Kappalottiya Thamizhan (Eng: The Tamilian who launched a ship) is a 1961 Tamil-language Indian drama film directed by B. R. Panthulu. The film features Sivaji Ganesan and Gemini Ganesan in the lead roles, while S. V. Subbaiah, T. K. Shanmugham, S. V. Ranga Rao, Savitri and S. A. Ashokan appear in supporting roles. It is based on the life of V. O. Chidambaram Pillai written by M. P. Sivagnanam. Upon release, Kappalottiya Thamizhan received critical acclaim and was adjudged the Best Tamil Film at the 9th National Film Awards, however it failed at the box office.
V. O. Chidambaram Pillai has devoted himself to the cause of India’s freedom from the British Raj. Chidambaram, appearing for the peasant Madasami, wins a case filed by an agent of a British proprietor. Chidambaram’s father, who appeared for the agent, sends his son to Thoothukudi lest the British proprietor should give him any trouble. Madasami who accompanies Chidambaram, looks after the latter’s salt-pan. At Thoothukudi, Chidambaram meets Subramaniya Siva, a freedom fighter and works for the Swadeshi movement. Chidambaram receives a complaint from some of the local merchants that the British Shipping Company had refused to load their goods. Against great odds, Chidambaram starts the National Shipping Company with Indian Capital to free Indian trade from dependence on foreign liners. The company prospers despite attempts by the British Company to sabotage the ship of the Indian firm. Chidambaram incurs the displeasure of the Government by organising a strike for getting the grievances of the local coral mill workers redressed and by organising public celebrations to mark the release of Bipin Chandra Pal in contravention of a prohibitory order.
Chidambaram, along with Subramaniya Sivam, is invited to Tirunelveli by the District Collector, Winch. The collector directs them not to engage in political activity and also orders them out of the District. They defy the orders and are arrested. In the trial which ensues, Chidambaram is sentenced to 20 years life imprisonment and Sivam to 10 years. Chidambaram’s sentence is reduced to six years on appeal. The imprisonment of these two leaders sparks off mass unrest which is put down ruthlessly. Some time later, the new District Collector Ashe is shot dead by a patriotic Vanchinathan, who commits suicide before the police can reach him.
The news of the unrelenting struggle outside gives much consolation to Chidambaram and Sivam who are treated barbarously in the prison. Chidambaram emerges from the prison a broken man only to witness a series of disappointments – Chidambaram’s brother has become insane, Sivam is a victim of leprosy contracted during his term in prison, people have forgotten him and his role in the Indian independence movement, the National Shipping Company is bought by its British rival and leaders like Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Subramania Bharati die one after another. Chidambaram devotes the last years of his life to the study of literature and dies still dreaming of the day when India would be free.
Directed by B. R. Panthulu
Produced by B. R. Panthulu
Screenplay by ‘Chithra’ Krishnaswamy
Story by M. P. Sivagnanam
Starring Sivaji Ganesan, Gemini Ganesan, Savitri
Music by G. Ramanathan
Cinematography W. R. Subba Rao & Karnan
Edited by R. Devarajan
Production Padmini Pictures
Release date 7 November 1961
Running time 177 minutes