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.

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Kaasethaan Kadavulada: From Stage To Celluloid

By Karthik Bhatt

Chitralaya Gopu is one of Tamil cinema’s most well-known humour writers. His association with his classmate and close friend from school, the legendary director CV Sridhar and his unit Chitralaya has been responsible for some of Tamil cinema’s most memorable movies such as Then Nilavu, Nenjil Or Alayam, Policekaran Magal and the evergreen Kadhalikka Neramillai.

Unlike many of his colleagues from the film world who came from a theatre background, Gopu’s association with stage came about quite by chance.  “It was the time of the Chinese aggression. The Tamil Nadu Government requested Sivaji Ganesan and Sridhar to arrange for an entertainment programme involving all the top stars of that time that could be staged across all the major districts of the State for fund raising. I was asked by Sridhar to write short plays for the programme. I wrote two pieces, one a ten minute skit involving Gemini Ganesan and Savitri titled Naveena Dushyanthan Sakunthalai and the other, a multi-starrer 45 min play about a man and his attempts to get his four daughters married. This was Galatta Kalyanam, which was later made into a movie by the same name. It was my first proper attempt at stage plays”, says Gopu.

“It was around this time that an amateur theatre troupe called the Unity Club was functioning in Triplicane”, he continues. “Primarily comprising members who were lawyers or employed with various offices, its star attraction was Major Sundararajan. Following his exit, the troupe was on the lookout for a suitable replacement, who could help their cause with obtaining performance opportunities. Thanks to my film connections, I was roped into the troupe by my cousin who was its secretary. I managed to get Manorama to act in a script written by Ananthu, who was part of K Balachander’s unit. Since I had approached her to be part of the troupe, I was given a role in the play too. It was probably a way of ensuring that I was committed to be present at all times”, chuckles Gopu, who soon started writing full-fledged plays. The troupe continued its journey continued with fairly successful plays such as Sreemathy and Dhikku theriyadha veetil. Its biggest hit was however Kaasedhaan Kadavulada”.

The story of Kaasedhaan Kadavulada revolved around the matriarch, the boss of a wealthy family. The second wife of a henpecked husband, her miserly ways cause great consternation with the son of the first wife and his cousin, who forever look for ways to make her part with the wealth. Taking advantage of an opportunity that arises with the news of the arrival of a Swamiji to their home, they enlist the services of a petty thief turned tea shop owner, a childhood friend to impersonate him and steal the money. The hilarious sequence of events that follow his arrival form the crux of the story.

“By this time, we had managed to rope in the likes of Muthuraman, Venniradai Moorthy and V Gopalakrishnan to act in our plays. The first three were part of Kaasedhaan Kadavulada. Muthuraman played the role of the son, while Venniradai Moorthy played his father. The role that was the biggest hit was however that of the Swamiji. It was essayed by Ramani, a popular mimicry artiste who was a colleague of K Balachander at AGS office and also a part of Ragini Recreations. Manorama played Muthuraman’s love interest”, remembers Gopu.

The play was a resounding success. AV Meiyappa Chettiar and his wife enjoyed it immensely and their sons watched it in succeeding shows. “Manorama told me that it was sure to be made into a movie, as the entire family had witnessed the play. Sure enough, I was soon called to AVM Studios. AV Meiyappa Chettiar was particular that I direct the movie. It marked my debut as a director. Muthuraman and Venniradai Moorthy reprised their onstage roles. As Manorama was not a regular heroine artiste, she was made the matriarch of the family, while Lakshmi was brought in to play Muthuraman’s love interest. For the pivotal role of the Swamiji, the name of Thengai Srinivasan was suggested, to which I readily agreed. The onstage success of the character was replicated on celluloid. A huge hoarding of Thengai Srinivasan was put up by AVM at Pilot theatre, where the film was running to packed houses”, recollects Gopu.

One of the highlights of Thengai Srinivasan’s performance was the gibberish he speaks in an effort to pass it off as Sanskrit.In the video clip below, you can see him even uttering the names of all the actors in the scene as he enters!

An interesting anecdote revolving around the play which was written about in the media was the death of a man who had come to watch one of the shows. His hearty laughter apparently caused him seizures due to which he had to be hospitalised, only to pass away shortly after!

That the movie attracts a great fan following and continues to be regularly shown on television channels to this date is perhaps the greatest tribute to the genial Chitralaya Gopu and his brand of clean humour.

The play has been recently revived by YG Mahendra’s UAA, with a few modifications by Gopu’s son, Chitralaya Sriram.

(Special thanks to Chitralaya Gopu for his inputs and to his son Chitralaya Sriram for having facilitated the interview).

 

Policekaran Magal: From stage to celluloid

By Karthik Bhatt

On 5th April 2013 TCRC shared its first post. It was the lobby card for the film Policekaran Magal. You can revisit the post here

Today as part of our ‘From Stage to Celluloid’ series we discuss more on this landmark film.

