Filmy Ripples : Dancing Queens of Tamil Screen (Part 2)

By P V Gopalakrishnan

Vyjayanthimala

Vyjayanthimala, born  1936, got a break in an AVM’s Tamil movie, Vazhkai, when she was just fifteen. Director M. V. Raman, spotted the young Vyjayanthi in one of her Bharathanatyam recitals at Gokhale Hall, Madras & recommended to AVM. The movie was a great success and also was remade in Hindi as Bahaar (1951). She acted in a few more Tamil movies like Then Nilavu before moving on to a highly successful career in Hindi movies.

Here is her graceful dance sequence with the popular number “Nanda gopalanodu naan aaduvene” in the film ‘Vazhkkai”. The singer was MLV.

 

Travancore Sisters:

Travancore Sisters

The Travancore sisters in Ananda Vikatan 1966 PC: From the archives of TCRC

Several noted actors in the past were dancers and had performed on screen. The three sisters ‘Lalitha-Padmini-Ragini’ from Kerala came and ruled the Tamil industry in the forties, popularly known as “Travancore Sisters”.

Born to Thankappan Pillai & Saraswathiyamma in a large Nair family from Thiruvananthapuram, they took to arts at a very early age. Lalitha and Padmini began their training from Kathakali exponent Guru Gopinath.

When the family migrated to Madras they continued their dance training under the great Nattuvanar and Dance Director for films Vuzhavoor Ramaiah Pillai who groomed them to perfection.

The sisters debuted in the film ‘Kannika’ (1947) as dancers in Shiva-Sakthi dance, choreographed by Bharathanatyam Guru Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai. This was the maiden movie produced by Sriramulu Naidu of Pakshiraja Studios, Coimbatore.

The sisters had an active performing career, both as classical dancers and as dancers and actors in South Indian cinema and Hindi cinema as well.

The highlight of “Vanjikottai Valiban” (1958) was the scintillating ‘dance duel’ between Padmini and Vyjayanthimala, which had come to be regarded as one of the best dance sequences in Indian cinema. Bharatanatyam Guru, Dandayudhapani Pillai, choreographed this.

Sai – Subbulakshmi Duo

The dancing duo sisters, Sai & Subbulakshmi were very popular with their brisk movements & performance like a spinning ‘Top’ in early Tamil  & Hindi films. This was in quick departure from the earlier dance formats, which were rather slow.

Sai – Subbulakshmi are said to be the off springs of P.A.Periyanayaki , a well-known play back singer of early Tamil films. This duo dancers were very well sought after & mesmerized the cine goers with their captivating dance numbers. Dancing in perfect harmony, the sisters seem to merge effortlessly with the song and the situation and it is easy to see why they were such a draw and came to perform not just in Tamil films but in a series of Hindi films too. They were trained under Muthuswamy Pillai and had tutelage in Kathak from well-established dance masters. They interpreted their dance compositions effortlessly their moves were very fluid. Sai of the duo was also the daughter in law of Actress R. Padma, (the beautiful heroine of “Sabhapathi’ & the then Lux Soap model ) and V.S. Raghavan  (Sound Engineer of AVM).

Here is a visual of the Sai-Subbulakshmi duo’s swift dance from the film ‘Malaikannan’.

 

Kumari Kamala

‘Kumari’ Kamala, as she is generally known even today, is a noted Bharatnatyam dancer and actress of yesteryears. Born in 1934 in a family of artists, where her sisters, Radha and Vasanthi were also dancers, she learnt Kathak from famous Lachhu Maharaj at a tender age. The Tamil film director A.N. Kalyanasundaram Iyer happened to watch her doing a dance concert and debuted her in ‘Valibar Sangam’ (1938) and later Ramanama Mahimai (1939), when she was a baby of four years then. So she was initially known as Baby Kamala. She also appeared as a child artist in Hindi films like Kismet and Ram Rajya in 1943. In Chennai she learnt Bharatnatyam from Muthukumara Pillai and Vazhavoor Ramiah Pillai. She appeared in Tamil movie, Jagathalaprathapan (1944) where she performed the Snake Dance. In her next film Sri Valli (1945), she played double role. Her film Nam Iruvar, based on Bharatnatyam theme made a great impact on audience. In 1953, Kamala performed during her coronation festivities of Queen Elizabeth II.

She has acted in more than 100 films belonging to Tamil, Hindi, Telugu and Kannada

She is the recipient of Padma Bhushan, Kalaimamani & Kendra Sahitya Academy award.Here is a popular dance number ‘Theeratha vilayattu pillai’ from the AVM film “Vedhala Ulagam”.

 

Waheeda Rahman

The wellknown Hindi’s heroine of yesteryears, Waheeda Rehman, was in fact originally from South, as her family lived in Chengalpattu near Madras. She and her sister learnt Bharatnatyam  under Guru Trichunder Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai in Chennai and Guru Jayalaxmi Alva, later in Bombay.

Kaalam Maari Pochu

An ad for the film ‘Kaalam MaaRi Pochu in the magazine Pesum Padam PC; From the archives of TCRC

She appeared as a dancer in movies like “Kaalam MaaRi Pochu” (1956), Alibabavum naaRpathu thirudargaLum” (1956). Here is the famous dance sequence of Waheeda in the former film.

Waheeda was proficient in Bharathanatyam. Guru Dutt, who cast her in the Hindi film ‘C.I.D’, spotted her. Then she went on to appear in many of his films. Her pairing with Dev Ananad was  very popular.

Rajasulochana

Rajasulochana, born 1934, was a classical dancer and film actress who debuted in Kannada film ‘Gunasagari’ in 1953, since which she acted in more than 250 movies belonging to different languages.

She learnt classical dance forms from various Gurus such as Lalithamma, K. N. Dhandayuthapani Pillai, Vempati Chinna Satyam, Krishnakumar, Vishnu Vysarkar, and Kalamandalam Madhavan. Rajasulochana founded her own Dance School, ‘Pushpanjali Nritya Kala Kendram’ in 1961 at Chennai.

