Naam Iruvar : From Stage to Celluloid

By Karthik Bhatt

The next in the series of from Stage to Celluloid we visit AVM’s baby Naam Iruvar.

The AVM productions banner occupies a pride of place in Indian cinema. With movies not only in Tamil but also in other languages such as Hindi, Kannada, Telugu, Bengali and even Sinhalese, its seven decade journey has been a remarkable one, launching the career of many a star.

Born in Karaikudi in 1907, AV Meiyappa Chettiar as a teenager joined his father’s general stores business, AV and Sons. In 1928, they acquired the distribution rights of gramophone records of SG Kittappa and KB Sundarambal for the southern districts and thus began AV Meiyappa Chettiar’s tryst with the world of cinema. In 1932, he along with his friends started Saraswathi Stores in Madras, dealing in gramophone records. His foray into film making in 1934 had a disastrous start with a hat-trick of losses over the first few years (Alli Arjuna, Aryamala and Nandakumar). These movies were produced under various partnerships with his associates.

In 1946, AV Meiyappa Chettiar decided to strike it out on his own. Thus was born AVM Productions. This post is about its first production, Naam Iruvar.

Meiyappa Chettiar had great regard for theatre. In his autobiography Enathu Vaazhkai Anubavangal (My Experiences in Life), he writes about its importance and how a good stage circuit was essential for new actors and technicians to develop in cinema. Many of his early movies were based on stage plays.

Pa.Neelakandan, born in 1916 began his career as a journalist, working for a couple of Tamil magazines. His first play, Mullil Roja was staged by TKS Brothers in 1942 and won him instant fame. He then wrote a play called Thyaga Ullam, which was awaiting a troupe for its staging. It was around this time that NS Krishnan had been sent to jail in the sensational Lakshmikantan murder case. The responsibility of running his troupe, NSK Nataka Sabha fell on his close friend and associate SV Sahasranamam. The troupe was undergoing troubled times, with a split causing actors such as KR Ramaswamy and Sivaji Ganesan to move out. Sahasranamam was looking for a suitable script to stage when he heard of the success of Mullil Roja. He wrote to TK Shanmugam and requested to be introduced to Pa.Neelakandan.

Neelakandan met Sahasranamam the following week and narrated the script of Thyaga Ullam, which was based on the relationship between two brothers. Sahasranamam liked the script and it was decided that the troupe stage the play. He however suggested to Neelakandan that a character portraying the sister of the two brothers be included, which was agreed to. The play was renamed Naam Iruvar. In his autobiography Thirumbiparkiren, Sahasranamam says that the songs for the play were written by KP Kamakshi Sundaram, who would later go on to become a well-known lyricist. The song ‘Parakkum Bharatha Manikkodiye’ particularly was a hit with the masses. A few songs of Subramania Bharathi which were also used added immense value to the play. Sahasranamam also says that the concept of playback singing in a stage play was introduced in this production. The play, whose inauguration was presided over by noted journalist and author, Va.Ra was a tremendous success, with over 100 shows being staged.

AV Meiyappa Chettiar, who had watched the play nearly 10 times at the eponymous Walltax theatre decided to make it into a movie. He bought the rights from Pa.Neelakandan for a sum of Rs 3000 and also hired him as an assistant director for the movie. A few actors from the play were booked for the movie. Sahasranamam was offered the role of the hero, which he initially accepted. He later backed out owing to logistics issues of balancing the running of NSK Nataka Sabha and the shooting of the movie, which was being held in Karaikudi, where AVM Studios was then functioning. However, it would prove to be a big break for another actor who would go on to become of Tamil cinema’s most popular comedian and character actors, VK Ramaswamy. Notable names in the film included TR Mahalingam (who replaced SV Sahasranamam,), BR Panthulu, who would later go on to direct and produce several colossal movies, K Sarangapani and TR Ramachandran. The role of the sister to the two brothers was played by ‘Baby’ Kamala, a child prodigy who would later make waves in the world of dance as Kumari Kamala.

The most interesting side story in the making of this movie is the nationalisation of Subramania Bharathi’s songs. Meiyappa Chettiar decided to buy the full rights to use a few songs in the movie. The rights lay with the famous jewellers M/s Surajmals, who had bought them to reproduce in the form of gramophone records but had not used them. They demanded a sum of Rs 10000, which was paid by Meiyappa Chettiar in full.  After Independence, the Premier of Madras, OP Ramaswamy Reddiar offered to buy out the rights from Meiyappa Chettiar in order to nationalise the works. A magnanimous Meiyappa Chettiar, the ardent patriot at heart he was, gifted the same to the government.

Below is a popular patriotic song from the film by Subramnia Bharathi

 

 

 

 

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Discussion with Award winning director Manohar

National award winning director Manohar, discusses his short film ‘Post man’ during the Shamiana short film screening with TCRC hosted by Ashvita Bistro. The film maker brings to light the issues he faced during the making of his debut film, how the film finally proved to be commercially viable and much more.

