Filmy Ripples – N.S.Krishnan, the Legend

By P.V. Gopalakrishnan

It is generally said, however, a pathos scene is difficult to naturally enact, it is even more difficult to be successful as a comedian as timing & body language have to contribute to its success. Pure, vulgar-free comedy that stands out is a real tough job and all were not cut to deliver that.

In the very early talkie films, there was nothing like a separate comedian. It was only later, as part of the evolutionary process of cinema, comedians came into being in Indian films to provide a relief from the main story line, which, often, was heavy with emotions.

The early cinema (we are talking about pre-Nagesh period) had a bunch of good comedians such as T.S.Dorairaj, Kali N Rathinam, T.R.Ramachandran,

Sarangapani, ‘Friend’ Ramasami, A.Karunanidhi, Kakka Radhakrishnan, ‘Kuladeivam’ Rajagopal, A.Rama Rao, Chandrababu, Thangavelu, Muthulakshmi, T.A.Mathuram, & M.Saroja.

But the Monarch of the Tamil film comedians, undoubtedly, was N.S.Krishnan (NSK).

Tamil cine goers laughed their guts out at NSK’s thought provoking jokes. NSK has often been compared to the legendary comedian, Charlie Chaplin. But, while Chaplin scored with his slapstick comedy and body language, NSK relied more on his verbal humour, one-liners and subtle messages to the audience. His comedy, which also had its share of puns, was always wholesome at its best with no double entendre or misogyny involved.

As we cannot justifiably cover all the stalwart comedians who tickled our funny bones in a single Article, we hereby restrict our current write up to the Monarch of them all – N.S.Krishnan.

N.S.Krishnan was born as Nagerkovil Sudalamuthu Krishnan in 1908 in a poor family. His childhood years were spent selling snacks in a theatre in his hometown & working as a ball picker in a Tennis Club. His lack of formal education was amply made up by his native genius & curiosity.

Later, in his formative years he joined the celebrated drama company run by TKS Brothers. He was also proficient in a rural art form known as ‘Villu Paattu’.

Later he formed his own touring theatre group and traversed the length and breadth of erstwhile Madras Presidency with his plays, which always drew packed houses.

NSK’s entry into the celluloid world was through S.S.Vasan produced and Ellis Dungan directed film ‘Sathi Leelavathy’, where he was introduced as a comedian. Though this was his debut film, his second movie ‘Menaka’ got released before ‘Sathi Leelavathy’ could hit the screen. However ‘Menaka’ was adjudged the best movie of the year in 1935.

Menaka

An Advertisement of the Film MENAKA in the magazine ANANDHA VIKATAN DEEPAVALI MALAR 1935  PC: From the archives of TCRC

It was during the shooting of ‘Vasantha Sena’ (1936), directed by Raja Sandow, NSK ‘met’ co-star T. A. Mathuram and both fell in love. Their marriage was held in a simple manner, while the shooting schedule moved to Pune, with Raja Sandow presiding over the ‘wedding’. The couple got the honor of being the first real-life couple acting as couple of reel life too, between 1936 and 1957, when they did a whopping 122 films, as a pair!

Vasanthasena

An Advertisement of the Film VASANTHA SENA in the magazine ANANDHA VIKATAN DEEPAVALI MALAR 1936  PC: From the archives of TCRC

N S Krishnan, who popularly goes by his popular title, ‘Kalaivanar’, rose from humble beginnings as a ‘villu paatu’ artiste who became a master in the art of repartee. In tandem with his wife TA Mathuram, he regaled audiences, often stealing the spotlight from the lead stars. NSK was known to pen his comedy tracks himself and always ensured that he was never repetitive.  Noted lyricist Udumalai Narayana Kavi usually wrote the lyrics for Krishnan.

Untitled

In the early timeframe of his career, he worked with comedians like TS Durairaj, Pulimootai Ramaswamy, CS Pandian and Kali M Rathinam and later worked in most of the films of MK Thiagaraja Bhagavathar as Hero. Krishnan was also a gifted singer and his numbers in ‘Sivakavi’, ‘Raja Rani’ and ‘Manamagal’ became immensely popular.

