Friday, July 04, 2014

Chandralekha (1948 I, Tamil version)

S. S. Vasan: சந்திரலேகா / Chandralekha (IN 1948) starring T. R. Rajkumari (Chandralekha).

S. S. Vasan: சந்திரலேகா / Chandralekha (IN 1948) starring T. R. Rajkumari (Chandralekha).

    IN 1948. D: S. S. Vasan. Story+SC: Gemini Story Department (K.J. Mahadevan, Subbu, Sangu, Kittoo, Naina). DP: Kamal Ghosh. ED: Chandru. AD: A. K. Sekar. M: S. Rajeshwara Rao, M. D. Parthasarthy, R. Vaidyanathan, B. Das Gupta. Canzoni: Papanasam Sivan, Kothamangalam Subbu.
    C: T. R. Rajkumari (Chandralekha), M. K. Radha (Veer Singh), Ranjan (Shashank), Sundaribai, N. S. Krishnan, T. A. Mathuram.
    P: S. S. Vasan per Gemini Studios. 35 mm. 193'. B&w. Tamil version. From: National Archive of India
    Viewed with e-subtitles in Italian and English by Sub-Ti at Cinema Jolly (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato), 4 July 2014

Uma Vangal (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website): "Filmed originally in Tamil and later in Hindi, Chandralekha was in its time the most expensive film made in India. Directed by showman S.S. Vasan, the owner of Chennai's Gemini Studios, the film brought the scale and vision of the Hollywood spectacular to indigenous themes, creating a nationwide hit that still features in every list of landmark Indian films. It was hugely influential, setting production and publicity standards for the Bombay blockbuster. A robust Ruritanian swashbuckler at heart, the film tells the story of the princes Veerasimhan and Sasankan, rivals for the throne and the affections of the beautiful Chandralekha."

India's First Spectacular

"Reading Chandralekha's success in retrospect, one realizes that several factors would have contributed to its positive reception. In 1948, the first year of India's independence from colonial rule, the film's primary conflict - the struggle between the usurper and the rightful heir - would have resonated strongly with the Indian audience, leading them to register all the nuanced allusions and metaphors embodied in the film. They would have seen the demonized villain as a personification of the cruel colonial power which had usurped the land, with Veerasimhan's struggle and imprisonment evoking the freedom struggle and the harsh treatment meted out to the leaders of the nationalist movement. The joyous celebrations at his release and ascension to power would have surely reflected the mood of the newly independent nation. On the surface, Chandralekha is an incredible extravaganza with a great story and setting. In the darkened cinema hall, however, it goes beyond mere entertainment to create an intense engagement with its audience, through its references to popular notions of valour and courage, and characters who try to live up to an heroic and moral ideal. In this context, it is interesting to note the central female character and her pivotal role in restoring the status quo. Chandralekha, named after its heroine, portrays a world where men and women work together to establish a rightful rule. Perhaps this reflects the filmmaker's vision of a truly democratic nation, based on equal rights for men and women."

"Chandralekha marks a transition for the Tamil audience, which was moving on from its staple fare, the 'mythological' film, dealing with stories from Indian myth and legend. It also represents a change for filmmakers who were attempting to use their democratic medium to bring contemporary themes to the audience. Costume dramas like Chandralekha, dealing with struggles for power, eventually led the audience to accept 'socials' (films about contemporary issues in modern-day settings). The film also established many of the conventions that are associated today with Indian cinema - the spectacular song-and-dance sequences, colourful costumes, and elaborate sets which are considered typical of Bollywood, but in actuality emerged from the South Indian film industry. This was the true achievement of Chandralekha - the creation of a template for mainstream Indian cinema, a model for future filmmakers to emulate and reap benefits from at home and abroad." Uma Vangal (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website)

AA:  I had just seen Les Croix de bois which overlapped with Chandralekha, the essential Indian fairy-tale musical blockbuster. One hour had already passed since the beginning of the show, and I was still stunned by the stark Raymond Bernard masterpiece. I tried to adjust to Chandralekha but in vain. After 30 minutes I gave up. I observed scenes from the circus world: a man clowning in a bear suit, female gymnasts, acrobats and trapeze daredevils. I caught a glimpse of the naive fairy-tale world.

Two years ago they showed in Il Cinema Ritrovato Uday Shankar's Kalpana (also from Gemini Studios, also from 1948) which has reportedly directly inspired Chandralekha. Judging by the portions I have seen of both, the extraordinary masterpiece Kalpana is artistically superior and in a different league altogether.

