The world knows Indian movies as wholesome entertainers with songs, dance, action sequences, sentiments and comedy packages. The trend of such entertainment packages or masalas as it is rightly called was started initially by a spectacular production company called “Modern Theatres”. Modern Theatres, a big wig production company from a small town, Salem owned by TR Sundaram had only one aim – wholesome entertainment with the right dose of action, comedy, cheap thrills and glamour.
Vaduvur Duraisamy Iyengar is the first pulp fiction novelist in Tamil. Karunguil Kundrathur Kolai was the first pulp fiction novel. He created a sage detective, who solves crimes through his innovative ways. He used this detective in a series of novels.
So what happens when a big wig movie production house and a pulp fiction author join hands, you get a perfect masala movie which became a forerunner to many such masala movies of the future.
Digambara Samiyar (1950)
The story is about an evil lawyer, Sattanadha Pillai, who tries to get his incompetent brother, Masilamani married to a poor lady, Vadivambal. The evil lawyer is corrupt and does all his crimes partnering with a sub-judge by the name Iyer. Vadivambal is in love with Kannappa. The lawyer who is a master in sneaky ways finds his foe in a saintly sage “Digambara Saamiyar”, who dons different disguises to expose the lawyer. After a lots of twists and turns, the sage triumphs against the evil.
The cast included D.Balasubramaniam as the evil lawyer, P. V. Narasimha Bharathi as his brother, Draupathi as Vadivambal and the talented M. N. Nambiar as Digambara Saamiyar. The movie was directed and produced by TR Sundaram for his Modern Theatres. The music was composed by G. Ramanathan – S. M. Subbaiah Naidu with lyrics by Marudhakasi – Ka. Mu. Sherif – K. P. Kamakshi – Thanjai Ramaiah Das, and a relatively a newcomer by the name Kannadasan. The music was a runaway hit although most of them were lift offs from Hindi movies (I hope it rings some bell in your mind)
Why it’s so unique?
1. Sivaji’s Navarathri act (9 Roles) and even Kamal’s Dasavatharam (10 Roles) are spoken as acting masterpieces, what about MN Nambiar’s nine roles in Digambara Saamiyar. The only difference being all 9 are the same person, and they are different people in the other two. But the nine different disguises of MN Nambiar are nothing short of greatness, and he did them with such panache, that he was equal to the other two if not better.
The nine roles include a deaf magician, Arab businessman, saunf trader, nadaswaram musician, a wealthy landlord, postman etc.,
2. TR Sundaram didn’t take a run of the mill masala movie without any logic. The whole film was based on an investigation technique widely used – keeping a person sleepless for three days will make him confess all the truth (remember the opening scene of “the lives of others”). Lalitha-Padmini duo’s dance sequence was used to keep Sattanadhan sleepless for three days in the movie.
3. The film was a complete package with rehashed songs, excellent star cast, deft screenplay, incredible acting which made it as a wholesome entertainer.
Why it’s in the list?
1. Although there were a lot of pulp fiction movies, which made it to the silver screen, it was Digambara Saamiyar, which created the right space for such films. It went on to become a forerunner to all those masala movies. The only problem is most of them have forgotten what TR Sundaram was well aware of “Entertainment Quotient”.
2. For MN Nambiar, known only for his evil, he has not been given the right place as an actor. If you get a chance to watch this movie, you will know what I am speaking about. (You may get a chance to watch it in Podhigai channel if you have luck)
1. A graduate from London, smitten by the cinema bug TR Sundaram entered filmdom in 1933. He was a partner in Angel Film Company, Salem and produced two movies. In 1937, he started the Modern Theatres with the sole aim of entertaining people. The first movie was Sadhi Agalya. He was the first one to bring actresses from abroad and even made promotions with swimsuits as early as 1937. Modern Theatres became one of the prime movie production companies in Tamil. They brought in the professionalism into movie production. Monthly Salaries, equality for actors concerning treatment, high production values etc. Some of the famous movies include 1000 Thalai Vangiya Aboorva Chinrhamani, Alibabavum 40 Thirudargalum, Vallavanaku Vallavan, CID Shankar ( a series of movies with Jai Shankar)
To know more about Modern Theatres, Check this link from The Hindu, A wonderful article by Randor Guy
2. MN Nambiar started his acting career in Nawab Rajamanickam’s Troupe at the age of 13. He became famous through his villainy portrayals opposite MG Ramachandran. His unique dialogue delivery has been his secret of success. A complete health conscious person, I have heard him saying that he has never even taken a cup of milk in his life. He was a staunch Iyyappan follower, and he made it to the temple for 65 consecutive years; hence he is called the “Maha Guruswamy.”
3. I think Digambara Samiyar is a sect in Saivism. If anybody can find more info on that, it would be great.
4. The songs were direct lift offs from Hindi movies like it always used to be at that era. Oosie Pattasey was from O Diwalo (Patanga), Parudappa from La Lappa (Ek Ti Ladki).
YouTube link for the movie