A megahit version of the legend of Madurai Veeran (played by actor-politician MGR), a a popular Tamil Nadu village deity and the subject of numerous ballads and plays. Set in the 17th C. court of the Poligars, the story starts with Veeran, rather like Oedipus, being abandoned in a forest as an infant because of a bad omen, but he is protected by the wild animals and later adopted, amid much celebration, by a cobbler and his wife (Krishnan and Mathuram). He rescues and falls in love with Princess Bommi (Bhanumathi), who is promised, by convention, to her maternal uncle. Just before her forced marriage, he abducts her, while she, in turn, rescues him from atop an elephant when he is sentenced to death. The happy end is in sight when, in tune with the MGR narrative showing two women vying for the unreachable hero, he also falls for Velaiammal (Padmini), causing a love triangle which ends when the hero’s body is mutilated, and he becomes - with his two consorts - the icon of Tamil Nadu. The film belongs to the type of action spectacular made popular by the Gemini and Vijaya studios, but extends into a rampant animism as all of (studio-bound) nature participates in and applauds the hero performing death-defying feats shot in ways that often recall the late silent era (cf. Hamir’s acrobatics in Diler Jigar, 1931). Extending the resemblance is the film’s use of framing devices, presented frontally before an unusually submissive, imagined audience, and underlined by its final image: the prone, foreshortened body of the hero flanked by two mourning women, flowers raining down on the trio from the heavens as metallic statuettes of the threesome emerge. The narrative, however, takes on a new dimension by equating the hero’s physical mobility with the character’s movement from underdog to tragic lover to nobleman and eventually to divine status. It was written by the noted DMK rationalist poet Kannadasan, and is an early example of the political appropriation of Tamil folk ballads praising heroes like Chinnadan, Chinnathambi, Jambulingam and others. Most of these heroes, according to Vanamamalai (1981) quoted by Pandian (1992), are ‘low- caste men who protect crops, protect the cattle, protect the rights of lower-caste women, challenge sexual norms, challenge the privilege of higher-caste groups and demand equal rights for the lower-caste men with talent and skill’.
Did you know?
The film is based on the folklore legend turned deity of the same name. Read More