There was a duped visual quality in the print, and the image was violently shaking during the 30 minutes I was watching.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Chandralekha (1948 film)

Illustrated poster showing men riding elephants and horses
Theatrical poster

Directed by     S. S. Vasan
Produced by     S. S. Vasan
Written by     Veppathur Kittoo
Kothamangalam Subbu
K. J. Mahadevan
Based on     Robert McCaire the Male Bandit by G. W. M. Reynolds
Starring     T. R. Rajakumari
M. K. Radha
Music by     Songs:
S. Rajeswara Rao
Background music:
M. D. Parthasarathy
Cinematography     Kamal Ghosh
K. Ramnoth
Edited by     Chandru
Distributed by     Gemini Studios
Release date(s)     9 April 1948
Running time     210 minutes[1]
Country     India
Language     Tamil

Chandralekha (also spelled Chandraleka[a]) is a 1948 Indian historical fiction film directed and produced by S. S. Vasan. The film features T. R. Rajakumari in the title role and M. K. Radha as the male lead, with Ranjan as the primary antagonist. The film's music was composed by S. Rajeswara Rao and M. D. Parthasarathy, with a script by Gemini's story department composed of Veppathur Kittoo, Kothamangalam Subbu, K. J. Mahadevan, Sangu, and Naina.[1] A "Ruritanian period extravaganza",[4] the film tells the story of two royal brothers and rivals, Veerasimhan and Sasankan, and a country maiden and dancer, Chandralekha.

Development for Chandralekha began in 1943 when Vasan, after two successive hit films, announced that his next film would be entitled Chandralekha. However, when he launched an advertising campaign for the film, all he had was the name of the heroine from a storyline he had rejected about a tough woman. One of his storyboard artists, Veppathur Kittoo, later developed a story based on the novel Robert McCaire the Male Bandit, which impressed Vasan. The original director of Chandralekha was T. G. Raghavachari, who, after directing more than half the film, left the project due to disagreements with Vasan, who took over the film in his directorial debut.

Originally filmed in Tamil and later in Hindi, Chandralekha was in production for five years from 1943 to 1948. There were a number of changes to the script, cast and production, and the film ultimately cost over INR3 million (US$50,000). It was the most expensive film made in India at the time. The cost of filming a single sequence equalled the entire budget of a typical Indian film of that time. After a massive publicity campaign, Chandralekha was released on 9 April 1948 to positive critical reviews, and became a huge success. However, because of its expense, it was not profitable. As a result, Vasan released the film in Hindi as well, and Chandralekha became India's first nationwide hit, grossing INR10 million (US$170,000) domestically. It was also dubbed in foreign languages like English, Japanese and Danish.


Veerasimhan (M. K. Radha) and Sasankan (Ranjan) are sons of the king of an unspecified region. While returning to his palace, Veerasimhan meets a village dancer named Chandralekha (T. R. Rajakumari) and they fall in love. At the palace, the king decides to abdicate in favour of Veerasimhan, which enrages the younger brother Sasankan, who leaves the palace and forms a gang of thieves who embark on a crime spree. After they kill Chandralekha's father, she is orphaned and joins a band of travelling musicians, whose caravan is raided by Sasankan's men.

Sasankan orders Chandralekha to dance for him, and she does so only after being whipped. She later manages to escape. Meanwhile, Sasankan mounts a surprise attack on Veerasimhan and takes him prisoner. Chandralekha witnesses Sasankan's men trapping Veerasimhan in a cave and rescues him with the help of a passing circus troupe. The two fugitives join the circus to hide from Sasankan's men. After returning to the kingdom, imprisoning his parents, and declaring himself king, Sasankan asks his men to find Chandralekha.

At the circus, one of Sasankan's men sees Chandralekha performing and tries to capture her, but she is saved by Veerasimhan, who escapes with her to join a gypsy group. When Veerasimhan leaves to seek assistance, Sasankan's men capture Chandralekha and bring her to the palace. Sasankan orders her to marry him and she refuses, feigning unconsciousness whenever he approaches her. One of her friends from the circus comes to Sasankan disguised as a gypsy healer, claiming that she can heal Chandralekha. Behind locked doors, the two girls hold a quick conference. Sasankan is pleased to find Chandralekha miraculously cured and apparently ready to accept him as a bridegroom. He agrees to her request for a drum dance to celebrate the royal wedding.

Huge drums are arranged in rows in front of the palace. Chandralekha joins the dancers and Sasankan is impressed with her performance. As the dance ends, the drums open and swarms of soldiers appear from within them and attack Sasankan's men. Veerasimhan and his men manage to storm into the castle. He confronts Sasankan and they engage in a long sword fight, which ends with Sasankan's defeat and imprisonment. Veerasimhan releases his parents and takes over as the new king, while Chandralekha becomes his queen.


