Sambu Sastri (Papanasam Sivan) is a Brahmin landlord in the village Nedungarai. His only daughter Savitri (S.D. Subbulakshmi) is married to Sridharan (K.J. Mahadevan), who works in Calcutta. Though Sambu belongs to a conservative Brahmin community, he is very compassionate to the poor and Harijan workers on his farm. Savitri, who has been conditioned to lead a life of devotion and piety, eagerly expects her husband to visit her on Diwali. In contrast, Sridharan is fashionable, has his own secret inclinations of leading a licentious life and whiles away his time with his Anglo-Indian girlfriend Susie in Calcutta. In his anxiety to ensure that his daughter starts her marital life, Sambu sells his properties and pays a huge dowry to Sridharan’s father for taking Savitri into their household. Savitri starts living at Calcutta. Time passes and she becomes pregnant. But Savitri’s life becomes sorrowful with a disgruntled mother-in-law and an indifferent husband. She writes letters to her father seeking help, which is intercepted by her stepmother, and hence she receives no help. Sambu Sastri shelters Harijans in his home when they are rendered homeless by a cyclone, thus inviting social ostracism from the community. The orthodox Hindu society gets agitated and excommunicates him.
After his loving daughter left home, having lost all wealth and being ostracised by his community, Sambu has nothing left in the village. Hence he sends his wife to her parents’ home and goes to Madras looking for work as a music teacher. He knocks several doors, but his humble personality and ragged clothes do not inspire anyone and he remains jobless. When pregnant Savitri is thrown out of her husband’s house in Calcutta, she returns to her village to be with her father. As Sastri has already left by then to Madras, she finds the house locked and learns that her father has left for Madras. She starts searching for her father, but in vain. She gives birth to a baby girl in a hospital. Unable to find a job and cope with her sufferings, she contemplates suicide. At this stage, when she is literally in knee-deep water, she hears a distant voice, which she recognizes as her father’s. In a detached state of mind, she rather prefers to remain anonymous than be recognized and burden him further. When Savitri finds that her father is in a trance, she makes use of this opportune moment; she prays, leaves the child near him, and runs away. Sambu wakes up and hears the cries of the child. When he does not find anyone around and nobody claims the child, he decides to bring her up in his own way and goes to Nallan, his erstwhile servant, who has settled down in Chavadikuppam, a suburb of Madras. With the presence of Sambu and the child, Chavadikuppam becomes an important colony. Sambu devotes all his time and energy for the upliftment of his poor neighbors and embarks on Gandhian social upliftment programs, including picketing of liquor shops. Sambu brings up the child Charu (Baby Saroja) who grows to be a beautiful girl with many talents, more specifically dance. She is very popular among her schoolmates, but is always in the bad books of the Headmistress. In the meanwhile, Umarani, a rich lady from Bombay, donates five lakhs of rupees for the development of Madras and is felicitated for the gesture. Umarani is none other than Savitri, who has inherited the wealth of her aunt who died in Bombay. She tries to trace her father and child and lives in Madras incognito as Umarani. Charu has a cute pet dog, which accompanies her to school. The Headmistress throws the dog out and it gets fatally injured. Charu takes it to the hospital and the matron of the hospital does not attend to it immediately. Umarani arrives there and Charu seeks her help to get the dog treated. The very sight of Charu strikes a chord in Umarani’s heart; she immediately orders the matron to treat the dog. When the pup dies, Charu blames the doctor and runs away. Umarani regrets not having taken Charu’s details. She immediately instructs her lawyer to trace the child and finally finds her and Sambu. Without revealing her true identity, Umarani pays frequent visits to Chavadikuppam to meet her child and father. Sambu Sastri is elated that the distinguished lady Umarani visits them. He thinks God has blessed them in disguise. He permits Charu to go and reside with Umarani, but Charu’s heart longs for Sambu Sastri. One night, she quietly slips back to Chavadikuppam. Sambu Sastri, who has resolved to spend the rest of his life for the upliftment of the poor and the masses, takes Charu with him when he visits villages. Thinking that Sambu Sastri and Charu have disappeared, Umarani meets the Deputy Commissioner of Police for help, where she is surprised to find Sridharan arrested by the police for forgeries he committed in Calcutta. Out of pity, Umarani arranges his bail and he is released. Learning that Umarani is none other than his wife Savithri, Sridharan immediately goes to her and expresses that he wants to live with her again.
However, Umarani is determined to spend the rest of her life serving people and the country. She turns down his proposal; he swears revenge and institutes proceedings for Restitution of Conjugal Rights. Court proceedings follow. Umarani, Sambu Sastri and Charu all play their own parts. Umarani refuses to live with him and even offers him alimony to get relieved from the relationship. Finally, Sridharan wins the case, but is unable to change Umarani’s will as she has decided to dedicate her life for a cause. She wears khadi outfits, joins the Freedom Movement with her father and gets arrested with other freedom fighters.
Sridharan repents and decides to join the campaign for the upliftment of the country as retribution.
Practically at the same time, Sridharan and Umarani court imprisonment for the noble cause. A new light dawns upon them. They feel that they are no longer man and wife, but children of the soil. Sambu Sastri feels out of place at Umarani’s home and realizes that his place in life is more in Chavadikuppam and its environments. He returns to Chavadikuppam with Charu.
Thyaga Bhoomi had 17 songs and many of them were popular. Kalki’s song ‘Desa Sevai Seyya Vaareer…’ sung by D.K. Pattammal became very popular in addition to ‘Kanney Pappa...’ and ‘Pattasu Pattasu...’
Thyaga Bhoomi was the first film to be banned by the British Government for carrying the message on the Freedom Movement. The film was banned 22 weeks after it ran in theatres.
It was the first film for which merchandise like Thyaga Bhoomi bangles, Thyaga Bhoomi sarees, and Thyaga Bhoomi bags were brought out by merchants to exploit its popularity. The merchandise also came on the lead character Uma Rani as Uma Rani border, Uma Rani hairstyle, etc.
[from the book Pride of Tamil Cinema: 1931 to 2013. G Dhananjayan. (2014)]