Sathi Leelavathi (1936 film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Sathi Leelavathi
Landscape B&W poster with the title in English
Directed by Ellis R. Dungan
Produced by A. N. Marudachalam Chettiar
Screenplay by Madras Kandaswamy Mudaliar
Based on Sathi Leelavathi
by S. S. Vasan
Starring M. K. Radha
M. R. Gnanambal
Edited by Sircar
Manorama Films
Release date
  • 28 March 1936 (1936-03-28)
Country India
Language Tamil

Sathi Leelavathi (lit. Leelavathi, the chaste wife)[a] is a 1936 Indian Tamil-language drama film directed by Ellis R. Dungan, written by Madras Kandaswamy Mudaliar and produced by A. N. Marudachalam Chettiar. It is based on S. S. Vasan's novel of the same name, which was serialised in the magazine Ananda Vikatan. The film features an ensemble cast including Mudaliar's son M. K. Radha, T. S. Balaiah, M. G. Ramachandran, M. V. Mani, M. K. Mani, P. Nammalvar, T. N. Lakshmana Rao, M. R. Gnanambal and N. S. Krishnan. In Sathi Leelavathi, a Madras-based wealthy man (Radha) is lured into drinking and other vices by his friend (Balaiah), and brings misery to himself and his family. After thinking he murdered his other friend (Nammalvar) in a drunken state, the man flees to Ceylon to live as a nameless labourer, while his wife (Gnanambal) and daughter (M. K. Mani) are reduced to poverty.

Chettiar initially wanted to produce the Madurai Original Boy's Company (MOBC) theatre troupe's play Pathi Bhakthi as a film, but MOBC already decided to do so without his involvement. Chettiar later approached Mudaliar, who wrote the MOBC play. Mudaliar told him about Vasan's serial novel Sathi Leelavathi, which had the same storyline, and both men approached Vasan, who gave them the film rights to the novel. Subsequently, Mudaliar began writing the screenplay for the film adaptation, also titled Sathi Leelavathi. It was the first film for Dungan as director, and the cinematic debut of Radha, Balaiah and Ramachandran as actors; all were already theatre actors. Shooting took place primarily in Madras at Vel Pictures Studio.

Sathi Leelavathi was one of the earliest in Tamil to become the subject of a court case involving copyright violations; MOBC accused the makers of plagiarising Pathi Bhakthi, the film based on their play. The case was resolved when Vasan revealed in court that both Pathi Bhakthi and Sathi Leelavathi were plagiarised from Ellen Wood's 1860 novel Danesbury House. Subsequently, Sathi Leelavathi was released on 28 March 1936. The became a commercial success, and resulted in Dungan receiving more directorial offers. Several features he introduced to Tamil cinema in this film also became a staple for future Tamil films. No print of the film is known to survive, making it a lost film.


Krishnamurthy is a wealthy man living with his wife Leelavathi and daughter Lakshmi in Madras. He is lured into drinking, gambling and other vices by his friend Ramanathan at a mock tea party arranged for this purpose; Ramanathan's collaborator is Rangaiah Naidu, a corrupt police inspector. Krishnamurthy is lured by the wiles of Mohanangi, a woman with loose morals. Infatuated by her, he promises to pay her 50,000 (about US$18726.6 in 1936).[b]

Parasuraman, a good friend of Krishnamurthy, tries to reform him but his efforts yield no results. A Marwari moneylender, who had lent a huge sum to Krishnamurthy to meet his lavish lifestyle, issues a warrant for the recovery of his money and Krishnamurthy sinks into a deeper mess. In his drunken state, he finds fault with his wife and even accuses her of having an illicit relationship with Parasuraman. When Parasuraman visits Krishnamurthy to warn him about the warrant, Leelavathi advises him to leave as Krishnamurthy is not at home. Absent-mindedly, Parasuram leaves his umbrella behind. Krishnamurthy comes home drunk, and notices Parasuraman's umbrella. He beats Leelavathi and rushes out with a revolver to shoot Parasuraman. Meanwhile, Ramanathan sends his servant in the guise of Parasuraman to steal the jewels of the Ekambareswarar Temple.

Krishnamurthi comes pursuing Parasuraman; a shot is heard and a man lies dead. This sudden and unexpected calamity brings the drunken Krishnamurthy to his senses. Krishnamurthy thinks he has murdered Parasuraman, decides to escape and leaves Leelavathi and Lakshmi in the custody of his faithful servant Govindan. He goes to Ceylon where he leads a wretched life as a nameless labourer in a tea estate. Ramanathan takes this opportunity to try to molest Leelavathi, who rejects his advances. Penniless, she goes with Govindan and Lakshmi and leads a poor but honourable life spinning the charka. Betwixt his labours, Krishnamurthy finds a treasure trove and gives it to his master; he is pleased and adopts him as his own son.