    T. R. Rajakumari as Chandralekha, a village dancer and circus artiste
    M. K. Radha as Veerasimhan, the older of two princes and Chandralekha's love interest
    Ranjan as Sasankan, Veerasimhan's younger brother
    M. S. Sundari Bai as a dancer in "Naatiya Kudhirai"
    N. S. Krishnan and T. A. Mathuram as circus performers

Other supporting actors include Seshagiri Bhagavathar, Appanna Iyengar, V. N. Janaki, T. V. Kalyani, Surabhi Kamala, Veppathur Kittoo, T. E. Krishnamachariar, Pottai Krishnamoorthy, Subbiah Pillai, Cocanada Rajarathnam, N. Ramamurthi, L. Narayana Rao, Ramakrishna Rao, Sundara Rao, N. Seetharaman, V. S. Susheela, Varalakshmi, Velayutham, and "100 Gemini Boys and 500 Gemini Girls"[5] Additionally, S. N. Lakshmi appears in an uncredited role as a dancer in the drum dance sequence.[6]


In 1943,[7] producer and director S. S. Vasan was contemplating a story for his third film after Mangamma Sabatham (1943) and the Telugu film Balanagamma (1942), which netted a profit of INR4 million (US$67,000). He wanted a film on a grand scale on which there were no budgetary constraints. He asked Gemini Studios' story department to write a screenplay. Writers such as Kothamangalam Subbu and Veppathur Kittoo saw Mangamma Sabatham and Balanagamma as "heroine-oriented stories", and proposed a similar story to Vasan. They told a story about Chandralekha, a tough woman who "outwits a vicious bandit, delivers the final insult by slashing off his nose and, as a finishing touch, fills the bloodied gaping hole with hot, red chilli powder". Vasan disliked its gruesomeness and vulgarity, and rejected the story. However, the character's name, Chandralekha, stayed in his mind.

Without waiting for the full story, Vasan announced that his next project would be Chandralekha, publicising it with full-page advertisements. Despite work by Gemini's writers, the story was not ready even after three months. Vasan became impatient and considered shelving Chandralekha in favour of his other project Avvaiyyar. Kittoo received a week's extension, during which he discovered an English novel by G. W. M Reynolds entitled Robert McCaire The Male Bandit, in which he read:

    "... it's night in rural England and a mail coach convoy trots its way, when, suddenly, Robert McCaire, the bandit, and his henchmen on horses emerge from the surrounding darkness, hold up the convoy and rob it. Hiding under a seat is a young woman fleeing from a harsh home. She is a dancer and when she refuses to dance, the bandit whips her into submission ..."

Vasan was impressed when Kittoo narrated a story based on this episode. Deciding to continue with the film, he named the heroine Chandralekha, although the rest of the story was still incomplete.[8] The rest of Gemini's story department later improvised Kitto's story to give it a final shape.[9]


The script had two major roles, princes of a kingdom, the elder of whom was the protagonist and his brother a villainous, amoral person. M. K. Radha was originally chosen to portray the younger prince, Sasankan, but declined the negative role and agreed to play the older prince Veerasimhan.[9] It was Radha's wife who convinced Vasan to cast Radha as the older prince. Vasan chose K. J. Mahadevan to play the younger prince, and T. G. Raghavachari agreed to direct the film.[8] However, after the first few scenes featuring Mahadevan were shot, his performance was deemed "too soft", and he was dismissed from the role.[7] He continued to serve as one of the film's scriptwriters[1] and an assistant director.[10]

Raghavachari wanted Ranjan to play Sasankan. Vasan was reluctant, feeling Ranjan was too effeminate to play a "steel-hard villain", but eventually agreed. Ranjan was surprised that Vasan was considering him for a villainous role. Despite his commitment to B. N. Rao's Saalivaahanan (1945), Kittoo persuaded Ranjan to take a screen test for Chandralekha and Rao gave him a few days off. The test was successful, and Ranjan got the part.[11] T. R. Rajakumari was chosen to play Chandralekha,[8] replacing K. L. V. Vasantha, who was Vasan's first choice.[12] Film historian Randor Guy believes that Vasan chose Rajakumari over Vasantha, because the latter was then moving to Modern Theatres, Salem, permanently.[8]

In April 1947, comedian N. S. Krishnan was released from prison,[b] and Vasan recruited him and T. A. Mathuram to portray circus performers who help the hero to rescue the titular character from the antagonist.[8] The script was altered, with scenes added to showcase the comedy duo.[14] S. N. Lakshmi made her film debut as a dancer in the climactic drum-dancing scene.[6][15] M. S. Sundari Bai appeared as a dancer in "Naatiya Kudhirai",[16] and T. A. Jayalakshmi appeared briefly in one scene that lasted for a few minutes.[17] Actor Madurai Sriramulu Naidu made his debut in this film in an uncredited role as a horseman.[18]

