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
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