Lakshmikanthan murder case

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The Lakshmikanthan murder case (Tamil: லக்ஷ்மிகாந்தன் கொலை வழக்கு) was a high-profile criminal trial which was conducted in the then Madras Presidency between November 1944 and April 1947. The cause of the trial was the murder of C. N. Lakshmikanthan, a Tamil film journalist. Lakshmikanthan was stabbed in Vepery, Madras on November 7, 1944 and he died the next morning in General Hospital, Madras. A criminal case was filed and a series of suspects were arrested. The suspects included Tamil film actors M. K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar and N. S. Krishnan and director S. M. Sriramulu Naidu. While Sreeramulu Naidu was acquitted, Thyagaraja Bhagavathar and Krishnan were found guilty and subsequently convicted. Bhagavathar and Krishnan appealed to the Madras High Court but their appeals were turned down. The duo remained in jail until 1947, when an appeal to the Privy Council was successful and the Council directed the sessions court to make a fresh retrial. Both Bhagavathar and Krishnan were found to be innocent and acquitted. The case remains unsolved to the present day and the actual perpetuators of the murder were never found.

The arrest completely broke Bhagavathar's morale. He lost all his money and died in 1959 in penury. Krishnan, however, did a few movies till his death and some of them were successful.

Background[edit]

The feud between the accused and Lakshmikanthan[edit]

C. N. Lakshmikanthan or Lakshmikantham was a famous film journalist of Madras Presidency. His foray into journalism began in 1943 when he launched a film weekly called "Cinema Thoothu" which was extremely successful. He wrote extensive columns devoted to the personal lives of some of the top film actors and actresses of the day. Many actors and actresses responded by paying large amounts of money in order to "buy" his silence. As a result, Lakshmikanthan set up a prosperous vocation.

Eventually, matters reached a standstill when film actors M. K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar and N. S. Krishnan and film director Sreeramulu Naidu submitted a memorandum to the Governor of Madras, Arthur Oswald James Hope requesting him to revoke the license for the magazine. Hope obliged and the license for the magazine was cancelled. Lakshmikanthan tried to run the magazine with forged documents but after a few months, he was forced to close shop.

Unfazed, Lakshmikanthan set up a new magazine called "Hindu Nesan" in which he continued his scandalous stories on Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, Krishnan and a few other top actors, actresses and moviepersons of the day. The tactics paid huge dividends and Lakshmikanthan purchased his own printing press.[1]

Lakshmikanthan's Background[edit]

Film historian and author Randor Guy writes that Lakshmikanthan had a dark past with a criminal record. As a young man, Lakshmikanthan desired to become a lawyer but could not afford it as his family was not well-off. However, Lakshmikanthan, with his sufficient knowledge of law, managed to establish himself as a "tout". A tout was someone who brought a case to a lawyer for money, but at times, even forged documents or signatures for a particular sum. Lakshmikanthan was successful for sometime, but was eventually caught and convicted for forgery. Lakshmikanthan tried to escape but was captured and imprisoned on a 7-year term at Rajahmundry jail. He tried to escape once again, but was caught and deported to the Andamans. Lakshmikanthan was eventually released when the islands came under Japanese occupation during the Second World War. He returned to India and established himself as a journalist.[2]

The murder[edit]

In the morning of November 8, 1944, Lakshmikanthan paid a visit to his close friend and lawyer, J. Nargunam, who lived in Vepery. As he was returning to his house at Purasawalkam in a hand-rickshaw, Lakshmikanthan was attacked by a group of unknown assailants one of whom stabbed him with a knife.[1] The bleeding Lakshmikanthan, however, managed to garner enough strength to walk all the way to the lawyer's house, who listened to Lakshmikanthan's description of the incident and then, sent him to General Hospital, Madras in the company of his friend, Mr. Brew, an Anglo-Indian.

On the way, Lakshmikanthan requested the rickshaw-driver to stop at Vepery police station to file a complaint against the assailants. At about that time, Mr. Brew took leave of him. Profusely bleeding and unable to move, Lakshmikanthan dictated his description of the incident while sitting in the rickshaw while inspector Krishnan Nambiyar wrote it down in a piece of paper.

At the General Hospital, Lakshmikanthan was admitted to the Wenlock Ward when bleeding in the abdomen did not cease. In the ward, Dr. P. R. Balakrishnan inspected his abdomen in order to check whether there was a serious wound. After this inspection, Lakshmikanthan's condition reportedly grew serious and he died at 4.15 AM on November 9, 1944 due to secondary shock caused by damage to the kidney.[1]

Arrests[edit]

Six suspects were arrested in the days following the murder. Among them were M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, N. S. Krishnan and film producer and theatre owner Sreeramulu Naidu.[1] They were tried for the murder. Bhagavathar and Krishnan were convicted while Naidu was acquitted.[1] The Madras High Court sentenced the duo to transportation for life.[1] Krishnan and Bhagavathar appealed to the Privy Council.[1] However, the appeal from the Privy Council did not come until the duo had already spent 30 months in jail.[1]

Suspects[edit]

M. K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar[edit]

M. K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar
Further information: M. K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar

Mayavaram Krishnamurthy Thyagaraja Bhagavathar (1909-1959) was one of the biggest stars of early Tamil cinema. With his trademark long hair and his sweet voice, he set long-standing records in Tamil cinema. He was also appreciated for his generosity and was perhaps the only film actor to be awarded a "Rao Bahadur" title, which he however, refused.

At the time of his arrest, Bhagavathar was at the peak of his success. He had just completed shooting for Haridas which ran for three successful years at Sun Theatre in Broadway. He was the highest paid Tamil actor at the time and had been signed for as many as 12 films at the time of his arrest.

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