Here is a dance sequence featuring her in the popular song “Vasantha mullai pole vandhu” from the film. ‘Sarangdhara’.

 

Down the time line, there were more trained & accomplished classical dancers who were also actors in Tamil Cinema such as E.V.Saroja, Jayalalitha, and VennirAadai Nirmala.

Tamil Cinema continues to feature dances to date, but of different genres to suit the modern tastes of cine goers. However, Dance as an Art Form, no doubt, continues to be patronized by the Films.

 

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Filmy Ripples: Dancing Queens of Tamil Screen (Part 1)

By P V Gopalakrishnan

Dance and Tamil cinema have had a long association. And when you talk of early period Tamil movies mostly the dances were in classical Bharatanatyam format, choreographed by veteran gurus such as Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai and the like.

About a hundred years ago, the dance was performed only by professional dancers either belonging to Devadasi tribes or Royal Courts. Even it was considered a taboo for women from family backgrounds to learn or perform dances. As such the same was not in the domain of commoner. It was the cinema, which brought dance forms to the public at large, through the movies. Leave alone the Films, today, in stark contrast, the dance forms are hugely popular with the public with no such past inhibitions.

Our films have had very many talented, graceful & beautiful dancing stars. It was an added advantage, for the female artistes, if they could dance well. Even otherwise, the not -so-good heroines at dancing too did dance, thanks to the choreographers who taught them to make a semblance of the dance, per se!

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Kamal and Vyjantimala in Ananda Vikatan Deepavali Malar 1945 PC: From the archives of TCRC

In this write up we are covering some of the popular dancing stars of Tamil films in its early period.

In the bygone era of cinema, the dances were in slow pace giving more importance to mudras & abhinaya than brisk body movements, as in tune with the rest of the movie’s ingredients. You will agree, the following visuals would stand by my observations!

Hemamalini Arni

Here is a dance sequence by Hemamalini Arni, (in her thirteen, then) to the classical song ’Nadanam aadinaar” from the film “Kannika” (1947). In the music composition of Papanasam Sivan. Hemamalini Arni, who had tutelage in Bharatanatyam under Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai, also had sung her own vocals in this song “Natanam Adinar”. Hemamalini Arni was gifted a Standard Car by Sreeramuly Naidu for her role in ‘Kannika’. Director M.V.Raman offered her a role in one of his films when she was seventeen, which she refused. It is said, Hindi Film’s ‘Dream Girl’ Hemamalini was named so by her mother, who was a family friend of Hemamalini Arni, in sheer inspiration of Hemamalini Arni,’s first name. Hemamalini Arni is settled in Hyderabad, running her own Dance School for Bharathanatyam.

M.S.Sarojini

In the same film “Kannika’ there was a song-dance sequence with Actor M.S.Sarojini dancing to the hit song of that time,  “Yaaro vandhu en kan pothinaar”, written & composed by Papanasam Sivan. The voices were of M.S.Sarojini & S.S.Mani (nephew of Papanasam Sivan). When the noted Guru Muthukumara Pillai was in Coimbatore in mid forties teaching dances to actors at a drama company, he trained Director Sriramulu Naidu’s actress wife M.S.Saroja for her lead role in the film ‘Kannika’ & Pillai himself too made a cameo appearance in the film. Muthukumara Pillai, who had trained legends like Rukmini Devi Arundale, Mrinalini Sarabhai and Kamala Laxman, belonged to the oldest generation of nattuvanars whose hereditary artistic dance practice was rediscovered in the twentieth century as the dance form Bharatanatyam.

T.R.Rajakumari

TR Rajakumari2

A photo of T R Rajakumari PC : From the archives of TCRC

The run away hit “Sivakavi” (1943), produced by Sreeramulu Naidu, featured M.K.Thygaraja Bhagavathar & the ravishing T.R.Rajakumari. the latter played the role of a Court Dancer who loved the Poet Hero. The song & dance sequence, “Kavalaiyai theerpathu” earned its place in the galaxy of immortal movie melodies of South India. T.R.Rajakumari was considered the Dream Girl of Tamil Films in the forties.

Here again, you might observe the dancing very laid back with its  slow pace, which characterized the films of early films.

Vasudhara Devi

Vasundara Devi (1917-1988), the mother of Vyjayanthimala, was a dancer in her own right as she starred & danced in notable films such as “Rishyasringar” and ‘Mangamma Sabatham”  (1943). 

Though she was a trained in Bharathanatyam dancer, the Director, Acharya of Mangamma Sabatham had used some of the hit songs Bollywood’s Carmen Miranda in the music of Rajeswara Rao in the film for this seductive song & dance sequence of Vasundhara Devi, as can be seen in this video.

Kumari Rukmini

Both the mother ‘Kumari Rukmini’ & grand mother ‘Nungambakkam Janaki’ of the talented actress Lakshmi of the 70’s cinema, were dancing stars in the early years of Tamil films.

“Kumari Rukmini” debuted as a heroine in AVM’s Sri Valli (1945). As per Randor Guy, AVM originally wanted to cast Vasundhara Devi as heroine but since she interfered with the choice of Heros, he replaced his choice with Rukmini with a fresh talent, T.R.Mahalingam, as her hero.

Here is the song & dance sequence in the song ‘Sinthai arinthu vaadi’ from Sri Valli.

                                                                                                                               ( to be continued)

Filmy Ripples : Exotic Child Stars of bygone era (Part 2)

By P V Gopalakrishnan

M.N.Rajam

M.N.Rajam, born 1940, started as a stage actor when she was hardly seven years and debuted into Film with ‘Nalla Thambi” (1949) in the role of an orphan girl. This movie was written by C.N.Annadurai, produced by N.S.Krishnan & directed by the duo Krishnan-Panju. And before her fifteen years of age she had acted as a minor in as many as fifteen films, some of which were Pavalakodi, En Thangai, Ratha Kanneer, Kanavane Kan Kanda deivam, Mangayar Thillakam, Needhipathi & Town Bus. Since then she had acted with many leading stars of Tamil screen.

