Film Review - ‘Thiruvarutchelvar’

A. P. Nagarajan was well known for directing and producing movies based on our religious heritage. He had done a slew of movies and set a standard for others to follow. The movie under consideration, ‘Thiruvarutchelvar’ was released in 1967. The musical score was rendered by K. V. Mahadevan. This wonderful movie was based on the book, 'Periya Puranam' or 'Thiruthondar Puranam’ and it was authored by Sekkizhar, who served as a minister in the court of Kulottunga Chola II (1135 - 1150). Sekkizhar had taken upon himself to do a research on the staunch devotees of Lord Shiva. He undertook a three-year travel in search of the facts. The devout Sekkizhar collected the required stories and sat down in Chidambaram to write it down. The Lord Nataraja had himself blessed Sekkizhar with an auspicious beginning by uttering the word, 'Ulagelaam'.

Sekkizhar wrote down the story of the 63 staunch devotees of Lord Shiva. These devotees came to be known as 'Nayanmaars'. They had submitted their all to the Lord and lead a life of piety. This composition had led to a shrine for the 63 Nayanmaars in all the important temples of Lord Shiva. The devotees of Lord Shiva spend time in the shrines of the Nayanmaars during their visit to the temples connected with Lord Shiva. They aspire to be as devoted as any one of the Nayanmaars. It is dream for each Shiva Bhakta (Devotee of Lord Shiva). Many temples have stone icons and bronze icons as well. The bronze icons are meant for celebrations and processions. The ‘Arpaththu Moovar Vizha’ (63 Nayanmaars festival) is famous at the Kalapeeswarar Temple in Mylapore (Chennai).

Tamil Nadu has been famous for religious philosophies. Saiva Siddhantam and Vishistadvaitam were born in Tamil Nadu. Saint Vallabacharya was inspired by the philosophy propounded by Saint Ramanujaacharya. Tamil Nadu was decked with lovely temples under the leadership of its many rulers who were keenly adhering to the philosophies. The citizens were the main donors for these temples. Visits by the Nayanmaars and the sacred songs sung by them are part of India's spiritual wealth. These Nayanmaars sang out of devotion. They visited temple after temple. Their discourses and way of life was much appreciated. All these were recorded on palm leaves manuscripts. Sekkizhar visited each of the centers and went through the material. This helped him to compose the ‘Periya Puranam’ - The story of the ardent devotees of Lord Shiva. Watching the movie, ‘Thiruvarutchelvar’ will urge the movie-goer to read the ‘Periya Puranam’ and also visit the places connected with the events.

The movie begins with song by a Devadasi performing a fabulous dance. The ruler witnessing the dance falls for the dancer. He is taken over by her lithe body and looks. The dancer is approached by the ruler. However, she makes him realize the insignificance of worldly pleasures. Thereafter, the ruler is taken over by the stories of the 63 Nayanmaars. The ruler understands that the worldly pleasures are ephemeral. He is clear that the Lord and devotion towards him and service to his devotees are only permanent. A. P. Nagarajan has thus introduced the plot in the movie. The song, 'Mannavan Vandhanadi' is fantabulously delivered by the eminent dancer cum star, Naatiya Peroli Padmini.

‘Thiruvarutchelvar’ has hosted several big stars - Sivaji Ganesan, Gemini Ganesan, R. Muthuraman, Savithri and Padmini. The cinematography was by K. S. Prasad, and it has been edited well. Both the editors, Rajan and Natarajan, have done an excellent job. A lot of credit has to be given to the team which had put up the sets for this movie. Good costumes and fine make up added to the lustre. Of course, the acting skills of Sivaji Ganesan, Savithri, Padmini and Gemini Ganesan made the movie great. The choice of stars, the music, lyrics, and direction need to be accoladed. This movie was released in the year when the DMK won the elections. It was a time when the mood was much against religion. Believers were being made fun of by public speakers. A. P. Nagarajan needs to be recognized for having come out with a string of such movies at a time when social subjects were ruling the roost.

V. Nagiah , G. Sakuntala, Kutty Padmini, K. Sarangapani, P. D. Sambandham, and Senthamarai had acted in various slots. The character, actor V. Gopalakrishnan had donned the grease paint as Kulottunga Chola II. The star comedian, Nagesh comes in as the Washerman Ponnan and the lady comedian, Manorama comes in as his wife. The later day star, Srividya has done a role, and the heroine who had served really long in Tamil cinema, K. R. Vijaya has done a key role.

Sivaji Ganesan has donned the mantle as Sekkizhar, Thirukurippu Thonda Nayanaar, Sundaramurthy Nayanaar and Thirunavukkarasar. Lyricist Kannadasan has delivered his best. The song, 'Nadarmudi’ is based on the Raga, Punnagavarali. 'Mannavan Vandhanadi' is based on the Raga, Kalyani. An important incident took place during the recording of this song. Singer, P. Susheela was nervous to record the song in the presence of Sivaji Ganesan. The thespian noticed it and walked out of the studio and thus facilitated the recording of the song.

The songs and the singers are listed here - ‘Aadhi Sivan’ by P. Susheela & T. M. Soundararajan, ‘Irukkum Idathai Vittu’ by Sirkazhi Govindarajan, ‘Sadhuram Marainthaal’ by Master Maharajan, ‘Sittamellam Enakku Sivamayame’ (Pitta Pirasoodi) by T. M. Soundararajan, ‘Om Namahsivaya’ by T. M. Soundarajan (Chorus), ‘Ulagellam’ by T. M. Soundararajan, ‘Panniner Mozhiyaal’ by T. M. Soundararajan and Master Maharajan, ‘Aathu Vellam’ by A. L. Raghavan & L. R. Eswari, ‘Kadhalaagi’ by T. M. Soundararajan & Master Maharajan, and ‘Naadhar Mudi Melirukkum’ by T. M. Soundararajan. All these memorable songs are still sung in performances.

The story of Sundaramurthy Nayanaar in the movie has been created well. Gemini Ganesan taunts Sivaji Ganesan quite well. Sivaji Ganesan as Sundaramurthy Nayanaar gives up and surrenders to the Lord. The arguments, debate, and then surrender, are shown nicely. In another place, Sivaji Ganesan as Appar sings alongside Sambandhar to get the doors of the temple at Vedaaranyam opened and then closed. Appar carries the palanquin without the knowledge of the latter. Sambandhar feels bad about it and this aspect of the story is portrayed well.

Sivaji Ganesan had donned many roles in the movie and has done really well. He exhibits a lot of maturity and wisdom as Sekkizhar. The role of Padmini, the dancer is extraordinary. The ruler, Sivaji Ganesan considers her to be a piece of pleasure and the civilized portrayal by Padmini is very evocative. The movie has several songs, and therefore merits to be called a musical one. A. P. Nagarajan puts us into a time machine and takes us to the Bhakthi Movement era instantly. The movie goer will come back to the present only after a bit of time. He or she will yearn to get into that period and live there forever. That is because of the movie by the legendary A. P. Nagarajan.