Centenary Birthday of M.S.Subbulakshmi

On 16th September The Hindu Metro plus paid a tribute to M.S.Subbulakshmi , the actor to commemorate her centenary birthday. The article written by Srinivasa Ramanujam states : ‘ Madurai Shanmukhavadivu Subbulakshmi, or MS, as she is popularly known, was a musical genius. But there was another side to her; she was also an actor, having essayed fine performances in the films she was part of. Today, on her birth anniversary, we take a look at those projects… ‘

Have a look at the full article with the pictures here.

Meanwhile we have been busy at our archives and we found an advertisement of the film Savitri where MS played Naradar, A male character. The ad was found in the supplement of the Tamil Magazine Ananda Vikatan dated 12-10-41.

savitri

 

TCRC presents an exclusive screening of ‘ Amma and Appa’

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TCRC is bringing the popular documentary ‘Amma and Appa’ to Chennai on the 23rd of August 2015, Sunday at Ashvita Bistro, Alwarpet. This will be the first time that the film will be screened in Tamil Nadu. The film is in Tamil and German with subtitles in English. The film makers will be present for an interaction with the audience after the screening.

About the film:

Amma & Appa (Tamil for Mother & Father) tells the story of film makers Franziska’s  and Jay’s parents. It is about their first meeting and of them getting acquainted. Both couples are about the same age and both have been married for more than thirty years. But they come from very different cultural backgrounds. Franziska’s live in the south of Germany, Jay’s parents in the south of India. They now come together because their children have fallen in love with each other and have decided to get married. For Franziska’s  parents it will be the first time they visit India and for Jay’s parents it will be the first time they receive foreigners as guests. While Franziska’s parents married out of love, the marriage of Jay’s parents was traditionally arranged. It was thus a great shock for them to learn that their son wanted to marry by his own choice. And what is more: A girl from Germany. His decision challenges their traditions and beliefs.

Against this backdrop the film unfolds its story. It tells the story of two cultures coming together and raises the universal questions what makes it all work- love, affection and living together. The film makers, as a young couple, want to know the recipe for a successful relationship from their parents and aim to find out with their  observation of the interaction of their parents toward and with each other.

Here is the trailer of the film:

Thaneer Thaneer – From Stage to Celluloid

By Karthik Bhatt

Komal Swaminathan was one of Tamil stage’s most powerful contemporary playwrights. Born in 1935, he came to Madras in 1957 and joined the Seva Stage Kalvi Nilayam, the drama school that had been established by S.V.Sahasranamam. It was here that he learnt the various aspects of drama. He had a particular interest in writing scripts, having already written a few skits during his intermediate course at the Madura College.

Having completed the drama course Swaminathan joined Seva Stage as an apprentice to S.V.Sahasranamam, learning the production aspects of staging plays. He wrote his first play, “Puthiya Paathai” in 1960, which was staged by the Gujarati Young Men Association. Thus began a journey that saw the scaling of many heights in the course of the next three decades.

Swaminathan forayed into movies in 1963. He worked as an assistant and script writer to noted director K.S.Gopalakrishnan for the next seven years. This period saw him being associated with successful movies such as Karpagam, Pesum Deivam and Kai Kodutha Deivam. He started Stage Friends in 1971, a troupe primarily comprising of members from his mentor S.V.Sahasranamam’s Seva Stage. The troupe’s first play was Sannadhi Theru, which dealt with the stigma attached to lady artistes and the neglect drama troupes faced. The Kalki magazine review of the play termed it a first rate production, with special mention to Surya Prabha, the actress who played the lead role. The success of Sannadhi Theru was followed by several other productions such as Nawab Naarkaali (which was also later made into a movie), Yuddha Kandam and Chekku Maadugal. His best known and most celebrated play however is the subject of this piece, Thaneer Thaneer.

Thaneer Thaneer dealt with a topic that remains very contemporary, that of water scarcity. The story was set in a drought hit village which suffers as much from official apathy as it does from the failure of rains. With powerful dialogues which were well aimed barbs at the establishment, it was inevitable that it would raise eyebrows at some level. Sure enough, the hurdle came in the form of getting the clearance from the Police before staging the play.

The Madras Dramatic Performances Act, 1954 required that the Police Commissioner had to approve a script before it could be staged. This law had been brought about as a means of censorship to ensure that the popularity of the medium was not misused to propagate ideas that had the potential to create law and order problems. It was under this law that objections were being raised to Thaneer Thaneer. That the play apart from highlighting official apathy was also viewed as being sympathetic to an ideological movement, which probably raised a red flag leading to the withholding of permission. Hectic parleying ensued, with Cho Ramaswamy coming out in support of Komal Swaminathan. The permission came through about an hour before the inauguration on the 10th of October 1980 at the Mylapore Fine Arts Club auditorium.

