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 – Messiahs Embedded Lyrics

By P.V. Gopalakrishnan

Film lyrics could be anything these days, for the lyrics are ever drowned in the racy BGM that appeals to the foot-tapping dance, resulting in the loss of intrinsic value of the songwriter. Even a decade or so back the situation was not this pathetic.

But the old movie lyrics stood out as the music was conducive to the words of the lyricist. In fact, many songs of the yesteryears are remembered to date by their evergreen lyrics.

Old songs often carried messages, useful to the community at large; And when these songs were delivered by the larger than life Stars of those times, they had an immaculate impact on the cine goers.

In this edition we would strive to look at some of such songs that carried good messages. In fact, there were too many such old songs that carried messages. However, we cherry picked some of them from different time frames, for our feature here.

N.S.Krishnan used to convey messages for the society through his comic coated songs always in the lyrics of Udumalai Narayana Kavi. One such was ‘Vatham vambu panna koodathu’ from the film “Dr.Savithri” (1955). The song, composed by Music Director G.Ramanathan, was directed as advice to married women, though not very relevant to the current generation, manifesting Bharathiyar’s ‘pudumai penn’!

In the bygone days, children had reverence for parents almost bordering on a fringe of fear about them. They were taught too that parents & teachers were equivalent to almighty. The values were different then.  Generations have since changed when most parents now have a single child or two to whom they afford the best in life & the children too, in turn, move with them more like a demanding friend. That reverential gap has since evaporated. Here is an old time’s song ‘Matha pitha guru deivam’ from ‘Naan petra selvam’ (1956), in the voice of A.P.Komala, the music being by G.Ramanathan.”

‘Aadi paadi velai senja’ from ‘Enga Veettu Mahalakshmi’ (1957), in the music of Master Venu, brings out the sterling fact that work done without pressure becomes a pleasure. The same has been recognized by mighty organizations that even play piped music to increase the productivity of its workers in shop floors as well as offices. The humble agrarian workers, labourers drawing mighty loads & hard sailing fisher folk – all of them – resort to singing in order to lighten their work strain. The modern housewives, whenever they have to cook in the kitchen or drive to work naturally resort to their favourite FM! The singers of the subject were Ghantasala & P.Suseela and the lyricist was Udumalai Narayanakavi.

Enga Veettu Mahalakshmi

Song book of Enga Veettu Mahalakshmi with the pages containing the song AADI PAADI VELAI SENJA PC: From the archives of TCRC

‘Sinthanai sei maname’ was an iconic song advising minds to have balanced views to get rid of evils. Sung by TMS, it was from ‘Ambikapathi’ (1957), produced by ALS Productions. The musical treatise was by G.Ramanathan’ & the lyricist was K.D.santhanam.

The innumerable instances where the alcoholics bring misery to their household, especially to the wives, have been the subjects of many films with a social cause. The film ‘Anbu Engey’ (1958) had a beautiful song with such a message ‘Ethanai kodi panam irunthalum’ in the pristine voice of P.Suseela. The music was by Vedha on the lines of Kannadasan.

‘Aathile thanni vara’ by Sirgazhi featured in modern Theatre’s ‘Vanna Kili’ (1959) in the lyrics of Maruthakasi & set to music by K.V.Mahadevan.’ Life has plentiful surprises both pleasant and otherwise. These have no explanations, which makes life unique. This has been the subject of this song.

Vannakili

Song book of Vannakili with the page containing the song AATHILE THANNI VARA PC: From the archives of TCRC

The songs in MGR starred movies used to carry lot of messages. One such was ‘Chinna payale’ from the Jupiter’s film ‘Arasilamkumari’ (1961) in the lyrics of the inimitable Pattukottai Kalyanasundaram, who died very young. He was an understudy of Poet Bharathi Dasan. The song gives Do’s & Don’ts to the child to whom it is addressed. The music was by G.Ramanathan.

Another character building song directed at kids was ‘Thirudathe papa thirudathe’ from the MGR film ‘Thirudathe’ (1961) in the voice of TMS, while S.M.Subbiah Naidu scored the music on the lyrics of Pattukottai Kalyanasundaram.

‘Engalukkum kalam varum’ was an inspirational duet song, by P.Suseela & TMS, etched in Positive Thinking from the iconic movie ‘Pasa Malar’ (1961), Kannadasan holding the fort for its lyrics. MSV-TKR composed the music.

‘Budhiulla manithar ellam’ rendered by Chandrababu from the AVM produced film ‘Annai’ (1962) had the music of Sudarsanam. The song illustrates the vagaries of life where cohesive things always do not exist.

Often film makers used to have off-screen songs which practice has dwindled over the time. One such song ‘Mayakkama kalakkama’, was very touchingly rendered by P.B.Srinivas in Sridhar directed ‘Sumai Thangi’ (1962) in the lyrics of Kannadasan.  The lyrics are just beautiful and about resolving mind games by lateral thoughts.

‘Dharmam thalai kakkum’, written by Kannadasan &  sung by TMS, was the Title Song of the Sandow Chinnappa Devar produced film of the same name, starred by MGR, who doles out a message with a song even as he drives. This movie of 1963 was given music by K.V.Mahadevan. The nobility associated with charity is highlighted to the masses by the song.

Money has overtaken the principles of life in today’s life. It is only increasing its velocity of such rate of overtaking over the years. ‘Kurangu varum thottamadi’ in the voice of TMS from the G.N.Velumani produced film ‘Panathottam’ (1963) vividly portrays this status. Music composed by MSV-TKR, this song has the golden words of lyricist Kannadasan.

Though all such songs as featured above must be appealing to listen even now, such genre has lost connect in today’s terms, with the current mass scale departure from what were routinely advocated & accepted things in the past.  Thanks to cultural change!