Filmy Ripples – N.S.Krishnan, the Legend

By P.V. Gopalakrishnan

It is generally said, however, a pathos scene is difficult to naturally enact, it is even more difficult to be successful as a comedian as timing & body language have to contribute to its success. Pure, vulgar-free comedy that stands out is a real tough job and all were not cut to deliver that.

In the very early talkie films, there was nothing like a separate comedian. It was only later, as part of the evolutionary process of cinema, comedians came into being in Indian films to provide a relief from the main story line, which, often, was heavy with emotions.

The early cinema (we are talking about pre-Nagesh period) had a bunch of good comedians such as T.S.Dorairaj, Kali N Rathinam, T.R.Ramachandran,

Sarangapani, ‘Friend’ Ramasami, A.Karunanidhi, Kakka Radhakrishnan, ‘Kuladeivam’ Rajagopal, A.Rama Rao, Chandrababu, Thangavelu, Muthulakshmi, T.A.Mathuram, & M.Saroja.

But the Monarch of the Tamil film comedians, undoubtedly, was N.S.Krishnan (NSK).

Tamil cine goers laughed their guts out at NSK’s thought provoking jokes. NSK has often been compared to the legendary comedian, Charlie Chaplin. But, while Chaplin scored with his slapstick comedy and body language, NSK relied more on his verbal humour, one-liners and subtle messages to the audience. His comedy, which also had its share of puns, was always wholesome at its best with no double entendre or misogyny involved.

As we cannot justifiably cover all the stalwart comedians who tickled our funny bones in a single Article, we hereby restrict our current write up to the Monarch of them all – N.S.Krishnan.

N.S.Krishnan was born as Nagerkovil Sudalamuthu Krishnan in 1908 in a poor family. His childhood years were spent selling snacks in a theatre in his hometown & working as a ball picker in a Tennis Club. His lack of formal education was amply made up by his native genius & curiosity.

Later, in his formative years he joined the celebrated drama company run by TKS Brothers. He was also proficient in a rural art form known as ‘Villu Paattu’.

Later he formed his own touring theatre group and traversed the length and breadth of erstwhile Madras Presidency with his plays, which always drew packed houses.

NSK’s entry into the celluloid world was through S.S.Vasan produced and Ellis Dungan directed film ‘Sathi Leelavathy’, where he was introduced as a comedian. Though this was his debut film, his second movie ‘Menaka’ got released before ‘Sathi Leelavathy’ could hit the screen. However ‘Menaka’ was adjudged the best movie of the year in 1935.

Menaka

An Advertisement of the Film MENAKA in the magazine ANANDHA VIKATAN DEEPAVALI MALAR 1935  PC: From the archives of TCRC

It was during the shooting of ‘Vasantha Sena’ (1936), directed by Raja Sandow, NSK ‘met’ co-star T. A. Mathuram and both fell in love. Their marriage was held in a simple manner, while the shooting schedule moved to Pune, with Raja Sandow presiding over the ‘wedding’. The couple got the honor of being the first real-life couple acting as couple of reel life too, between 1936 and 1957, when they did a whopping 122 films, as a pair!

Vasanthasena

An Advertisement of the Film VASANTHA SENA in the magazine ANANDHA VIKATAN DEEPAVALI MALAR 1936  PC: From the archives of TCRC

N S Krishnan, who popularly goes by his popular title, ‘Kalaivanar’, rose from humble beginnings as a ‘villu paatu’ artiste who became a master in the art of repartee. In tandem with his wife TA Mathuram, he regaled audiences, often stealing the spotlight from the lead stars. NSK was known to pen his comedy tracks himself and always ensured that he was never repetitive.  Noted lyricist Udumalai Narayana Kavi usually wrote the lyrics for Krishnan.

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In the early timeframe of his career, he worked with comedians like TS Durairaj, Pulimootai Ramaswamy, CS Pandian and Kali M Rathinam and later worked in most of the films of MK Thiagaraja Bhagavathar as Hero. Krishnan was also a gifted singer and his numbers in ‘Sivakavi’, ‘Raja Rani’ and ‘Manamagal’ became immensely popular.

He also produced the hit film ‘Nallathambi’, directed by C.N Annadurai. He directed films such as  ‘Panam’ and ‘Manamagal’ penned by Karunanidhi. SS Vasan’s magnum opus ‘Chandralekha’ too featured Krishnan in comedy tracks. There was a time in Tamil cinema when no film was complete without NSK!

