From Book to Celluloid : Valli Thirumanam

By Sugeeth Krishnamoorthy

Introduction: Of thousands of mythological stories passed on to us today by our ancestors, possibly no other story could have a more direct and closer bearing to us now than the story of Lord Muruga—who is the Native God of the ancient Tamil people. Valli Thirumanam tells the story of how Valli, a tribal girl, came to be Lord Murugan’s second wife. This story has been passed on orally through storytelling and staged plays, long before the print medium arrived. Even today, Valli Thirumanam continues to be one of the most popular plays in rural India, although, like most contemporary stages of its nature, they unfortunately smack of vulgarity,  rendering the ‘Bhakthi’ rather ineffective. Though, only a century ago, rural stage drama was an effective means for disseminating ‘Bhakthi’ propaganda and reaching out to the masses. it has sadly declined now.

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Valli Thirumanam by Shankardas Swamigal PC: unknown

Given its huge reach and its evolution over time, the story of Valli Thirumanam has undergone some minor changes here and there, the central theme—the challenges faced by Lord Muruga during his courtship of Valli—have been universally retained.

The play was also published in the literary form as well, and article reviews one such adaptation by Pammal Sammandha Mudaliar, for reference[1]. This play was published under the title ‘Valli Manam’ in the late 1930s. The second edition of this book was published in the year 1940. [2]

Story Synopsis : Nambirajan the tribal chief, fails to send Valli, his beautiful duaghter,  tend to the millet crops. The customary practice of the tribe is to send girls of marriageable age to look after and keep vigil on the crop, a portion of whose harvest is to be offered to Lord Subramanyam. The failure of tribal chief to carry out this duty is believed (by the Priest) to anger the Lord, which causes all crop to fail subsequently. Nambirajan, realising his folly, orders Valli, to leave for the forest immediately, taking her friend along. Valli requests Nambirajan to send the youngest of her elder brothers, ‘Kutti Anna’,along as well and the chief agrees. Kutti Anna, as we infer from the play, is possibly not of sound mind, and the playwright has modified this character’s dialogues[3] to infuse humour in the play.

During her sojourn, Lord Murugan appears in Valli’s dream and becomes the object of her affections. Firm in her love for him, she refuses to entertain other suitors. Lord Naradar who has come to earth, chances to hear a sweet voice and is surprised to discover that it belongs to a lovely girl albeit from the tribal community.[4] On enquiring he comes to know that Valli was born of noble birth to a deer that abandoned her in a tangle of creepers[5] immediately after birth. Nambirajan, who already had seven sons found her amidst the bushes and adoped her. In the past, Lord Murugan had helped Naradar, and so, as a token of gratitude, Naradar decides to offer Valli as a bride to the Lord as Guru Dakshina. When he reveals his plans to Valli, he is shocked at her downright refusal and at her claims of having fallen in love with a man who appeared in her dreams. Naradar vows to get Valli married to Murugan. Knowing that Murugan, already married to Deivanai (also proposed by him) would be alarmed at this second proposal, Narada goes armed with the plea that he has already taken a vow or sabatham and that it must be seen through. He prevails upon  Murugan to help him complete his sabatham, even if that means taking Valli against her own will.

To do so, Murugan then takes the avatar of a tribal hunter, who tries to woo Valli in the forest. When she doesn’t relent, he becomes a magic tree, and still later a lecherous old man whose every advance and proposal of marriage is rebuffed. Valli remains set in her adorations. praying to her Lord during every tribulation to protect her.

In the face of this failure, Lord Murugan seeks the blessing of his brother Vinayagar, hoping that this may help him achieve success. Assuming the guise of the ‘old man’ again, he invokes his brother who appears in the form of a wild rampaging elephant in the forests where Valli tends to her crop. Chased by the elephant, she calls out in fear to the Old Man. He promises to help on the condition that she marries him, to which she agrees, in desperation. Happy at having succeeded in his mission, he calls off the elephant (his brother), which vanishes.

When he seeks the reward of marriage, Valli, who has come out of her fear-crazed state,  refuses again. Defeated yet again, but not willing to give up yet, he goes against the rules of the game and recalls his brother in the form of the elephant, asking him to trouble her.

