Filmy Ripples – Madras Day, in the eyes of an old movie buff

By P.V. Gopalakrishnan

This edition is dedicated to Madras City as Madras Day is celebrated every year to commemorate August 22, 1639, the founding day of Madras City. It was then
East India Co who bought the land parcel, where Fort St. George stands today, from the local Nayak rulers. Settlements grew out of the fort slowly bringing together the villages around it marking the geographical expansion into a city called Madras.

This writer moved as a five year old, amidst great excitement, to this city in 1950, travelling in one of those old railway rakes with wooden seats on a South Indian Railway train (no reservation system in vogue then) , hauled by a pre-war work horse steam engine that made the entire Central Station messy with its noise, smoke & steam! Yes, our family migrated looking for greener economic pastures, shortly after Indian Independence. So, this writer holds fond memories as a child in the then laid back city of Madras with its heritage buildings, slow moving trams which then signified affordable urban mass mobility, few imported American and British automobiles that sparsely populated the streets & massive cinema hoardings.

In this Article we strive to look at Madras over the decades through the medium of cinema, in our humble respect to the city of Madras.

Madras was just not a city, but was a whole experience of its sights, sounds, smells, culture, cinema, music, beaches, temples, churches, mosques, heritage buildings, festivals, practices, heat, humidity & what not. If one were to compile sights & sounds of old Madras city, the clip should have obviously included the classical music concerts, Margazhi Bajanais. Black & white taxis, house sparrows known as chittukuruvis, omnipresent crows, the person rolling on the streets with the call of Govinda, Kudukuduppaikaran announcing good times, Boom boom mattukaran, Tirupathi kudais, blind school bands, street procession of local deities, Janvasam processions, political rallies, Funeral processions, Cone speakers, Kili josyam,  mobile idiyappam seller, flower sellers near temples, ‘Saanai’ pidippavan (sharpening knives), mobile cotton ginner, door step butter vendor, personal goldsmiths and many more.

In late forties & early fifties, the pride of becoming an Independent Nation was all pervasive amongst all & the one big medium of those days’ cinemas celebrated it with reverence to the Father of the Nation! Films like ‘Naam Iruvar’ (1947) exuded National fervor emanating fresh from the self-pride & sense of gratuity to Mahatma Gandhi. Here is an old song set to the dance of a young ‘Kumari’ Kamala from the film.

Naam Iruvar

Song book of Naam Iruvar with the page containing the song KARUNA MOORTHY PC: From the archives of TCRC

Those were the days when the fledgling Nation was struggling to take maiden steps having spent centuries under foreign rule. Those times commanded limited facilities, with post war famine induced ration shops & inflation. Here is a song, which was popular in those days, from the film ‘Andhaman Kaidhi’ rendered by T.V.Rathinam, which portrayed the subsisting inflation of those days through a housewife’s view. Please note a Five Rupee Note represented a big value in those days.

In those early days of post independence, ration & scarcity overwhelming plagued Madras City, as unscrupulous distributors & traders doing mass scale adulteration to make fast bucks. Those were the days prior to the State owned Food Corporations.

There was a satirical song “kalappadam kalappadam” rendered by S.C.Krishnan in Modern Theatres’ movie “Thirumbi paar” (1953) starring Sivaji Ganesan. The lines of this song are truly representative of adulteration spree in today’s context as well.

Mylapore, the cultural seat of the then Madras, was also synonymous with its population of leading legal luminaries from the pre independence days particularly concentrated in a small area called Palathope. This is a small street turning left from R.K. Mutt Road as it leads towards Mylapore Tank from Luz Corner, more or less opposite Thiru Mayilai Station. The reputation of Palathope being a powerhouse of prestigious lawyers is anything but presumptuous, as a number of luminaries from this street had graced court-rooms across India, right up to Supreme Court. As such Palathope earned Mylapore this famous epithet of being a ‘Lawyers’ Enclave’.

To commemorate Palathope’s such position, there was a well remembered song in Gemini’s ‘Miss Malini’ (1947), ‘’Mylapore vakkil athu mattu pon avaen’, sung by T.V.Rathinam,  truly depicting the coveted status symbol that a girl is yearning to achieve in marriage, viz., becoming a daughter in law in a Mylapore vakil’s household of those times. S.Rajeswara Rao and Parur Anantharaman jointly composed this film’s score.