S.V.Sahasranamam was one of Tamil cinema’s most well-known character actors. Along with the likes of S.V.Ranga Rao and S.V.Subbiah, he was part of a select group of actors who were a constant presence in films between the 1950s and 1970s in the roles of a father, grandfather or elder brother.

Born in 1913, Sahasranamam joined T.K.Shanmugam’s Balashanmukhananda Sabha at an early age, giving up schooling to become an actor. His association with the troupe was a long one, lasting for more than two decades. It was an association that got him his first film opportunity, when a play of theirs, Menaka was made as a film in 1935. It was also in this troupe that he forged a lasting friendship with the legendary N.S.Krishnan.

Sahasranamam quit the Balashanmukhananda Sabha in 1936 on account of a misunderstanding with the managers. After stints as a manager with a couple of film houses, he joined N.S.Krishnan, by then a star, as a manager in his production house Ashoka Films. Film opportunities kept coming his way and he acted in a number of films through the 1940s. His passion for stage however remained undiminished. His dream of establishing his own troupe bore fruit in 1953, when he started Seva Stage.

Starting with Kangal, an adaptation of Rabindranath Tagore’s short story Vision, Seva Stage made a name for itself with its social themes and brilliant execution of the technical aspects. It was also to Sahasranamam’s credit that he managed to get noted writers such as T.Janakiraman, Ku.Alagiriswami and B.S.Ramiah to script successful and critically acclaimed plays such as Naalu Veli Nilam, President Panchatcharam, Vadivelu Vaathyaar and Policekaran Magal, which were later made into movies.

B.S.Ramiah, born in 1905 was an acclaimed journalist and writer best known in the literary circles for his association with Manikkodi, the magazine started by “Stalin” Srinivasan in 1933. He had made a name for himself as a short story writer. Sahasranamam approached Ramiah with a request to write a play for Seva Stage, thus marking the beginning of an association that would go on to produce great hits on stage.

Policekaran Magal was Ramiah’s fifth script for Seva Stage, after President Panchatcharam, Malliam Mangalam, Therotti Magan and the critically acclaimed Paanchali Sabatham . Revolving around a policeman and his family (most prominently the daughter), the play was a great success. Like other Seva Stage plays, this too did not lack in star value, with noted actors Muthuraman and V.Gopalakrishnan and actress S.N.Lakshmi playing important roles in the play. Muthuraman went on to play a role in the movie too, which was directed by C.V.Sridhar and came out in 1962. Vijayakumari played the role of the daughter in the movie, which was played on stage by Shanthini, a Seva Stage regular. J.P.Chandrababu and Manorama played the role of flower vendors, a crucial part of the plot. Sahasranamam reprised his stage role of the policeman on screen and even today, this movie is often spoken about as one of those movies which is impossible to remake thanks to the powerful portrayal by Sahasranamam.

The movie is also remembered today for its immortal melodies, most particularly Pon enben siru poo enben and Nilavukku en mel ennadi kovam.

Here are pictures of the film’s LP from our collection. The LP also carried the songs of another popular film of the time’ Sumai Thangi’.

policekaranmagal_sumaithangi Policekaranmagal_sumaithangi_back

 

 

The Madras Film Industry in the 1960s: On the sets of “Thillaanaa Mohanambal” in a French documentary!

Today, we bring to you a clip from “L’inde Fantôme” (Phantom India), a documentary film made by Academy Award-winning French filmmaker Louis Malle. This is an excerpt from “Choses Vues A Madras,” which was the second episode of the documentary. Focusing on the Madras film industry in the late 1960s, the excerpt features footage shot on the sets of the 1968-released, classic Tamil film “Thillaanaa Mohanambal,” starring Sivaji Ganesan, Padmini, Balaiah, Manorama and others. Directed by AP Nagarajan and written by Kothamangalam Subbu, the film and its songs continue to be remembered even today.

What we found most interesting was the commentary in French (you can turn on the English subtitles by clicking on the “Captions” button in the bottom bar on the YouTube video). The commentator, at one point, refers to Sivaji Ganesan as the “Indian Belmondo.” “Belmondo” here is a reference to Jean Paul Belmondo, the French actor who was a prominent face in the New Wave films that were made in France in the 1960s. He continues to be remembered for his portrayal of the character Michel Poiccard in Jean Luc Godard’s extremely influential film “Breathless” (“À bout de souffle” in French). “Breathless” was a path-breaking film that inspired many filmmakers through its brilliant use of the jump cut. So, while the comparison to Belmondo is flattering, it’s important to remember that Sivaji Ganesan had made his mark with “Parasakthi” in 1952, a good eight years before Belmondo broke out with “Breathless” (1960).

Jean Paul Belmondo in "Breathless" | Sivaji Ganesan in "Thillaanaa Mohanambal"

Jean Paul Belmondo in “Breathless”   |    Sivaji Ganesan in “Thillaanaa Mohanambal”

Do watch the clip and let us know about your thoughts on Louis Malle’s commentary and his take on Indian films. You can leave a comment or write to us at tcrc.india[at]gmail[dot]com.