One of the founding fathers of the Renaissance of Tamil theatre Sankaradas Swamigal wrote a play 'Cymbeline' based on one of the lesser-known plays of William Shakespeare. Even though it had an interesting story line it did not prove popular, perhaps because of the foreign-sounding title, and remains a neglected work of Swamigal.
In 1941 K. S. Narayana Iyengar, a noted Tamil film producer of his day and partner in Narayanan & Co, a popular production unit, showed interest in filming this play, thanks to his manager and right hand man, K. P. Varadachari. Hailing from Salem, Varadachari was deeply interested like most educated men of that era, in Western Literature and of course, Shakespeare. Accordingly, Iyengar launched the film under the title "Chaya", which was written by Varadachari.
T. V. Kumudhini, singing actress of her day who made a mark in H. M. Reddi's "Maathru Bhoomi", was chosen to play the female lead. M. G. Ramachandran was fixed to play the hero.
After his debut in Ellis R. Dungan's "Sathi Leelavathi" (1936), his career was rather dull with only supporting roles in mostly unsuccessful films. Inspite of his handsome looks and impressive physique and experience in Tamil theatre he could not make much progress and the first major break to play the hero came his way with "Chaya".
To direct the film the well known Hindi filmmaker Nandlal Jaswantlal was fixed. A successful Hindi filmmaker of his day, he was brought to Madras by pioneer filmmaker K. Subramanyam to direct his brother K. Viswanathan's film "Kamadhenu" (1941) in which his niece 'Baby' Saroja, her mother Vatsala and father Vatsal (Viswanathan) played the major roles.
Nandlal Jaswantlal had made a name even during the 1930s for his innovative style of filmmaking. During the period when lengthy takes were the order of the day he made waves with short 'takes' with some shots of less than five feet in length (running time 3 seconds!) which was then a novelty especially in South Indian Cinema. His early hits included "Prem Jogan" (1931), "Jeevan Saathi" (1939). In later years he made box office bonanzas like "Anarkali" (1953) and "Nagin"(1954).
Shooting of "Chaya" began and Nandlal in his virulent visual style shot some sequences of MGR and Kumudhini riding horses in and around the famous Monroe Statue in Mount Road area, Madras. He insisted that they should be trained in horse riding on location and inspected the training sessions with a hawk's eye!
For some reasons the director was not impressed with MGR's performance and wanted the hero to be replaced. Narayana Iyengar, Varadachari and S. Soundararajan (Tamil Nadu Talkies) who was also involved in this production, refused to oblige the director because Soundararajan felt the handsome hero had a bright future and had no intention of destroying it.
However Jaswantlal was adamant threatening to walk out of the film, and reluctantly P. U. Chinnappa was brought in. Advertisements about the release of "Chaya" with Chinnappa were released, but somehow the producers felt the Bombay- based director had lost interest in the project and was eager to get back home. Consequently "Chaya" was closed down, never seeing the light of day again. It was a severe body blow for MGR and he had to wait another seven years before he played the hero again in "Rajakumari".
However Varadachari did not give up his desire and ambition. After a lapse of some years he persuaded Soundararaja Iyengar to launch the movie. The Tamil Nadu Talkies boss had plans to make low budget films with new faces based on stories from Western lite