Filmy Ripples : Cinema Halls of old Madras – An Anthology (Part 2)

By P.V.Gopalakrishnan
The movies always began after ‘The News Reel’ of the Information & Broadcasting Ministry of the government.
Whenever a song sequence came in the movie the audience fled out to have a soda or smoke or to relieve themselves!
In the very few theatres that were air conditioned in those days, after the first reel was screened, the operator used to quietly switch off the a/c. In those times the word consumerism was unknown and none batted an eyelid at such practice!
On the metal backs of the seats you would find creative engravings by the ‘learned’ audience. In some seats the sponge was found scooped out by some disgruntled theatre goers. The washrooms had a mixed stink of phenyl and human fluids while their walls bore unsharable graffitis.
But the audience inside these halls, with high ceilings sporting sporadic ceiling fans, lived the movies with their favourite chocolate faced Heroes and buxom Heroines.
When Srinivasa Kalyanam was released in Maharani Theatre, in the front foyer a Tirupathi Balaji was installed. On the release of Marma Manithan, cycle rikshaw men were dressed like that character a la style Mr.X, as they distributed fliers about the movie.
maharani

Maharani still standing. PC: V.Harihara Subramanian, Feb 2017

One of the oldest theatres of Madras was Murugan Talkies. It was originally started in 1910 by one Murugesa Mudaliyar as Majestic Theatre where Tamil Plays happened.
This was later converted to a cinema hall. In 1931, Majestic’s name was changed to “Kinema Central” ,  where the first Indian talkie film “Alam Ara” was screened, with People coming by road and rail, packing food,  to watch the first talkie. This theatre also saw the screening of the first “Tamil-Telugu” Talkie ‘Kalidasa’. Classics like Meera, Shakunthala , Avvaiyaar , Uththama Puthiran, Sathi Leelavathi , Thyagabhoomi, Ambikapathy , Thiruneelakantar, Ashokkumar ran at  Kinema Central.The theatre’s name was changed as Murugan Talkies in 1942.This iconic cinema hall was pulled down a couple of years ago, after 80 years.
murugan-talkies

An unimpressive shopping complex stands in the place of Murugan Talkies.                          PC: V.Harihara Subramanian

Then the new air-conditioned cinemas such as Safire & Anand came right on Mount Road.
Safire was a pioneer featuring multiscreen complex. It had screens named Safire, Emerald & Blue Diamond. Its Blue Diamond cinema ran continuous shows, where one could buy a ticket and enter the theatre in the middle of a screening and continue to stay as long as one wanted, as the movie was screened non stop, back to back. Safire complex opened with the iconic 70MM movie ‘Cleopatra’, followed by Battle of the Bulge, Mutiny on the Bounty, South Pacific – all in mammoth 70MM. The Safire Complex also had the first ever Disco of Madras, named Nine Gems. It even had a restaurant serving Rajasthani culinary. When ever I pass by, these days, the bush grown compound where once Safire complex stood proudly on the Mount Road, I feel both melancholic & nostalgic.The Anand Theatre owned by an influential Congressman Umapathi had its mammoth electric screen raise before each movie projection started, revealing the silver screen, to the accompaniment of Spanish Gypsy tune, which, by the by, also inspired MSV to compose ‘Thulluvatho Ilamai’.

 

imgp2471

The projectionist with his projector at the erstwhile Anand theatre.                                            PC: Sruti Harihara Subramanian

Then came the Pilot Theatre in late sixties at Royapettah, started by Mr. Sanjeevi of Pilot Pen Company, with Cine Rama technology.

pilot-theater

Pilot theatre in the process of being demolished on Feb 9th 2017 PC: Srinivasa Ramanujam

This is the anthology to the current generation of cinema halls, which are cartelised screens in corporate run set-ups, such as PVR & Inox, with plush seatings, comfy air-conditioning with snacks served at your seat, if you had pre booked them.
PVR which spearheaded multiplexes across India was a JV by the Indian film distributor Priya Exhibitors and Australian Media company Village Roadshow, from which first letters P-V-R, their multiplexes are known now.
Movies are an experience, indeed, whether in sixties or now.

