When Alexander the Great conquers India and leaves after his victory, he appoints General Minander (C.S.D. Singh) to rule the country. General Minander forces all neighboring rulers to surrender and annexes their territories with his kingdom. The only ruler who opposes him is Ugrasenan (T.S. Santhanam) of Udayagiri who successfully vanquishes Minander’s army. Minander plots to bring Ugrasenan under his control, and invites him to his court for talks, where he advises Ugrasenan to surrender. When he refuses, Minander tries to arrest him, but Ugrasenan intelligently and courageously fights and escapes, attracting and impressing Minander’s daughter Helen (A.K. Rajalakshmi). Ugrasenan’s men kidnap Helen and present her in his court. Though she is a political prisoner, Ugrasenan treats her with respect. When Helen openly expresses her love for him, Ugrasenan rejects her love, declaring his responsibility towards his country to be more important than reciprocating her love. When Helen is dejected, Kumudini (T.V. Kumudini) a friend of the queen, consoles her. Angry with Ugrasenan for having taken away his daughter, Minander joins hands with another ruler Aswakar to finish Ugrasenan. Aswakar approaches Jayabalan (T.S. Santhanam in another role), Commander of king Anangabalar (who is an ally of Ugrasenan) and solicits Jayabalan’s help to capture Ugrasenan; Minander offers to appoint Jayabalan as king after capturing Ugrasenan. Jayabalan, who is married to Kumudini, becomes a spy for Minander out of greed. Ugrasenan appoints Kumudini’s brother Pratapan (P.U. Chinnappa) to spy on Minander. While Pratapan is gathering information at Taxasilai in disguise, he is captured by Minander’s man and taken to court. Pratapan is shocked to see his brother-in-law Jayabalan with Minander. Jayabalan does not reveal to Minander that Pratapan is his brother-in-law, but stops Pratapan from being killed and advises his imprisonment. Jayabalan returns to Udayagiri and portrays Pratapan as a traitor. Taking advantage of Kumudini’s closeness to the queen, Jayabalan learns Ugrasenan’s secrets, which he passes on to Minander. Jayabalan also forges Kumudini’s signature to help Helen escape and reach Minander. After Helen’s escape, Ugrasenan realizes the security lapses in his fort and decides to shift his base to Rajagiri from Udayagiri to combat Minander’s attack. While Jayabalan is communicating this to Apollo (another spy of Minander), Kumudini overhears this and is shocked to know that her husband is a spy. She rushes out to caution Ugrasenan, but Jayabalan follows her and orders her to be a loyal wife. When Kumudini does not yield,
Jayabalan stabs her with a knife, abandons her, and rushes to meet Minander. Meanwhile, Pratapan manages to escape from Minander’s custody, rushes towards Udayagiri, blocks Minander’s army’s entry into the kingdom, and kills everyone except Apollo. Kumudini manages to reach Ugrasenan and stop him from leaving Udayagiri and narrates the happenings. Not knowing of this development, Jayabalan and Minander wait to attack Ugrasenan, the moment he steps out of Udayagiri. Apollo informs Minander about his troop’s defeat and that Jayabalan had played a double game with them by engineering Ugrasenan’s escape. Jayabalan’s assistant Nandabalan also confirms Apollo’s report and reveals that Kumudini, Jayabalan’s wife, had cautioned Ugrasenan. An angry Minander orders Jayabalan’s execution for this betrayal. A worried Nandabalan rushes to Kumudini and informs about Jayabalan’s execution. Kumudini and her brother Pratapan go to Taxasilai and free Jayabalan, who realizes his mistakes and decides to support Ugrasenan. Minander surrounds Udayagiri with his army; Ugrasenan, realizing that he cannot escape, decides to buy peace with Menander and signals a compromise. Minander agrees and invites Ugrasenan for negotiations to his camp. Kumudini requests her husband Jayabalan, a lookalike of
Ugrasenan, to don Ugrasenan’s guise to meet Minander. When Jayabalan (disguised as Ugrasenan) goes to meet Minander and Minander’s army is lethargic, Ugrasenan escapes out of Udayagiri and proceeds towards Rajagiri. Minander’s army chases Ugrasenan’s battalion. While Pratapan, Kumudini, and Jayabalan along with their soldiers fight with Minander’s men and lose their lives, Ugrasenan safely reaches Rajagiri fort. Minander orders his army (consisting of Indian soldiers) to attack Rajagiri fort to capture Ugrasenan. However, his Indian soldiers, after having witnessed the spirited fight by Ugrasenan’s commanders (including Kumudini and her soldiers), refuse and drop their weapons, expressing solidarity with Indian soldiers. Minander gets angry and orders his Greek army to move forward and attack. At that moment, Helen interferes and pleads with her father Minander on the need to respect the Indian people and their aspirations for freedom. Minander understands his daughter’s love for Ugrasenan and also realizes that he cannot suppress the freedom movement using force beyond a point. He orders the withdrawal of his army. His gesture to withdraw reaches Ugrasenan and he becomes an ally of Minander. Ugrasenan marries Helen with the blessings of Minander. Maathru Bhoomi (motherland) becomes free from Greek rule.
H.M. Reddy, director of the first talkie in Tamil, adapted a noted Bengali play ‘Chandra Gupta’ (1911) by Dwijendralal Ray to make this historical film about an Indian king’s resistance against the onslaught of Alexander the Great’s General in-charge. Maathru Bhoomi actually highlighted the Indian Freedom Movement which was gaining momentum. The director made this film as a historical, camouflaging the Freedom Movement.
The film was shot at Vel Pictures Studio, Guindy, Madras with over 2,000 people with a salary of 5 annas per day (31 paise). The film had a bold scene of Kumudini (T.V. Kumudini) removing and throwing her thaali (sacred thread of marriage) at her husband Jayabalan (T.S. Santhanam) when she realizes that he is a traitor. She states it is better to be a widow than the wife of a betrayer. This bold scene was a trendsetter for future films with similar bold actions by a wife in Sirai (1984) and Pandari Bai to kill her husband for the sake of her country in Andha Naal (1954).
The film cost Rs. 2 lakhs, which was the highest money spent to make a film during that time, and took one year to complete.
The film had several popular songs that propagated the Freedom Movement. The most popular among them were ‘Namadhu Janmabhoomi Namadhu Janmabhoomi…’, ‘Annayin Kaalil Vilangugalo… muppadhu koti makkalai eendra Bharatha Thayinn Kaalil Vilangugalo…’ and ‘Hey Bharatha Veerargaley…’ The song ‘Namadhu janmabhoomi …’ became hugely popular which led to the sale of over one lakh gramophone records of the film.
[from the book Pride of Tamil Cinema: 1931 to 2013, G Dhananjayan. Blue Ocean Publishers. 2014]