The film was based on a story titled “Mr. Sampath” written by the famous R.K.Narayan. This movie was also the debut film of Gemini Ganesan & Javert Seetharaman.

In the same movie there was another song, ‘Paadum Radio’ which outlines the comfort of Madras City life with its electric power, radio et al. There was counter in the same song which emphasizes what city life is devoid of.

Miss Malini

Song book of Miss Malini with the page containing the songs MYLAPORE VAKKIL and PAADUM RADIO PC: From the archives of TCRC

The old-timers who grew up in the good old Madras, immediately before & soon after Indian Independence, would have fond memories of the city then. Of such nostalgic memories the pristine, unspoilt Beaches of the then Madras always beckon them. Right from 1937, when the All India Radio was established, public radio spots were a familiar feature of old Madras right through the forties and early fifties. In fact, the Historic broadcast of Jawaharlal Nehru’s famous midnight speech on August 15, 1947, was intently listened to by the Madras residents on the public address radio on the Beach.

In fact, when private radio sets were a luxury to the commoner, people met every evening at the beach to listen to the radio, which became a regular social event for the residents of Old Madras. These radio speakers were set up at various points across Old Madras then, like Santhome Beach & Panagal Park. But the most popular one was at the high court beach near the War Memorial, which disappeared in 1950 owing to the expansion of the Chennai Port Trust.

There was a film song, “Pattanathe parka parkka” from ‘En Manaivi’ (1942), as sequenced as sung by a rural girl. The song referred to the radio event as one of the marvels of science, and the lyrics read, ‘Sayangala nerathiley samudrakarai orathiley maayamana kambam onnu manushan pola paduthaiah!’ (The magic pole by the seashore, that sings like an entity). After all, simple rustic folks did wonder as to from where the music was flowing, then!

The actor in the clipping, R.Padma (then the Brand Ambassador for Lux Beauty Soap) had sung this song in her own voice. The lyrics were by T. K. Sundara Vaadhiyar and the music composer was R. Sudharsanam.

This song vividly portrays the ‘Awe’ factor that Madras City created with great fascination in the minds of rural populace. This also signified the advent of urbanization by migration of people from smaller cities & villages to Madras City.

Another song. which brought out the urge of rural folks to migrate to Madras City, in the wake of its ‘modern’ life & opportunities it offered, was ‘Pattanam thaan pokalamadi’ rendered by Sirgazhi & P.Suseela from the film ‘Engal veettu Mahalakshmi’ (1957), composed by Master Venu.

Engal Veettu Mahalakshmi

Song book of Engal Veettu Mahalakshmi with the pages containing the song PATTANAM THAAN POKALAMADI    PC: From the archives of TCRC

However, the increasing urbanization with more migrating to Madras City only made people find the city less humane. Look at this street scene from the film ‘Parasakthi’ supporting this state of affairs, which the urban life had to offer to the commoner.

The set in which the sequence has been filmed has all the typical visuals that the old Madras street has had, viz, a Beat Madras Policeman in his uniform that prevailed then, a hand drawn Rickshaw, street vendors, a fire hydrant, a huge roadside post box, roadside ‘petti kadai’ etc.

‘Mappillai doay’ was a popular duet by A.M.Raja & P.Leela in the film ‘Manampola Mangalyam’ (1953) in the music of A.Rama Rao. Here the special reference is about the son in law from ‘Madras’ as a special reference. That shows the reverence this city earned then!

The song ‘Madras nalla Madras’ from the film ‘Anubhavi Raja Anubhavi’ too describes the ugly underbelly of Madras City through its funny lyrics & visuals , as Nagesh enacts the song.

‘Parappa Palaniyappa’ too takes a dig at the Madras City life through the eyes of a rustic bullock cart man, donned by MGR in ‘Periya Idathu PeNN’. Though most part of the song has been filmed in the backdrop of back projected visuals, in some shots you could see how the sixties’ Madras was so less crowded with clean streets.

Madras City was home to many News Papers & Periodicals both in English & Tamil.  Madras had newspaper boys who used to hawk these publications on the pavements & streets, with an ever eager customer around to buy them. There was an interesting song from the “Samaya Sanjeevi” (1957), rife with nostalgia, sung by J.P.Chandrababu, ‘Paper…Paper’. It is very interesting to note the number of dailies & weeklies that were in circulation in the early Madras. Some of them like, The Mail, Swadesamithran, Kalkandu, Gundoosi, and Kadhir etc are no more today.