He also produced the hit film ‘Nallathambi’, directed by C.N Annadurai. He directed films such as  ‘Panam’ and ‘Manamagal’ penned by Karunanidhi. SS Vasan’s magnum opus ‘Chandralekha’ too featured Krishnan in comedy tracks. There was a time in Tamil cinema when no film was complete without NSK!

He also shared screen space in many films of the leading heroes, MGR and Sivaji Ganesan, and despite the presence of these Titans always stood out with his comedy.

NSK went on to work as unparalleled comedian in as many as 150 films, MGR starred ‘Raja Desingu’ being the last one, released after his death.

On 8 November 1944, Lakshmikanthan the gossip columnist & Editor of ‘Indu Nesan’ was knifed by some unknown persons in Purasawalkam and was admitted to the General Hospital, Madras as an outpatient. But the next day, Lakshmikanthan was murdered mysteriously while still in the hospital. The police arrested eight persons as accused for the murder including M.K.Tyagaraja Bhagavathar and NSK. This came as a rude shock to their fans and the cine world.

After thirty long months of jail term they were acquitted for want of proof by the London Privy Council, thanks to the eminent lawyer V. L. Ethiraj who argued for them at Privy Council at London. (The same illustrious lawyer founded Ethiraj College for women).

Though N.S.Krishnan did manage to pick up the threads of his life again as an actor post his release from prison, things were not quite the same & he was financially drained and his fortunes plummeted rapidly.

When Krishnan was first sentenced to jail, Mathuram took a break from her acting career. Later she came out her self-imposed exile to generate revenues for financing her husband’s appeal to the Privy Council.

When NSK was in prison, T. A. Mathuram started a drama troupe called N. S. K Nataka Sabha, which staged plays written by and starring S.V.Sahasranamam. ‘Paithiyakaran’ (1947) was one of those plays. Later Mathuram converted the troupe into a film production company and made a film based on the play. While the film, being directed by Krishnan-Panju Duo,  was in production, Krishnan was acquitted released from prison. A new role was written for him in the film. NSK made fun of his stint in prison through the song jailukku poi vantha in which he described in prison life, his fellow inmates and the types of prisoners he met. MGR played a supporting role in the film.

In 1947, after his release from the prison, Nataraja Educational Society, Triplicane awarded him the title of ‘Kalaivanar’ to NSK through the ‘Father of Stage’, Pammal.K.Sambanda Mudaliyar. He is, to-date, known by this Title even without his name!

‘Manamagal’ (1951), produced & directed by NSK, saw the debut of Padmini as a lead actress. In this movie, A.Bhimsingh, who later became a big Director, was an Assistant Director to NSK. He also generously gifted his own expensive car to Baliah for his stellar performance in Manamagal.

MSV-TKR duo was formed as Music Directors by NSK for his Film ‘Panam’ (1952).

In his times, NSK was instrumental in bringing a number of leading Tamil stage and film personalities to the fore; he was also a Gandhian, patriot and philanthropist who became an active member of the Dravidian Movement. On the assassination of Gandhi, NSK raised a Memorial for the Father of the Nation at his own expense in the Municipal Park his hometown.

NSK was one of the founding fathers of South Indian Actors Association. He is reported to have even gifted his own land for its premises.

NSK passed away at his 49 on 30th August 1957, after bringing a lot of joy and cheer to his audience through his film roles.

Some of his well known films included Sathi Leelavathi, Ambikapathi, Madurai Veeran, Kala Megham, Uthama Puthiran, Sakunthalai, Arya Mala, Mangamma Sabatham, Harischandira, Haridas, Pavalakodi, Paithiyakkaran, Chandrakantha,  Chandralekha, NallaThambi, Managaiyarkkarasi, Rathnakumar, Vana Sundari, Panam, Amara Kavi, Kaveri, Dr. Savithri, Mudhal Thethi, Rangin Radha, Raja Rani, Manamagal & Raja Desingu.

Chandrakantha

An Advertisement of the Film CHANDRAKANTHA in the magazine ANANDHA VIKATAN DEEPAVALI MALAR 1936  PC: From the archives of TCRC

In his personal life, he had three wives, Nagammai, T.A.Mathuram & T.A.Vembammal (T.A.Mathuram’s sister).