Years later, Krishnamurthi returns to Madras to be with his family, but is arrested for Parasuraman's alleged murder. Detective Sreenivasan's investigation reveals the malicious wiles of Ramanathan and Rangaiah; he supports this with evidence by producing the real Parasuraman in court as an old man, who discloses his true self, thus proving Krishnamurthy's innocence. Krishnamurthy, acquitted by the court , reunites with his family. Ramanathan is sentenced to death while Rangaiah is convicted with seven years' rigorous imprisonment. Lakshmi and Chandrakanthan (Parasuraman's son) later marry.[4]


M. G. Ramachandran as Rangaiah Naidu



Pathi Bhakthi was a Tamil play written by Te. Po. Krishnaswamy Pavalar in the 1930s.[5] The play dealt with the evils of drinking and the impact drinking had on family life, and was staged all over the Madras Presidency with great success. The original play by Pavalar was re-written for the theatre troupe Madurai Original Boy's Company (MOBC) by another playwright, Madras Kandaswamy Mudaliar,[6] and was staged more than 150 times.[7] A. N. Marudachalam Chettiar of Manorama Films was anxious to produce Pathi Bhakthi as a film, but to his dismay, the proprietors of MOBC had already decided to produce the play as a film with P. Y. Altekar as director. Mudaliar's son M. K. Radha thought he would play the lead in this film, but both father and son were dismayed when they learnt that MOBC had finalised K. P. Kesavan.[8]

Still determined to adapt the play for the screen, Chettiar approached Mudaliar. To please him, Mudaliar revealed that there was a novel called Sathi Leelavathi that was being serialised in the weekly magazine Ananda Vikatan, and had the same storyline as Pathi Bhakthi.[9] The novel began serialisation in 1934.[10] Both men approached the novel's author S. S. Vasan, and he gave them the film rights to the novel. Shortly thereafter, Mudaliar began developing the screenplay of the novel's namesake film adaptation.[9] Vasan was credited in the opening titles for "original story",[11] and Sathi Leelavathi marked the beginning of his tryst with films.[12]

Chettiar wanted Manik Lal Tandon to direct the film. Tandon did not accept the offer,[c] but introduced Chettiar to his American friend Ellis R. Dungan and recommended Dungan be given the chance instead.[13] Chettiar was reluctant since Dungan was new to India and did not know Tamil or much about Indian culture, but the fact that Dungan worked in Hollywood convinced Chettiar.[15] The film thus marked Dungan's directorial debut.[16] Sathi Leelavathi was later listed in the Limca Book of Records as the first Indian film to be "directed by a foreigner".[17] Due to Dungan not knowing Tamil, Chettiar hired C. K. Sathasivan (better known as "Satchi" or "Saachi"), an associate director, to help him.[18][19] S. Panju, who later gained fame as one half of the Krishnan–Panju directorial duo, worked as an assistant director.[20]


Radha, already an established theatre actor, was chosen to play the male lead Krishnamurthy, thus making his cinematic acting debut.[4][21] Three other theatre actors who also made their cinematic acting debut with this film were N. S. Krishnan, T. S. Balaiah and M. G. Ramachandran.[22] All of them were already associated with MOBC.[23] Balaiah played Ramanathan, the antagonist.[4] Ramachandran appeared in the Pathi Bhakthi play as the antagonist's sidekick, but was not offered to reprise the role in its namesake film adaptation.[24] He later approached Mudaliar to seek a better role for Sathi Leelavathi, since he felt the role he played in Pathi Bhakthi had "no room to shine". Mudaliar spoke about the possibility of Ramachandran playing the detective. Ramachandran believed that if he played this role onscreen, he would leave an impression,[25] but was ultimately cast as the inspector Rangaiah Naidu, a role he was averse to.[26][25] He was paid an advance of 100 (about US$37.5 in 1936) for acting in this film, and his total fee was 300 (about US$112.4 in 1936).[27][b] The role of the detective, Sreenivasan, went to M. V. Mani.[4][28]

