the same. Manner, what are the good and bad that cinema has an impact upon society is not known Even by our experienced leaders.
 
At this point cinema is growing in its own way, without any framework established around it. It is growing in its own way. If this industry is not brought into a proper and monitored framework, there is the possibility of cinema generating more destruction than the atom bomb itself.
 
Producwrs with commercial interests have not observed yet that cinema can be used as a very effective educational. Medium. They use this medium only for entertainment and to. Make money. Off late there have been a few. Movies made which have been a treat both to the ears and eyes, but these movies have not had the messages to strike deep. Down into the viewers heart..
 
These producers spend a lot of money for costumes, settings and other technical issues. A lot of money is spent on external. Superficial issues. But to the viewer, these films don’t kindle in them, feelings of kindness, patience and other positive virtues or humanity. While I do criticise these contemporary happenings, i refer this to no one in particular..
 
In the last ten years I must admit that my films made and produced by me have not brought me much happiness. I have to admit this. I have never been a traditional producer who has put his own money and made movies. In the attempts made by me to achieve my goals, have at many times left me in immense financial strain. At such times, even i have been forced to join the commercial bandwagon, although personally I have never liked to do such things..
 
When i look at my peers and employees, i do not see a sense of happiness in them. This clearly tells me that in these ten years I have failed to achieve my principles and goals. This i must admit with great disappointment.
 
Through cinema, i wished to promote peace, kindness, patience, universal brotherhood. These were my intentions, but in these ten years  I could not achieve them..
 
Some of our employees who were trained in our company have done very well elsewhere. This has brought me great happiness.
 
In the course of these ten years, I have observed a lot of animosity, bitterness and jealousy whether they are  stars or employees. However, with me they have always been honest. I have been honest to with them, I have treated them equally with a lot of love, but the lack of United Ness and dissatisfaction amongst them, I take the blame for it..
 
In recent times, the. Cine industry has grown immensely in several technical fronts, but from a perspective of goals, it lacks far behind.. Instead of universal growth for all across the spectrum, off late we can see the dominance of a few people. Whenever I think of such things I feel like slowly quitting this industry step by step..
 
I do not wish to speak about the movies made by us. All of that is known, anyways. I wish to make only one announcement about our dance and culture school, which we had announced earlier, Nrithyodhaya free dance and cultural school.  This school was started entirely for the purpose of promoting art, and for this, I am ready to push myself even more..
 
Education can be promoted through cinema. I feel happy that I have done my small bit through that. I wish to thank Thiruvangoor Maharaja and Maharani. I feel happy to note that others too have started to follow this practice.
 
Now that we have done away with the ban on Raw film usage, there can be both good and bad things emerging from this decision. So, film producers must put their personal differences behind and work together in larger public interest. The star actors earn more than enough, where as those in the lower rung can barely meet ends. There is no need to even speak about the extras..
 
Many people come to Cinema to fight poverty. Due to poverty some of their behavior may be questionable, so is it fair to hate them? People who hoard money have used both art and poverty to their benefit.
 
The lack of permanent production units is one of the reasons. I understand one truth. Those who indulge in the field of art will find it very difficult to raise money. If i look at all this, I am. Thinking that once I finish movies which are currently in production, i would want to hand over the baton to youngsters who are energetic and link them to producers who will guide them correctly and then slowly quit this industry.
 
I wish to say a few words about movies which are currently under production. Narthana Murali and Prema Kavasam.
 
Prema Kavasam is a social story. Brotherhood will bring happiness. This is the theme of this movie. Narthana Murali is entirely about dance. It is a story about krishna, which everyone knows about. From gopinath  all major south Indian artists have performed in this film. This movie will be entirely about music and dance. It is being made in both English and Hindi with a lot of production expense..
 
Lastly I wish to thank all cinema fans who have supported me. I have a word for those who have a different opinion of my work. I may not have done something for an individual or an organization. But from my heart I have never wished ill will. I do everything only with good intentions. I am not a politician, but I am a strong Nationalist..
 
In the larger interest of the country, I feel. That i have done my little bit for the country through my works. Whether or not I remain in cinema, i will continue to be and continue to promote art forms. For those friends and peers who have made me the president of the South Indian Film Federation, i extend my thanks to them.
 
Madras United Artists Corporation, this name is very familiar within the industry, and it is also a prestigious banner. In Tamilnadu, this company promotes older things, proud things and also all forms of art. These things integrated in cinema, we are the leading production company. In the last ten years this company has done a great service to the cinema industry. Across various languages we have released about 20 films.
 