Vexed and helpless, Valli calls out to Lord Murugan for protection. Murugan, who can no longer ignore the earnest pleas of the unswervingly loyal Valli, makes the elephant, the ‘old man’ and the tree disappear and appears in their place, promising to take her away and marry her.

When Valli is chased by the Wild Elephant, she agrees to marry, and Murugan sends back the Elephant. She later refuses to marry him. This cannot happen, since Valli has given her word and promises could not be broken in Hindu mythology. So, here lies the catch.

When chased by the Wild Elephant, Valli says this out of fear – ‘Okay, I will marry’ ( She does not specify who to the ‘Old Man’, she only said that ‘she will marry’, and in her heart, she promises to marry only Lord Murugan). The happy old man sends back the elephant.

Later, when the Old man seeks her hand in marriage, she now says, I said ‘Okay, I will marry’ but did not say ‘Okay, I will marry you’.

So, technically, Valli has not broken her promise to the old man. It was the old man, who was fooled

When Valli seeks forgiveness for insulting the ‘hunter’ and the ‘old man’, he forgives her and sends her home. But he is not yet done with his trickery.

Taking another disguise, he goes to her father, the Tribal Chief, and warns of the schemes of a thief to kidnap his daughter. The Chief dispatches his sons to keep vigil. However, Murugan manages to steal into the house unnoticed (by the sleeping brothers) and takes off with Valli to Kazhagu Malai, setting the king and the brothers on a chase. Eventually, Murugan reveals himself to the family.

The family seeks his forgiveness, but Murugan refuses. He says that he is now the ‘son-in-law’ of the family and cannot forgive them, but will still be magnanimous enough of give them his blessings. Valli and Murugan are then married and live happily ever after.

Analysis : The story gives us elements of understanding of our own history. At some point in time, may be thousands of years ago, our ancestors were migrants. They were tribals and the concrete jungles in which we live today, were once agricultural lands and forests. In the play, we understand large forest lands are slowly being transformed into agricultural lands where ‘Thinai’ (millets) are grown. We surmise that lands were part of the forests as characters in the play mention the sight of wild animals like tigers, bears and wild elephants.[6]

The drama also reinforces the long accepted practice of polygamy. The happenings in this drama beg the questions: How could Lord Murugan, who was already married, accept another woman in his life? Why should Valli waive her rights to conjugal exclusivity, and share them with Deivanai? In the play, there is little attention given to Deivanai, and her reaction to this arrangement is only to be assumed as being favourable (as suggested by the fact that they all live together).[7] Naradar is not free of blame either, letting his ego overcome the fact that Lord Murugan was already married to a bride brought by him

The other aspect that is very clearly visible throughout the drama is the ‘male dominated society’ of its time. Murugan, Naradar, Vinayagar[8] are al male chauvinists at some level, and the women are accepting and submissive.

For instance, Valli seeks forgiveness to Lord Murugan, for shouting at his various avatars (the hunter, the tree and the old man), and Murugan graciously agrees to forgive her. But common sense says that it was in fact Murugan’s fault in the mater, and Valli was entirely innocent as she had no idea that it was her Lord Murugan taunting her. Logically, shouldn’t Murugan have sought Valli’s forgiveness?

This leads to the other interesting question. Why then, did Lord Murugan have to take various avatars to conquer Valli, and more importantly, taunt and frustrate her at various points? When he knew that Valli desired him, all that he needed to do was to go to her in his original form. Obviously, if that was so simple, there would be no story to begin with, so the author offers an explanation, which appears logical on the face of it:

Valli desires to marry Lord Murugan and tells Lord Naradar that she would marry only the man of her dreams. Now Murugan has to fulfill this wish of Valli. But Naradar, on being insulted by Valli’s outright rejection of his proposed (but undisclosed) suitor, vows to avenge his defeat. Without knowing who was actually inside Valli’s heart, he swore that Valli would end up marrying Lord Murugan and no one else. So, he goes to Lord Murugan and tells him that there is someone else in Valli’s heart, but he should conquer and marry her, come what may.[9] So, Lord Murugan, in order to appease both his devotees, has to play a balancing act wherein he has to take on various guises to taunt Valli (to humour Narada), but finally appears as himself (the only guise Valli recognises) to ask for Valli’s hand in marriage. He thereby fulfills the wishes of both Valli and Naradar making it a win-win situation for them.

