The Freedom Movement Through Tamil Cinema (Galatta Cinema Article)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Thanks to the fantastic two-part article "The Freedom Movement Through Tamil Cinema" by Randor Guy in the August and September 2007 issues of Galatta Cinema Magazine, I finally am able to identify the iconic image I've seen in various Indian films/artwork as Subramania Bharathiar (also known as Subramanya Bharathi), the cult rebel Tamil poet of India whose writings were banned by the British!  I first remember seeing his iconic image in the song "Konjum Mainakkale" from Kandukondain Kandukondain:

But beyond that revelation, the article has some very interesting tidbits about how the freedom fervor in India during the 1930s and 1940s made its way into South Indian films, slyly veiled and cleverly coded to avoid the wrath of the "iron fist in a velvet glove" of British rule.  Randor Guy makes the claim that only Tamil filmmakers in Southern India presented the freedom movement on screen, but I would imagine there are other references in Telugu, Malayalam, or Kannada films (though perhaps they were not as daring or clever?). The scans are below for your reading pleasure (click thumbnails for larger vresions).  Posted with tacit approval from Galatta Cinema based on past communication.

Some things I found interesting:

Naam Iruvar - The first film discussed is Naam Iruvar (1947), of which I was able to find this delightful video clip.  It has a nice, simple dance of "Baby Kamala" (which Richard at "Dances on the Footpath" also blogged about here), and is clearly filled to the brim with patriotic themes as evidenced by the greetings of "jai hind," the picture of Bharathiar, and the images of Ghandi's "Charkha" spinning wheel.  I was also very charmed by the the introductory bicycle ride set against an earnestly "natural" background. 

The famous line of the film that begins the article, "Aaduvomey pallu paaduvomey anandha suthanthiram adainthuvittom endru aauduvomey," was graciously translated for me by a friend (thank you!) as "Let's dance and sing, we have achieved independence."

Michael Omalov and Nava Yuvan - The 1937 film Nava Yuvan was directed by Michael Omalov, who the article states came to India with Ellis R. Dungan, the American Tamil filmmaker that I was fascinated with and mentioned in my first "Celebrating 75 Years of Tamil Cinema" post.  Here's some more information on Omalov and friends from this Nava Yuvan article from The Hindu (written by, guess who, Randor Guy!). 
"[Nava Yuvan] was directed by Michael Omalov, an American of European descent, who was a classmate of famous American Tamil filmmaker Ellis R. Dungan, and M. L. Tandon at the well known University of Southern California, (USC), Los Angeles. Dungan and Omalov came to India at the invitation of Tandon, and Omalov, a brilliant cinematographer had the opportunity to direct Nava Yuvan. It created history being the first Tamil movie parts of which were shot in London, something unthinkable in that era. The hero goes to London for higher studies and those scenes were shot in the British capital. The shooting made news in London and many top dailies of the city covered the shooting in detail. Much to the delight of the hero, Satagopan, The Daily Express described him as the ‘Rudolph Valentino of India!
[...] During the shooting in London, Omalov went missing and could not be traced in spite of the producer’s best efforts. Left with no option, he complained to the famous Scotland Yard! Meanwhile, a butler found a note left by Omalov in the toilet in which he wrote that he was leaving to meet his sick mother on her deathbed. He never returned, going away to America forgetting all about Nava Yuvan and Tamil cinema! Later, he became the Head of the Photography Department of the Ford Motor Company in Detroit." 
So what happened to Omalov I wonder!  Did the chaotic splendor of India frighten him away?  Clearly Dungan had the greater staying power of the two!

Thyaga Bhoomi Sari - In the discussion of "one of the most memorable movies ever made in South India," Thyaga Bhoomi (1939), the article mentioned the sari with broad stripes that came to be known as the "Thyaga Bhoomi Pudavai" after it was worn by Subbulakshmi in the film.  I'm assuming this picture from the Thyaga Bhoomi article at The Hindu is of the trendy sari:

Lots more interesting tidbits in the articles! Happy reading.


  1. These look like fascinating articles that I will have to get back to soon, but right now, I just wanted to comment on the great Baby Kamala (or Kumari Kamala) dances... The one you linked to on my blog (thank you) was a different dance; the one that appears in your post is one I like even more, and I originally had posted it at , but as you can see, Moserbaer had it removed. Now that you have found another copy, within this longer clip, I might just copy that from you. :)

    And by the way, very nice of your friend to translate that line from "Aduvome Pallu Paduvome." There's a full English translation here:

  2. Richard - Hello! Ah, yes, you are right in that you had covered a different dance in the post I linked to. But I'm so glad that I inspired your recent post on Naam Iruvar! :) Don't you just love the merrygoround of clips on YouTube? ;) And thank you very much for the translation link!


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