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.

Baby Sachu_Avvayar

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 : Tamil Cinema’s evolution from Theatre (Part 2)

By P V Gopalakrishnan

Pammal Sambanda Mudaliar, a qualified lawyer, founded Suguna Vilas Sabha, which is located even today next to the erstwhile Plaza Theatre near Cosmopolitan Club on Mount Road, Chennai. He wrote a hundred plays & staged them there. The title of Kamal Hassan’s film, “Pammal K. Sambandam” was his expression of tribute to this ‘Father of Tamil theatre’.

Pammal_Sambandha_Mudaliar

Pammal Sambanda Mudaliar PC: unknown

Sati Sulochana, Vedala Ulagam, Ratnavali, Manohara and Sabapathi, are some of the hundred and odd plays he wrote. The above mentioned plays were also made into successful films.  Old Madras luminaries such as S. Satyamurthy, R. K. Shanmukam Chettiar, V. V. Srinivasa Ayyangar, C. P. Ramaswamy Aiyar, V. G. Gopalaratnam and M. Kandaswamy Mudaliar (the father of the famed actor M. K. Radha) have acted in his plays. The British Govt., honored Pammal Sambanda Mudaliar with coveted Rao Bahadur Title, later the Government of India honored him with a Padma Shri Title in 1963.

Kandaswamy Mudaliar was a well known Tamil dramatist and stage actor. When Pammal Sambandham Mudaliar founded the famous ‘Suguna Vilas Sabha’. He became a member of it and took active part in the running of the Sabha. Besides writing plays, he supported his guru Sambandha Mudaliar in the theatre activities of the Sabha.

S.G.Kittappa, trained in music and acting by Sankaradas Swamigal, was a Tamil classical singer and stage actor who was active in the pre-cinema days.

K.B. Sundarambal as a small girl was discovered while singing and begging for alms on trains by F. G. Natesa Iyer, a Railway official, who was also a stage actor, talent – scout and play producer. He introduced her to Tamil theatre. Soon her stage plays such as “Valli Thirumanam”, “Pavalakodi”, “Harishchandra” became great hits during those days

While on a tour of Ceylon she met singer-stage actor S.G. Kittappa to whom she got married and started acting in stage musical plays as pair. KBS and SGK acted in dramas like Thookku Thookki, Nandanaar, Dasavatharam & Aandaal staged by the Kannaiya Nadaga Company. Their fans showered silver coins on stage when they acted. The couple became cult figures. They also took active part in the Indian Freedom Movement. But Kittappa eventually died very young in 1933 at the age of 27 due to which, at this juncture, his young widow K.B.Sundarambal went into isolation.

When the owners of a Sindhi business house, Chellarams, wanted to produce ‘Baktha Nandanar’ they approached KBS who initially resisted the offer. Subsequently, she debuted in that very film in 1935, in the role of Nandanar, for which she was paid a whopping lakh of Rupees. the renowned Carnatic Vidwan Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer (father of late Maharajapuram Santhanam) too acted in the very film ‘Baktha Nandanar’ (not to confuse with the subsequently made ‘Nandanar’ featuring M.M.Dandapani Desikar). Having debuted in this film, KBS acted & sang in many movies, notable of which were Gemini’s ‘Avvaiyar’, A.P.Nagarajan directed “Thiruvilaiyadal”, Poompukar, Kandan Karunai & Karaikal Ammaiyar.

PU. Chinnappa, was a popular singer movie actor in Tamil screen from 1930s. At a tender age of 8, Chinnappa joined in Meenalokshani Vidvabala Sabha, run by one Palaniyapillai, under the tutelage of Sankaradas Swamigal. At that time T.K.S brothers were acting in this popular drama company at that time. From there P.U.Chinnappa joined Madurai Original Boys Company for a salary of Rs.15 with a 3 year contract. Chinnappa was very prolific in singing too. When Chinnappa acted as hero, M.G.Ramachandran, P.G.Venkatesan, Ponnusamy and Alagesan were acting as a female lead with him. Kali N Rathinam and M. G. Chakrapaniwere acting in supporting roles.

Chinnappa debuted in the movie Chandrakanta (1936) & continued his career in films like Punjab Kesari, Raja Mohan, Anadhai Penn, Yayathi and Mathruboomi. But the movie Uthama Puthiran was a block buster, catapulting the career of Chinnappa. His movies such as Aryamala & Kannaki made him a box office hero. Several other movies of him like Dhayalan, Dharmaveeran, Pruthivirajan and Manonmani too ran very successfully.

Aryamala

Song book of Aryamala PC: From the archives of TCRC

Manonmani.jpg

An ad of Manonmani in Ananda Vikatan Deepavali Malar 1942 PC: From the archives of TCRC

It was during this time, the professional competition between M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar and Chinnappa became intense. Vanasundari, Ratnakumar and Sudarshan were the movies that Chinnappa acted last. He passed away in his late thirties in 1951.

One F.G.Natesa Iyer through his Rasika Ranjana Sabha, an amateur theatre group, introduced M.K.Thyagaraja Bhagavathar to Stage when MKT was in his pre-teen years. He also took professional training in Carnatic music. MKT teamed with S.D.Subbulakshmi toured even Ceylon & Burma to stage their dramas successfully.

MKT debuted in ‘Pavalakodi’ (1934), produced by Lena Chettiyar & directed by K.Subramanyam, in the music score of Papanasam Sivan.

Pavalakodi

Inside the pages of Pavalakodi song book. PC: From the archives of TCRC

In all, he acted in 14 movies in his life most of which were record breakers. Thiruneelakandar, Ambikapathi, Chintamani were among the highly successful Tamil films. His film Haridas, released (1944) ran continuously for three years at Broadway Theatre, Madras. The super hit film ‘Chintamani’ (1937) lodged MKT firmly in Super Star status. During the period of World War II, MKT staged his plays & gave concerts to collect funds for Red Cross Society.

