I was delighted to discover last night that there was a copy of the devotional film Meera, in the 1945 Tamil edition, posted on YouTube with fully readable English subtitles:

This is a sweet and beautiful film that kept me watching from the first moment to the last. (Maybe that is a bit of cliche to put in a film writeup? But there are few films that I can really say that about.) There are some problems with this copy, especially in the sound, which comes in through only one channel for about three quarters of the film. But the star of the film, M.S. Subbulakshmi, sounds far better singing through one channel than the vast majority of other singers coming in through two. What a fabulous voice, especially for this form! And though she appears all too infrequently, Kumari Kamala (or Baby Kamala) is almost equally delightful playing Lord Krishna, whether she is actively dancing or just standing or sitting still. (What enchanting expressions she could put on! But that’s also part of the dance, isn’t it? And is she really only 11 years old in this film?).

Of course, Baby Radha also puts in a very sweet performance as the child Meera, and Chittoor V. Nagaiah is pretty good as Meera’s royal husband, too.

Those, however, are things that I knew about the film already. It wasn’t until I started watching this subtitled version, which enabled me to be drawn into the plot and dialogue completely, that I realized that the whole film is marvelous. I guess much credit should go to Ellis R. Dungan, that legendary American-born director of early Tamil films. I don’t think I’d seen a full Dungan movie before this (although I had heard and glimpsed many songs from them), but now I can see what all the fuss was about. The pacing seemed perfect, and so many of the scenes were incredibly beautiful… And though I am an atheist or agnostic (I guess…), it is always so enjoyable to see the kind of devotional film that can strongly convey the triumph of spirituality, compassion, and divine beauty over vulgar materialism and all the evil that it brings. (The diabolical military and political plotters were no match for the woman whose singing to Krishna charmed the masses near and far.) Needless to say, I highly recommend this movie, and sometime soon, I might just feel like watching the whole thing again.

meera-kamala

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