The casting of Krishnamurthy's wife Leelavathi was troubled; no actress was willing to play the character since the script required that she be physically abused and ill-treated by her inebriated husband. In sheer despair, the exhausted producer requested Mudaliar and Radha to cast Radha's wife M. R. Gnanambal in the role, and both assented with no other option.[1] Gnanambal herself was initially reluctant to accept the role.[21] The role of Leelavathi's daughter Lakshmi was played by M. K. Mani, a boy. P. Nammalvar was cast as Krishnamurthy's friend Parasuraman, T. N. Lakshmana Rao as the family servant Govindan and P. N. Ramakrishnan as a devotee of the Hindu god Shiva. Dhanalakshmi played Bama, Santhakumari played Mohanangi, a loose woman who Krishnamurthy is infatuated by, and M. Chanthraboi played Shanbagavalli.[4] Though Sathi Leelavathi was the first film signed by Krishnan,[18] Menaka (1935) which he signed later, became his first release.[29] Krishnan appeared in the comedy subplot, and wrote the screenplay for his own scenes.[30] M. S. Murugesan played another comic role, that of a Marwari moneylender, while S. Sundaram appeared as Sesha Iyengar.[4]


Although Manorama Films was located at Coimbatore,[26] Sathi Leelavathi was shot primarily at Vel Pictures Studio, then located at Eldams Road, Madras.[18] In a 1994 interview with Ananda Vikatan, Dungan mentioned that, during the first few days of shooting, Ramachandran did not understand the nuances of film acting and was delivering the dialogues as if he was doing so in a play; when he was delivering the dialogues aggressively even his acting appeared to be overacting. Dungan claimed that he corrected and advised him to deliver dialogues naturally with natural acting, and Ramachandran changed his way of acting after that.[31] While film historian Film News Anandan wrote in his book Saadhanaigal Padaitha Thamizh Thiraipada Varalaru that shooting also took place at Ceylon,[32] another historian, Randor Guy, wrote in the fortnightly newspaper Madras Musings that the makers used a vast stretch of land behind Vel Pictures Studio to depict the Ceylon tea plantation seen onscreen.[33]

Through this film, Dungan introduced many features to Tamil cinema such as the lack of theatre being an influence on screen,[34][35] and the concept of "the cabaret dance", also known as the "club dance".[36] Since 1930s Madras did not have the facility of pre-recording songs, performers had to sing on set. The accompanying musicians sat on a trolley outside camera range and played the background musical score. This condition often restricted camera movement. During one sequence while Radha's character sang in an outdoor location, a tea plantation, the orchestra players sat under a nearby tree playing on the harmonium, tabla and the rest.[37] Sircar worked as the editor, and Ramamurthi, the manager of Vel Pictures Studio, used to clean all the exposed negatives by hand.[14] The completed film was 18,000 feet (5,500 m) in length.[32]


Sathi Leelavathi had 17 songs.[4] Sundhara Vadhiyar worked as the film's lyricist.[32] The tune of the song "Theyila Thottathle" (also spelt "Theyilai Thottatile") is based on Subramania Bharati's poem "Karumbu Thottathile",[38] with modified lyrics. While the original poem dealt with the plight of bonded Indian labourers in Fiji, the new song dealt with the problems of tea plantation workers in Ceylon.[39] The song, which was composed in the carnatic raga known as Chenchurutti, became popular and was frequently performed by Carnatic musicians in concerts. It was re-used in the Malayalam film Balan (1938) as "Jaathaka Doshathale".[40]


Theatrical release

Sathi Leelavathi was released on 28 March 1936.[14] Although the film was launched in 1935,[41][14] its release was severely delayed because of a lawsuit regarding plagiarism allegations.[35] It was one of the earliest Tamil films to become the subject of such a case. The makers of the Pathi Bhakthi film adaptation sued Chettiar and Mudaliar for plagiarising their story.[42] Many similarities were noted between the two films, such as their lead female characters having the same name, Leelavathi.[43] The case was resolved when S. S. Vasan revealed in court that both Pathi Bhakthi and Sathi Leelavathi had been plagiarised from Ellen Wood's 1860 novel Danesbury House.[35][5] The film was a major commercial success both in India and overseas markets.[36][44]

Critical reception

The art magazine Aadal Paadal in its January 1937 issue appreciated the film for its social setting and praised it for its acting.[45] Politician C. Rajagopalachari, who was a critic of cinema in general and did not think much about films, watched Sathi Leelavathi and praised it for its Gandhian ideals and pro-prohibition stance.[37] A day's collections were given to him for public causes.[36] However, he sarcastically commented that "the main artiste in a charka-spinning sequence did not know how to handle it".[46] Playwright and retired sub-judge Pammal Sambandha Mudaliar praised Radha for having acted a "difficult part very creditably", and added that the music was given its proper place.[4]