He was very popular in classical concert circuits when very many doyens ruled the roost in that field.

After ‘Haridas’ was released, MKT emerged as an unequalled singer-actor & in this pinnacle of his career he had to undergo a jail term of three years, along with N.S.Krishnan, though he had been booked for many more films by that time for which he had collected even signing amounts. When he was released from the jail by the higher court in London after three years of jail term, MKT started seeing decline. His own production ‘Rajamukthi’ also bombed. He passed away at his 49 in the year 1959.

Haridas

An ad for the film Haridas in Kalki Deepavali Malar 1943  PC: From the archives of TCRC

NS. Krishnan (NSK), the highly acclaimed ace comedian of Tamil Screen of forties & fifties, started his career too on stage. He joined The Original Boys Company in the year 1924, while he was very young. A year later in 1925 NSK joined the Drama Company, ‘Sri Bala Shanmukhanandha Sabha of TKS Brothers where he debuted in a play titled “Savithri”. Subsequently, he worked in various other dramas and donned a variety of roles.

His debut into cinema was through the film ‘Sathi Leelavathy’, produced by Gemini S. S. Vasan, as a comedian. However his debut film was released only in 1936, a year later than his second movie ‘Menaka’ (1935), in which TKS Brothers & K.T.Rukmini acted.  ‘Menaka’, based on a play by TKS Brothers, was shot on a schedule of three months at Ranjit Studios, Bombay. Menaka was the first film to use a Bharathiyar song in a movie. The producers were bold to do that despite there having been a ban on Bharathiyar’s works by the British Government.

Soon in his life he added T.A.Madhuram, a co artiste of par excellence, as his spouse, during the shooting schedule at Poona of the film ‘Vasantha Sena’, directed by Raja Sandow. The rest was history with this couple acting together in over 120 movies, as a pair, between 1936 and 1957.

NSK & Maduram were both singing actors. Towards the later part of his career he too was implicated in the Lakshmikantan murder case along with M.K.Thyagaraja Bhagavathar & had to undergo a prison term of thirty months.

N.S.Krishnan produced & directed the movie “Panam” (1952), after his release from jail term, in which he paired music directors Viswanathan & Ramanoorthy first time. Though Ramamoorthy was senior to Viswanathan, NSK decided to have Viswanathan’s name first due to phonetic reasons. And it stayed so!

He passed away in 1957 & few of his films were released much after his demise.

                                                                                                                                                           (to be continued)

 

The story of Lena Chettiar, the used-car dealer who turned into a film producer!

We at TCRC are always looking out for interesting trivia about yesteryear film personalities. Also, given that our search analytics told us that people were looking into the TCRC blog for information on one of Tamil cinema’s earliest superstars, actor-singer M K Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, we thought of putting together a separate post about him. We started looking for information about his 1934-released debut film “Pavalakodi.” But it was one of the producers of “Pavalakodi”, one Mr. Lena Chettiar, who ended up piquing our curiosity.

“Prabhavathi” (Tamil, 1942) was produced under the Krishna Pictures banner promoted by Lena Chettiar. Photo Courtesy: The Hindu.

Writing about the film “Prabhavathi” (Tamil, 1942) in The Hindu’s Blast From The Past column, Randor Guy profiles Lena Chettiar (click here to read the post about “Prabhavathi”):

S. M. Letchumanan Chettiar, popularly known as Lena Chettiar, was a powerful figure in the world of Tamil Cinema. A native of Chettinad, he was a ‘drama contractor’ in his early days, staging plays in various southern parts of the state by hiring freelancing actors and selling tickets for their plays. He also dealt in used cars and was the first man in this part of the world to print and circulate handbills about used cars in Tamil. Most of the Naattukottai Chettiars were wealthy, but did not know English. They found these handbills a novelty and encouraged Lena Chettiar.”

Randor Guy also reports that it was Lena Chettiar who convinced M K Thyagaraja Bhagavathar to not venture into production himself and stepped in to produce it for him:

M. K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar’s (a top-ranking freelancing stage actor then) play with another stage actress S. D. Subbulakshmi, ‘Pavalakodi’, was a raving hit not only in the Tamil-speaking areas of South India but also in Ceylon. Bhagavathar was seriously planning to enter movies with Pavalakodi and Lena advised him against venturing into production on his own and convinced Bhagavathar to team up with him. With his rich pals, Lena produced Pavalakodi in 1934, which marked Bhagavathar’s film debut and proved to be a major hit.”

Lena Chettiar produced numerous films under various labels and eventually, started promoting the ‘Krishna Pictures’ banner in the early part of the 1940s under which he produced films in Tamil and Telugu for nearly 15 years. The last film that he produced, before the founding of Krishna Pictures, was “Krishnan Thoothu,” which was the Tamil debut of Telugu film star Kannamba. In his post about “Krishnan Thoothu,” Randor Guy mentions Lena again:

 He wielded enormous influence beyond the confines of the movie business in official and political circles. Soon after this film, he promoted his own unit, Krishna Pictures, in T. Nagar. His office on Thanikachalam Chetti Road (named after the noted Justice Party leader O.T. Chetti) was indeed a landmark of that area with its Krishna temple besides the building put up by Lena.”

Producers seldom get mentioned in serious writing about cinema. But in the early days of cinema in India, we at TCRC have noticed that often it was the producers who  moved mountains to fuel innovation and creativity. Lena Chettiar seems to be one such gentleman and we at TCRC are glad to bring back to public memory, stories of such film entrepreneurs.