India’s First Magnum Opus – Chandralekha

Chandralekha 1948
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Magnum opus !!! always a big excitement, expectations and pride when watching & discussing about movies made on a lavish scale. Baahubali(2015), Enthiran(2010), Ra One(2011), Krrish 3(2013), Happy New Year(2014), I(2015) are a few successful movies that crosses everyone’s mind when quizzed about movies made on a grand scale.


With the tremendous success of  recently released Rajamouli’s Magnum Opus Baahubali, it’s time to rewind to the past to look at the forerunner of all the magnum opus made in India. Released in 1948, Chandralekha is the first movie made on a grand scale and high production costs. Made at budget of Rs 3million(equivalent to $6,00,000 US dollars in 1948), adjusting for current inflation corresponds to approximately 38 crores($6 million US dollars).


The movie was produced by S.S Vasan of Gemini  Studios. The success of Mangama Sabatham(grossing around Rs 4million) prompted vasan to make a movie on a grand scale without any budgetary limits. In fact he mortgaged his entire property and sold all his jewellery to complete the movie.  Impressed by the storyline of the novel “The French Bandit in England”, vasan persuaded the Gemini Story Writing department to develop the story and screenplay.  Production began in 1943 without a complete script thereby inducing numerous changes incl. change of director, screenplay ultimately dragging the production to 5 years.


Close to running time of 210 minutes, set in a fictional kingdom the story revolves around three characters Chandralekha(T.R Rajakumari) a village dancer, Veerasimhan(M.K.Radha) and Sasankan(Rangan) both princes. Who inherits the kingdom and  whom does Chandralekha marries forms the crux of the story. Interestingly actor Shivaji Ganesan who later became a big star in tamil cinema auditioned for a small role for which he was rejected.


Chandralekha Movie Scenes


The main highlight of the movie is the Drum dance sequence towards the climax. The sequence is noted for its grandeur, artwork, choreography. The filming of the sequence costed around Rs 0.5 million(5 lakhs) which was the budget of most of the movies released at that time. The publicity of the film ran close another Rs 0.5 million making it the most publicized movie at that time. Its the first movie to have a full page advertisement in newspapers.

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With high expectations Chandralekha was released on April 8, 1948 with critical acclaim and positive reviews. Due its grand scale it wasn’t able to recover its money prompting vasan to release the movie in Hindi(suggested by distributor Tarachand) with additional costing of Rs 0.6 million. The film enjoyed tremendous success in Hindi becoming the second highest grossing hindi movie in 1948. According to Information and Broadcasting Ministry the movie netted a total of Rs 20 million in both versions.


The success of Chandralekha left a huge impact in Indian cinema. It prompted many producers to film their movies in Chennai which in turn paved way for many hindi movies remade or dubbed in tamil and vice-verse. It also encouraged many artists,technicians to work in hindi and other regional film industries. The marketing strategy of movie inspired producers like AVMeiyappan(AVM productions) to explore and utilize the potential of mass media.Released in 1950’s Mother India with Rs 40 million and Mughal-e-Azam with Rs 10 million were other movies made on  a grand scale.


For further information:   Chandralekha Wiki   

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