Meera does not get the respect it deserves in Indian film history. This 1945 Film that made M S Subbulakshmi the revered national Icon is radical for many reasons. It’s a quietly subversive film that made points against orthodoxy and the establishment while becoming very popular among the music loving Indian Audience (northern and southern Indian audiences saw the same film/ tunes sung by MS Subbulakshmi (original lyrics in Tamil by papanasam sivan , the Hindi version ,released 1947 had Meera songs sung by MS). The Strikingly beautiful Subbulakshmi (30 at the time of making this film) herself was elevated from Veena Shanmughavadivu’s Daughter to the voice of the congress party and the newly independent India, to a saint singer that sang devotional Sanskrit .
Elias Dungan ,the USC graduate (born 1909 in Ohio) made 15 3.5 hour musical films in Tamil and telegu with S S Vasan , the Gemini Studios boss and AVM’s Meyyappa Chettiar. Meera , one of his last films is a fully complete cinematographic testament. Sets, cuts and cinematography and all define the Indian musical genre . Films of the 80’s and 90’s still follow this exact same grammar. Elias dungan’s films of the 1930’s are all exceptional collectible gems with superlative (carnatic) music, stage play technique of the period and Ellis Dungan’s indoor/ outdoor cinematography that reflect the latest French realism soviet montage and American drama. They are the first completely tamil films in a tradition that stretches a century now.
Meera’s story is legend. The princess, married into a reluctant domesticity to the overweight king of chittor when she seemed almost delusion ally devoted to the god Krishna, is really a story that easily lends itself to gently parodying the ways of royalty and their treatment of women. Dungan’s theory seems to be part socioeconomic .He presents meera as a 16th century girl, interrupted ,in a traditional musical play format that sets the dialectic firmly sympathetic to the heroic protagonist’s embrace of religion and her visions of Lord Krishna
MS Subbulakshmi’s gap toothed slightly disheveled glowing beauty gives credibility to the legend as you get insight into how the legend of a renounced princess could be enhanced into worship of her sublimated saintliness when people look at her. The songs help too. I wish more of MS Subbulakshmi’s earlier work survived. There’s a 1937 film called seva sadanam which is based on a Munshi premchand story, adopted by Kalki Krishnamurthy that I would like to own and possess if time has not ravages the reels….but I suspect it’s not happening….. Giridhara gopala