He also shared screen space in many films of the leading heroes, MGR and Sivaji Ganesan, and despite the presence of these Titans always stood out with his comedy.

NSK went on to work as unparalleled comedian in as many as 150 films, MGR starred ‘Raja Desingu’ being the last one, released after his death.

On 8 November 1944, Lakshmikanthan the gossip columnist & Editor of ‘Indu Nesan’ was knifed by some unknown persons in Purasawalkam and was admitted to the General Hospital, Madras as an outpatient. But the next day, Lakshmikanthan was murdered mysteriously while still in the hospital. The police arrested eight persons as accused for the murder including M.K.Tyagaraja Bhagavathar and NSK. This came as a rude shock to their fans and the cine world.

After thirty long months of jail term they were acquitted for want of proof by the London Privy Council, thanks to the eminent lawyer V. L. Ethiraj who argued for them at Privy Council at London. (The same illustrious lawyer founded Ethiraj College for women).

Though N.S.Krishnan did manage to pick up the threads of his life again as an actor post his release from prison, things were not quite the same & he was financially drained and his fortunes plummeted rapidly.

When Krishnan was first sentenced to jail, Mathuram took a break from her acting career. Later she came out her self-imposed exile to generate revenues for financing her husband’s appeal to the Privy Council.

When NSK was in prison, T. A. Mathuram started a drama troupe called N. S. K Nataka Sabha, which staged plays written by and starring S.V.Sahasranamam. ‘Paithiyakaran’ (1947) was one of those plays. Later Mathuram converted the troupe into a film production company and made a film based on the play. While the film, being directed by Krishnan-Panju Duo,  was in production, Krishnan was acquitted released from prison. A new role was written for him in the film. NSK made fun of his stint in prison through the song jailukku poi vantha in which he described in prison life, his fellow inmates and the types of prisoners he met. MGR played a supporting role in the film.

In 1947, after his release from the prison, Nataraja Educational Society, Triplicane awarded him the title of ‘Kalaivanar’ to NSK through the ‘Father of Stage’, Pammal.K.Sambanda Mudaliyar. He is, to-date, known by this Title even without his name!

‘Manamagal’ (1951), produced & directed by NSK, saw the debut of Padmini as a lead actress. In this movie, A.Bhimsingh, who later became a big Director, was an Assistant Director to NSK. He also generously gifted his own expensive car to Baliah for his stellar performance in Manamagal.

MSV-TKR duo was formed as Music Directors by NSK for his Film ‘Panam’ (1952).

In his times, NSK was instrumental in bringing a number of leading Tamil stage and film personalities to the fore; he was also a Gandhian, patriot and philanthropist who became an active member of the Dravidian Movement. On the assassination of Gandhi, NSK raised a Memorial for the Father of the Nation at his own expense in the Municipal Park his hometown.

NSK was one of the founding fathers of South Indian Actors Association. He is reported to have even gifted his own land for its premises.

NSK passed away at his 49 on 30th August 1957, after bringing a lot of joy and cheer to his audience through his film roles.

Some of his well known films included Sathi Leelavathi, Ambikapathi, Madurai Veeran, Kala Megham, Uthama Puthiran, Sakunthalai, Arya Mala, Mangamma Sabatham, Harischandira, Haridas, Pavalakodi, Paithiyakkaran, Chandrakantha,  Chandralekha, NallaThambi, Managaiyarkkarasi, Rathnakumar, Vana Sundari, Panam, Amara Kavi, Kaveri, Dr. Savithri, Mudhal Thethi, Rangin Radha, Raja Rani, Manamagal & Raja Desingu.

Chandrakantha

An Advertisement of the Film CHANDRAKANTHA in the magazine ANANDHA VIKATAN DEEPAVALI MALAR 1936  PC: From the archives of TCRC

In his personal life, he had three wives, Nagammai, T.A.Mathuram & T.A.Vembammal (T.A.Mathuram’s sister).

 

NSK Interview

Stills from a short Interview of NSK in the magazine KALKI DEEPAVALI MALAR 1942 PC: From the archives of TCRC

The Tamil Nadu Government dedicated the Children’s Theatre on Wallaja Road, Madras as a memorial building in 1979, named it ‘Kalaivanar Kalai Arangam’  in his honour . His revered public statue adorns a major junction in T.Nagar in Chennai.

If NSK were to be alive today he would have been 108 years old!

 

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Filmy Ripples : 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.

TKS bros.jpg

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.