Right from the point when Tamil cinema started to raise its head, until now there is always a passion to make movies with social themes. But only by making good social movies can you make money. This has been proved by the makers of this company.
 
Balayogini, Sevasadanam, Ammanji, Thyaga Bhoomi all of them made a lot of money. In Tamilnadu, this company has the distinction of having made the most number of social films.. “
 
End of Notice .. 

(**) Prof.M.R.RangaRajan in his biography of Director K.Subhramanyam mentions that Madras United Artists Corporation was registered on September 28, 1935.

Torn between the Devil and the Deep Sea – Tamil Movies made during the Second World War ..

When one expresses an opinion about a Lost Film, opinions are bound to be sometimes incorrect, because our opinions are based on secondary sources, who we believe have seen the film and have expressed their views. So, in a sense, we only echo their views. A debate arises only, when two different people have written different versions about the same movie.

But, from my limited understanding, I find some similarities and I write this post.


Indian Movie makers faced an inevitable dilemma, during the period of the Second World War. (1939-1945). This was a critical period, considering that India was almost on the verge of her independence from Great Britain. Nationalism was on the rise, and like millions of Indians, many Tamil Film Makers too were influenced by the Civil DisObedience Movement and were affiliated to Mahatma Gandhi’s principles, and by that logic – the Grand Old Party of India – the Congress.

But as much, as Millions of Indians hated the British from a Nationalist perspective, they were forced to take a contradicting stance, in the Global Conflict – the war that Great Britain and her allies ( India included) were fighting against the Axis powers ( headed by Hitler’s Germany , HiroHito’s Japan and Mussolini’s Italy, Romania et al).. In this context, the Congress Party had decided to support Great Britain in her global war, much to the chagrin of ‘Fire Brand’ leaders like Subhash Chandra Bose, who had his own army – ‘The Indian National Army’, which had its allegiance to the Axis Powers, and even fought in the North African Campaign under the legendary Desert Fox – Erwin Rommel, against the British.

With War looming large, and essential commodities coming under short supply, it was inevitable that raw film stock would also come under the same principles of ration. Much of Joseph Goebbels and Leni Riefenstahl ( Riefenstahl was one of the few women to have acquired such a strong position of power in what was totally a male dominant society in the Third Reich. Leni Riefenstahl was also responsible for making the movie – Triumph De Villens, which is even today rated as one of the greatest films of all time) , the then Propaganda Minister of Germany who made extensive use of Film as a medium of mass communication. The Allies today adopted similar approaches. Frank Capra, a leading American Film Director was chosen to make a series of Propaganda Films, supporting the war effort – titled – ‘Why We Fight?”

The British Government had commissioned that atleast one movie out of every three should support the war effort. So, one hand, the Movie makers had to appease the British Government, on a global front to keep their industry running, yet on the other hand they had to oppose them locally, on a Nationalistic Front. So, sometimes, such content had to be subtly embedded.

Based on the Frank Capra series, Theodore Baskaran writes that Director K.Subhramanyam made a Documentary – ‘Madras Will Not Burn’. ( Lost Film), yet it was K.Subhramanyam who made possibly the greatest, if not one of the greatest Nationalist Movies of all Time – Thyaga Bhoomi. K.Subhramanyam also made ‘MaanaSamrakshanam’ in the year 1944. Again, this too appears to be a lost film. I asked Film News Anandan to tell me a bit about this film. He told me that the movie did not have any star value, and did not do too well. He also said that the movie was made to appease the Congress ( Did he mean the British? I couldn’t press him too much, due to his age.)

T.R.Sundaram of Modern Theatres Limited made Burma Rani, a movie that is said to support the war effort. Even this movie has been lost. Yet, in a comedy movie – Diwan Bhagadur (1943) starring T.R.Ramachandran, and which on the face of it has nothing to do with Nationalism, Nationalism mesages are subtly embedded into the plot. They manifest themselves, especially during the later part of the movie, when Kesava Mudaliar ( T.R.Ramachandran) goes on his election campaign, spelling out fiery speeches against social evils. ( It is here that the Nationalist Messages are Embedded)..

Also, you can see subtle Messages like ‘Free India’ and ‘Thaai Naadu’, during the wedding of Kesava Mudaliar and Kamala (Diwan Bhagadur’s daughter)..

Nationlist Messages like 'Free India' and 'Thaai Naadu' subtly embedded into the scene of a Social Satire ( Comedy Movie) - Diwan Bhagadur (1943) made by Modern Theatres
Nationlist Messages like ‘Free India’ and ‘Thaai Naadu’ subtly embedded into the scene of a Social Satire ( Comedy Movie) – Diwan Bhagadur (1943) made by Modern Theatres