Scientific Approach Analysis : “Valli Thirumanam’ can also be explained through a more scientific approach. By the standards of her time, Valli was definitely a ‘hot headed’ and  independent woman, who insisted on choosing her own life partner. It was natural therefore that the ablest of the opposite sex would fight it out and the winner would be the one chosen to produce through marriage the finest (healthiest) offspring. So, there is the need for an alpha-male in this context. Here, Lord Murugan plays that role.

The alpha-male ( Lord Murugan) must seduce and subdue ‘unyielding, stubborn, and egoistical’ female ( Valli) and win her over, all the while demonstrating his superior prowess through song, lyricality, poetics and histrionics, and heroism to convey his (physiological and reproductive) superiority as a suitor

Film Versions : Valli Thirumanam has been adapted many times to the film format. The iconic R.Natraja Mudaliar made the play a silent film in the early 1920s. It was made into a ‘Talkie’ in the year 1933. It was made as a film in the 60s, as well, but for this analysis, we chose the film ‘Sri Valli’ made by A.V. Meiyappan in the year 1945. Although the film bears a slightly different name, the core elements of the film are the same.

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Valli Thirumanam (1933) an ad from The Indian Express archives

T.R. Mahalingam plays the lead role of Lord Muruga, while the role of Valli is played by Kumari Rukmini[10]. The film’s script retains basic elements of the legendary script.

In the film, the hunting party of the tribal chief finds an abandoned baby girl. The chief picks up the girl and adopts her. The girl grows up into a charming maiden, who is subsequently sent to the Thinaipunam[11] —to tend to the chief’s crop —along with her friend and her youngest, elder brother ‘Kutti Anna’ ( also called ‘Killi’ in the film version.) This role was essayed by the legendary comedy actor T.R. Ramachandran, whose clever emoting and body language, suited the role ( of a man of stunted emotional and intellectual development) to a T.

The aspects of Lord Naradar meeting Valli, the subsequent challenges, Lord Murugan’s avatars as the hunter, the  magic tree and the lecherous old man have more or less been retained in the corresponding scenes of the film version. The film provides additional weightage to the scene where Valliis been chased by the wild elephant—a classic AVM company marketing strategy. There are minor changes to the script. For example, in the scenes where the Chief sees Valli with another man, feels ashamed and puts her in prison; where Lord Murugan rescues her, slays his pursuers (using his divine powers), and then revives them upon Valli’s earnest appeals; and where the chief then humbly requests Lord Murugan to accept his daughter in marriage, which Lord Murugan does.

The movie ends with the marriage of Murugan to Valli  and a still frame of Murugan with Valli and Deivanai, on either side.

Additional Commercial Elements in Film :

  1. Songs and Aesthetics: A film made on this scale should naturally have additional filler elements, unlike a stage play. The songs rendered by the lead pairs were great hits. In fact, the ‘Meiyyadha maan’ song is very popular even today. [12] The ‘Mayile Thoothu Sellaiyo’ song is also quite pleasant to hear. The scenes with the Thinaipunam set in a large tract of forest land is convincing and aesthetically pleasing as the studio sets have been designed to simulate large swathes of open land, with accents such as birds, like the peacock, which elevates it even further. Fortunately for us, a good print of this film has survived, the viewing of which will surely help us appreciate the film better.
  2. Comedy Track: In the original play, ‘Kutti Annan’ has no romantic interest, but in the film version, there is an attempt to create a love interest for him, in the form of Valli’s friend who is part of her entourage. Also part of this story line are the almost invariable comedy couple fixtures of T.R. Mathuram and N.S. Krishnan. Subamma (T.R.Mathuram) plays the role of a sanskaari woman who lives in wait for her athai paiyan[13], despite knowing that he is in love with Valli. Later, he realises his folly and with the help of Lord Muruga, he marries Subamma.
  3. Bharathanatyam: The late ‘30s saw a political and cultural movement strongly in favour of reviving Bharatanatyam[14]. Baby Kamala[15] had come to become the symbol of this revival in film. So, Bharatanatyam was used in many films, mainly as an additional commercial element, even if it had no logical bearing to the original script of the film. In this film, Kamala plays the role of the younger Valli, who performs Bharatanatyam to a song in the film,[16] although how a girl born and bred in a tribal community with no exposure to the art could do so, obviously defies logic.