Rajam got married to the Playback Singer A.L.Raghavan in 1960. They have a happy family with their children & grandchildren well qualified abroad.

 ‘Baby’ Sachu

Kumari Saraswathi aka Sachu (born 1948) was another notable child star of early Tamil Cinemas. ‘Maadi’ Lakshmi & Bay Saraswathi were dancing duo in the fifties, the former being Sachu’s elder sister, with her “Maadi’ title referring to their upstairs residence opposite to P.S.High School in Mylapore.

Sachu debuted in the film ‘Rani’ (1953), at her five, by director A C Sami.  Sachu acted as the junior Bhanumathi in this film. Her next movie was “Sorga Vaasal”. Then more notable films such as Maya Bazaar, Avvaiyar, Shyamala followed where she acted along with many legends. In Avvaiyar she was the baby Avvai. The chubby-faced Sachu went on to fill the vacuum left by Baby Saroja.

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Baby Sachu in Avaiyar PC: From the archives of TCRC

Her first film as heroine was “Veera Thirumagan” (1961) with Anandan, the father of Disco Shanthi. This movie, produced under AVM Banner, was directed by A.C.Trilokchandar, MSV-TKR scored music for this film & the duet ‘Roja malare Rajakumari’ from the film is evergreen to date.

Sachu had since acted in more than 500 films in five different languages and a few television serials. Her role pairing with the legend Nagesh in Sridhar directed ‘Kathalikka Neramillai’ was superb. After this, she did several comedienne roles along with major comedians such as Suruli Rajan, `Thengai’ Srinivasan, Cho, Thangavelu, M.R.R.Vasu and M.R.Radha in many films from 1964 to 1989. The late 1970s and 1980s saw her playing supporting roles in films Kamal & Rajani too. She moved on to the small screen in the 2000s and has starred in many serials & stage plays.

K.Balaje

The late Actor-Producer Balaje too entered films as a child star in Gemini’s Avvaiyar, donning the role of Lord Muruga. Balaje’s love for acting was right from his school days. In fact, Gemini Vasan identified him at one of his school dramas, before casting him in Avvaiyar.

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Balaje as Murugan in Avaiyar PC: unknown

K.Balaje, in his early life, also worked as Production Manager with Narasu Studio (owned by Narasu’s Coffee people) at Guindy, where he became acquainted with Gemini Ganesan, Savitri and Sivaji Ganesan. He also ran ‘Balaji Nadaga Mandram’, which served as a launch pad for many veterans including Nagesh. He founded Sujatha Cine Arts & Sujatha Recording Studio. He was well known for remaking blockbuster movies from Hindi. Balaji, whose daughter is married to Malayalam Super Star Mohanlal, passed away in 2009.

Sukumari

The late Sukumari was a veteran actor with great track record both In Tamil & Malayalam screen.  But she debuted as a child star at her ten in the AVM produced Tamil film ‘Oar Iravu’  (1951) as a dancer in a cameo role in the initial part of the song ‘Vasantha Mullaiyum malligaiyum’ in the music of R.Sudarsanam, as featured in the video below.

Sukumari was a cousin of Lalitha, Padmini & Ragini, popularly known as Travancore Sisters. She again appeared in ta dance sequence much later in the film “Pasa Malar’ in the song “Vaaray en thozhi varayo” as an youngster.  She also used to act in Cho’s plays in the sixties. Her very many stellar roles in Malayalam screen are ever memorable.

A versatile actor, she acted the with big names of the industry, including Mamooty, Mohanlal, Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan, MGR, Sivaji Ganesan, Nageswara Rao & Prem Nazir.

Wife of famous film director-producer late Bhimsingh, Sukumari received numerous accolades, including Kalaimamani Award, the Kerala State Award on four occasions, Padmashri & the National Award for the best supporting actress in 2011.

One can easily equate her to the late Thespian Manorama of Tamil screen. Sukumari succumbed to third degree burns in 2013.

E.V.Saroja

The dancing star E.V.Saroja debuted, as MGR’s kid sister, in the Film ‘En Thangai’ (1951), which was later remade in Hindi as ‘Choti Bahen’ by L.V.Prasad.

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An image from the film “En Thangai”

Further her performance in the films ‘Gulebakavali’, ‘Veera Thirumagan’ & ‘Madurai Veeran’ were notable ones. In all, she had a track record of acting in some forty films & dancing in about a hundred films. She learnt Bharathanatyam under the famous Guru Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai. She also choreographed dances. She was married to popular film producer and director T V Ramanna. E.V.Saroja passed away in 2006 at her seventy.

Daisy Irani

Daisy Irani, a Parsi girl child from Bombay film Industry was imported into Kodambakkam to play a crucial child role as a cute & smart boy in the Tamil Film “Yaar Paiyyan” (1957), screen-played by Sridhar, based from a well-known Bengali story, ‘Sekelar’. Daisy Irani, along with Gemini Ganesan & Savithri, contributed to the success of this film and Daisy Irani instantly became the darling child artiste of Tamil Cinema goers. “Yaar Paiyyan” was directed by noted filmmaker T.R. Raghunath, in the music score of S. Dakshinamurthi.

Yaar Payyan

Song Book of Yaar Paiyan PC: From the archives of TCRC

However, Daisy did not act in any other Tamil film as she got very busy with her Hindi Films at Bombay. In ‘Yaar Paiyan’ she had plum role along side even veteran Comedian N.S.Krishnan.