The song ‘Nenjirukkum engalukkum’ from the film ‘Nenjirukkum varai’ features a happy go lucky trio of Sivaji, Muthuraman & Gopalakrishnan dancing on the then traffic free Marina Beach Road, right from the Madras University till Gandhi Statue. In fact, if you observe, in the beginning of the song, you can even notice in the backdrop the wreckage of the Greek ship S.S.Stamatis that had run aground behind the Labour Statue in the ravaging storm of November 1966, which threw Madras out of gear!

Nenjirukkum Varai

Song book of Nenjirukkum Varai with the page containing the song NENJIRUKKUM ENGALUKKUM    PC: From the archives of TCRC

Talking of Madras, one cannot overlook its lingo called ‘Madras Baashai’. This has been developed as an amalgam of borrowed words from Urdu & Hindi over the period. It has a generic name called ‘rickshawkaran baashai’  in the lighter sense and has been popularized by Chandrababu in films such as “Sabash Meena’ & ‘Sahodari’, besides Cho as a car mechanic in ‘Paar Magale Paar’.

Sagothari

Song book of Sagothari having the image of Chandrababu as Milkman and also the page containing synopsis through the Milkman’s perspective (Chandrababu with his Photo).   PC: From the archives of TCRC

But it was V.Kumar composed ‘Vaa vadhyare vootande’ in the film ‘Bommalattam’, rendered by versatile Manorama that made the Madras Lingo indelible.

Bommalattam

Song book of Miss Bommalattam with the page containing the song VAA VATHYARE VOOTANDE         PC: From the archives of TCRC

In the early colonial days, there was only non-mechanised forms of transportation in Madras City such as hand pulled rickshaws, bullock carts & horse drawn jutkas. It was in 1894 Madras Electric Tramways Company first laid tracks in the city for Trams. The trams network served the Egmore, Customs House, Royapuram, Chindatharipet, Mount Road, Royapettah, Triplicane, Mylapore, Santhome, Purasawakkam & Washermanpet localities of Madras, till April 1953 when the government decided to call off tram service in Madras owing to technical feasibilities, after its 67 years of service in the city. While Trams operated in Madras, it had encountered many a hiccup, but when the service was finally called off it catered to 125000 passengers per day over the 26 km net work it operated in Madras. The trams were too slow at 7 km per hour, with the tram driver making a bell sound by his foot to alert those who cam by its tracks!

Motor bus services first appeared in Madras in 1920. In the early days, Post Independence, the government buses that plied in Madras City were all blur coloured & the fleet included the old buses from Ford & Chvrolet stable. In fact, during the Congress Meet at Avadi in 1955, many trucks were temporarily converted & ran as public transportation. Then came the Red buses (then popularly referred as ‘Red Lady’) from Leyland, U.K & Daimler Benz, and Germany. They all bore the inscription “Govt. Transport, Madras”. Later in due course, it became “State Transport, Madras”. Only during the DMK regime they were all formed as Transport Corporations & christened as Palawan, Azhagiri etc.  There were Tiger Leyland buses with their majestic appearance & comfort seating. But soon they were sent to Delhi as the Madras roads were too small to operate them.

There were metered taxi services from the early post independent days in Madras. The smaller taxis, mostly constituting Morris Minors, Baby Hindustan, Standard Ten, Herald were called ‘Baby Taxis’ offering a lesser tariff. The roomier Fords, Chevrolets and the like were normal taxis that cost a little extra. Later Ambassadors & Fiats monopolized the taxis.

Here is a clip from ‘Sadhu Mirandal’ featuring Nagesh as a taxi driver.

Sathu Mirandal

An advertisement of the Film Sathu Mirandal from the magazine NARADHAR Dec 1965 depicting Nagesh as Taxi driver with his Taxi        PC: From the archives of TCRC

The old Madras had its own charm. There were no food courts but there were famous eateries such as Ambls Cafe, Modern Cafe, Ramakrishna Lunch Home, Ratna Cafe, Rayar’s Café & Woodlands. None can forget the Peach Melba at Buharis where jukeboxes played your favourite film music.

There were no Malls but there appeared seasonal Exhibitions at Teynampet Grounds & Island Grounds.

The city boasted of many heritage structures including Iron Bridge, War Memorial, University Bldgs., Police HQ Bldg near A.I.R. Vivekananda House, Museum Theatre.