Valli’s characterisation in the film: Consistent with that in the play, Valli’s portrayal is that of an  egoistic, dominant and an arrogant female in the film. In fact, she even calls the Vedan (Hunter) ‘da’ in retaliation when he called her ‘di’. Valli’s nature is accentuated by using Subamma’s polar opposite character as a foil. Subamma is very submissive, and the suggestive lyrics that she sings out also tells us about her, when she calls out to her Machaan (N.S.Krishnan) and tells him “I will even behave like a prostitute ( if need be) and enhance your pleasure”[17]. So possibly, the question being posed in the perspective of a male (chauvinist) of the time could have been, “if Subamma could be like this, why should Valli be like that?”, thereby adding more weight to Valli’s character in the film.

The film presents a great opportunity for us to understand various facets of life, not only of our own past, but of early Tamil cinema, of society and its thinchief. Since, the copyright of the film has possibly expired, the film can be seen on public access websites like YouTube. [18]

REFERENCES:

[1] Another version of ‘Valli Thirumanam’ available on the Internet has been penned by the legendary playwright— Sankaradas Swamigal. This version, along with the original song couplets which were played on stage, can be downloaded from the Tamil Heritage Foundation website: http://www.tamilheritage.org/old/text/ebook/ebook.html

[2] The book is available for free download on the ‘Internet Archive’, as the copyright of the book has likelu expired.

[3] While all the characters speak in Literature based Tamil, Kutti Anna speaks in Local Madras Bashai. “Annathai’ instead of ‘Anna’ for example. The character has now been replaced on stage by a dedicated buffoon.

[4] Elements of Racism – Naradar cannot believe that a girl from the Tribal community look so divine and have such a sweet voice.

[5] Valli Kodi (creeper)

– Hence, she was named Valli.

[6] Valli was once chased by a wild elephant, and ever since was in fear of wild elephants. Lord Murugan uses the knowledge of her fear to his advantage while seeking her marriage.

[7] Through an equivalent form of ‘divorce’ or otherwise.

[8] Who agrees to come in the form of a wild elephant and frighten Valli.

[9] Again, another example of male chauvinism— Naradar felt that upholding his vow of marrying Valli to Murugan, to preserve his ego, was more important than Valli’s desire to marry someone of her own choice.

[10] Actress Lakshmi’s mother.

[11] Forest Lands, where Thinai ( Millet) was grown.

[12] This song has even been satirised in local TV Programs that offer stand-up comedy.

[13] First Maternal cousin— It is customary for maternal cousins to marry amongst themselves in Tamilnadu.

[14] The political movement was launched against Devadasi women, who had allegedly added erotic elements to a traditionally pure dance form and polluted it. The advocates of the Anti-Nautch movement wanted to bring the Devadasi girls to mainstream society and purify and restore the dance as a symbol of culture and Bhakti. This has been described in the ‘Sevasadanam’ article.

[15] Baby Kamala was a child prodigy and her Bharatanatyam skills were used extensively.

[16] The older Valli ( Kumari Rukmini) also performs Bharathanatyam in this film.

[17] The phrase Daasiyai Pol Nadandhu Inbam Kooduven in the song ‘Amman Maganai Nee Aati Vekira’ is a typical male chauvinistic song.

[18]Film Viewing Link—https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5oCVp7BDvkM

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 : When Film Stars are from the Fauna (Part 2)

By P.V Gopalakrishnan

Elephants have been used as attraction seekers in Tamil Cinema ever since a pachyderm called ‘Chandru’ played heroine, singing star Thavamani Devi’s (from Ceylon) accomplice in ‘Vana Mohini’ (1941). In this film, a rehash of a Hollywood ‘jungle’ movie , the story, screenplay and direction were by Hindi film actor and Director Bhagwan. The elephant virtually stole the hearts of all as he indulged in many tricks.

