indian cinema heritage foundation

Ambikapathi (1937)

  • Release Date11/12/1937
  • GenreHistorical, Drama
  • FormatB-W
  • LanguageTamil
  • Run Time210 min
  • Length5791.2 meters
  • Censor RatingU
  • Censor Certificate Number1010A
  • Certificate Date09/12/1937

This film is about the famous poet Ambikapathi (son of famous poet Kambar, who wrote  the most popular ‘Kamba Ramayanam’) and his love for Amaravathi, daughter  of the Chola King (Uraiyur) in 1083 AD.

The story is set in Uraiyur of the Chola Empire in 1083  A.D. Ambikapathi (M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar), son of the Tamil poet Kambar  (Serugulathur Sama), goes on war against the Kalinga kingdom under king  Kulothunga Chola (P.B. Rangachari) and saves the king’s life. The Chola army  wins the war and returns successfully to Uraiyur. King Kulothunga rewards  Ambikapathi with a special sword for his bravery in the war. Army commander  Rudrasenan (T.S. Balaiah), jealous of Ambikapathi, invites him for a ‘friendly’  sword fight. During this sword fight, Chola’s daughter Amaravathi (M.R.  Santhanalakshmi) observes Ambikapathi’s bravery and beauty and falls in love  with him. He wins the fight and loses his heart to her.  

Ambikapathi and Amaravathi meet secretly in the palace. His father Kambar  cautions him about this love and asks him to forget her as she belongs to the  royal family while they are poor. However, Ambikapathi expresses his inability  to forget her as he is deeply in love with her. During the Krishna Jayanthi  celebrations in the kingdom, several poets are invited to the palace. Ambikapathi  also comes and meets Amaravathi secretly inside the palace. The King, who  had information about their love, catches them red-handed and sentences  Ambikapathi to death.  Poet Kambar pleads for his son’s life. As recommended by another poet  Koothar, the king challenges Ambikapathi to sing a hundred poems on the  subject of ‘puram’ (war and politics). The poems should not have any reference  to ‘aram’ (love and romance). If he succeeds, Amaravathi will be married to him;  if he fails, he will face death. Ambikapathi takes the test in the King’s court with  a Kadavul Vaazhthu (invocation to God). Amaravathi, who is counting, mistakes  the invocation as a poem and counts it as the first poem. When he has sung 99  puram poems, she thinks he has completed the task of 100 poems and opens  the screen to wish him. 

Seeing her and assuming 100  poems were completed,  Ambikapathi sings in praise of her beauty (aram)  through the song, ‘Satrey  Sarindha Kuzhaley Thuvala…’  and thus fails the test.  Despite Kambar’s pleas, the 

King orders Ambikapathi’s death. When  the soldiers try to kill him with a sword,  it becomes a garland on Ambikapathi.  The King gets angry, thinks it is a trick by  Ambikapathi and personally stabs him  to death. Amaravathi also dies on seeing  Ambikapathi die. The lovers unite in heaven  and become immortal in their love. 

The film was a huge success and ran for 52 weeks. Dungan’s elegant portrayal of love scenes, Bhagavathar’s singing and Elangovan’s dialogues made it the most talked-about and successful film.  

After Chintamani, this was Bhagavathar’s second hit film in 1937 making him the first superstar of Tamil Cinema.

Dungan, who  did not know Tamil, used Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as inspiration for this film and incorporated some of its scenes in the script. The film’s writer was the  Tamil scholar Thanigachalam, whose pen name was Elangovan. He translated  the scenes Dungan had marked out from Shakespeare’s play into Tamil and  incorporated them in this film. 

The film was made in the New Theatres studio in Calcutta and the background music was composed by the blind singer-composer K C Dey. Another high point of the film was its music, written and composed by Papanasam Sivan. The voice of M K Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, who, as Ambikapathi, sang a number of songs including the famous Bajanai seivai maname, was a major attraction. This film proved a landmark in his career.

The film opens with the scene of Kulothunga Cholan returning victoriously from battle. His entry into the city of Woriur was filmed quite spectacularly. In fact, such scenes depicting groups of people moving in the open was a favourite with Duncan. Sage Kanwar returning from his pilgrimage in Sakunthala and the marriage party returning home in the film Mandhirikumari are other examples from his work.

The film had many super hit songs by Papanasam Sivan  rendered beautifully by MKT. Popular among them were, ‘Jaya  Jaya Senthamizhnadu (title song)...’, ‘Ini Evvaru Marappen  Vazhvil…’, ‘Ulaginil Inbam Verundo…’, ‘Enna Seidhai Nee En  Arumai Magane…’, ‘Mane Unnai Adaya Naan Enna Thavam  Seidhen…’, and ‘Ayakkalaigal arubathi nanginayum…’ 

The importance given to dialogue set this film apart from the others made in the Thirties in which songs dominated. Ilangovan, the scriptwriter, started this trend and was evident both in the balcony scene and in the one where the friend of the princess brings a message from Ambikapathi-in which he had borrowed liberally from Shakespeare. Mumbai based filmmaker Karan Bali has produced a documentary on the life and works of Dungan titled “An American in Madras”.