There were no Corporate Hospitals like Apollo or even Poly Clinics but there were small neighborhood doctors who knew personally your family members. There was even a 24×7 Pharmacy at Agurchand Mansions on Mount Road called ‘Sahib Singh’s which dispensed medicines at wee hours too.

There were fewer vehicles on the road & there was just one subway near RBI and no flyovers. Ranganathan Street was never crowded.

With all that the old Madras had its own bewitching aspects.

Advertisements

Filmy Ripples – Mahakavi Bharathiyar’s works in Tamil Film Music

By P.V. Gopalakrishnan

The Great Poet Mahakavi Subramanya Bharathiyar lived his times in utter poverty & died unsung in his times. When one reads his poems the reader is sure to experience goose bumps! Such a spirited Poet that he was, his untimely death in 1921 at a very young age of thirty nine, drew only a handful of mourners in his funeral procession!

He is, perhaps, the first ever Poet to have has the honour of being named a ‘National Poet’, that too posthumously! This happened in 1949 after our Indian Independence.

Sequel to the death of Bharathi, his widow Chellammal along with Bharathi’s two daughters, Thangammal & Sakunthala, compelled by their utter poverty, were constrained to relinquish the rights over Bharathi’s works by selling them to AVM for a sum of Rupees Nine thousand five hundred (then a princely sum). AVM have used many of the Bharathi poems in their Tamil films, which became very widely popular.

However, over a process that lasted over five years from 1944 to 1949, the then Government of Madras nationalized the works of Bharathi in 1949, through the offices of four Chief Ministers. Prior to that though there were many notable voices that strongly demanded such nationalization of Bharath’s works, it was during the term of Omandur Ramasamy Reddiyar as Chief Minister it materialized finally. However, it was only by 1955, the works of Bharathi reached public domain when the then Finance Minister C. Subramaniam announced the decision of allowing all to publish Bharathi’s works.

However, unintentional of the Great Poet Bharathi, some of his beautiful poems later turned into film songs, set to mellifluous music compositions by noted Music Directors & rendered by top Artistes in various time frames.

The most recent songs that captured our attention was in the Tamil Film ‘Bharathi’ (2000), wherein Sayaji Shinde portrayed Bharathi. This biographical film on Bharathi had the lilting music of Isai Gnani ILayaraja & delivered few of his poems.

But, going back in time travel, very many films have had Bharathiyar written songs used in various filmy sequences. It all started with AVM who pioneered the way to copiously use Bharathi songs in his films (as he held recording rights for the songs) such as Naam Iruvar (1947), Vedhala Ulagam (1948) & Vazhkkai (1949), all in the amazing music compositions of Sudarsanam. In fact even today, these songs are known in these very tunes that Sudarsanam composed them in.

Naam Iruvar

An advertisement of the Film Naam Iruvar from the magazine PESUM PADAM July 1946 PC: From the archives of TCRC

In ‘Kappalottiya Thamizhan’ some of Bharathiyar’s compositions were featured, in various voices.

To my knowledge, nearly forty songs have been featured in Tamil films, in various situations, which I have enlisted below.  However, there could be few more in addition to my list.