200px-Vanamohini1941

Vanamohini PC: unknown

‘Sri Valli’ (1945), produced by AVM featured the elephant named Krishnan Kutty, sourced specially from South Perinkulam in Kerala, which is, by the by, also the village of this writer.

According to the well-known writer & film historian Theodore Bhaskaran The Gemini Studios resembled an elephant camp in 1948 while the Magnum Opus ‘Chandralekha’ was in production, as many elephants were in residence in the studio premises. He goes on to say “Two well known circus companies, Kamala Circus and Parasuram Lion Circus, camped in the Gemini Studio compound for shooting a film. At least one of them changed its name into Gemini Circus after the shooting of the film Chandralekha (1948) that Vasan was then engaged in, and in which the circus elephants were featured.”

In Gemini’s Avvaiyar (1953), a large herd of elephants were needed for a battle scene in the film and Vasan’s search ended in an elephant camp near Vayanad at Manandhavadi, which featured in the spectacular scene in which stampeding elephants attack a Fortress.

In the MGR starred ‘Gulebakavali’ (1955), there was a much publicized scene of MGR fighting with a live Tiger. However, there is no mention of the tiger’s name in its credit titles.

Now, I want to dwell in detail about exotic animal specie that featured in a Chennai produced Hindi Movie as early of the fifties.

Mr. S. S. Vasan of Gemini Studios who had produced grand movies praised as Magnum Opus made a Hindi movie in the fifties, starring Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand & Bina Rai. After shooting quite a footage of the film, when Vasan reviewed the same he felt an immense need to introduce an animal character in the film, which he felt was otherwise dull. After all, Vasan has had the benefit of featuring a bunch of elephants in his immediately preceding grand Tamil film ‘Avvaiyar’, much to the movie’s box office advantage.

Someone in his team suggested a monkey, which sparked an idea in Vasan’s industrious mind.  In those times, Chimps were often featured in many movies & TV Shows with ample fan following in the USA. One of such Chimpanzees, called Zippy was a star of his own right there. He is believed to have earned about USD 55k per month through his busy engagements in TV Shows, Night Clubs & other special events.

Living up to his reputation as India’s ‘Cecil B. DeMille’, the movie mogul, this time, turned his sights West and struck a deal to fly in Zippy, the Chimp, at a phenomenal price. Before the month was over, the chimp from Hollywood was on his way to India. Zippy, from USA, landed on a hot day in 1955, with his Trainer (Ralph Quinlan) & Owner (Lee Ecuyer), within a month, first At Santa Cruz Airport & then on to Madras Meenambakkam.

No ordinary monkey and being a bonafide American star, he was welcomed with a garland in Indian Tradition by Mohana, one of the Artistes of the film ‘Insaniyat’. Film India magazine reported about Zippy: “On arrival at the Santa Cruz airport he kissed Mohana and stuck to her till he departed. That proves that Zippy believes in cushioned comforts. So do many but they are not as fortunate as Zippy…”

Movie Animals

Welcoming Zippy. PC: www.thebigindianpicture.com

The Hindu reported, “No star in recent times received such a tumultuous reception as was accorded to Zippy, the chimpanzee, at the Meenambakkam airport when he arrived with his trainer and owner”.

I recollect, I was in fifth standard, when Zippy took Madras City by storm. Gemini Studio was issuing special viewing sessions of Zippy to the public. VIPs & school children were accorded special ‘audience’ with the great chimp. Zippy was an instant hit with the Press as well as the crowds who had been awaiting his arrival. As a news report in The Hindu noted the next day, “the patience of the crowd was amply rewarded when they had the fun of seeing the chimp walk and do things like a boy, and shake hands with all those who wanted to do so. With close fitting dress and boots, Zippy delighted the people by his mannerisms”. For the short period of a month that Zippy stayed in Chennai, he received royal treatment. Lee Ecuyer, in a New York Times interview, recounted people “bowing at our feet as though he really was royalty”.

