The Tamil history is full of legends, compelling anecdotes and wonderful heroic stories. But the number of historical movies and historical fictions is very minimal. The ones who came are either skewed or executed in the worst possible way. I think there will be only two movies in this genre on my list. The first one is Kappalottiya Thamizhan, and the other one didn’t do well at the box office (it will feature later in the series).
During the 50s and 60s, there were a lot of historicals featuring the freedom fighters from Tamil Nadu. Veerapandiya Kattabomman, Sivagangai Seemai, Raja Desingu were some of them, and worst of all came in 1973 – Raja Raja Chozhan. The problem with all the historical movies was it gives you a skewed perspective and not the real history. All films tried to glorify the lead characters rather than giving out the true to life depictions. I think that’s were Chinese and Hollywood movies score a point.
Kappalottiya Thamizhan (1961)
One historical movie that came close to be a real depiction was Kappalotiya Thamizhan, a biopic depicting the life V.O. Chidambaram, who fought an economic and business based war against the British. I said came close because they had a lot of fictitious characters who may or may not have lived.
V.O.Chidambaram Pillai aka VOC (Sivaji Ganesan) is an ardent nationalist and owner of a salt factory. On seeing that Indians are discriminated at the ports and not allowed to export through ships, he starts the Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company (and hence the name Kappalottiya Thamizhan). As the British understand the economic war is more dangerous than the ahimsa war, they confiscate VOC’s company and jail him. The movie depicts the struggle VOC went through in prison and how he wrote his biography.
The film focuses on not only VOC but also his interactions with the revolutionary Tamil poets Bharathiyar (a memorable performance by SV Subbaiah), Subramania Siva (TS Shanmugam) and other national leaders. It also depicts the other critical moments of freedom struggle, like the Vanchinathan – Collector Ash incident (K.Balaji as Vanchinathan was fantastic).
I could not understand the characterisations of Madasami and his wife (Gemini Ganesan and Savithri) because there are no references to them in the history. They get a considerable screen presence, and I think they were included to provide the lighter moments in a tense, serious drama. Madasami acts as the only link between Vanchinathan and VOC, who otherwise had not met in the history. Most of the websites claim that Gemini Ganesan was Vanchinathan and of course it is not true.
Kappalottiya Thamizhan was directed by BR Panthulu with Sivaji Ganesan, Rukmini, Gemini Ganesan, Savithri, SV Subbaiah, TS Shanmugam, K. Balaji as actors. The music was composed by G Ramanathan and produced by Padmini Pictures.
Why is it so Special?
1. The excellent performance of Sivaji. Although people remember him as Kattabomman and Karnan, he loves VOC more than any other character that he has played. In every interview, he claims that this was the toughest and the most favourite of all. And you will know it only when you see it.
2. The supporting cast was equally impressive too. The court scene was SV Subbaiah counters the British lawyer and the collector office scene of TS Shanmugam bear testimony to their talent. Although subdued, Rukmini’s performance as VOC’s wife was beautiful.
3. The music and the lyrics. All the songs in the movie were from Bharathiyar’s poems. Only a few films have all the songs written by Bharathi. The other two that I can remember now – Ezhavathu Manithan and Bharathi (the autobiography). It was G.Ramanathan’s best (Kaatru Veliyidai Kannamma and Yendru Thaniyum Indha Sudandhira Thagam are masterpieces still remembered)
4. An accurate biographical account that was cleverly directed with exceptional performances.
Why is it on the list?
1. The historical movies of those times were skewed. Veera Pandiya Kattabomman ( incidentally made by BR Pantulu) and Sivagangai Seemai were one of the most skewed historical depictions. Although this movie had a lot of extra characters added, it was true to life when it came to VOC. They even skip the few years before his death, because they could not get enough information about that part of his life.
2. One of the best when it comes to historical biographies in Tamil Movies.
3. For Sivaji Ganesan – once again.
1. Although Kappalottiya Thamizhan was a good movie, the film was a dud at the box office. It ran for a week even after a tax exemption from the government. It did moderately well in the subsequent reruns.
2. Kappalottiya Thamizhan was the most favourite role of Sivaji Ganesan, and he reportedly said that he had a difficult time playing it.
3. SS Gallia and SS Lawoe were the two ships bought by VOC to start his Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company
4. Padmini Pictures was the production company of BR Panthulu and produced blockbusters like Veerapandiya Kattabomman, Karnan, Kalyanam Panniyum Brahmachari. The last recorded movie produced by them was Rahasiya Police 115 in 1968.
For more info about VOC and the movie peek into the following link. This link has info about famous Tamils.
PS: It’s a pity that his family is in roadside now. Do we respect the families that sacrificed for our country?