A minor role, the hero's bodyguard, was not yet cast. The then struggling stage actor Villupuram Chinniah Pillai Ganeshamurthy (who went on to become Sivaji Ganesan) was interested in the role, and grew his hair long for the part. He contacted Veppathur Kittoo several times asking for a role in the film. Eventually, Kittoo took Ganesan to Vasan, who had seen him perform onstage. However, Vasan rejected Ganesan, calling him "totally unsuited for films" and told him to choose another profession. This incident caused a permanent rift between Vasan and Ganesan.[8]


During the film’s making our studio looked like a small kingdom...horses, elephants, lions, tigers in one corner, palaces here and there, over there a German lady training nearly a hundred dancers on one studio floor, a shapely Sinhalese lady teaching another group of dancers on real marble steps adjoining a palace, a studio worker making weapons, another making period furniture using expensive rosewood, others set props, headgear, and costumes, Ranjan undergoing fencing practice with our fight composer 'Stunt' Somu, our music directors composing and rehearsing songs in a building...there were so many activities going on simultaneously round-the-clock in the same place.
 – Kothamangalam Subbu, on the making of Chandralekha[7]

Chandralekha began shooting in 1943,[7] and Raghavachari directed more than half the film. Due to differences of opinion between him and Vasan over the shooting of some scenes at the Governor's Estate (now Raj Bhavan, Guindy), Raghavachari left the project and Vasan made his directorial debut.[8]

The film initially had no circus scenes. Vasan decided to include them when the film was halfway through production, and the screenplay was changed.[14] Kittoo travelled throughout South India and Ceylon to see over 50 circuses[8] before choosing the Kamala Circus Company and Parasuram Lion Circus.[19] The circus scenes were shot by K. Ramnoth, and staff members, their families, and passersby were recruited as spectators.[14] The circus scenes lasted for 20 minutes, according to G. Dhananjayan "the longest footage of scenes outside the main plot that one can see".[9] A scene in which Ranjan whips Rajakumari when she refuses to dance was based on the passage from Robert McCaire the Male Bandit, from which Kittoo developed the storyline with which Vasan was impressed.[14]

After Raghavachari's departure, one sequence he directed remained in the film: the drum-dance scene.[20][21] This scene (the first of its kind in Indian cinema) involved 400 dancers and six months of rehearsals. It was designed by chief art director A. K. Sekhar,[8] choreographed by Jayashankar[14] and shot with four cameras by Ellapa, C. V. Ramakrishnan, S. Maruthi Rao[9] and (primarily) Kamal Ghosh.[22] The drum dance alone cost INR500,000 (about US$105,000.11 in 1948),[c] equal to the complete budget for a typical Indian film of the time. Elements and footage from the 1937 Hollywood film The Prisoner of Zenda were freely used in the film.[9]

During post-production, Vasan asked Ramnoth his opinion of the scene in which hundreds of Veerasimhan's warriors storm the palace to rescue Chandralekha from Sasankan. Although everyone else praised the scene's photography, shots and action, Ramnoth remained quiet, finally saying that the suspense could be ruined if the scene was shown uncut, which sparked a discussion. Vasan advised the editor Chandru to edit according to Ramnoth, and was impressed with the result.[24]

Chandralekha was under production for five years (from 1943 to 1948) and underwent a number of changes to its story, cast, and filming. This caused substantial time and cost overruns, and the film ultimately cost INR 3 million (about US$600,000 in 1948),[c] the most expensive Indian film at that time.[8] Vasan had mortgaged all his property, received financial assistance from Sreenivasa Iyengar (then the editor of The Hindu) and even sold his jewellery to complete the film.[25] Adjusted for inflation, the film would have cost US$28 million in 2010.[26]


The film's soundtrack was composed by S. Rajeswara Rao,[27] with lyrics by Papanasam Sivan and Kothamangalam Subbu.[28] R. Vaidyanathan and B. Das Gupta collaborated with M. D. Parthasarathy on the background music.[27] According to film critics V. A. K. Ranga Rao[29] and Shoma A Chatterji, the music is influenced by Carnatic and Hindustani music, Latin and Portuguese folk music, and Strauss waltzes.[30] The song "Naattiya Kuthirai", not originally in the script, was added during the final stages of the film's production (possibly inspired by the 1943 musical, Coney Island).[16] "Indrae Enathu Kuthukalam" and "Manamohana Saaranae" were sung by Rajakumari.[9] The circus chorus was adapted from "The Donkey Serenade" from R. Z. Leonard's The Firefly (1937).[29][31] After Chandralekha, musical directors in Tamil cinema were more influenced by Western music.[3]

