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Directed byS. S. Vasan
Written by
  • K. J. Mahadevan
  • Subbu
  • Sangu
  • Kittoo
  • Naina
Produced byS. S. Vasan
Edited byChandru
Music by
Distributed byGemini Studios
Release date
  • 9 April 1948 (1948-04-09)
Running time
193–207 minutes[a]
  • Tamil
  • Hindi
Budget₹3 million[4]

Chandralekha is a 1948 Indian adventure movie. It was made by S. S. Vasan of Gemini Studios. The movie stars T. R. Rajakumari, M. K. Radha, and Ranjan. It tells the story of two brothers, Veerasimhan and Sasankan. They argue about ruling their dad's kingdom and marrying a village dancer named Chandralekha.

Development started in the 1940s. Before this one, Vasan had two very famous movies. He said his next movie would be Chandralekha. Veppathur Kittoo, a storyboard artist, made a story from a chapter in George W. M. Reynolds' book Robert Macaire: or, The French Bandit in England. T. G. Raghavachari was the original director but left midway because of disagreements with Vasan. Vasan then directed a movie himself for the first time.

Originally in Tamil and later Hindi, Chandralekha took five years to make (1943-1948). There were many changes in the script, or movie plan. It was India's most expensive, or costly movie at the time. Vasan used all his money and sold his jewelry to complete it. Kamal Ghosh and K. Ramnoth were the cinematographers. The music, influenced by Indian and Western classical music, was by S. Rajeswara Rao and M. D. Parthasarathy with lyrics by Papanasam Sivan and Kothamangalam Subbu.

Chandralekha released on 9 April 1948. The movie got good reviews but didn't make enough money. Vasan made a Hindi version with changes, new cast, and Hindi talking by Agha Jani Kashmiri and Pandit Indra. The Hindi version released on 24 December and did very well at the box office. This movie made South Indian cinema famous in India and gave a very good reason for South Indian producers to sell their Hindi films in North India.

Story[change | change source]

Veerasimhan and Sasankan are the king's sons. Veerasimhan rides through a village. He meets Chandralekha, a dancer. They fall in love. Later the king decides to give the throne to Veerasimhan. Sasankan gets angry. He forms a group of thieves. They do crimes. Chandralekha's father is hurt and dies. Chandralekha becomes an orphan, someone with no parents. She joins a group of travelling musicians. Whilst they were travelling, Sasankan's gang attacks their caravan.

Sasankan tells Chandralekha to dance. She dances after Sasanken hits her, but then she escapes. Sasankan later captures Veerasimhan. Chandralekha sees Sasankan's men put Veerasimhan in a cave and hide it with a big rock. Chandralekha saves him with circus elephants. They join the circus to hide from Sasankan's men. Sasankan goes back to the palace, locks up his parents, becomes the king, and sends a spy to find Chandralekha.

The spy sees Chandralekha at the circus. The spy tries to catch her. Veerasimhan saves her. They join gypsies. When Veerasimhan goes to try to get help, Sasankan's men find Chandralekha. They take her to the palace. Sasankan tries to get Chandralekha to love him. She pretends to faint. A circus friend comes as a healer and hides that she is a friend. They talk in secret. Sasankan is happy that Chandralekha is okay. Chandralekha pretends to be cured and agrees to marry Sasankan. She wants a drum dance at the royal wedding, and he agrees.

Large drums are in rows near the palace. Chandralekha joins the dancers on the drums. Sasankan is impressed by Chandralekha's dance. Veerasimhan's soldiers hide in the drums. The dance finishes, and they attack Sasankan's men. Veerasimhan and Sasankan do a long sword fight. Sasankan loses and is put in prison. Veerasimhan becomes the new king, and Chandralekha is the queen. His parents are set free.