Zippy.jpg

Zippy with S.S Vasan PC: From the archives of TCRC

As Zippy was small in stature, scenes featuring the chimp were reportedly shot slightly lower than eye level, so cleverly that the audience never realized that the action on screen was physically impossible for such a small creature.

insaniyat_covers

The lovable diminutive young chimp Zippy, trained & adept at playing piano, roller‐skating and typewriting, besides several other feats, was featured in not just one but two song sequences — “Beta Bada Hoga’ and ‘Main Hoon Bandar Shaher Ka’ in the film ‘Insaniyat’.

 

 

When the movie was at last released, Zippy was the Star, not the Bombay’s biggest stars, to the curious crowds. Their verdict was unanimous: the chimp had stolen the Show. It is learnt that as Zippy grew old, its owner found it difficult to manage it & donated it to The Bronx Zoo, New York.

Some sections also conspired that since the owner Lee Ecuyer had multiple chimpanzees with him for featuring in TV shows, it was not clear whether the very ‘Zippy’ who landed in “Insaniyat’ was the same celebrity who had appeared on popular American shows ‘Howdy Doody’, “The Ed Sullivan Show’ or ‘Cheeta’ of  “Tarzan’s Hidden Jungle”.

There was another chimp called ‘Pedro’ who acted in Indian film produced by Homi Wadia of Bombay who specialized in making Tarzan kind of movies in Hindi. In fact he produced a series of such films, which were also dubbed & released in Tamil.

Jimbo

Song book of the Tamil dubbed Hindi Film Zimbo (1958) featuring Pedro the CHimp PC: From the archives of TCRC

In South Indian film industry there was Sandow Chinnappa Devar who regularly featured animals in his films. His delightful Hindi movie ‘Haathi Mere Saathi’, extolling the loyal instincts of elephants for their masters, starred Rajesh Khanna and Tanuja.

 

There have been innumerable films in which animal species have appeared and it would be difficult to enlist all. Here is some of the cross section of movies with animal actors. Devar also produced Shatrughan Sinha‐Jaya Bhaduri paired ‘Gaai Aur Gori’ featuring a cow. The same film was remade in Tamil as ‘Aattukara Alamelu” replacing the cow with a goat. Thangamalai Rakasiyam (1957) had Sivaji Ganesan in a Tarzan­like character talking to elephants, which were picturised in Anamalai woods. Chinnappa Devar, who used extensively animals in his films, made Yanaipagan (1960) & Nalla Neram (1972), the later with M.G. Ramachandran as hero, both these films featuring elephants. Yanai Valartha Vanambadi (1967) & its inevitable sequel, Yanai Valartha Vanambadiyin Magan (1972) too had pachyderms in stellar roles. Even in Kumki (2012) an elephant featured as a main character. Film ‘Saivam’ had a Rooster in it, whereas ‘Kumudam’ had a Cat in it in the song ‘Meow meow poonai kutty’. Server Sundaram had a parakeet in the beautiful song ‘Thathai nenjam’. However, it was nota talking parakeet, as was presented in the sequence. The parakeet’s voice in the song was lent by, mimicry artist who worked with MSV, named Saibaba (one of the sons of T.S.Baliah).

Going forward too, the animal kingdom is sure to continuously attract the attention of film-makers throughout the world, for the simple reason that the animals are ever irresistible to people. The child in us would demand to see animals in films. However, the filming of animals in India is subject to certain regulations by the Animal Welfare Board of India. We only pray that the animals are not ill treated in the course of filming, as has been reported in the past.

 

 

Filmy Ripples : Tamil Cinema’s evolution from Theatre (Part 3)

By P V Gopalakrishnan

T S. Baliah, villain, comedian & character actor of the Tamil Screen of the yesteryears too started as a stage artiste in ‘Madurai Balagana Drama Company’ run by ‘Yadaartham’ Ponnusamy Pillai. He debuted his cinema career with Ellis.R.Dungan directed ‘Sati Leelaavathy’ (1936) as a villain.