Born in a Parsi family of five children, as the little girl of just two-and-a-half years, Daisy Irani made her debut in a Movie as a male child. When Director Bipin Gupta was on the look out for a small boy to act in his movie, he spotted Daisy playing in her brother’s clothes and he mis­took her for a boy. Nevertheless it was a boy’s role. Much against the wishes of her conservative Parsi father who ran a Irani Café in Bombay, she was signed for her debut movie, duly fuelled by her mother. Then others like Satyen Bose & B.R. Chopra came forward and she became a hot property. As a ‘boy’ child star! Her first re­lease was the film Taksal.

After she had played a boy in films, they never let her become a girl, in Hindi films. She played a child artist role in movies like Hum Panchi Ek Dal Ke (National Award winner), Musafir, Sahara, Bandish, Ek Hi Raasta, Naya Daur, Jagte raho, Hum Panchhi Ek Dal Ke, Jailor, Qaidi No 911 and Do Ustad in the 1950s. She co-starred with great stars like Ashok Kumar, Balraj Sahni, Meena Kumari, Madhubala, Lalita Pawar and Nirupa Roy. Daisy became very busy doing three shifts of shooting. Travelling in plush cars to shoot she used to fall asleep, standing in the cars owing to fatigue.

Daisy Irani in an interview to Mumbai Mirror in 2012 recounted that she & her sister Honey Irani, having been thrusted into films, had no childhood, no education, as they couldn’t go to school. By the time they grew aware of their predicament, their childhood was gone. They made a lot of money, but got none of it, as their mother blew it all up. During her career as a child star, she said, the production staff used to physically abuse her by hitting & pinching if there was a need to cry in any sequence.

As Daisy Irani grew up the offers for cinema rolls as a child star stopped coming. Then she started doing stage shows.  By this time the movie. ‘Bachpan’ produced by her mother flopped incurring heavy in debts. The family lost their seven cars one by one.

At the insistence of her mother she acted as a heroine in Gujarati and Punjabi movies when she was hardly 14 years. However, to get a break in Hindi films was very hard, as she was known for her roles as a child star.

Then she fell in love with Director K.K.Shukla and got married to him. Following that she started her own successful Acting School in 1990.  Films such as Aakhen, Katti Patang, Talash, Arzoo are some of her works before she quit film scene.

Daisy’s sister, Honey Irani long gave up Cinema for marriage to Javed Akhtar. Daisy is the maternal aunt of famous film personalities such as Farah Khan, Sajid Khan, Zoya Akhtar and Farhan Akhtar.

….. and so, the legacy of Child Actors continues in our films.

 

 

Filmy Ripples : Exotic Child Stars of bygone era (Part 1)

By P V Gopalakrishnan

Child Artistes are not new to us as cine goers. Many mainstream Tamil film actors, such as Kamal Haasan, Meena, Sridevi, Shalini, Kushboo, Simbu, Hansika, and more debuted as child artistes. Besides, there are even more who were celebrities as children, but eventually moved away into oblivion. In our current context here, we will be looking at some of the ‘exotic’ child artistes who may not be even well known today but who, nevertheless, ruled the roost in the early ‘period’ films during the good old Black & White Talkie era.

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‘Kalathur Kannamma’ was the debut for Kamal Hassan as a child actor PC: From the archives of TCRC

Baby Saroja – An Icon of 1937

Tamil Cinema’s first ever child star was “Baby Saroja”, who debuted as a six year old in “Bala Yogini” (1937), directed by K.Subramanyam who also was her uncle. Baby Saroja was the daughter of K.Viswanathan (then owner of Chithra Talkies) who was the sibling of Director K.Subramanyam. Baby Saroja became an instant craze amongst the moviegoers, as it was the first time they were seeing a child actor in films.  She was then compared to the Hollywood’s child star, Shirley Temple. In ‘Balayogini’, Baby Saroja rendered a lullaby “Kanne Pappa”. This little super star also did a Bharatha Natyam number to a Tamil version of ‘Krishna Née Begane Baro,’ written by Papanasam Sivan. Such classical dance was a first on the screen in those times, which she learnt from Gowri Ammal, the last Devadasi of the Kapaleeswara temple, Mylapore.

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‘Baby’ Saroja on the cover of Cine Art Review 1937  PC: From the archives of TCRC

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‘Baby’ Saroja featured in Ananda Vikatan Deepavali Malar 1937  PC: From the archives of TCRC

As she took the movie audiences by storm, Baby Saroja was a household name, not only in Madras but also even amongst the Tamil speaking community of far off Singapore, Malaya & Ceylon. Many named their female newborns as ’Saroja’, after this kid wonder of talkies. Japan-printed colour picture cards of Baby Saroja were distributed among her fans. Commercial establishments used her picture & name on their products such as Soaps, Matchboxes etc (of course with no endorsement fee given to the child). There were even ‘Navarathri Kolu’ dolls named after Baby Saroja, some of which, I understand, can still be found with the antique dealers of Chettinad. Baby Saroja became so synonymous with Tamil folklore of those times, that Lakshmi Viswanathan (a cousin of ‘Baby Saroja’) wrote in her Article “Shirley Temple of India” in The Hindu dated 10th July 2013, that Tamil soldiers who were joining the army during World War II, apparently sang a song, “Baby Saroja, Naan warukku poren Née kavalai padade” (meaning: Baby Saroja I am going to War but you do not worry), taking leave of Baby Saroja.

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‘Baby’ Saroja Navratri golu dolls. PC: Sriram Venkatakrishnan

Baby Saroja further acted in two more movies, “ Thyaga Bhoomi” & “Kamadhenu” which were very popular. In the film ‘Kamadhenu’ (1941), Saroja’s Mother & Father too acted in lead roles. After that Baby Saroja hung her boots & did not act in more movies, but not without leaving an indelible mark on Tamil Screen of yester years. Indian cinema has seen many child stars. But none attracted the sobriquet: Shirley Temple of India,  “Baby Saroja’, now in her eighties, lives in Chennai as Saroja Ramamrutham.