Filmy Ripples : Cinema Halls of old Madras – An Anthology (Part 1)

TCRC is very happy to introduce our latest contributor Mr.P.V Gopalakrishnan who will be writing the series Filmy Ripples. The series promises to be very different from our earlier ones. Filmy Ripples hopes to share with you stories on Cinema over the last 60 years from the eyes of an avid Tamil film and music aficionado.  – Editor
At the outset, you may wonder why I chose to christen this new Blog with this Title. Well, I am going to share with you Film related subjects, which may be like ripples, forming waves of circles, even as you develop to visualise it in your minds through your own extended thoughts, whilst the ripple itself waning away to merge with the stillness of water!Having said that, we will dwell on the period things relating to films from the bygone era as I have seen, experienced, read about and so on!
In this very debut blog under this fancy title, lets time travel back to sixties and before, to see how people of Madras City saw movies.
In the past, a variety of venues let people witness cinemas. These included touring cinemas, thatched halls, single screen cinema theatres, Multiplex as the movies played there made people dance, clap, shed tears, as they watched the larger than life stars on the big screens, in awe!
The first film I ever watched as a child was in a thatched ‘cinema kottaai’ some where in a desolate village in Kerala, where I was born. (By the by, I am not a mallu!). And the movie was the Thespian Nagaiah starred ‘Chakradhari’ (1948). While Nagaiah played the protagonist Gora Kumbhar, Pushpavalli, mother of yesteryears’ Hindi siren Rekha acted as his wife.
 
Any new film release in these ‘kottais‘ were publicised by a bullock cart borne person throwing colourful hand notices around. Often such carts had huge cone speakers blaring cine music with intermittent vernacular announcements. Occasionally a drummer aboard the cart invited the attention of folks around.There used to be hand pushed carts with pneumatic wheels and slanting banners on either side, publicising the films.
I have experienced a tent cinema too in my younger days. I recollect, the film was  ‘Naya Daur’ (Hindi) starring Dilip Kumar & Vyjayanthimala. Typically tent cinemas had just a couple of rows of chairs in the rear of the ‘auditorium’ , with the forefront seating the cinema goers right on the mother earth. These guys stretched their legs and scribbled on the sandy surface with their fingers. The hall’s sides used to be thatchings spun of dried coconut leaves, with liberal holes through which anyone could have a peep show. The vendors used to crisscross hawking the likes of murukku & groundnuts.
Then there were these stand alone theatres, which have been since giving way to wedding halls, shopping arcades & car showrooms.
Paragon, Roxy, Sri Krishna, Prabhat, Broadway, Gaiety, Casino, Chithra, Brighton, Maharani, Thangam, Kamadhenu, Eros, Kapali, Rajakumari, Bharath, Ashok, Plaza, New Globe, Sayani, Star, Wellington, Odeon, Midland, Krishnaveni, Shanthi, New Elphinstone, Sun were all well known stand alone theatres of the old Madras.
These theatres displayed on them huge banners & cutouts of the sequences from the movie being shown, drawn in bright colours, by renowned Banner Artistes such as Ayakan, Balu Brothers, G.H.Rao etc.
dpa-huge-cinema-posters-advertise-a-tamil-movie-in-a-street-in-chennai-d3b7hn

Star Theatre with a film’s banner at its entrance

Some of these halls used to be of very huge capacity, with those in balcony sporting an air about them.
The doorman, often in soiled lungis, at these cinemas used a vertically held torch to see your seat number and usher you in, sliding the blue curtains, at the door, that went to laundry ages ago!
Besides selling ‘soda, colour’, the vendors inside the hall used to hawk handy booklets, printed on poorest quality paper, containing the songs of the film. They used to print even the synopsis of the film being shown in such ‘paattu pusthakam‘ (song books), withholding as to how the film ended. ‘Matravai Velli thiraiyil‘(The rest on silverscreen)  was the last line, in print!
 Song Book of the Tamil film ‘Rambayin Kadal'(1956) PC: TCRC Archives
The lowest tickets were at four and three quarter Annas, before the advent of Naiya Paisa. The premium balcony seats costed a whopping Two and a half Rupees.
The tickets were issued out of a small window opening and there would be a winding high walled passage, that could choke you for lack of fresh air. As the tickets were often sold to black marketeers in bulk by the malicious counter staff, you could get tickets in grey market just about near the official counter! Booking tickets was a nightmare. After all, Bookmyshow was not around in those times!