Tamil tracklisting[32]

No.     Title     Singer(s)     Length    
1.     "Indrae Enathu Kuthukalam"       T. R. Rajakumari     1:09
2.     "Aathoram Kodikkalam"       M. D. Parthasarathy[33]     2:23
3.     "Padathey Padathey Nee"       M. S. Sundari Bai     3:29
4.     "Naattiya Kuthirai"       M. D. Parthasarathy[33]     4:09
5.     "Namasthey Sutho"       Chorus     4:10
6.     "Group Dance" (Instrumental)      —     1:25
7.     "Aayilo Pakiriyamo"       N. S. Krishnan, T. A. Mathuram     3:10
8.     "Manamohana Saaranae"       T. R. Rajakumari     2:30
9.     "Murasu Aatam (Drum Dance)" (Instrumental)      —     5:59

Hindi tracklisting[34]

No.     Title     Singer(s)     Length    
1.     "Sajana Re Aaja Re"       Uma Devi     3:04
2.     "Man Bhavan Sawan Aaya"       Uma Devi     3:09
3.     "O Chand Mere"       Uma Devi     3:21
4.     "Maai Re Main To Madhuban Mein"       Uma Devi     2:33
5.     "Sanjh Ki Bela"       Uma Devi, Moti Bai     3:07
6.     "Mera Husn Lootne Aaya Albela"       Zohra Ambala, Moti Bai     2:41

Two men crossing swords, with dancing woman in front
Japanese release poster

The first advertisement for Chandralekha appeared on the back cover of the songbook for the film Dasi Aparanji (1944). It featured Vasantha as the heroine (before she was replaced by Rajakumari).[14][d] With Chandralekha, Gemini became the first Tamil studio to attempt to distribute a film all over India.[28] In 2010, Vishwas Kulkarni of Mumbai Mirror stated that INR574,500 was spent on newspaper publicity and INR642,300 on posters, banners and billboards.[35] The 2011 book The Best of Tamil Cinema by G. Dhananjayan contradicts this, saying, "He [Vasan] spent close to Rs. 5,00,000/- on publicity alone, a huge sum that time".[9] Chandralekha's publicity campaign was the highest for an Indian film at that time; the entire publicity of a typical Indian film then was only around INR25,000. Even in the 1950s, the entire publicity for a "top Indian film" cost no more than INR100 million, which is less than one tenth of the amount spent on Chandralekha.[35] An abridged English-language version of Chandralekha, titled Chandra, was screened in the United States and Europe during the 1950s.[7][36]

Chandralekha was released in Japan in April 1954, where it was distributed by Nippon Cinema Corporation (NCC).[37] It was the first Tamil film to be dubbed in Japanese,[38] and the second Indian film to be released in Japan (the first being the 1952 Hindi film Aan, which was released in Tokyo in January 1954). The NCC later collapsed, and no information survives about how the film was brought to Japan. During the 1950s, when India was short of foreign currency, barter was a common means of exchange with overseas business partners, and the Japanese scholar Tamaki Matsuoka believes this to have been the case with Chandralekha. The pamphlet prepared by NCC for Chandralekha, the Japanese title of which was Shakunetsu-no ketto (Fight Under the Red Heat), calls Vasan the "Cecil B. DeMille of the Indian film industry".[37] A Danish version of the film, Indiens hersker (India's ruler), was released on 26 April 1954.[39]


Chandralekha was released on 9 April 1948.[2] It was released simultaneously in 40 theatres throughout South India, and in another 10 within a week.[9] A typical Tamil film of the period would be released in only about 10 towns, but Chandralekha was released simulataneously in 120 towns.[25] The film was a bellwether for its filming, production cost, and publicity before, during, and after its release. Other producers delayed releasing their films until after Chandralekha's release to avoid competition. The film's entertainment value ensured its commercial success.[40]

Despite the original Tamil version's popularity, Chandralekha was not profitable due to its expense, and Vasan decided to remake it in Hindi. He reshot scenes, added songs, and replaced comedy scenes with Hindi artistes. The Hindi version was released with over 600 prints[e] and set box-office records, opening the market to South Indian producers.[9] Vasan called the film "a pageant for our peasants",[44] meant for "the war-weary public that had been forced to watch insipid war propaganda pictures for years".[45] Chandralekha was selected by the government of India for exhibition at the Fourth International Film Festival in Prague in 1949.[46]

Although exact figures are not available on the film's box office earnings, film trade websites provide estimates of its success. Sharmishtha Gooptu, author of Bengali Cinema: An Other Nation, said that Chandralekha grossed INR 10 million (about US$2,100,000 in 1948)[c] in India,[47] the first Madras production to become a hit all over India.[1] Box Office India gives the Hindi version's net gross as INR 7 million (about US$1,500,000 in 1948),[c] and stated that it was the second-highest-grossing Bollywood film of 1948 (after Shaheed, which earned a net gross of INR 7.5 million).[48][f] IBOS Network estimates the film's adjusted worldwide gross as INR4766 million (US$80 million), the 71st highest-grossing Indian film (adjusted for inflation).[50]

Critical response

Dancers on large drums
Chandralekha's drum-dance sequence is considered the highlight of the film by critics.

Chandralekha received generally positive reviews from critics in India. On 9 April 1948, The Hindu said, "India has not witnessed a film of this magnitude in terms of making and settings so far".[40] On 10 April, The Indian Express said, "Chandralekha is an entertaining film for everyone with elements like animals, rope dance, circus and comedy".[40] The same day, the Tamil newspaper Dinamani said "Chandralekha is not only a first rate Tamil film but also an international film".[40] V. A. K. Ranga Rao described the film as "the most complete entertainer ever made".[8] In their 1988 book One Hundred Indian Feature Films: An Annotated Filmography, writers Anil Srivastava and Shampa Banerjee praised nearly every aspect of the film, including its grandeur, battle scenes, and the drum dance, which they called the "raison d'etre" of the film.[51]

In a 2010 review of Chandralekha, Randor Guy praised Rajakumari's performance, calling it "her career-best" and saying that she "carried the movie on her shoulders". Guy praised Radha as his "usual impressive self", saying the film would be "remembered for: the excellent onscreen narration, the magnificent sets and the immortal drum dance sequence".[14] In 2003, journalist S. Muthiah called it "an epic extravaganza worthy of Cecil B. de. Mille" that was "larger-than-life".[52] praised the film's "mind-boggling artwork and production values".[53] In his 2011 book The Best of Tamil Cinema: 1931 to 1976, G. Dhananjayan called the film "a delight to watch even after 50 years".[9]

Director Dhanapal Padmanabhan said in a 2013 interview with K. Jeshi of The Hindu, "Chandralekha had grandeur that was at par with Hollywood standards".[54] Entertainment website IndiaGlitz praised the film for its "opulent songs and sinister plots".[55] In their 2008 book Global Bollywood: Travels of Hindi Song and Dance, writers Sangita Gopal and Sujata Moorti said, "Chandralekha is a film that translates the aesthetic of Hollywood Orientalism for an indigenous mass audience", calling its drum-dance sequence "perhaps one of the most spectacular sequences in Indian cinema".[56] In July 2007, director J. Mahendran listed the film as the first in his list of "best ten" films and told S. R. Ashok Kumar of The Hindu, "I choose Chandralekha, a remarkable film because of its grandeur in all departments of filmmaking. There are no graphics or special effects."[57] Director K. Balachander listed it as the second in his list of "best ten" films and told Ashok Kumar, "I have seen it [Chandralekha] 12 times", while praising the film for its "grand sets".[57] In May 2010, Raja Sen of Rediff praised the film's "grandly mounted setpieces", its "memorable drum dance" and the "longest swordfight ever captured on film", calling Chandralekha "just the kind of film, in fact, that would be best appreciated now after digital restoration".[58]

The film also received unfavourable comments. Though Anil Srivastava and Shampa Banerjee praised nearly every aspect of the film, they called the story "unreal".[51] Dhananjayan called Chandralekha "not a great film in terms of script".[40] Film critic M. K. Raghavendra said, "Indian films are rarely constructed in a way that makes undistracted viewing essential to their enjoyment and Chandralekha is arranged as a series of distractions", concluding, "Chandralekha apparently shows us that enjoyment and visual pleasure in the Indian context are not synonymous with edge-of-the-seat excitement but must permit absent-mindedness as a viewing condition".[59]


Chandralekha was well received by critics overseas. Reviewing the English version, The New York Times described Rajakumari as a "buxom beauty".[60] American film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum said in August 1981, "The prospect of a three-hour Indian film in Temil [sic] with no subtitles is a little off-putting, I would say—wouldn't you?" However, he had "surprisingly little trouble following the plot and action" of the film, concluding, "this made-in-Madras costume drama makes for a pretty action-packed 186 minutes. All things considered, it belongs to the same childhood continuum as Lang's late India-based movies, The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb".[61] In June 2009, K. S. Sivakumaran of Daily News Sri Lanka called it "the first colossal Thamil [sic] film I saw".[62] Jonathan Crow, writing for the New York Times, praised the film's "dance scenes that would make Busby Berkeley weep and some extremely catchy musical numbers", and mentioned that Chandralekha "set the standard for the Bollywood spectacular".[63] In 2013, Malaysian author D. Devika Bai praised the film for its "grand settings, palace intrigues, circus acts, splendid dances and dazzling fencing", while mentioning, "at almost 68, I have not tired of watching the movie."[64] When Chandralekha was shown in New York City in 1976, American film historian William K. Everson said:

    Chandralekha was pure home-grown De Mille, based on both legend and fact, but letting neither stand in the way of showmanship. It's a colorful, naive and zestful film in which the overall ingenuousness quite disarms criticism of plot absurdity or such production shortcomings as the too-obvious studio "exteriors". The only local criticism, however, was of its "excessive sensuality", but don't be alarmed—or excited—since this complaint was based on the then VERY rigid moral standards, now quite forgotten ...

    The action has gusto and size, the songs are a joy, and the music guilelessly pillages from cultures all over the world, ranging from unexpurgated Wagner and Spanish flamenco to traditional Indian, with a snatch of the Laurel & Hardy theme thrown in as the comedians appear. Possibly the film's greatest moment occurs at the very beginning when after arriving at the huge palace (a most elaborate set) with his troops, the Prince strides through the palace, upstairs, along corridors, ever followed by a smoothly tracking camera which records the sumptuous splendor of it all, until he reaches his inner sanctum — where he sits down on a very moth-eaten second-hand chair and tugs off his boots! It's almost an unwitting Lubitsch touch ... With its fights, chases, music, elephants and a circus, Chandralekha was a huge popular success, the first Indian movie to be equally successful in both Tamil and then in Hindi versions. Last but far from least, Busby Berkeley would surely have been delighted to see his influence extending to the climactic drum dance.[65]

Differences between versions

Despite similarities to its Tamil version, the Hindi version of Chandralekha differs in several aspects. Pandit Indra and Agha Jani Kashmiri wrote the dialogue for the Hindi version only.[66] Indra was a lyricist for the Hindi version (with Bharat Vyas), and Subbu and Papanasam Sivan were lyricists for the Tamil version.[67] Although Rajeswara Rao composed the soundtrack for both versions, he was assisted by Bal Krishna Kalla in the Hindi version. Parthasarathy and Vaidyanathan composed background music for the Hindi version, without Das Gupta.[68]

There also were differences between the casts. Rajakumari, Radha and Ranjan reprised their roles in the Hindi version, but their characters were renamed (except for Rajakumari's character, Chandralekha). Radha's character Veerasimhan was known as Veer Singh in the Hindi version, and Ranjan's character Sasankan was renamed Shashank.[69] Of the other cast members, N. S. Krishnan, T. A. Mathuram, T. E. Krishnamachariar, Pottai Krishnamoorthy, and N. Seetharaman were in the Tamil version only. Yashodhara Katju and H. K. Chopra were in the Hindi version only.[29] Nearly the entire cast was credited in the Tamil version,[5] but only six people (Rajakumari, Radha, Ranjan, Sundari Bai, Katju and L. Narayana Rao) were credited in the Hindi version. The opening titles of both versions featured a line reading "100 Gemini Boys & 500 Gemini Girls".[70]


“ Sixty years ago the biggest box office hit of Tamil cinema was released. When made by the same studio in Hindi, it was so great a success that it opened up the theatres of the North to films made in the South. This is the story of the making of that film, Chandralekha.”
—Randor Guy, on Chandralekha[8]

With the success of Chandralekha, Vasan became known as one of the best directors in Indian cinema. He was also a member of the Rajya Sabha for one term.[8] Randor Guy later dubbed Vasan the "Cecil B. DeMille of Tamil cinema".[7] Vasan also is believed to have inspired producer A. V. Meiyappan, who became a "master at publicity".[71] Gemini Studios published a book, Campaign, describing the making of Chandralekha.[40] Although the costliest Tamil film at that time, its box-office success opened the market for Tamil films across South India. Chandralekha demonstrated that cost should not be a constraint if a film was made and marketed well. If a film was entertaining, it would be commercially successful.[40] The publicity campaign for Chandralekha created such an impact that Bombay-based film producers passed a resolution that there should be a limit imposed on advertisements for any film in periodicals.[72]