Cast[change | change source]

Ranjan in Chandralekha

Cast from the the song book:[5]

  • T. R. Rajakumari as Chandralekha
  • M. K. Radha as Veerasimhan
  • Ranjan as Sasankan
  • M. S. Sundari Bai as Sogusu
  • N. S. Krishnan as the circus buffoon
  • T. A. Mathuram as circus girl
  • L. Narayana Rao as the circus manager
  • Subbaiah Pillai as Chandra's father
  • V. N. Janaki as a gypsy girl
  • V. S. Susheela as a gypsy girl
  • Pottai H. Krishnamoorthy as a circus clown
  • N. Ramamurthi as a circus clown
  • T. A. Jayalakshmi as the palace nurse
  • Appanna Iyengar as the music maestro
  • T. E. Krishnamachariar as the king
  • Kakinada Rajarathnam as the queen
  • Seshagiri Bhagavathar as Singaru
  • T. V. Kalyani as Singaru's wife
  • N. Seetharaman as Veerasimhan's bodyguard
  • Velayudham as Sasankan's menial assistant
  • Veppathur Kittoo as a spy
  • Ramakrishna Rao as a sepoy
  • Varalakshmi as a circus girl
  • Sundara Rao as an officer
  • Surabhi Kamala as a gypsy woman
  • Seetharaman as the cart driver
  • N. Meera as Chandra's friend
  • Vijaya Rao as a palace guard
  • Sampathkumar as a palace guard
  • Balaraman as a palace guard
  • Gopala Krishnan as a palace guard
  • 100 Gemini Boys & 500 Gemini Girls

Production[change | change source]

Development[change | change source]

After the box office success of Bala Nagamma (1942) and Mangamma Sabatham (1943), producer S. S. Vasan of Gemini Studios wanted his next movie to be very big. He had no money limits.[6] He asked K. J. Mahadevan, Kothamangalam Subbu, Sangu, Naina and Veppathur Kittoo—to write a screenplay, the movie story.[7] They wanted a similar story to Mangamma Sabatham and Bala Nagamma because they were "heroine-oriented stories". The group shared Chandralekha's tale. She was strong. She tricked a mean bandit, cut his nose, and used hot red chili powder. Vasan didn't like the violence and rudeness. He said no but kept her name.[6]

He announced Chandralekha without waiting for the story and advertised it a lot. But the story wasn't ready in three months. Vasan got impatient. He told the writers he would work on Avvaiyyar (1953) instead of Chandralekha. After he gave them one more week,[6] Kittoo found George W. M. Reynolds' book, Robert Macaire; Or, the French Bandit in England. In the first chapter, he read:

A dark night in rural England and a mail coach convoy drawn by horses trots its way down a deserted leafy highway when suddenly, Robert Macaire, the fierce bandit and his henchmen emerge from the surrounding darkness and rob the convoy. Hiding under a seat is a young woman fleeing from a harsh, unhappy home. She is a dancer and when she refuses to dance the bandit whips her into submission.[8]

Vasan was very happy when Kittoo told him a story based on the chapter. He started the film, and named the heroine Chandralekha. Although the story was created by Kittoo, the praise went to all of Gemini's story team.[7] T. G. Raghavachari was hired as director.[4]

Casting[change | change source]

The script had two main parts: the princes in a kingdom. The older was the hero, and the younger was the villain.[6] M. K. Radha got the role of Sasankan, the young prince. He usually did hero roles, so he didn't want to be a villain. So, he agreed to be Veerasimhan, the older prince.[6] His wife Gnanambal asked Vasan to cast Radha in the role.[6] K. J. Mahadevan (a member of Gemini's story team) was chosen by Vasan to play Sasankan.[9] Some footage filmed of Mahadevan. His performance seen as "too soft." He was removed;[6] but, he stayed on the project as a scriptwriter and assistant director.[10] Raghavachari suggested Ranjan as Sasankan. Vasan was unsure at first, thinking Ranjan was too soft for the very serious villain role. But later, Vasan agreed. Ranjan was busy with another movie, Saalivaahanan, but Kittoo convinced him to try for Chandralekha. Ranjan got a few days off, did a test, and it went well. So, Ranjan got the role.[11]