(To be continued)

Naam Iruvar : From Stage to Celluloid

By Karthik Bhatt

The next in the series of from Stage to Celluloid we visit AVM’s baby Naam Iruvar.

The AVM productions banner occupies a pride of place in Indian cinema. With movies not only in Tamil but also in other languages such as Hindi, Kannada, Telugu, Bengali and even Sinhalese, its seven decade journey has been a remarkable one, launching the career of many a star.

Born in Karaikudi in 1907, AV Meiyappa Chettiar as a teenager joined his father’s general stores business, AV and Sons. In 1928, they acquired the distribution rights of gramophone records of SG Kittappa and KB Sundarambal for the southern districts and thus began AV Meiyappa Chettiar’s tryst with the world of cinema. In 1932, he along with his friends started Saraswathi Stores in Madras, dealing in gramophone records. His foray into film making in 1934 had a disastrous start with a hat-trick of losses over the first few years (Alli Arjuna, Aryamala and Nandakumar). These movies were produced under various partnerships with his associates.

In 1946, AV Meiyappa Chettiar decided to strike it out on his own. Thus was born AVM Productions. This post is about its first production, Naam Iruvar.

Meiyappa Chettiar had great regard for theatre. In his autobiography Enathu Vaazhkai Anubavangal (My Experiences in Life), he writes about its importance and how a good stage circuit was essential for new actors and technicians to develop in cinema. Many of his early movies were based on stage plays.

Pa.Neelakandan, born in 1916 began his career as a journalist, working for a couple of Tamil magazines. His first play, Mullil Roja was staged by TKS Brothers in 1942 and won him instant fame. He then wrote a play called Thyaga Ullam, which was awaiting a troupe for its staging. It was around this time that NS Krishnan had been sent to jail in the sensational Lakshmikantan murder case. The responsibility of running his troupe, NSK Nataka Sabha fell on his close friend and associate SV Sahasranamam. The troupe was undergoing troubled times, with a split causing actors such as KR Ramaswamy and Sivaji Ganesan to move out. Sahasranamam was looking for a suitable script to stage when he heard of the success of Mullil Roja. He wrote to TK Shanmugam and requested to be introduced to Pa.Neelakandan.

Neelakandan met Sahasranamam the following week and narrated the script of Thyaga Ullam, which was based on the relationship between two brothers. Sahasranamam liked the script and it was decided that the troupe stage the play. He however suggested to Neelakandan that a character portraying the sister of the two brothers be included, which was agreed to. The play was renamed Naam Iruvar. In his autobiography Thirumbiparkiren, Sahasranamam says that the songs for the play were written by KP Kamakshi Sundaram, who would later go on to become a well-known lyricist. The song ‘Parakkum Bharatha Manikkodiye’ particularly was a hit with the masses. A few songs of Subramania Bharathi which were also used added immense value to the play. Sahasranamam also says that the concept of playback singing in a stage play was introduced in this production. The play, whose inauguration was presided over by noted journalist and author, Va.Ra was a tremendous success, with over 100 shows being staged.

AV Meiyappa Chettiar, who had watched the play nearly 10 times at the eponymous Walltax theatre decided to make it into a movie. He bought the rights from Pa.Neelakandan for a sum of Rs 3000 and also hired him as an assistant director for the movie. A few actors from the play were booked for the movie. Sahasranamam was offered the role of the hero, which he initially accepted. He later backed out owing to logistics issues of balancing the running of NSK Nataka Sabha and the shooting of the movie, which was being held in Karaikudi, where AVM Studios was then functioning. However, it would prove to be a big break for another actor who would go on to become of Tamil cinema’s most popular comedian and character actors, VK Ramaswamy. Notable names in the film included TR Mahalingam (who replaced SV Sahasranamam,), BR Panthulu, who would later go on to direct and produce several colossal movies, K Sarangapani and TR Ramachandran. The role of the sister to the two brothers was played by ‘Baby’ Kamala, a child prodigy who would later make waves in the world of dance as Kumari Kamala.

