“CINEMA RANI “IS 100 –
This is the centenary year of Smt. T.P.Rajalakshmi. There are many legends in the history of South Indian cinema. Among them TPR holds pride of place. She was the first woman director in South Indian Cinema – and second in Indian Cinema after Fathima Begum . She was the path breaker for P.Bhanumathi, Vijayanirmala, Jayachithra, Sripriya, Suhasini , Revathy , Jayadevi and V Priya , all Ladies who have successfully wielded the directorial baton in Tamil cinema. TPR Produced, Directed, wrote and donned the lead role in her films Miss Malini , which she Edited too and Madurai Veeran in the 1930s . Her remarkable life was an example of dogged determination and a willingness to go through hardships in order to realize her potential.
TPR was born to Panchapakesa Sastri of Thiruvaiyyaru, who was the Karnam of Saliamangalam Village. As a child she could sing any song that she heard. She studied upto 5th standard. Hers was a child marriage. At the tender age of 7 she was given in marriage to a Muthumanii. Soon after there was some misunderstanding between both families and she never went to her husband’s home. Her father died – he did not commit suicide as is often written. Her mother Meenakshi did not get any support from her family and moved to Trichy.
TPR has given an account of her life in an Interview to a Tamil Magazine “Kundoosi” in 1950 – she states she was born in 1911 ( Virodhikkridhi ) – based on the Punarvasu Star she mentions for Aippasi month we can say that she was born on the 11th of November 1911. She also mentions that it was a Thursday and the 13th day of the month , these do not tally with the Almanac.This is verified by the Head of the Department of Astrology at the Madras Sanskrit College.
In Trichy, she joined the Theater to help the family which faced abject poverty. Her mother took her to meet V.S.Shamanna Iyer, whose Drama Company was camped in Trichy. Luckily for TPR, Sankaradas Swamigal who was there recommended her as she had nice features. TPR always felt that the blessings of the father of Tamil Theatre Shankardas Swamigal helped her in life. This move angered her family and the orthodoxy that they cut off all links and excommunicated her. The family of Muthumani formally dissolved the marriage .
Her first role was in the famous play “Pavalakkodi”, a play that went on to become a movie launching the careers of M K Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, S.D.Subbulakshmi and its Director K.Subrahmanyam. She then joined Aryagana K.S.Chellappa’s Drama Company and moved on to K.P.Moideen Sahib’s troupe. Here she was to remain for 3 years, the longest she spent in any Drama Troupe. Here she started playing the lead role in all the plays and even travelled to Rangoon toperform. On her return she joined the famous Cunniah Company – she was the first woman to be admitted there – here she played Sita to S.G.Kittappa’s Rama. From here on she stopped working for any particular drama company but became what is known as a “Special Drama” – Star. She even acted opposite MKT in the early staging of Pavalakkodi in Chennai, when MKT was contracted to Nataraja Pillai.
In 1929, she joined The General Pictures Corporation founded by A Narayanan to act in the Silent Film “Kovalan”. The film bug had bitten her and she shifted to the Associated Film Company in which K. Subrahmanyam was involved. She worked in “Ushasundari “and Rajeswari “in 1931, playing the lead in the latter opposite Raja Sandow. When the Imperial Film Company was keen on making a “Talkie” film they approached K.Subrahmanyam for casting suggestions and he recommended TPR. She donned the heroine’s role in the first South Indian Talkie, sang two keerthanas, two patriotic songs and performed a kuraththi dance. She then did Ramayan (1932) and Sathyavan Savithri (1933). In 1933 S.Vincent made Valli Thirumanam – this shot her to Stardom and she was bestowed the title – “Cinema Rani “. It was here that she met and fell in love with and later married the actor playing Narada – T.V.Sundaram. She stayed on Calcutta to make several films like Kovalan, Draupadi Vasthrabharanam, Harichandra, Gul e Bhagavali, Lalithangi.
On her return she started Sri Rajam Talkies and wrote, Directed , edited and Acted in “Miss Kamala” – 1936. She followed this up with “Madurai Veeran” where she paired up again with V.A.Chellappa, this proved to be a Hit. Her next Directorial venture – “Indhiya Thaai” proved to be a financial failure – undeterred she carried on gamely. Her younger brother T.P.Rajagopal was a talented musician and composed the music for all her home productions. Her other brother T.P.Rajasekharan assisted her in her business. She passed away on the 20 th of August 1964.
“She was given the Kalaimamani award in 1961 and as he did not want her to come in a taxi , MGR personally sent his car to pick her up and have her dropped back” recalls her daughter Mrs. Kamala. Kamala’s only tryst with the film Industry was when she played the infant Nandhanar in the 1938 film Nandhakumar. “We owned several properties in Kilpauk , all of which were steadily sold to maintain the upkeep of the family. In the end she suffered a stroke and without her knowledge she was shifted to a rented premises in Aspiran Gardens and our house in Rajaratnam Street too was sold . She wanted to celebrate her grandson’s first birthday and the family took the Gold in her Kalaimamani award , melted it , made some rings and gave it to TPR to present to her grand son. She was not aware of the dire financial straits that the family was in.”
Her daughter asked me in a voice filled with emotion – this is my mother’s centenary year, will anyone remember her in a fitting manner? I did not know what to reply – Will the Cinema Industry and the Government wake up and honor the first Queen of South Indian Cinema?