Ratha Kanneer (1954)
There is always an argument that goes on in the Tamil movie world on the best actor, And every time, they end up with one name called Sivaji Ganesan. But according to me, there is one more person who can be spoken of at the same calibre as Sivaji. His name is M.R.Radha and versatility was his middle name. Although there are beautiful movies behind his name, the one classic masterpiece which will feature in any Tamil Movie list would be Ratha Kanneer.
Most of the yesteryear actors came from theatre and with strong influences of political ideologies. MR Radha was no exception, and he had a strong background of Dravidian political ideology. He was already a superstar in theatre before he came on to movies.
Ratha Kanneer was a play written by Thiruvarur Thangarasu and already a famous play among the masses before it made into the tinsel world. The most surprising aspect of the play and the movie was the radical thoughts purported by the writer at a more conservative period.
It’s about the story of the rich man who makes merry with women defies his family, good friends and ends up as a leprosy patient. Leprosy was considered to be a deadly disease at that time, and the movie also depicts the social stigma associated with such patients.
Why is Ratha Kanneer special?
1. The first half has all the sharp Dravidian political ideologies of MR Radha and the writer criticising religion, casteism, false beliefs, rituals etc. The dialogues and the way MR Radha enacts the role with élan is a treat to watch.
2. The different second half shows the plight of the leprosy patient and the social apprehensions surrounding it. Who can forget “Kuttram Purinthavan”. The movie had an apt cast with M.N.Rajam as Gantha, a memorable wily mistress character and she never recovered from that image after that movie. She had many stereotypical roles after that movie. SS Rajendran as the friend and Sri Ranjani as the wife.
3. The music for the songs was composed by Chidambaram Jayaraman and the background score by Viswanathan-Ramamoorthy (lesser known that point of time). And the movie was directed by the most successful director duo of Krishnan- Panju.
Why is Ratha n on the list?
Just because of the path-breaking theme of the movie for its times and the fantastic versatile acting of MR Radha – an actor underrated because of his personal life and one big mistake of shooting MGR. It has become an inspiration for many movie makers, and you could find many movies reusing the subject even today. A brilliant film to watch and that’s why it’s one of the must-watch Tamil movies of all time.
1. The legacy of Ratha Kaneer is continued till now with MR Radha’s offsprings continuing it with occasional theatre performances along with small modifications. Currently, the role is portrayed by Radha Ravi.
2. MR Radha was born in Chennai in 1908. MR Radha’s father Rajagopal Naidu was an Army man and died in Russia during the war. MR Radha was fond of acting, and he acted in various drama companies like ‘Dappi” Rangasamy Naidu Company, Samanna Company and Jaggantha Iyer Company etc. He later started his own drama company and staged plays like Ratha Kanneer, Thooku Medai, Lakshmi Kanthan, Vimala, Porvaal etc. Ratha Kanneer was staged 3500 times and it seems there was a scene in which MR Radha comments about the politics while reading a newspaper. Every day, he used to do the commentary based on that day’s news and people watched the play just for that.
3. He was politicians nightmare. Six of his plays were banned and he got arrested for staging banned plays. The sobriquet “Nadigavel” was given by Pattukottai Azhagiri during the staging of Porvaal in Trichy. MR Radha’s first stint in movies was in Rajasekaran (1937) but he suffered an accident during the filming. He left the movie world but Ratha Kanneer brought him back. It was AP Nagarajan’s Nalla Idathu Sambantham (1958) and Paaga Pirivinai (1959) that made other directors rope in MR Radha. He was unstoppable until he shot MGR in 1967. He acted in few movies after he was released in 1974, but he wasn’t successful. He died on 17th November 1979, the birthday of his beloved leader Periyar. A self-proclaimed atheist and a follower of Periyar, he propagated Periyar’s teaching in his movies and plays. He married thrice – Saraswathi, Thanalakshmi (Saraswathi’s Sister) and Geetha. MR Radha’s first son MRR Vasu acted in few movies but died early due to illness. Radharavi, Radhika and Nirosha continue to operate in movies.
4. Upendra, the maverick Kannada Director-Actor tried to recreate the magic with Ramya Krishnan as Gantha but could not live up to the expectations although it made a good financial success.
5. Incidentally, MR Radha went back to theatre after this movie because of his love towards it but came back to do some memorable roles later.
6. The full name of MR Radha is Mohan Rajagopala Naidu Radhakrishnan, and he is nicknamed as Nadigavel.
Fantastic Trivia update from Raji Muthukrishnan
After a hiatus from the screen after Ratha Kanneer (I read somewhere he was disgusted with the film world for some reason), M. R. Radha came back with a bang in Baga Pirivinai, which had Sivaji in it. After that he was on a roll with his original unique dialogue delivery
Trivia: it was M. R. Radha who gave Karunanidhi the title of Kalaignar when he acted in one of his plays.
P.S 1: I decided that the 3rd movie should be Ratha Kanneer and I could not get useful information from the internet ( like the music director). I went on to a pursuit of DVDs, and I found it in Landmark last weekend. It was a nice add-on to my DVD collection ( Thanks to this article). Raj Video Vision releases the DVD.
P.S 2: Update in 2015 – Finally, we have a YouTube version of Ratha Kanneer
- Tamil Cinema Varalaru – Dinathanthi Publications