indian cinema heritage foundation

Mathrubhoomi (Motherland) (1939)

  • Release Date1939
  • GenreHistorical
  • FormatB-W
  • LanguageTamil

The late 1930s was the era of patriotic cinema in India and the filmmaker used allegorical format to attack British rule. This film, set during the period of Alexander’s invasion of India and the resistance offered by Indian kings, is typical of the time.

After Alexander, his commandant Minander gains control over the Indus area. The King of Udayagiri, Ugrasenan, with the help of some smaller kings, opposes Minander. Admiring his valor, Minander’s daughter, Helen, falls in love with him and joins him. After much palace intrigue and fighting, Minander returns to Greece, leaving the Indian kingdoms to themselves. Helen marries Ugrasenan.

T V Kumudini, who made her debut in this film as a heroine, Played the character of the same name. When she learns that her husband was a spy for the Greeks, she throws her thali (wedding chain) at him and turns against him. She also had battle scenes in the film. T S Santhanam played the dual roles of Ugrasenan and Jayabalan, the spy, one of the earliest examples of double-acting. P U Chinnappa played the role of Prathapan, brother of Kumudini.

Though the costume was not historically authentic, the battle scenes were shot in actual forts, in Gingee and Krishnagiri. Papanasam Sivan wrote all the songs in the film and all of them proved very popular, including Bharatha desam (The country of Bharat) and Namadhu jenma bhoomi (The land of our birth). The latter was used as a marching song in schools for many years.

S Satyamurthi, the nationalist leader presided over the premiere of the film and praised its nationalistic appeal. As was expected, the British government banned the film; Satyamurthi had to intervene and get the order rescinded. D L Roy, a Bengali playwright, had used the same theme for a patriotic play titled, Chandragupta.

[from the book The Eye of the Serpent  by S. Theodore Baskaran]