Vasan's wanted K. L. V. Vasantha to play Chandralekha but T. R. Rajakumari was chosen to play Chandralekha.[12] movie historian Randor Guy thought Vasan chose Rajakumari instead of Vasantha because she was leaving Gemini for Modern Theatresstudio. In April 1947, N. S. Krishnan got out of jail. He was earlier found guilty in the Lakshmikanthan murder case but was released when he appealed;[13] Vasan hired him and T. A. Mathuram. They played circus artists. They helped Veerasimhan save Chandralekha from Sasankan. Mathuram's character was named Sumathi. The script got changed. New scenes were added. P. A. Subbiah Pillai[14] played Chandralekha's father.[15] This was Madurai Sriramulu Naidu and S. N. Lakshmi's first movie; Naidu played a horseman,[16] and Lakshmi was a dancer in the ending drum-dance scene.[17][18]

The struggling actor V. C. Ganeshamurthy wanted a small role in Chandralekha. He contacted Kittoo many times. Ganeshamurthy grew his hair long for a part as Veerasimhan's bodyguard. Kittoo introduced him to Vasan. Vasan watched his stage performance. Vasan rejected him for his movie, saying he was unfit. Vasan suggested Ganeshamurthy choose another profession. This caused a very long fight between Vasan and Ganeshamurthy. The role of the bodyguard went to N. Seetharaman, later known as Javar Seetharaman.[6] Kothamangalam Subbu's wife, Sundari Bai, played a circus performer who helps Chandralekha escape from Sasankan.[6]

T. A. Jayalakshmi, in one of her earliest movie roles, was there for a short scene as a dancer.[19][6] Veppathur Kittoo played Sasankan's spy and was an assistant director.[6] Studio staff, families, and passers-by joined as extra people. They played spectators, or viewers in circus scenes. Vasan introduced Chandralekha in the movie during her circus performance with a voice-over.[20]


During the making (of Chandralekha), our studio looked like a small kingdom ... horses, elephants, lions, tigers in one corner, palaces here and there, over there a German lady training nearly a hundred dancers on one studio floor, a shapely Sinhalese lady teaching another group of dancers on real marble steps adjoining a palace, a studio worker making weapons, another making period furniture using expensive rosewood, set props, headgear, and costumes, Ranjan undergoing fencing practice with our fight composer 'Stunt Somu', our music directors composing and rehearsing songs in a building ... there were so many activities going on simultaneously round the clock.

 – Kothamangalam Subbu on the film's production at Gemini Studios[21]

Chandralekha started filming in 1943. Raghavachari directed most of the movie. But he had disagreements with Vasan about scenes at the Governor's Estate (now Raj Bhavan, Guindy). So, he left the project. Vasan then took over for his first time directing.[6] The movie didn't have circus scenes at first. Vasan added them later during production. The script changed for that scene. Hundreds of circus elephants were used to free Veerasimhan from a cave.[22] Kittoo traveled South India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka). He saw 50+ circuses. He chose Kamala Circus and Parasuram Lion Circus;[23] Vasan hired Kamala for a month.[24] The circus scenes were filmed by K. Ramnoth. Below, find Kittoo talking about the cameraperson's job:

In those days, we had no zoom lenses and yet Ramnoth did it. One night, while Chandralekha is performing on the flying trapeze, she notices the villain's henchman in the front row. She is on her perch high up and he is seated in a ringside chair. Shock hits her and to convey the shock the camera zooms quickly from her to the man. Today, with a fast zoom shot it can be done very easily, but there was no such lens forty years ago. Ramnoth did it using the crane. He planned it well and rehearsed the shot for long. He took the shot 20 times and selected the best "take".[6]

Raghavachari left. The drum-dance scene he did stayed. It had 400 dancers. They rehearsed daily for six months. A. K. Sekhar designed it. and Jayashankar choreographed it. Kamal Ghosh filmed it with four cameras. Randor Guy thought it cost ₹500,000 (about US$105,000 in 1948). Swarnavel Eswaran Pillai estimated it cost ₹200,000, which was the whole budget for a typical Tamil movie at that time.[25][b] The scene included the Kathakali and Bharatanatyam classical dances and the Sri Lankan Kandyan dance. A. Vincent, who later became a famous cinematographer and director in Malayalam cinema, helped Ghosh in this film.[27][28][29]