‘Kumari’ Rukmini

Rukmini, daughter of Dancer ‘Nungambakkam’ Janaki (who did roles in films such as Seetha Vanavasam, & Lavangi) and mother of Actress Lakshmi, debuted as a child star at her very young age in the film “Harischandra” (1935), as young Lohidasan. This, in fact, was an accidental debut, in the sense, Nungambakkam Janaki, who also had a role in Harischandra, was staying in a hotel room at Calcutta adjacent to where T.P.Rajalakshmi, the film’s heroine, was put up for the shoot.  As the producers of the film were still on the look out for a child actor to feature as Lohidasan, T. P. Rajalakshmi suggested baby Rukmini for the role, which was accepted by Rukmini’s mother. And, thus, “Baby’ Rukmini entered films in a male role as a child actor!

Following that, Rukmini acted as a child star in in Hindi Film ‘Jalaja’ too alongside the veteran, T.P.Rajalakshmi. Later both Nungambakkam Janaki as well as her daughter Rukmini together featured in the movie ‘Baghya Leela”.

Director K.Subramanyam cast her in Balayogini (1937) where she got noticed better.

It was in AVM film, “Sri Valli” (1945), she became a heroine & the credit titles named her as “Kumari” Rukmini”. In this film, both T.R.Mahalingam & Rukmini sang in own voices. However, after the release of the film on feedback from various sources, AVM decided to remove the sound track of Rukmini from the songs she had rendered & had playback singer P.A.Periya Nayaki sing for her.

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PC: Unknown

Rukmini got married at her seventeen to Director Y.V.Rao, while the shoot of ‘Lavangi’ was in progress. through which they had a daughter, who became Actress Lakshmi. Later, the couple separated.

Later, between 1961 & 1975 Rukmini appeared in various Tamil such as Kappal ottiya Tamizhan, Idayathil Nee, Karnan, Vennira Aadai, Kandu konden Kandu konden movies in small roles.

Rukmini passed away in 2007.

S.Varalakshmi

Do you remember the song “singara kanne un thaen oorum” from the Block Buster Veera Pandiya Katta Bomman? Yes, the sweet voice belonged to S.Varalakshmi, the singing star. She too started her career as child artist in Balayogini (1937), when she was nine years old. She also acted in Seva Sadanam (1938) along with M.S.Subbulakshmi, followed by a role in Parasuraman (1940) opposite T.R.Mahalingam. But her major role was in Modern Theatre’s box office hit ‘Aayiram Thalai Vaangi Apoorva Chinthamani’ (1947).

In all, Ms. Varalakshmi acted in nearly four hundred films and worked with all the leading stars of Tamil and Telugu cinema, including M.G. Ramachandran, Sivaji Ganesan, Gemini Ganesan, Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth.  She also won critical acclaim as a talented singer, having started singing at her seven and has sung for over a hundred songs in various films.

She married film producer A.L.Srinivasan, the brother of Kannadasan. S.Varalakshmi breathed her last in 2009 at her 84.

T.R.Mahalingam

T.R.Mahalingam (TRM) started very young as a child in Theatre with his acting & singing, his self-professed role model being S.G.Kittappa. TRM was a Star in Special Dramas of those days & had been playing the role of a young Lord Krishna. When AVM planned the movie “Nandakumar’ they cast the fourteen year old T.R.Mahalingam for the very same role of a young Krishna. Thus Mahalingam debuted into Movies with AVM’s production ‘Nandakumar’ (1937).

TR Mahalingam

An ad for Nandakumar from Ananda Vikatan Deepavali Malar 1937 PC: From the archives of TCRC

Moving on, he acted in several films, which, however, did not do well. It was only with AVM’s ‘Sri Valli’ (1945) he got into fame, again. It was in this film that he sang his all-time famous high-pitched number ‘Kaayaadha Kaanagathe Nindrulaavum’ with an amazing artistry that is envied to this day. The film, which celebrated Golden Jubilee in many theatres, made T.R.M, a super star.

He successively acted in two more Mega Hit movies of AVM, released immediately after Indian Independence, namely, ‘Naam Iruvar’ (1947) & ‘Vedhala Ulagam’  (1948). In the former TRM captivated cine goers by his immaculate rendering of the patriotic songs of Mahakavi  Subramanya Bharathi. In fact, on a visit to the cinema hall in Madurai where Naam Iruvar was running, his dancing fans physically carried him. In “Vedhala Ulagam’ too there were Bharathi songs in the stellar voice of T.R.M. Mega hit film  ‘Gnana Soundari’ (1948) produced by Citadel Films followed next. Closely following the success of Gnana Soundari, Citadel produced ‘Idhaya Geetham‘ (1950) with TRM & T.R.Rajakumari, but the film did not do well. (To digress a bit, Citadel Studios was then located in Kilpauk, in the same place the RBI quarters stand today, on Poonamalli High Road, close to Ega Theatre.)

Then TRM produced & acted a string of movies himself such as Mohanasundaram, Chinnadurai, Machcha Rekhai, Theruppaadakan and Villaiyaattu Bommai.  While acting in ‘Mohanasundaram’ with S.Varalakshmi as his heroine he had a crush on her, but it did not materialize further. This totally crippled T.R.M financially & he was totally abandoned by those around him. But Kannadasan cast him in his own movie “Malaiyitta Mangai’ which gave TRM a respite in life. But this too was short lived. Soon TRM found himself out of place as the era of singer-actors became extinct. The new era cinema started looking different with new breed of actors & singers. TRM refused to accept this change but was still adamant about the tradition of actors singing their songs. He sporadically got roles in films like Thiruvilayaadal (1965), Agathiyar (1971), Thiruneelakhandar (1972) and Rajaraja Chozhan (1973) .His song ‘Isaithamizh Nee Seida’ in ‘Thiruvilaiyadal is a well remembered one.

Thus he went into oblivion & returned to his native, returning to Stage Plays. TRM passed away in 1978 at his 58. But even to date his enchanted voice is remembered fondly by many.