The Hindu, in a review dated 14 February 1936, lauded Radha for acting with "naturalness and ease", Balaiah's villainous performance and Gnanambal's portrayal of the "difficult role" of Leelavathi. The reviewer also lauded the sound recording, photography and direction.[4] On the same day, The Illustrated Weekly of India called the film more "interesting, natural and convincing" than the source novel, also praising the general handling of the plot in sequence and continuity, and the climax.[4] The magazine Cine Art Review appreciated the settings and the recording, the cross-gender acting of M. K. Mani as Lakshmi and the opening sequence where Lakshmi hums a tune while going down the stairs.[4]

Several new techniques introduced by Dungan were not understood by the audience and went unappreciated. Writing in the Silver Screen magazine on 1 August 1936, Pe. Ko. Sundararajan (journalist and writer of Manikodi movement) complained:[47]

"The new methods of depicting emotions are not understood by our people. In Sathi Leelavathi Dungan showed the dancing girl as viewed by the inebriated hero. (In another scene), he showed the hero's fright by his twitching fingers and feet. These techniques not only helped the actors but showcased his (Dungan) talent as well. But as a lot of people know, our audience shouted that the lighting was not clear in the first case and the film was stuck in the second case. This shows the ignorance of our audience."


Sathi Leelavathi established Dungan as a director of competence,[36] while also leading to him receiving more directorial offers.[48] It also became the first Tamil film to be a success in overseas markets.[44] Many features introduced by Dungan with this film would later become a staple for future Tamil films such as the lack of theatre being an influence on screen, and cabaret dances.[37] Despite Vasan's initial aversion to participating in films,[49] Sathi Leelavathi's success encouraged him to enter the film industry as a distributor.[50] Ramachandran avoided playing roles similar to Rangaiah Naidu in his later films, instead preferring to play a "good Samaritan", an image he developed through films like Marmayogi (1951), Malaikkallan (1954), Nadodi Mannan (1958) and Enga Veettu Pillai (1965).[51] Randor Guy wrote that the film "rightly earned its place in the history of Tamil Cinema".[37] Despite that, no print of Sathi Leelavathi is known to survive, making it a lost film.[52]


  1. ^ Sati (also spelt Suttee or Sathi)[1] is a term simply meaning a "chaste wife", but is also the name of a practice among Hindu communities where a widow immolates herself on her husband's pyre.[2][3]
  2. ^ a b The exchange rate in 1936 was 2.67 Indian rupees () per 1 US dollar (US$).[53]
  3. ^ While historian Randor Guy has stated that Tandon was reluctant to accept Sathi Leelavathi since he was busy directing Bhakta Nandanar (1935),[13] Ellis R. Dungan said that, after the release of Bhakta Nandanar, Tandon asked him if he would accept Sathi Leelavathi since he already had an offer to direct the Hindi film Shame of the Nation.[14]