 

NSK Interview

Stills from a short Interview of NSK in the magazine KALKI DEEPAVALI MALAR 1942 PC: From the archives of TCRC

The Tamil Nadu Government dedicated the Children’s Theatre on Wallaja Road, Madras as a memorial building in 1979, named it ‘Kalaivanar Kalai Arangam’  in his honour . His revered public statue adorns a major junction in T.Nagar in Chennai.

If NSK were to be alive today he would have been 108 years old!

 

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Filmy Ripples – Exotic Instruments in Film music – Part 2

By P.V. Gopalakrishnan

In this second part on ‘Exotic Instruments’ that have been used in our film music, we would cover some more instruments.

Mandolin, a 17th century evolved Italian instrument, with traditionally four courses of double strings, had featured prominently in almost all film music compositions till late sixties.

Among the multitude of songs using Mandolin here is the popular song ‘Neela vanna kannane’ from the film Mallika (1957), in the music of T.R.Paapa.

Mandolin used to be in most of MSV-TKR compositions, having been played by the Legend M.S.Raju. M.S.Raju was a dominant & very senior member of MSV’s orchestra as the man of many parts as he played Mandolin & Santoor besides whistling & doing konnakol.

Listen to ‘Thangathile oru kurai irunthalum’ (Bagapirivinai – 1959) in the beautiful mukhda of the song, in M.S.Raju’s Mandolin.

Bagapirivinai

Song book of Bagapirivinai with the page containing the song THANGATHILE ORU KURAI    PC: From the archives of TCRC

Santoor: is a Kashmiri instrument with seventy two strings and M.S.Raju as well as R.Visweswaran used to play Santoor for MSV.

It was Music Director Naushad, who made people to sit back & take note of this scintillating instrument in the song ‘Mere mehboob thuje’ from the film ‘Mere Mehboob’ (1963), when this instrument attracted attention of many.

The beautiful, reflective santoor used to be common in the BGM of many films, often as a gentle romantic hint in the score during the maiden romantic encounter.

Here is Santoor played by M.S.Raju in the song ‘Aaru maname aaru’ from ‘Andavan Kattalai’ (1964), in MSV-TKR composition.

You can also catch Santoor notes even in Ilayaraja’s ‘Chinna kannan azhaikkiran’ (Kavi Kuyil) in the opening BGM.

Sarangi, a bowed short-neck stringed instrument famed for its close imitation of the human voice, was rarely used in Tamil film songs. But wherever exceptionally used, they lent brilliant emotive grains to the song, as in ‘Ullathil nalla ullam’ from ‘Karnan’ (1964) in the composition of MSV-TKR. For this film MSV had brought musicians from the North.

There is an Instrument called Dilruba/Esraj, from Punjab, which sounds similar to the melancholic strains of Sarangi. The most famous exponent on Dilrupa in Tamil film industry was Dilruba Shanmugham who has played in-numerous scores for legends like MSV and Ilayaraja.

The lilting song, ‘Chinna thai aval’ from Thalapathi by Ilayaraja had Dilruba bits in it.

Sarod, a lute-like instrument from Afghanistan that rose to prominence in the Mughal courts too have featured in films, but exceptionally in Tamil films. The Sarod is highly versatile–when played quickly it can denote excitement and movement, and when plucked slowly it can touch your heart.

Here is a Tamil film song ‘Devan kovil maniyosai’ from the film ‘Mani osai’ (1963) in the music of MSV-TKR where Sarod appears twice in the song, post anthra, just after the flute.

The mesmerizing jugal bandhi between Sitar, Jaltarang and Sarod could be heard in the last portions “Madhuban Mein Radhika” (Kohinoor- 1960), composed by the legend Naushad.

Sitar, a multi-string plucked instrument that influenced the Western pop world in the 1960s (thanks to Pandit Ravi Shankar), when The Beatles and Rolling Stones adopted it. Tamil film music too has used it in songs & BGM.

Mr. Janardhan is a well known Sitar player who had played for film music too.