‘Kumari’ Kamala

“Kumari” Kamala, born in 1934 in a family of artists, debuted in the film ‘Valibar Sangam’ (1938) and later in ‘Ramanama Mahimai ‘(1939) as Baby Kamala, while she was only four years old. She also appeared as a child artist in Hindi films like ‘Kismet’ and ‘Ram Rajya’ in 1943. Those days this young danseuse was very popular in the movies.

Baby Kamala

‘Baby’ Kamal featured in Kalki Deepavali Malar 1942 PC: From the archives of TCRC

Kamala is a noted Bharatnatyam dancer, though she later learnt Kathak & Hindustani music. She had acted in more than a hundred films in Tamil, Hindi, Telugu and Kannada. Kumari. She appeared in Jagathalaprathapan (1944) performing the ‘Pambu’ Dance. In her next film, ‘Sri Valli’ (1945), she played a double role. Her film ‘Nam Iruvar’, based on Bharatnatyam theme, made a great impact on audience. In 1953, Kamala performed during her coronation festivities of Queen Elizabeth II.

She was briefly married to cartoonist R. K. Laxman. In 1980, Kamala moved to New York permanently where she started a dance school, “Shri Bharatha Kamalalaya” in Long Island.

                                                                                                                                  (To be continued)

 

Major Chandrakanth : From Stage to Celluloid

By Karthik Bhatt

Major Chandrakanth

Song book of Major Chandrakanth PC: From the archives of TCRC

‘Major’ Sundarrajan was one of Tamil cinema’s most well-known character actors.  His dialogue delivery which mixed English and Tamil phrases was sophisticated and unique and rather unsurprisingly, he was the first choice when it came to portraying characters such as a rich father. For someone with no connection to the armed forces whatsoever (he was employed with the Telephones Department), his identity as ‘Major’ Sundarrajan was came about thanks to Major Chandrakanth, the successful stage play and movie.

Tamil cinema over the years has seen many directors who can be considered trendsetters. One of the biggest names in the list is that of Dadasaheb Phalke awardee, late Kailasam Balachander. Born in Nannilam in 1930, Balachander developed a keen interest in Tamil theatre at a young age and as a boy used to write, act and direct small skits in his village. He moved to Madras around 1949-50 after graduating from the Annamalai University and a brief stint as a teacher and joined the Accountant General’s office. It was around this time that the amateur theatre movement, which would see its heydays in the 1960s and 1970s had started to take roots, with the likes of United Amateur Artistes, Triplicane Fine Arts Club, Mylapore Fine Arts and Indian National Artistes (run by VS Raghavan) regularly performing to packed audiences. Added to this were the recreation clubs of the various Government and private sector offices. The Accountant General’s office had an active recreation club and soon K Balachander started becoming part of the theatre circuit, writing and acting plays.

‘Major’ Chandrakanth was born in the Accountant General’s office. A new Accountant General from Bengal had taken charge in Madras and a function had been organised to welcome him. The mantle of writing a play to be staged on the occasion fell on K Balachander, who decided that it had to be in English to ensure that the Accountant General understood the play. The story, titled “Courage of Conviction” revolved around a blind Major. K Balachander played the role of the protagonist and received great appreciation for his authentic portrayal of a blind man’s mannerisms.

K Balachander decided to expand the play into a full length script for Ragini Recreations, the troupe that had been formed by his friend PR Govindarajan (later Kalakendra Govindarajan) in 1958. By this time he had developed close friendships with people such as S.Raman (later more famously known as ‘Nair’ Raman), Harikrishnan, ISR and Venky. They were an integral part of the plays staged by the troupe. Over the next few years, the troupe would attract the likes of Nagesh, Major Sundarrajan and Sowcar Janaki, making it one of the most formidable ones on the amateur theatre circuit.

The story of ‘Major’ Chandrakanth dealt with an honest and morally upright blind army officer who gives asylum to a murderer on the run from the police for having killed a person in a fit of rage. The victim had been his sister’s lover, who had cheated her on promise of marriage leading to her suicide unable to bear the shame. On the case to find the murderer is the Major’s elder son, a police officer. It then comes to light that the person who had been murdered was the Major’s younger son and that both the Major and the murderer were unaware of each other’s identity for a long time. The story ended with the officer arresting the murderer and the Major for having harboured a criminal.

The role of the Major was played by Sundarrajan, who was then performing small roles with the Triplicane Fine Arts, while that of the elder son was played by Venky. Govindarajan donned the role of the younger son. Interestingly, the character of the sister was an invisible one with only references to her being made onstage and was developed into a full length role only in the movie, while the brother’s character was played by Gokulnath. The play was a stupendous success and before long, it had been adapted into a movie. The adaptation was in Hindi, the movie Oonche Log. Produced by M/s Chitrakala Films and directed by Phani Majumdar, it won the Second Prize in the Hindi movies category at the 13th National Film Awards for the year 1965. It was Feroz Khan’s first major hit, where he held his own against veterans such as Ashok Kumar (who played the Major) and Raaj Kumar. The Tamil version of the movie was produced by AVM Productions and came out the following year. Directed by K Balachander himself, the movie was a stupendous hit.

The play led to two other christenings. Venky, who was then employed in the American Consulate was named Srikanth after the character by K Balachander. He would go on to feature in several other plays and movies by Balachander and become a popular actor in the 1960s and 1970s. A decade or so later, Balachander gave the name of the younger son’s character to a person who today is the country’s biggest superstar, Rajinikanth.