In post-production, Vasan asked Ramnoth about a scene with warriors saving Chandralekha. Others liked it, but Ramnoth worried about the suspense. They talked, and Vasan told Chandru to edit as Ramnoth suggested. It worked well. C. E. Biggs was the audio engineer..[24][30]

Chandralekha took five years (1943–1948) to make. The story, cast, and filming changed a lot, which caused delays and extra costs. The movie cost ₹3 million in 1948, making it the most expensive Indian movie at the time. Vasan used all his money, got help from The Hindu editor Kasturi Srinivasan, and sold his jewelry to complete the film. According to historian S. Muthiah, it was the first movie outside the United States with a budget of over a million dollars due to fluctuating exchange rates.[31][32]

Themes and influences[change | change source]

Chandralekha is not a historical movie even though it is a period film.[33] It's based on Robert Macaire's first chapter. Sasankan is like Macaire, and Chandralekha is influenced by Western stories like Blood and Sand, The Mark of Zorro, Robin Hood, The Thief of Baghdad, and Ben-Hur.[34] Jerzy Toeplitz said the characters act like gods in the Mahabharata. The story holds different episodes together like a circus. Uday Shankar's Kalpana inspired Chandralekha. In the 2003 Encyclopaedia of Hindi Cinema, it's called a "period extravaganza".[35][36][24]

The ending sword fight between Veerasimhan and Sasankan is similar to the fight in the 1894 novel, The Prisoner of Zenda. In 1976, American movie historian William K. Everson said the comedians in Chandralekha were similar to Laurel and Hardy. French movie historian Yves Thoraval said that it "prefigured the dance that Chandralekha made famous the very next year."[37]

Music[change | change source]

Chandralekha's soundtrack was created by S. Rajeswara Rao, with the speech by Papanasam Sivan and Kothamangalam Subbu. R. Vaidyanathan and B. Das Gupta worked with M. D. Parthasarathy on the background music. Rajeswara Rao said that in a 1993 interview for The Hindu it took him over a year to create the film's music: "As the dancers performed, we used to rehearse and compose the music. It was done with incredibly few instruments. We used a piano, ten double-bass violins, and drums from Africa, Egypt, and Persia which we have acquired from an African War troupe." Rao's payment was 1,500.[38] The music was based by Carnatic and Hindustani music, Latin American and Portuguese folk music and Strauss waltzes. M. K. Raghavendra said that Chandralekha has "snatches from [Richard] Wagner and [Nikolai] Rimsky-Korsakov (Scherezade) being used at dramatic moments."[39][8]

"Naattiya Kuthirai," not part of the film, was added after during final production. Sundari Bai spent over a month practicing the song. M. D. Parthasarathy was the only singer of "Aathoram Kodikkalam" and also sang "Naattiya Kuthirai" with someone else. J. Cooling Rajaiah played the accordion and piano in the gypsy song of the movie. The circus song was from "The Donkey Serenade" in Robert Z. Leonard's 1937 movie, The Firefly. Vasan gave most of the songs on the Hindi soundtrack to Uma Devi, who became famously known as Tun Tun after. She first thought that the songs were too difficult for her, but Rajeswara Rao worked very much with her. "Sanjh Ki Bela," from the Hindi soundtrack, is based on "Sanjh Ki Bela Panchhi Akela" from Jwar Bhata (1944). Chandralekha's music helped it become one of the most successful Indian musical movies of the 1940s and gave a lot of ideas to many Tamil cinema music directors who liked Western music.[40][41][42][43][44][45]

Chandralekha was released on 9 April 1948 in over 40 theatres in South India.[46][47] A regular 1940s Tamil movie released in around ten towns. Chandralekha was released in 120 towns at once.