The most interesting side story in the making of this movie is the nationalisation of Subramania Bharathi’s songs. Meiyappa Chettiar decided to buy the full rights to use a few songs in the movie. The rights lay with the famous jewellers M/s Surajmals, who had bought them to reproduce in the form of gramophone records but had not used them. They demanded a sum of Rs 10000, which was paid by Meiyappa Chettiar in full.  After Independence, the Premier of Madras, OP Ramaswamy Reddiar offered to buy out the rights from Meiyappa Chettiar in order to nationalise the works. A magnanimous Meiyappa Chettiar, the ardent patriot at heart he was, gifted the same to the government.

Below is a popular patriotic song from the film by Subramnia Bharathi

 

 

 

 

Mellisai Mannar M. S. Viswanathan

Mellisai Mannar M. S. Viswanathan is known for having incorporated various genres of world music into Indian cinema music. To say he was just a composer is an understatement. His achievements also include appearances in numerous films and television series. M. S. Viswanathan went on to act in a couple of Tamil feature films. While we all know him as a great music director, let us celebrate him in his unforgettable rare appearance as an actor in the comedy film ‘Kadala Kadala’ .

And a wonderful song that he had sung for A R Rahman for the film Sangamam along with Hariharan

Thank you MSV sir, for your great contribution to the Indian film industry! We will miss you!

The ‘small’ film about Blaxploitation: Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown” (English, 1997)

Maverick filmmaker Quentin Tarantino’s films have always evoked extreme reactions and his latest film “Django Unchained” hasn’t been any different. Critics have mostly been underwhelmed by his take on slavery in the Deep South in “Django Unchained” and fans across the world are already curious about Tarantino’s next venture.

While talking to the French publication Les InRocks, the filmmaker indicated that his next film after “Django Unchained” would be a ‘small’ film in the vein of “Jackie Brown.” So, what exactly is “Jackie Brown” all about?

Quentin Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown” | English | 1997. Photo Courtesy: Internet Movie Poster Awards

This lesser-known Tarantino cult classic was released in 1997, three years after Tarantino’s insanely-popular breakout movie “Pulp Fiction.” Starring Pam Grier, Samuel Jackson, Robert Forster, Robert De Niro, Bridget Fonda, Michael Keaton and Chris Tucker, “Jackie Brown” was an adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel “Rum Punch.” It is said to be a tribute to the Blaxploitation films of the 1970s. Blaxploitation refers to the sub-genre of the broader category of exploitation films, which were characterized by funk and soul music soundtracks with the lead protagonists invariably being black.

In article titled “The One Time Quentin Tarantino Got Blaxploitation Masculinity Right” for The Atlantic (click here to read the entire story), Noah Berlatsky delineates why “Jackie Brown” works:

Jackie Brown, then, is not just a tribute to blaxploitation, but a critique of it—which means it’s also a critique of all those mainstream gendered assumptions and fantasies which informed blaxploitation in the first place. From previews and reviews, it seems unlikely that Django Unchained, whatever its other virtues, will manage to be bracing in quite the same way. But then, there aren’t many folks, of any gender, as cool, as smart, or as exhilarating as Jackie Brown.”

And here’s the trailer of the film.

We at TCRC are big fans for this lesser-known Tarantino film and we’d love to hear your thoughts about it. So, do write in!

Shamshad Begum & The Original ‘Katiya Karoon’!

We at TCRC were deeply saddened to hear about the demise of Shamshad Begum, one of the earliest playback singers in the Hindi film industry. She was 94, only half a dozen years younger than Indian cinema itself (if we go by the release of “Raja Hairshchandra” as the beginning). Along the way, Shamshad Begum has given us some of the most evergreen melodies in Indian film music, including hits such as “Kabhi Aar Kabhi Paar” and “Kajra Mohabbatwala” for composer OP Nayyar, and “Mera Piya  Gaye Rangoon” for music director C Ramanchandra.

Shamshad Begum. Photo Courtesy: Hindustan Times

A Padma Bhushan awardee, Shamshad (which means “graceful” in Persian) Begum recorded her first song, a Punjabi number, in the 1930s. And it is another Punjabi number that we at TCRC are bringing to you today, as a tribute to this doyenne. In the 1963-released, black-and-white Punjabi movie “Pind Di Kurhi” directed by Baldev R Jhingan, Shamshad Begum had sung a version of “Katiya Karoon,” the folk number which was recently adapted in Imitiaz Ali’s “Rockstar” starring Ranbir Kapoor. While the new “Katiya Karoon” was composed by AR Rahman, the original version delivered by Shamshad Begum was composed by Hansraj Behl and was picturized on actress Nishi. Watch and enjoy!