Filmy Ripples: Moonlit Movies (Part 2)

By P.V.Gopalakrishnan

4) Moon in ‘Happy hour’: “Aaha inba nilavinile” from ‘Maya Bazaar’ (1957)

Maya Bazaar

Song book of Maya Bazaar PC: From the archives of TCRC

“Aaha inba nilavinile” was a lilting number from the Magnum Opus, ‘Maya Bazaar’ in the music of Ghantasala, filmed on Savitri as Vatsala & Gemini Ganesan as Abhimanyu, as they row their decorated boat in the serene waters of Ennore lake. This scene is highlighted by blissful music of Ghantasala (duet rendered by P.Leela & Ghantasala) & the raving cinematography of Marcus Bartley.

This evergreen song was actually shot by him at noon on Ennore lake and you can see, with the limited technology of those times, how they could create the illusion of pleasing moonlight!

The first mythological film produced by their studio, Maya bazaar marked a milestone for Nagi Reddy and Chakrapani. In addition to the technical crew, 400 studio workers – including light men, carpenters, and painters – participated in the development of the film. The film is considered a landmark cinema, with praise for its cast and technical aspects, despite the limitations of technology at the time.

5) Moon as an Arbitrator: ‘Varayo vennilave” from ‘Missiyamma’ (1955)

Another unique situation where both the hero & heroine address their complaints to the supreme Moon, thereby letting their thoughts known to each other without direct interaction has been picturised on the voices of A.M.Raja & P.Leela in Vijaya Productions’ “Missiyamma’.

The lead pair of this blockbuster constituted Savithri & Gemini Ganesh. Originally the female lead was to be done by Bhanumathi with whom some shoot was done. But owing to some misunderstanding the producers replaced her with Savithri. A trivia associated with this movie, as per Mr.Narasimham in his Article in The Hindu of October 2014, goes like this: “While watching the Missiyamma at Roxy theatre in Madras in 1955, a woman gave birth to a baby girl in the theatre. The mother and child were rushed to the hospital, where the baby was named Missiyamma by her parents.”

6) Moon as a spinster sees it:  ‘Amudhai pozhiyum nilave’ in ‘Thangamalai Ragasiyam’ (1957)

This beautiful solo, in the fresh & pristine voice of P.Suseela, was composed by T.G.Lingappa for the film ‘Thangamalai Ragasiyam’ & picturised on the pretty Jamuna as she wonders as to why the Moon could not descend & come proximate to her, as she sings by the studio pond.

This film had Sivaji Ganesan playing a Tarzan like role, growing up as a ferocious caveman till he meets the petite Jamuna, who turns him into civility.

7) Moon in separation times : “Idhaya vaanin udaya nilave” from “Vanjikottai Valiban’ (1958)

This is a pathos number, nevertheless very melodious, whereby both the separated heroine & hero sing to the Moon declaring their separation vows. Amazing music composition by Vedha who has deployed Vibrafone, Piano, Violins & Flute to touching effect on the listeners’ soul.

The lyrics of the subject song were of Vindhan.

8) Moon in times of ecstasy: “Aghaya veethiyil azhagana vennila” from ‘Manjal Magimai’ (1959)

This is a joyous situation where both the Hero & Heroine are together & are enjoying the beauty of a full moon . The voices were P.Suseela & Ghantasala & the music score was by Master Venu. The song features Pipofone & Univox organ which is the forefather of the modern synthesizers.

9) Moon in lighter moments: “Nilavum malarum paduthu” from “Then Nilavu’ (1960)

A boat ride by Gemini Ganesan & Vyjayanthimala in the serene waters of Dal lake in Kashmir, lip-syncing to a duet voiced by A.M Raja & P.Suseela, features in this visual. The song refers to the Moon & the Flower in concert to describe the pair’s romantic overture, as the serene tune by the Music Director A.M.Raja is soothing with Hawaiian-Guitar notes & serenading violins.

10) Moon’s dilemma: “Athi kaay kaay..kaay” from ‘Bale Pandiya’ (1962)

This Moon scene features two pairs of lovers appealing individually to the Moon whereby each pair urges that the Moon shines on the other person. This is another unique situation with a tinge of Lucknowi tradition of “pehle aap”!  Again, a studio moon but this time meeting the pairs involved, as they plead her to shine on the other. Quite a quandary for the Moon as to whereupon to shine, indeed!

The lyrics of this song is a great master piece by the legend Kannadasan, as the names of fruits & vegetables have cleverly been used in the lyrics to convey different interpretations through the song.

11) Moon as witness to pathos:  “Nilave ennidam nerungathe” from ‘Ramu’ (1966)

A beautiful composition in the Raga Bagheshri, this song has become an iconic one. Filmed in a sequence where the hero warns the Moon not to near him as he was in a dilapidated state of mind. This situation is in complete contrary to what the heroine of ‘Thangamalai Rahasiyam’ desired, where she invited the Moon to come proximate to her! This shows that the Moon was omnipresent in every unique situation like love, courtship, separation, dispute resolution, frustration and what not, in various movies.

This song, from the film ‘Ramu’ music scored by MSV, is a cult song, liked by all owing to its classical base as well as impeccable rendering by P.B.Srinivas in his sonorous voice timbre.  Incidentally, this was also the song that SPB sang before MSV when he was first auditioned him! By the by, this writer came across an Article, ”The song and its sweep”,  by Rangnath Nandyal in The Hindu dated 20.6.13 that this song was composed by Telugu Composer Pendyala for the Telugu version of the film.

12) Moon listening to a decree: “Paal polave vaan meedhile” from ‘Uyarntha manithan’ (1968)

In this song song “Paal Polave”, the picturisation is about a Nayika who is suffering solitude due to her Nayaka being away & thereby ordaining the Moon to vacate seat & return the next day, when she would be united with her love.  This sequence has been borrowed from early Tamil literature. Another unique occasion for a Moon song, indeed!

The filming of this song sequence, originally scheduled to be shot at Kodaikanal, had to be called off due to weather conditions. However, Art Director, A. K. Sekhar, constructed a special set at AVM studios, that mimicked the misty ambience of Kodaikanal, and the song was picturised in this set.

This was an award winning song as it won the National Film Award for Best Female Playback Singer for P. Susheela, making it the first Tamil film to win a National Award under that category.

