Pattinathaar (1936) Movie Review
Vintage Heritage is a seventeen year old unique film club headed by M.Sarveswaran and Sundaram that shows old, that is, too old Tamil films every month to its members. On 31st May it showed the film Pattinathaar produced in 1936 by K.Sundaram under the banner Vel Pictures. Scripted and directed by T.C.Vadivel Naciker, Pattinathar is not only among the earliest of Tamil talkies (the first Tamil talkie Kalidas had come out in 1931) but the earliest extant Tamil talkie. In this sense it is in the league of the rarest of rare films. But alas, the existing version is not the original length of twenty one reels but a short one that plays for only about eighty minutes.
The hagiographical film is about Pattinathaar, the Saiva saint who had lived in 10th century in Kaveripoompattinam. He was a successful merchant but his adopted son who was Lord Siva himself made him realize the foolhardiness in amazing wealth and then disappeared. Pattinathaar renounced the world and became a sanyasin. He did many miracles and the greatest of all was that he finally vanished without leaving any trace of himself.
The available film however follows his journey only partly. In those days only those trained in theater were given roles in films but occasionally good musicians were also given opportunities when the film demanded good singing from actors. As per records the film had more than fifty songs but there is no way to verify it with the fragmented version of the film on hand. M.M.Dhandapani Desigar a musician versed in Thevaram recitals was picked to play the eponymous hero. The film became a hit with a silver jubilee run. Desigar became a household name and his acting career stretched to half a dozen films that peaked in Nandanar (1942) based on the 19th century classic Nandanar Charithram written by Gopalakrishna Bharati.
The film’s message that one should be in search of true meaning of life and not waste it in piling wealth seemed to have gone deep into the psyche of the film going public of the thirties. S.Sivagurunathan, a nonagenarian who had seen the film at the time of its release reminisces. The film had many converts. “A police Inspector after seeing the film resigned his job and embraced sanyas. It was rumoured that time that there were a few others too who had done similar things”
Seeing for the first time the black and white film made seventy two years ago one is not inspired in a similar way. Possibly due to our world view that we cannot choose spirit over matter but live in a world where both co-exist in a balanced manner. The long gap in years has made the viewers more judgmental towards the quality of the film. The acting is minimal in the sense no one has taken acting seriously. Songs are strictly raga based and no liberty taken with them. Photography and editing are adequate but not set constructions. Wipes are used for transitions.
But what strikes most the viewer is the clear picture quality of the print stored in and exhibited through video. While the films made in the sixties have the condemned look the film has survived its many years without damage. One hopes as a rare archival material it is continued to be kept in that way.
Other credits of the film not mentioned above:
Cast: P.G.Venakatesan, Master.v.N.Sundaram, Sankara Bhagavathar, T.R. Muthulakshmi, Radha Bai, Jayalakshmi, Sarojini and others.
Music: L.Gopal Sharma.