  1. ^ a b Guy 2016, p. 83.
  2. ^ Cain & Harrison 2001, p. 209.
  3. ^ Hawley 1994, p. 50.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Sathi Leelavathi (PDF) (press book). Coimbatore: Manorama Films. 1936.
  5. ^ a b Muthiah, S. (6 February 2017). "The film that got MGR started". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 5 October 2018. Retrieved 4 October 2018.
  6. ^ Guy 1997, p. 173.
  7. ^ Raman, Mohan (23 August 2014). "100 years of laughter". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 14 October 2018. Retrieved 14 October 2018.
  8. ^ Guy 1997, pp. 173-174.
  9. ^ a b Guy 1997, p. 174.
  10. ^ "List of Novels in Tamil Books Bibliography". Tamil Electronic Library. Archived from the original on 14 October 2018. Retrieved 14 October 2018.
  11. ^ Pillai 2015, pp. 151-152.
  12. ^ Baskaran 1996, p. 203.
  13. ^ a b Guy 1997, pp. 174-175.
  14. ^ a b c d Kantha, Sachi Sri (2 April 2013). "MGR Remembered – Part 7". Ilankai Tamil Sangam. Archived from the original on 26 April 2017. Retrieved 25 April 2017.
  15. ^ Guy 1997, p. 175.
  16. ^ Guy 1997, p. 166.
  17. ^ Limca Book of Records. Bisleri Beverages Limited. 1999. First directed by a foreigner Sathi Leelavathi (1936) highlighting the evils of alcoholism was directed by Ellis R. Duncan [sic]
  18. ^ a b c Guy 1997, p. 176.
  19. ^ Guy, Randor (5 February 2010). "Rajam's romance with cinema". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 14 October 2018. Retrieved 14 October 2018.
  20. ^ Rajadhyaksha & Willemen 1998, p. 129.
  21. ^ a b Guy, Randor (7 April 2016). "M.K. Radha, the toast of theatre and cinema". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 5 October 2018. Retrieved 6 October 2018.
  22. ^ "MGR's first film steps". The Hindu. 25 April 2011. Archived from the original on 5 October 2018. Retrieved 5 October 2018.
  23. ^ Guy, Randor (16 August 2014). "Darling of the masses". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 14 October 2018. Retrieved 14 October 2018.
  24. ^ Kannan 2017, p. 28.
  25. ^ a b Kannan 2017, pp. 28-29.
  26. ^ a b Jeshi, K. (7 December 2004). "Tunes and trivia". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 5 October 2018. Retrieved 5 October 2018.
  27. ^ Kannan 2017, p. 29.
  28. ^ Kannan 2017, pp. 29-30.
  29. ^ Kannan 2017, p. 30.
  30. ^ "கலைவாணர் என்.எஸ்.கிருஷ்ணன் அவர்களின் பிறந்தநாள் - சிறப்பு பகிர்வு" [Kalaivanar N. S. Krishnan's birthday]. Ananda Vikatan (in Tamil). 29 November 2013. Archived from the original on 9 October 2018. Retrieved 9 October 2018.
  31. ^ "எம்.ஜி.ஆரின் முதல் இயக்குநர்!" [MGR's first director!]. Ananda Vikatan (in Tamil). 30 January 1994. Archived from the original on 9 October 2018. Retrieved 9 October 2018.
  32. ^ a b c Film News Anandan (2004). Sadhanaigal padaitha Tamil Thiraipada Varalaaru (in Tamil). Chennai: Sivagami Publications. pp. 28:7. Archived from the original on 5 October 2018. Retrieved 5 October 2018.
  33. ^ Guy, Randor (1–15 May 2008). "Vel's where MGR made his film debut" (PDF). Madras Musings. Archived (PDF) from the original on 8 October 2018. Retrieved 8 October 2018.
  34. ^ Guy 2016, p. 79.
  35. ^ a b c Muthiah, S. (6 September 2004). "Americans in Tamil cinema". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 5 October 2018. Retrieved 5 October 2018.
  36. ^ a b c d Guy, Randor (2 February 1991). "Sathi Leelavathi, made after a legal battle". The Indian Express. p. 19.
  37. ^ a b c d Guy 1997, p. 177.
  38. ^ Vamanan (28 March 2016). "வாமனனின் 'நிழலல்ல நிஜம் – 16 | தடைகளைத் தாண்டி திரைப்பாட்டில் பாரதியின் தேரோட்டம்!". Dinamalar (in Tamil). Nellai. Archived from the original on 6 October 2018. Retrieved 6 October 2018.
  39. ^ Venkatakrishnan, Sriram (27 June 2008). "Memorial to Bharati". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 6 October 2018. Retrieved 6 October 2018.
  40. ^ Vijayakumar, B. (7 September 2009). "Balan 1938". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 5 October 2018. Retrieved 6 October 2018.
  41. ^ Rajadhyaksha & Willemen 1998, p. 92.
  42. ^ Vamanan (4 January 2016). "பதிபக்தியைத் தழுவி அதை முறியடித்த சதி லீலாவதி! – வாமனன் – தொடர் –5". Dinamalar (in Tamil). Nellai. Archived from the original on 4 October 2018. Retrieved 4 October 2018.
  43. ^ Guy 2016, p. 82.
  44. ^ a b Venkateswaran, N. (20 March 2011). "The chronicler of Kollywood". The Times of India. Archived from the original on 14 October 2018. Retrieved 14 October 2018.
  45. ^ Baskaran 2004, p. 47.
  46. ^ Guy, Randor (30 June 2012). "Sampoorna Ramayanam 1956". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 23 November 2017. Retrieved 4 October 2018.
  47. ^ Baskaran 2004, p. 39.
  48. ^ "Dungan the director". Frontline. 10 January 2014. Archived from the original on 26 November 2014. Retrieved 8 October 2018.
  49. ^ Guy 1997, p. 241.
  50. ^ Pillai 2015, p. 152.
  51. ^ Venkatramani, S. H. (15 January 1988). "MGR: A genius with an uncanny ability to think up populist schemes". India Today. Archived from the original on 15 October 2018. Retrieved 15 October 2018.
  52. ^ Rangarajan, Malathi (31 August 2017). "Another Anandan in the making". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 18 September 2017. Retrieved 8 October 2018.
  53. ^ Officer, Lawrence H. (2015). "Exchange Rates Between the United States Dollar and Forty-one Currencies". MeasuringWorth. Archived from the original on 14 October 2018. Retrieved 14 October 2018.


External links

  • Sathi Leelavathi on IMDb
Retrieved from ""
This content was retrieved from Wikipedia :
This page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia article "Sathi Leelavathi"; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA