On a festival day in 1944, M. K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, the first superstar of South Indian cinema, released a colour ad on the front page of The Hindu. (During that period, The Hindu carried ads in colour, mostly announcements of movies on the front page.) It had Bhagavathar seated on a white horse and the rest of the space had drawings of stars in which the names of his future movies were written. Unfortunately, none of those movies ever got made with MKT for, in December 1944, he was arrested in connection with the sensational Lakshmikantham Murder Case. He was in prison for 30 long months.
One such movie was Sri Murugan. Produced by Jupiter Pictures, Coimbatore, shooting began with Bhagavathar being directed by his favourite director and good friend Raja Chandrasekhar. Songs were recorded and some scenes were shot, when Bhagavathar was arrested in Madras...
Interestingly, the Bangalore-based stage and screen star Honnappa Bhagavathar was a substitute for Bhagavathar. The director who did not have a good opinion of the substitute walked out of the project without even informing the producers!
The college lecturer-turned-screenwriter and later noted filmmaker was then the in-house writer for Jupiter and he took over the direction. However, he was credited only with writing and associate direction, while producer Jupiter Somu and editor V. S. Narayanan took credit for the direction... (Narayanan was the husband of P. Bhanumathi’s sister.)
MGR who was yet to make a mark as an actor was cast as Lord Shiva with the Telugu actress K. Malathi as Parvathi.
MGR performed a dance number ‘Shiva Thandavam’ along with Malathi, a highlight of the film. MGR worked hard, rehearsing the dance for weeks and performed surprisingly well. His athletic physique, agile movements, handsome looks and graceful dancing impressed all and proved to be the spring-board for his elevation as a hero, the big break he had awaited for years. He was cast as hero in the Jupiter production and Sami’s directorial debut Rajakumari (1947).
The movie narrated the mythological story of Murugan conquering the demon Soorapadman. Into this story was woven the popular epic of Murugan and Valli.
Jeevaratnam, the singing star of the 1940s, played the male role of Sage Narada and sang many songs, and Honnappa Bhagavathar too had his share of songs. (The music was scored by S. M. Subbaiah Naidu and S.V. Venkataraman, and the lyrics were by Papanasam Sivan).
‘MS’ was the first female artiste to play Sage Narada, and the others included P. A. Perianayaki, N. C. Vasanthakokilam, T. Suryakumari (in a Telugu movie), and Jeevaratnam in this movie.
Noted Tiruchi-based eye surgeon O. R. Balu played Soorapadman. Deeply interested in music and other arts, he played host to most musicians visiting Tiruchi. Remembered for the scintillating MGR-Malathi dance number and Jeevaratnam playing the male role of Narada.