Sridhar’s ‘Nenjil oar Aalayam’ (1961) featured Sitar in its songs, in the composition of MSV-TKR.

Other notable songs in Tamil with Sitar notes included ‘Kettadhum koduppavane Krishna’ from Deiva Magan (1969) composed by MSV & ‘ennathan ragasiyamo’ from Idhaya Kamalam (1965) composed by K.V.Mahadevan.

Idhaya Kamalam

Song book of Idhaya Kamalam with the page containing the song ENNATHAN RAGASIYAMO PC: From the archives of TCRC

In Hindi, there are many songs featuring Sitar, one of which is the beautiful composition of Salil Chowdhri ‘Oh Sajna’ from the film Parakh.

Another classical based film song in Hindi featuring Sitar was ‘Tere bina zindagi main’ from Andhi composed by R.D.Burman.

Violin, a highly popular bowed four stringed Italian instrument with roots in 16th century Italy, has had global impact, including in orchestral performances of Indian film music, in a big way.

Violins are an integral part of film music orchestration. I’ve listed several songs that highlight its use as a solo instrument, or more commonly as part of a large orchestra seen in numerous Indian film songs.

In each cinema orchestra there will be a ‘First Violinist’ who leads the song along with the vocalist, without over powering the singer. Henry Daniels & V.S.Narasimhan were with MSV-TKR & Ilayaraja, respectively as First Violinists.

Then, of course, the cine orchestra would have a big collection of violinists.

Here are samples of how collective violin players contribute to the compositions. Here is ‘Poga poga theriyum’ from Server Sundaram where violin score has been very briskly & beautifully contrived by the music arrangers.

Shehnai, a double reeded wind instrument made out of wood with wooden flared bell at the other end, has been commonly used in Indian film music.

MSV-TKR had in their orchestra, Satyam whose delectable Shehnai notes could be heard in some of their compositions such as ‘Malai pozhuthin mayakkathile’ (Bagyalakshmi), ‘Avalukkum Thamizh enru paer’ (Panchavarnakili), “Alaya maniyin osaiyai naan’, ‘Ennai yar enru’ (Palum Pazhamum) ‘Kuthu vilakkeriya’ (Pachai Vilakku) & ‘Oru naal iravu’ (Kaviya Thalaivi).

Satyam was an asset to MSV-TKR. There was an episode when recording for Kaviya Thalaivi since MSV could not get what he wanted out of Satyam, resulting in multi takes, Satyam when he retired home after the work denied food from his wife & MSV had to call him up and cajole him!

Oboe, a double reed wood instrument like clarinet, but of treble range of musical notes, has also been used on & off in Tamil Film music.

A classic example is ‘Kanna karumai nira kanna’ from Naanum Oru Penn, in the composition of Sudarsanam in which oboe features.

Flute, an ancient instrument comes in different octaves as well as different pipe construction such as bamboo, metal etc. The traditional bamboo flutes of different sruthis (tonal variations) along with Piccolo Flutes (used in Symphonies) & Shakuhachi (Japanese Flutes) have been associated with pastoral compositions in Indian films.

MSV-TKR had an important orchestra member in Nanjundappa, the flautist. Listen to one of his chirpy works in the very beautifully composed melody ‘Indha manrathil oadi varum’ (Policekaran Magal).

In ‘Chingari Koi Bhadke’ – Amar Prem, composed by R.D.Burman, one can hear the rich & moving notes of a Bansuri flute of bamboo make usually used to signify a tragic or devotional flavours, transporting the listener to a different world.

Who can forget the beautiful flute piece in ‘Chinna kannan azhaikkiran’ (Kavi Kuyil) composed by Ilayaraja, as it seamlessly takes over from the Santoor bit & vioilin serande in the song.

‘Naan manthoppil’ by L.R.Easwari in the film ‘Enga veettu pillai’ (1965) features the shrill Picollo flute which has very high registry.

There are innumerable Tamil film songs embodying delectable flute notes, which are very pleasurable to listen but it would be impractical to mention all of them.

We will continue discussing more of the exotic musical instruments used in our films in our next posting too.