A poster for Sakuntalai
Directed by Ellis R. Dungan
Produced by Royal Talkies
Newtone Studios
Written by Story: Kalidasa
Screenplay: T. Sadasivam
Starring M. S. Subbulakshmi
G. N. Balasubramaniam
Music by Thuraiyur Rajagopala Sharma
Cinematography Caridi Cuttak
Edited by Ellis R. Dungan
G. K. Bhaskar
Distributed by Royal Talkies
Release dates
12 December 1940
Language Tamil

Sakuntalai (Tamil: சகுந்தலை) is a 1940 Tamil film directed by Ellis R. Dungan and starring M. S. Subbulakshmi and G. N. Balasubramaniam.[1][2][3]


Subbulakshmi and her husband T. Sadasivam formed Royal Talkies to produce their own films. They decided to make a movie based Shakuntala's life and asked director K. Subramanyam, to direct the film. Subramaniam was not able to do so because of prior commitments and recommended Ellis Dungan to be hired instead.[3] Sadasivam wrote the screenplay and Papanasam Sivan was hired to write the lyrics. Carnatic singer G. N. Balasubramaniam was cast as King Dushyanta. The comedic duo of N. S. Krishnan - T. A. Mathuram were also among the cast.[2] Dungan introduced several new techniques to Tamil cinema in this film. The scene where Shakuntala loses her ring was shot in slow motion through a glass tank filled with water. In his autobiography (A Guide to Adventure: An Autobiography, Dorrance Publishing Company (2002)), Dungan wrote the following about his use of a European dancer for adding glamour to the film :

I hired a scantily dressed female dancer for the role of a water nymph. She was a young European girl in her late twenties, possessing a beautiful Venus-type figure, who performed acrobatic dances with a male partner in cabaret shows at the Connemara Hotel in Madras. In an unheard-of technique in Indian films, she came up out of a water tank and danced in her rather skin-tight one-piece bathing suit. Believe me, it created quite a bit of excitement among the Indian actors and film..[3]

The completed film was 17,400 Feet in length (around 3 hours run time).[2] The film advanced the popularity of singing lead actress M. S. Subbulakshmi.[4]


Sakuntalai is the story of the mythological queen Shakuntala, whose tale is told in the Mahabarata and dramatized by Kalidasa in the play Abhijñānaśākuntalam.

Cast and crew

M. S. Subbulakshmi in Sakuntalai


G. N. Balasubramaniam and M. S. Subbulakshmi in Sakuntalai

There were a total of 24 songs in Sakuntalai. A couple of songs were longer than usual and the gramophone company had to issue special large sized records for them.[2]

A partial list of songs in the film:


The film was released on 12 December 1940 and was a box office success.[2]


  1. "Film World's singing star". chennaionline. 2004. Retrieved 2008-10-25.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Film News Anandan (2004). Sadhanaigal padaitha Tamil Thiraipada Varalaaru (in Tamil). Chennai: Sivagami Publications. pp. 28:22.
  3. 1 2 3 Reminiscences on Directing M.S., the Musician-Movie Star by Ellis R. Dungan
  4. Students' Britannica India - Volumes 1 - 5 -2000 Page 67 "In 1938 she made her film debut with Sevasadanam which was based on the theme of women's liberation. ... Subbulakshmi achieved immense popularity with her appearances as a singing star in films such as Sakuntalai (1940), Saitri ( 1941) ..."
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