Advertisement for the Tamil version

The movie was shown in Japan as Shakunetsu-no kettō (灼熱の決闘, Fight Under the Red Heat) in April 1954, where it was given out by Nippon Cinema Corporation (NCC). It was the first Tamil movie with speech in Japanese,[48] and the second Indian movie that was shown in Japan. NCC later lost all its money, and no information about Chandralekha in Japan is available. A Danish copy of the film, Indiens Hersker (India's Ruler), was shown to the public on 26 April 1954.[49] An English-language version of Chandralekha, Chandra, was shown in the United States and Europe during the 1950s.[50]

Even though many people liked the movie and it earned a lot, there were no profits; Vasan remade it in Hindi to try to get profits.[51][52] The Hindi version was given out by The Screens (a company in Bombay, now Mumbai),[53] and it was shown to the public on 24 December 1948.[54] It was very successful.[c][57] Vasan called Chandralekha "a pageant for our peasants",[58] for "the war-weary public that had been forced to watch insipid war propaganda pictures for years."[59] It was selected by the Indian government for watching at the fourth International movie Festival in Prague in 1949.[60] The movie's success made Madras a centre for Hindi films.[44] Five years after Chandralekha's success, Gemini paid its employees more money, one of the first studios in the world to do so.[61]

Reception[change | change source]

Box office[change | change source]

In Japan, the movie got ¥2,319,000 in ten days after its public showing in April 1954.[62]

Opinions[change | change source]

Raja Sen said that the film's set pieces, drum-dance sequence and the "longest swordfight ever captured on film" was very good in May 2010 on Rediff, saying that Chandralekha is "just the kind of film, in fact, that would be best appreciated now after digital restoration."[63] Randor Guy was very happy with Rajakumari's acting in an October 2010 review, saying Chandralekha was her best movie and saying that she "carried the movie on her shoulders."

For the English release of Chandralekha, The New York Times called Rajakumari a "buxom beauty," meaning a curvy woman who looks nice.[d] When the movie was played in New York City in 1976, William K. Everson said: "It's a colorful, naive (very little experience) and zestful (very happy) movie in which the overall ingenuousness quite disarms criticism of plot absurdity or such production shortcomings as the too-obvious studio 'exteriors'... Last, but far from least, Busby Berkeley would surely have been delighted to see his influence extending to the climactic drum dance."

Hindi version[change | change source]

Actor Role
T. R. Rajkumari ... Chandralekha
M. K. Radha ... Veer Singh
Ranjan ... Shashank
Sundri Bai ... Sokasa
Yashodra Katju ... circus girl
L. Narayan Rao ... circus manager

The Hindi version of Chandralekha was Vasan's first movie in Hindi.[65] Vasan took some scenes again and used a slightly different cast.[25] Agha Jani Kashmiri and Pandit Indra wrote the words for the Hindi version,[66] while Indra and Bharat Vyas wrote the words for the songs.[67] Bal Krishna Kalla helped Rao on the Hindi songs, and Parthasarathy and Vaidyanathan created the Hindi background music.[68] The Tamil movie was over 18,000 feet (5,500 m) long,[e] but the Hindi movie was changed down to 14,495 feet (4,418 m).[25]

Notes[change | change source]

  1. UNESCO lists its runtime as 193 minutes,[1] but One Hundred Indian Feature Films: An Annotated Filmography, Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema and India's Ministry of Information and Broadcasting list it at 207 minutes.[2][3]
  2. The 1948 exchange rate was 4.79 Indian rupees () to one US dollar ($).[26]
  3. According to The Times of India, the film was released with 609 prints worldwide;[55] film historian S. Theodore Baskaran says it was released with 603 prints.[56]
  4. The comment by The New York Times appears in the August 2007 issue of the magazine Galatta Cinema. The year of the comment is not given.[64]
  5. While film historian Swarnavel Eswaran Pillai claims the Tamil version was 18,634 feet (5,680 m) long,[69] the Tamil newspaper Maalai Malar claims it was 18,364 feet (5,597 m) long.[57]

References[change | change source]

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