RARE: Original LP of Sivaji Ganesan’s “Gauravam” (1973), in which he plays a character called Rajnikanth!

This week, we bring from you yet another gem from the TCRC archives. Given that the Prakash Raj-produced, Radha Mohan-directed “Gouravam” has just released, we thought it would be fun to revisit the original “Gauravam” starring Sivaji Ganesan, Nagesh and ‘Major’ Sundarrajan, which was released in 1973. Interestingly, in the old “Gauravam,” Sivaji plays the role of Rajnikanth, a senior lawyer. When seen against that fact that superstar Rajnikanth’s original name is Shivaji (Shivaji Rao Gaikwad), the nomenclature system seems to come fulls circle! Given below is the photograph of the original LP set of Sivaji Ganesan’s “Gauravam”:

"Gauravam"  |  LP Record  |  Tamil  |  1973

“Gauravam” | LP Record | Tamil | 1973

“Gauravam” was directed by ‘Vietnam Veedu’ Sundaram and the music was scored by MS Vishwanathan. “Vietnam Veedu” was Sundaram’s first  stage play for Sivaji Ganesan’s theatre company Sivaji Nataka Mandram. The play was staged for the first time in 1965 and was a massive hit. It was later turned into a movie as well.

RARE: Original LP record of Sivaji Ganesan’s “Thiruvarutselvar” (Tamil, 1967)

"Thiruvarutselvar"  |  LP Record - Front  |  Tamil  |  1967

“Thiruvarutselvar” | LP Record – Front | Tamil | 1967

"Thiruvarutselvar"  |  LP Record - Back  |  Tamil  |  1967

“Thiruvarutselvar” | LP Record – Back | Tamil | 1967

In our archives here at TCRC, we have the original LP records of numerous Indian films, right from the 50s to the 80s. Today, we share with you the photos of the LP record of “Thiruvarutselvar”, a Tamil film starring Sivaji Ganesan, Savitri, Muthuraman, KR Vijaya and others. It was released in 1967 and was directed by AP Nagarajan, the veteran filmmaker whose other hits include “Thiruvilayadal,” “Saraswathi Sabatham,” and “Thillana Mohanambal.” The music for “Thiruvarutselvar” was scored by KV Mahadevan and the lyrics were written by Kannadasan. Even today, one remembers P Susheela’s mellifluous rendition of “Mannavan Vanthanadi,” one of the most popular songs of the album.

In an interview with Mohan V Raman for The Hindu in April 2012, CN Paramasivan, the son of director AP Nagarajan had said that the overwhelming response to the re-release of “Karnan” was encouraging him to look into the restoration of some of his father’s films (click here to read that story). We at TCRC hope to see that happen.

Also, it must be mentioned here that the same team, i.e., actor Sivaji Ganesan, director AP Nagarajan and music director KV Mahadevan, came together for “Kandan Karunai,” which won KV Mahadevan the National Award for Best Music Direction in 1967, the same year in which “Thiruvarutselvar” was released. This was the first time that a National Award was constituted for the category of Music Direction. Since then, the most number of National Awards for Best Music Direction have been won by Ilaiyaraja and AR Rahman, i.e., 4 each.

Missing PBS. Wishing Pran.

We at TCRC deeply mourn the demise of veteran playback singer PB Sreenivas. PBS’ lilting melodies, however, shall live on. Our favorite is “Kalangalil Aval Vasantham” from the 1961 Tamil film “Paava Mannippu,” which incidentally was the first South Indian film to win the National Award for the Second Best Feature Film.

At the same time, we at TCRC are glad to know that the Dadasaheb Phalke Award for Cinematic Excellence is being conferred on actor Pran this year and we extend our heartiest congratulations to one of Indian cinema’s finest villains. Given below is a compilation of some of Pran’s best moments on screen.


The Archive | A film about the world’s largest music record collection

Paul Mawhinney was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA. Over the years, he amassed what was one of the world’s largest music record collections.

Due to health issues and lack of support from the music industry, Paul was eventually forced to sell his collection.

This is the story of a man and his records.

We at TCRC salute Paul’s spirit.