Alphabetically, Song Film Year Music Director Sung By
Aaduvome Palli Naam Iruvar 1947 R.Sudarsanam D.K.Pattammal
Bharatha samudayam Vazkkai 1949 Sudarsanam D.K.Pattammal
Chinna kuzhandaigal pol Kappal ottiya Thamizhan 1961 G.Ramanathan P.Suseela
Chinnanchiru kiliye Manamagal 1951 C.R.Subbaraman MLV, V.N.Sundaram
Cooli Miga ketpar Nalla Thangai 1955 G.Ramanathan G.Ramanathan
Engirundo vanthan Padikkatha Medhai 1960 K.V.Mahadevan Sirgazhi Govindarajan
Enru thaniyum intha Kappal ottiya Thamizhan 1961 G.Ramanathan Tiruchi Loganathan
Kaani nilam vendum Andaman Kathali 1952 Govindarajulu Naidu MLV, C.S.Jayaraman
Kakkai Siraginile Chakradhari 1947 M.D.Parthasarathi V.Nagaiah
Kalviyil sirantha Vedhala Ulagam 1948 R.Sudarsanam T.R.Mahalingam
Kannan mana nilaiyai Ezhai pdum paadu 1950 S.M.Subbiah Naidu MLV
Katru Veliyidai Kappal ottiya Thamizhan 1961 G.Ramanathan P.Suseela, P.B.Srinivas
Kuyile unakku Manithan 1953 S.V.Venkatraman MLV
Madhar thammai Penn 1954 R.Sudarsanam T.A.Mothi
Manadhil urudhi vendum Kalvanin kathali 1955 Govindarajulu Naidu TMS
Mangiyathor nilavinile Pavai Vilakku 1960 K.V.Mahadevan C.S.Jayaraman
Nenjil uramum inri Kappal ottiya Thamizhan 1961 G.Ramanathan Sirgazhi Govindarajan
Nenju Porukkuthillaiye Parasakthi 1952 R.Sudarsanam C.S.Jayaraman
Oadi vilayadu papa Vadhala ulagam 1948 R.Sudarsanam T.S.Bhagavathi, M.S.Rajeswari
Oadi vilayadu papa Kappal ottiya Thamizhan 1961 G.Ramanathan Sirgazhi, Jamuna Rani
Parukkulle Nalla Naadu Kappal ottiya Thamizhan 1961 G.Ramanathan Sirgazhi Govindarajan
Senthamizh naadenum Raja Rajan 1957 K.V.Mahadevan U.Sarojini
Sindhu nadiyin misai Kai Kodutha Deivam 1964 MSV-TKR TMS, L.R.Easwari
Solai malar oliyo Naam Iruvar 1947 R.Sudarsanam T.R.Mahalingam, T.S.Bhagavathi
Solla Vallayo Kiliye Koondu Kili 1954 K.V.Mahadevan T.V.Rathinam
Thaneer vittom valarthom Kappal ottiya Thamizhan 1961 G.Ramanathan Tiruchi Loganathan
Thayin manikodi pareer Naam Iruvar 1947 R.Sudarsanam D.K.Pattammal
Theeradha vilayattu pillai Vedhala Ulagam 1948 R.Sudarsanam D.K.Pattammal
Thoondir puzhuvinai pol Vedhala Ulagam 1948 R.Sudarsanam D.K.Pattammal
Vande matharam enbom Kappal ottiya Thamizhan 1961 G.Ramanathan Sirgazhi Govindarajan
Vazhiya Senthamizh Naam Iruvar 1947 R.Sudarsanam Devanarayanan, T.S.Bhagavathi
Vellai kamalathile Gowri Kalyanam 1966 MSV Sulamangalam Rajalakshmi
Vellai thamarai Thai Ullam 1952 V.Nagaiah, A.Rama Rao MLV
Velli pani malai Kappal ottiya Thamizhan 1961 G.Ramanathan Sirgazhi, Tiruchi Loiganathan, L.R.Easwari
Vetri ettu thikkum etta Naam Iruvar 1947 R.Sudarsanam D.K.Pattammal
Viduthalai Viduthalai Naam Iruvar 1947 R.Sudarsanam T.R.Mahalingam

Kavimani Desiya Vinyagam Pillai had composed a song, ‘Paattukkoru pulavan Bharathiyada’, in honour of Bharathi which too had featured in the film ‘Paithiyakkaran’ (1947), composed by C.R.Subbaraman & M.S.Gnanamani.

Here below we are giving links to some of the videos containing Bharathiyar songs in films.

Chinnam chiru kiliye:

Engiruntho vandhan:

Katru veliyidai Kannamma:

Mangiyathor nilavinile:

Thirumanam

Song book of Thirumanam with the page containing the song MANGIYATHOR NILAVINILE PC: From the archives of TCRC

 

Parukkulle nalla nadu:

Theeratha vilayattu pillai:

Sindhu nadhiyin isai:

Kai Kodatha Deivam

Song book of Kai Kodutha Deivam with the page containing the song SINDHU NADHIYIN PC: From the archives of TCRC

Aaduvome pallu paduvome:

Naam Iruvar_SB

Song book of Naam Iruvar with the page containing the song AADUVOME PALLU PC: From the archives of TCRC

Nenju porukkuthillaiye:

Oadi vilaiyadu papa:

Suttum vizhi sudar thaan Kannamma:

These days, you hardly get to hear Bharathi’s lyrics in Tamil films. For that matter, you hardly even make out what the lyrics are, in most songs. Those were the times when lyrical beauty held a song close to your heart. This is the reason as to why we can still remember the words of the old film music. Gone are those days, now rhythm & tune override lyrics and if at all one could make them out in the whole din, they cannot live in your memory.