Anushka Kamna
Haridass: The story of a playboy
Review by : Behindwoods review board
Cast : M.K. Thiyagaraja Bhagavathar, N.S. Krishnan, P.B. Rangachari, T.R. Rajakumari, N.C. Vasantha Gokilam, T.A. Mathuram, Harini, Radha Bai  
Direction: Sundara Rao Natkarni
Music: G. Ramanathan 
Company :
Royal Talkie Distributors
Date of Release :
A film that runs in theaters for three consecutive Diwalis might sound like an improbable thing these days with the huge number of theaters and wide release strategies. But we are transporting you back to the times when a good film spent a huge amount of time in theaters and in the hearts of audiences. This is before our country got its
independence and it amazes one to think that even in those days of political instability when the Second World War was still raging, such creations were possible. We are talking about the legendary Haridass, the movie that is perhaps still the rightful holder of the record of the longest running movie in theaters.

Haridass is the story of a man born with a silver spoon. He has nothing to worry about and leads a wanton life. Women are his weakness and he spends most of his time philandering amongst them, that too in spite of being married. It would not have been wrong to call Haridass a Casanova. The critical point in the story is when Haridass falls for the charms of a Devadasi. hailing from a noble family, Haridass’s associations with the Devadasi causes a lot of concern in his family, which is quite used to his normally lose morals and lifestyle. His wife tries some extreme measures to wean him away from the company of woman. But the Devadasi is not just about ravishing beauty. She has some very clear intentions and slowly but surely works towards them, poisoning Haridass’ mind against his own parents and wife. As he is already a man who does not give much time to his family, her tactics don’t take too long to work and Haridass is completely under the spell of the Devadasi. In the midst of this, his wife quarrels with his parents and expels them from the hose. Intoxicated by the Devadasi’s beauty and his own self-importance, it is too long before he notices that all his riches, including his house have been usurped. He has to seek shelter in the streets along with his wife. As was the norm in the days of yore, those who had nothing leave the city and turn to the forests, to live off the earth and the trees. Even in this sorry state of existence, Haridass does not seem to have forgotten his weakness for women and his rather wayward tongue gets him into trouble again, this time with a holy sage. The sage has powers beyond Haridass’ wildest imaginations. Haridass gets punished in a way that makes him repent for all his sins, the transformation is instant. The big change in him is the respect that he gives to his parents, as if making up for a lifetime of irreverence. The end is symbolic of the amount of respect he has for his parents, as Lord Krishna himself descends from the heavens to meet the ideal son. In all ways, the transformation is complete.

In 1944, during the times when a movie used to have an average running time of more than 3 hours, Haridass was a trendsetter for the reason that it was just about 2 hours long. In all ways, the movie was hugely different from the regular films of those days. Pre-independence movies were mostly reconstruction of myths or well-known tales of ancient kings. This one, was however different. It was set in the era of kings and devadasis, it had the spiritual angle, but basically, it was about a man’s transformation and the way he treated his family.

With commanding performances by Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, perhaps the first superstar of Tamil cinema, a classic cameo by N.S. Krishnan and a hugely appreciated portrayal by T.R. Rajakumari, the movie had everything that the audience could ask for. Haridass was a movie ahead of its times in concept and execution. It was not the norm for a movie in those days to depict low morals, especially in its lead character. And, it was almost taboo to discuss socially unacceptable relationships between a man and a woman. Yet, Haridass boldly faced these issues. Though there have been many movies, since then, which have confronted such matters, Haridass remains special for being the first to do so. Also, you have to see the movie to understand how aesthetically it has been shot, with almost no vulgarity, not hurting the sensitivities of the audiences.

Why is Haridass being recounted as a classic? Some movies become irrelevant with time, some stand the test of time. Haridass is one that has stood the test of time. That is because it has got its heart and the basics in the right place. A tight script and linear narration that never once wavers is the movie’s biggest strength. For a 2-hour movie, it has an astounding 18 songs. Tiresome, you might think, try watching the film. Most of the 18 songs have been well used, with two of them Manmadha Leelai and Krishna Mukunda Murare looking and feeling good even in our times.

Talking of performances, Thyagaraja Bhagavathar is complete in his role as Haridas. N.S. Krishnan, as one of the suitors of the Devadasi, delivers a few social messages that are not outdated even today, of course, in his trademark style. However, the show stealer is T.R. Rajakumari as the Devadasi. Her portrayal of the negative character was so brilliant that for some time in Tamil cinema, she was the only one considered for such roles. The film also has some very well-executed special effects in a few scenes. One might find it surprising that this movie was made as far back as 1944, even the movies of the 60s don’t boast of such quality. That is why perhaps Haridass is recounted even today as Tamil cinema’s greatest hit.

If you don’t hate black-and-white movies as a rule and are willing to overlook the fact that the stage culture has influenced performances in a small way, Haridass is a compelling watch even in the 21st century. Try Haridass - it is one of the finest in Tamil cinema.
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