The play was a stupendous success. The legendary director K.Balachander who watched the play was immediately taken in by the idea and wanted to make it into a movie. Komal Swaminathan agreed, with a request that the stage artistes be used in the film too. Balachander acceded to the request and artistes such as Raj Madan, Vaadhyar Raman acted in the movie too. It was produced by Kalakendra Movies. Certain changes were made to suit the commercial medium. Saritha, Rajesh and Radha Ravi played important roles in the movie, which was both a commercial success and a critically acclaimed one. K.Balachander won the award for the best screenplay and the movie won the Best Tamil Feature Film award at the National Film Awards for 1981.

More recently in 2012, the play was staged in English as Water by the Madras Players. Thaneer Thaneer was revived in 2013 through Stage Friends which made a comeback to stage thanks to the efforts of Komal Swaminathan’s daughter Ms.Lalitha Dharini.

(This author gratefully acknowledges the inputs given by Ms.Lalitha Dharini for this piece).

 

 

The Tamil connect at The Venice International Film Festival

The 72nd Venice International Film Festival, organized by La Biennale di Venezia has some interesting line up of films. But two films have caught our special attention.

The first is Visaranai (Interrogation) directed by Vetrimaran and produced by actor Danush’s company Wunderbar Films has been selected in the Orizzonti section which is an international competition dedicated to films that represent the latest aesthetic and expressive trends in international cinema. In the history of the festival Visaranai will be the first Tamil feature film to participate in the competitive category. The director of the film, Vetrimaran has earlier made critically acclaimed films like Polladhavan and Aadukalam and was the co producer of the internationally acclaimed Tamil film  Kaaka Muttai (Crow’s egg).

The second film that caught our attention is Rinku Kalsy’s documentary  “For the love of a man” which has been selected in the Venice classics section where a selection of restored classics and documentaries on cinema will be showcased. Rinku’s film explores the phenomenal fan for Superstar Rajnikanth.

Besides the Tamil connect between Visaranai and ” For the love of a man” there is another interesting connection. Danush, the producer for Visaranai is the son in law of Rajnikanth on whom ” For the love of man” is centered around.

Watch the trailer of the two films here:

 

Sabapathy: From stage to celluloid

By Karthik Bhatt

The next in our series from ‘stage to celluloid’ we discuss one of Tamil cinema’s earliest full length comedies, Sabapathy.

The film, which was released in 1941 was produced by A.V.Meiyappa Chettiar and directed by A.T.Krishnaswamy. The plot was based on Pammal Sambandha Mudaliar’s play by the same name.

In his autobiography Naadaga Medai Ninaivugal, Sambandha Mudaliar says that Sabapathy was the first farce that he wrote. The story, which revolved around a young, rich (and not so intelligent) zamindar and his foolish servant (both named Sabapathy) was first written in 1906. Sambandha Mudaliar writes that the inspiration for the servant was derived from observing the man Fridays of a few friends. In particular, he credits Narasimhan, the personal assistant of his close friend V.V.Srinivasa Iyengar, the noted lawyer for having served as the base to building the character! He also acknowledges the influence of Handy Andy, the famous book written by Samuel Lover where the character could do nothing right.

The story was written in eight parts, each of which was capable of being staged as a separate stage play. Pammal Sambandha Mudaliar himself played the role of the zamindar, while many of his troupe members donned the role of the servant. So popular was the play that it continued to be staged even after the movie had released and had become a huge success. Pammal Sambandha Mudaliar writes of an interesting incident in 1944, where he, aged 71 years at that time had to appear in the role of zamindar for a scene during a staging to raise funds for the Thondaimandala Thuluva Vellalar School on Mint Street.

The movie had T.R.Ramachandran and Kali N.Ratnam (both of them from stage backgrounds) playing the roles of the zamindar and the servant respectively. Having zeroed in on the choice of T.R.Ramachandran to play the role of zamindar, A.V.Meiyappa Chettiar brought him to Sambandha Mudaliar for his approval, which was given after a brief test of his capability to do justice to the role. Kali N.Ratnam was a well-known actor and vaadhyar who served with the Madurai Original Boys Company, earning the prefix of Kali thanks to his portrayal of the Goddess in a play about Kannagi. Amongst those who trained under him were P.U.Chinnappa and M.G.Ramachandran. The female lead was played by R.Padma (a Lux soap model!) while C.T.Rajakantham was paired opposite Kali N.Ratnam. The Kali N.Ratnam-Rajakantham partnership was a successful one and featured in several movies. C.T.Rajakantham was alive until the 1990s and even acted in the popular Marmadesam (Vidaadha Karuppu) serial.

The movie is a delight to watch even a good seven decades after its release thanks to the simple comedy and great characterisation of the actors.

Randor Guy’s article on the movie can be accessed here

Here is a popular 9 minute segment from the film.