‘Uyarndha manithan’ was produced by A. V. Meiyappan under AVM Productions and had the legend Sivaji Ganesan (his 125th movie) and Sowcar Janaki in the lead roles. The film was written by Javar Seetharaman, based on Bengali fim ‘Uttar Purush’ and directed by the noted duo Krishnan–Panju, who had directed over fifty films in South Indian languages and Hindi.

We have seen, as detailed above, as to how the Tamil screen was obsessed with Moon in various emotive scenes. And they had their magic effect with alluring songs that accompanied them on screen. But times have changed & the Moon has disappeared from the silver screens, only to occasionally show itself up in movies, in rarity!

Filmy Ripples : Movie Studios (Part 2)

By P.V.Gopalakrishnan

I have seen from the Kodambakkam High Road side, the mammoth sets put up within Gemini Studios, about the same place where today Park Hotel stands, for ‘Bhama Vijayam’. It was a two-story ‘building’ where the story unfolded. Similarly I have seen, from outside, a large Big Top of a Circus being put up in AVM for ‘Parakkum Paavai’.

All these studios were virtual dreamlands where the celluloid industry made its ware. There was an element of fascination & grandeur about them. The studios were products of necessity as films could be made only in controlled & capsuled spaces, where only production was technically possible. In the black-and-white era of those days when the film ran at slow speed requiring abundant light, the Director and Cinematographer had to exercise extraordinary judgment & vivid imagination.

A busy film studio was a beehive of activities as technicians, set property guys, lighting equipment handlers all moving about in feverish activity, even as the artistes applied grease to their face in preparation for their day’s shoot in humble green rooms, there being no private Caravans owned by any big star then.

cine-art-review-1937

Image from Cine Art Review Magazine 1937. PC: From the archives of TCRC

In the humble recording theatres in these studios, dating back to pre-stereo era, many a musician huddled up in small recording rooms, amidst running power & audio cables, to produce the ever charming film music that we adore to date. Veteran Music Directors such as Emani Sankara Sastry, Parthasarathy, C.R.Subburaman, S.M.Subbiah Naidu, T.G.Lingappa, Sudarshanam, G.Ramanathan, T.R.Pappa, S.V.Venkataraman, S.Rajeswara Rao, Parur Sundaram Iyer,  K.V.Mahadevan, MSV-TKR, S.Dakshinamurthy & Pandurangan swayed their baton in these Studios in collaboration with legendary lyricists like Papanasam Sivan, Kothamangalam Subbu, Thanjai Ramaiahdas, and Ku.Ma.Balasubramanyam.

While recording ‘Engey Nimmathi’ song for Puthiya Paravai, MSV-TKR team had to accommodate the large number of spill over musicians on to the outside lawns. In this song the Music Directors used huge musical ensemble comprising instruments such as Harp, Violins, Cello, Bass, Vibrofone, Bongos, Kettle Drums, Flutes, Castanet, Trumpets, Tuba, Trombone, Clarinet & Mandolin.

The early films of Black & White era too had brief spells of outdoor shoots. But sets were more predominant as a rule owing to limitations.

Gradually the trend was increasingly towards outdoor shoots, away from the confines of the mighty studios, as evidenced by Kathalikka Neramillai (1964). Most of the outdoor locales of this iconic wholesome comedy were shot at Azhiyar Reservoir Dam, some sixty five kilo meters away from Coimbatore, located in the picturesque foothills of Valparai, in the Anamalai Hills of the Western Ghats.

Similarly, Karnan was notably the first Tamil film to be shot extensively in locales at Jaipur & Kurukshetra. The Art Director Ganga of Karnan got huge chariots made in Chennai and shipped them to Kurukshetra, where the war sequences were filmed in out door. With Central Government’s permission, real cavalry and infantry men from the Indian Army were deployed in the battles scenes at Kurukshetra.

Lobby Card of Karnan (1964) .Image courtesy The Cinema Resource Centre.

A lobby card  from the film Karnan featuring the chariot PC: From the archives of TCRC

The cameras have since become smarter and often airborne on drones. The Information Era has changed the very way films are made. Today, most of these mighty shooting spots called Studios have disappeared one by one, as Technology has made a paradigm shift in film making, which tendered  those mammoth sized studios redundant. The sophisticated equipment and availability of alternative resources enable film makers to shoot at any place of their choice. Thus the brick ‘n’ mortar studios of huge sizes lost their popularity.

In contrast, today the films are made about everywhere, ranging from the rural hamlets to urban slums, from deserts to highways, from cricket pitches to Pizzeria.

Several film studios in Chennai have downed their shutters and their vast areas have turned over to real-estate development. Many got transformed into hospitals, hotels, multiplexes, colleges, wedding halls and the like.

Similarly, the Bombay’s landmark studios such as RK, Mehboob, Filmistan & Famous too have lost their sheen.

In fact, by 1970s that filmmakers slowly ventured out of the studios of Kodambakkam, to shoot in outdoors and actual locales, abandoning the sets. The bougainvillea creepers, the ceiling dropped pigeons, ornate fountains of the make-believe sets were gone, with ‘as-a-matter-of-fact’ outdoor shoots setting in. A huge tribe of set making carpenters, painters, decorators, prop suppliers were all gone with the sets. These were the very people who feasted cine-goers with the celebrated visuals of the black & white era with their enormous sets. They made us relish the clever make over to the mythology and historical subjects of films. Who could forget the sets of Chandralekha or Avvaiyar? Even much later, the sets of Veera Pandiya Kattabomman, Karnan and the like provided us the much of visual enchantment.

avvayar1

A photograph from the film Avvaiyar. PC: From the archives of TCRC

The Gemini twins, in their ‘langoti’s, blowing the bugle at the corner entrance of erstwhile Gemini Studios still haunt us, by their sheer absence there anymore.

But change is unchangeable!