Baliah mostly appeared in films as a villain, along with Heros such as P. U. Chinnappa & M.K.Thyagaraja Bhagavathar. Whereas in Modern Theatres produced movie ‘Chithra’ (1946), directed by Raza Wahab Kashmiri, Baliah was cast as hero with Vasantha pairing with him as heroine. However, as per Randor Guy “the movie did not do well mainly because of the wrong casting of Balaiah, who was famous for his roles as villain, as the hero.”

His track record consisted of over two hundred films. Some of his noteworthy roles were in the films: ‘Vellaikkaari’, ‘Oar iravu’, ‘Rajakumari’, ‘Madurai veeran’, ‘Mohini’, ‘Pudumai pithan’, ‘Thaaykuppin thaaram’, ‘Bagdad thirudan’, ‘Kaathavarayan’, ‘Anbu’, ‘Thookkuthookki’, ‘Nalla veedu’, ‘Thenum paalum’, ‘Thangaikkaaka’, ‘Thillaanaa Mohanaambaal’, ‘Thiruvilaiyaadal’, ‘Kaathalikka neramillai’ and ‘Bama vijayam’.

His stellar roles in Thiruvilaiyadal, Kathalikka Neramillai, Bhama Vijayam, Maragatham & Thillana Mohanambal are very memorable. Particularly, he excelled in a comedy role in Kathalikka Neramillai in the amazing direction of Sridhar.

Baliah died at his 61 in 1972 owing to heart attack.

Here is a song sequence from ‘Manamgal’ (1951) featuring Lalitha & Baliah. The voices belonged to M.L.Vasanthakumari & V.N.Sundaram.

T.S.Durairaj, one of the talented comedians of Tamil Cinema, was a contemporary of N.S.Krishnan with whom he often teamed on screen, though he came to lime light as a solo comedian later. He even donned comedian roles in films like ‘Meera’ & ‘Sakunthalai’ where M.S.Subbulakshmi starred. T.S.Durairaj too began with stage acting with one of the Boys Companies of his times.

As per Randor Guy, Durairaj’s acting prowess was such that during the shooting of a sequence with Durairaj on Adyar River for ‘Sakunthalai’ by the celebrated Director Ellis Dungan, its heroine M.S.Subbulakshmi could not control her laughter at the sequence, involving retakes. Such was the impact of Durairaj’s acting.

Here is a popular song sequence featuring T.S.Durairaj & Savithri from the film ‘Paanai pidithavaL Bhagyasaali’ (1958).

If we do not cover here about T. K. S. Brothers, who were a formidable name in Tamil stage, it would not be fair. The brothers comprising Sankaran, Muthuswamy, Shanmugam, and Bhagavathi were initiated as young boys into acting. The first three brothers joined Sankaradas Swamigal’s ‘Tattuva Minalochani Vidya Balasabha’ in 1918 and & received high acclaim from the Swamigal. After their stints, later, with the troupes of Krishnaswamy Pavalar and Kandaswamy Mudaliar, In 1925, they formed their own ‘Bala Shanmugananda Sabha’ in Madurai & staged their maiden play, ‘Gumastavin peNN’, which was filmed as Clerk’s Daughter in 1941. Other popular plays from them were Avvaiyar, Rajaraja Chozhan, Manidhan, Andaman kaidhi, Uyiroviyam, Kalvanin kadhali, Ratha Pasam and Tamizh Selvam.

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A picture of the TKS brothers in Kalki Deepavali Malar 1942 PC: From the archives of TCRC

In 1950, they renamed the company as ‘T. K. S. Nataka Sabha’. The members of their Drama Troupe included big names such as N. S. Krishnan, S. V. Sahasranamam, K. R. Ramasamy, S. V. Subbiah, T. N. Sivathanu, A. P. Nagarajan, S. S. Rajendran, M. S. Draupadi, M. N. Rajam and even Kamalahasan. Their plays, for the first time, introduced female actors on the Tamil stage & toured India and abroad, staging over seventy productions between 1925 & 1972. Many of their plays were made into cinema.