The film enhanced Rajakumari's and Ranjan's careers—both became popular throughout India after Chandralekha's release.[14] The film's climactic sword-fight scene was well received, and is considered the longest sword fight in cinematic history. The fight scene is often incorrectly believed to have been influenced by Scaramouche (with the longest sword fight in Hollywood history, at seven minutes), as Chandralekha was made before Scaramouche, which was released in 1952.[73] The drum-dance sequence was considered the film's highlight,[8][14] and later producers tried to emulate it without success.[74] Chandralekha was K. Ramnoth's last film for Gemini Studios. Although he is often credited with shooting the drum-dance sequence, he left Gemini in August 1947 (before the sequence was conceived).[22] In a 2011 interview with IANS, South Indian-Bollywood actress Vyjayanthimala admitted that, although people consider her to have "paved the way" for other South Indian actresses in Hindi cinema, "the person who really opened the doors was S.S. Vasan". She said, "When it [Chandralekha] released, it took the north by storm because by then they haven't seen that kind of lavish sets, costumes and splendour. So Vasan was the person who opened the door for Hindi films in the south".[75]

In his interview with The Hindu, director J. Mahendran said, "If anybody tries to remake this black and white film, they will make a mockery of it".[57] Director Singeetham Srinivasa Rao told film critic Baradwaj Rangan that he disliked Chandralekha when he first saw it, realising that it was a classic only after 25 years, "a fact that the audiences realised in just two minutes."[76] G. Dhananjayan told The Times of India, "When you talk of black and white films, you cannot resist mentioning the 1948 epic Chandralekha, directed and produced by movie moghul S. S. Vasan".[77] In December 2008, S. Muthiah said, "Given how spectacular it was—and the appreciation lavished on it from 1948 till well into the 1950s, which is when I caught up with it—I'm sure that if re-released, it would do better at the box office then most Tamil films today".[7] On 26 August 2004, a postage stamp was released featuring Vasan and the drum dance to commemorate the 35th anniversary of his death.[78] Chandralekha was shown at the 10th Chennai International Film Festival in December 2012, celebrating 100 years of Indian cinema.[79][80] To celebrate the same, it was also screened at the Centenary Film Festival organised jointly by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and the National Film Archive of India, in April 2013.[81]

Explanatory notes

    The title card of the Tamil version spells Chandraleka, i.e. without the "H", as have a few other sources.[2][3] Other sources have, however, spelled it with the "H", such as the posters and the title card of the Hindi version.
    N. S. Krishnan was arrested on 28 December 1944 as a suspect in the Lakshmikanthan murder case.[13]
    The exchange rate in 1948 was 4.79 Indian rupees (INR) per 1 US dollar (US$).[23]
    Although S. Muthiah claims that the film's first announcement came in 1943,[7] Randor Guy claims that an early advertisement for Chan­dra­­lekha on the inside cover of the Nandanar songbook was published in September 1942.[8]
    G. Dhananjayan and The Times of India claim that the film was released with 609 prints worldwide,[9][41] while others claim that it was released with 603 prints.[42][43]
    According to the website "Box Office India", film tickets are subject to "entertainment tax" in India, and this tax is added to the ticket price at the box office window of theatres. The amount of this tax is variable among states. "Nett gross figures are always after this tax has been deducted while gross figures are before this tax has been deducted." Although since 2003 the entertainment tax rate has significantly decreased, as of 2010, gross earnings of a film can be 30–35% higher than nett gross, depending on the states where the film is released.[49]


    Dhananjayan 2011, p. 92.
    G. A. Natesan (1948). "Chandraleka". The Indian Review 49: pg. 333.
    Religion and Society, Volume 12. Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society. 1965. p. 103.
    Gulzar, Govind Nihalani, Saibal Chatterjee (2003). Encyclopaedia of Hindi Cinema. Popular Prakashan. p. 432. ISBN 81-7991-066-0.
    Tamil version's opening titles from 0:45 seconds to 1:20 seconds
    Kanchana Devi (20 February 2012). "Tamil actress S N Lakshmi passes away". TruthDive. Archived from the original on 17 September 2013. Retrieved 17 September 2013.
    S. Muthiah (8 December 2008). "A 'Cecil B. DeMillean' Chandralekha". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 2 July 2013. Retrieved 2 July 2013.
    Randor Guy (December 2008). "... And thus he made Chandralekha sixty years ago". Madras Musings. XVIII. Archived from the original on 2 July 2013. Retrieved 2 July 2013.
    Dhananjayan 2011, p. 93.
    Tamil version's opening titles, at 1:23 on YouTube
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    Hindi version's opening titles at 1:21
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    Banerjee, Srivastava (1988). One Hundred Indian Feature Films: An Annotated Filmography. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-135-84098-3.
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    Baskaran, S. Theodore (1996). The eye of the serpent: an introduction to Tamil cinema. East West Books.

External links

    Chandralekha at the Internet Movie Database
    Chandra (English version) at the Internet Movie Database
    Chandralekha at Rotten Tomatoes
    Chandralekha at
    Chandralekha at Bollywood Hungama

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