The Pioneers of Tamil Cinema



This week, we bring you yet another mover and shaker from the world of Tamil Cinema: Raja Sandow, a prominent filmmaker as well as a trendsetter — in every sense of the word!


P.K. Nagalingam, better known as Raja Sandow to the world, was born in Pudukottai, Tamil Nadu in 1895. There’s an interesting story behind the origin of this new name: the story goes he acquired this unique moniker due to his impressively toned physique, built through his pastime of choice, bodybuilding and wrestling. Once he was satisfied with his bodybuilding, he opened a gym for the world — and a very successful one, at that. He went on to earn many accolades through his wrestling career, and was even featured in the Bombay Chronicle.

This popularity eventually paved his way into the glittering world of show business, and he began acting in silent films in the City of Dreams, Bombay. Right from his very first film, BHAKTHA BHODANA, he performed his own stunts. This attracted the attention of many filmmakers of the time, as a result of which he went on to act in more than seventy silent films.

Once he climbed to the very top of his acting career, Raja Sandow turned his attention behind the scenes, to the art of filmmaking. A keen observer, he had been watching and learning from the films he starred in from the very first one. When opportunity knocked on his door in the form the filmmaker R. Padmanabhan, who offered him a chance to make his own film in Madras, he jumped at it. And thus was made the film ANADHAI PENN in 1929. 

The films Raja Sandow made aimed to portray deep social messages, particular the terrible ways the poor, and women, were treated in society. His films NANDANAR and RAJESWARI, released  in the 1920s, were some such films that were truly remarkable for the times in which they were made.

He was responsible for many firsts and beginnings in the Tamil film industry. In his MENAKA, for instance, the lead and actor and actress were pictured interacting very closely and even touching each other. This was revolutionary at a time when the norm was to place the hero and heroine at a two feet distance from each other at all times. He was, clearly, one of the first and foremost trendsetters of the Indian film industry as a whole.


An advertisement for the Film MENAKA


PC: From the archives of TCRC

MENAKA also marked the debut of the famous N.S. Krishnan, who went on to become one of the pioneers of comedy in Tamil films. It was also the first film appearance of the TKS Brothers, who were the foremost stars of the theatrical world at the time.

THIRUNEELAKANTAR, made in 1939, went on to become one of the biggest hits in the history of Tamil cinema. During its release period, shows were running in cinema halls even a year — 52 weeks — after the films initial release. This film, too, featured an extremely popular soundtrack by M.K. Thyagraja Bhagavathar. The songs were composed by Papanasam Sivan and became sensational runaway hits elevating the stardom of Thyagraja, known fondly as M.K.T. Songs from the movie such as Deena Karuna Karane Nataraja were all the rage. Songs from this film were catapulted to cult status, and remain both well-known and beloved by music lovers even today.


Working Still from the Film TIRUNEELAKANDER Featuring M.K.T and TIRUNELVELI PAPA

PC: From the archives of TCRC

The comedy duo N.S. Krishnan and T.A. Madhuram— who were, incidentally, husband and wife in reality too — were quite the comedic sensation; many flocked to the cinema to see their exceptional comedy.


Working Still from the Film TIRUNEELAKANDER Featuring N.K.S and T.A. Madhuram

PC: From the archives of TCRC

In 1943, Raja Sandow tragically suffered a heart attack and died in Coimbatore on the 25th of November. His last film was SIVAKAVI, which he had, in fact, quit due to creative differences with the producer, S.M. Sriramulu Naidu. Naidu went on see the film to its conclusion himself.


Working Still from the Film SIVAKAVI Featuring M.K.T

PC: From the archives of TCRC

 [To be continued] We’ll be back next week with more hidden treasure from the history of Tamil cinema. Stay tuned! 

About the Author:

V.V. Prasad is a Electronics and Communication Engineer based from Chennai. He is currently involved in the role of a Researcher and Archivist in THE CINEMA RESCOURCE CENTRE.
He takes care of the non film materials like Photographs, Magazines, Lobby Cards, Song books etc of the archives. Cataloguing them and digitizing them are part of his current work.
His interests and passion lie on the research of Cinema particularly South Indian Cinema.

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