Another singing star of the early Tamil cinema was K.R.Ramaswamy whose contribution to Tamil screen cannot be overlooked. He too started his career in theatre at a tender age of eleven when he joined Madurai Original Boys Company. While being there he met great actors such as P. U. Chinnappa, M. G. Ramachandran, Kali N. Rathinam & N.S.Krishnan. Later in 1928, he joined TKS Brothers’ ‘Sri Bala Shanmuganandha Sabha’. In the stage play “Menaka’ he was the ‘heroine’ as he donned the female role.

K.R.Ramaswamy’s debut film was ‘Gumasthavin Penn’ (1941). Subsequently, he set up his own Drama Company ‘Krishnan Nataka Sabha’ & staged, in 1946, C.N.Annadurai penned Play ‘Velaikaari, which performed at Tanjore for a full long year. When the same was made into a movie in 1949, KRR played the hero thereof.

However, KRR continued his stage career much after he became a popular screen hero too, staging the play ‘Oar Iravu’, also written by Annadurai. He was also in the film version of the same story. It would be interesting to note that Sivaji Ganesan played the female role in KRR’s play ‘Manohara’ (which was made into a film later, where Sivaji Ganesan played the lead). KRR passed in 1971, after a film career of twenty five films.

While talking of Tamil stage of fifties and before, it would be incomplete if we do not mention about T.S.Rajamanickam Pillai (TSR). Nawab T.S.Rajamanickam Pillai was a product of Kannaiah Company. He ran his own drama company called  ‘Madurai Devi Bala Vinodha Sangita Sabha’. Sakthi Nataka Sabha was an offshoot of Sakthi Nataka Sabha, in whose plays Sivaji Ganesan acted in female character and became very popular.

In 1927, TSR played the Nawab in his play on ‘Bhakta Ramdas’ due to which his own name got the affix of “Nawab’ as an unique identification. He changed the conception by the elite that Tamil theatre was not respectable. TSR trained hundreds of pupils including some who became very famous actors on stage and screen.

TSR was popular for his mythological subjects like `Dasavatharam,’ `Sampoorna Ramayanam’ & `Ayyappan,’ complete songs and dances. In fact, widespread awareness of Lord Ayyappan happened in Tamil Nadu only sequel to the Ayyappan Play of TSR. Everyone knows that noted Tamil Film villain, (Late) M.N.Nambiar was a Spiritual person, making regular annual pilgrimage to Sabarimalai as ‘Guruswamy’. In fact, Nambiar started his maiden pilgrimage to Sabarimalai in 1942 with Nawab Rajamanickam as his Guru.

Of course, TSR did enact plays of social themes too. In one of these, where a wedding was shown on stage,TSR’s own Baby Austin was brought to stage as the wedding procession car! His plays used to be played on Wall Tax Road, next to Madras Central Station.

Nawab Rajamanickam’s company was popular for its magical spectacle, as It used science in presenting stunning visuals on stage such as  birth of Lord Krishna associated with pouring rain or the snake providing the infant Krishna protection from pouring rains. Even Pammal Sambandha Mudaliar regarded the company of TSR with utmost regard. In 1934, Mahatma Gandhi blessed TSR on witnessing his Nandanar Play at Coimbatore.

But TSR was unable to keep the show going beyond the late Fifties. He passed away in 1974.

You will, however, appreciate that this Article was not about the various stage artistes past or present. On the other hand, we have tried to highlight as to how the stage has influenced the Tamil Screen in its pristine years, by discussing some of the individual senior artistes in Tamil screen. If some of the stage to screen personalities such as S.V.Sahsranamam, Sivaji Ganesan, M.G.R, S.S.Rajendran, K.A.Thangavelu, A.Karunanidhi, M.N.Rajam & few more are not covered here, it was not by oversight. Just that, we will have occasion to discuss them as appropriately in different facets of our future Articles in this series, Filmy Ripples.

You would have observed that the initial subjects for Tamil cinema were mostly from Mythology, Epics & History, though there were social plays. And slowly subjects associated with Indian Freedom struggle were also brought in as film subjects. Later big production houses such as AVM & Gemini were in the celluloid business more & more experimental subjects were brought under the fold of Tamil Cinema. By mid forties, Social issues of the society too were gaining momentum to be depicted through films with stories & screenplays by tall personalities of the order of C.N.Annadurai & M.Karunanidhi.