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.

Untitled

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 – ‘Titled’ Film Artistes

By P.V.Gopalakrishnan

It is distinctive practice of Tamil Cinema and perhaps to an extent even Malayalam Cinema, to add adjectives to the nouns of its Artistes as ‘titles’, since times immemorial. I do not know about the other regional film Industries of the South. It seems not as widely prevalent in Bollywood either, though there are sporadic references to specific artistes such as “King Khan” or “Big B”, while they are not used as prefixes to the relevant names.

Some of the “titles” that the film industry had given its actors are either in recognition of their fine talents or out of sheer fanciful love & affection to them.

MGR got the ‘title’ of ‘Puratchi Nadigar’ from Karunanidhi in 1952 when the latter presided over a Stage Play of MGR. This title later became ‘Puratchi Thalaivar’, when MGR founded his own party.

MGR

A picture of MGR from the 1959 Deepavali Malar of the magazine Kalai. The write up next to the photo mentions him as ”Puratchi Nadigar”

V.C.Ganesan became ‘Sivaji’ Ganesan when he shot into fame for his role as the Maratha Warrior King Sivaji in a Play penned by C.N.Annadurai. Later, Sivaji Ganesan was given the title “Nadigar Thilakam” in 1957, by the reputed ‘Pesum Padam’ film magazine & it was in the credit titles of ‘Ambikapathi’ film, released the same year, that his new title was first ever featured.

Shivaji

Sivaji Ganesan mentioned as Nadigar Thilagam in the 1959 Deepavali Malar of the magazine Kalai.

The prefixes such as ‘Sivaji’ (Ganesan) or ‘Bharath’ (Mamooty) to certain leading stars were rather ‘earned’ titles bestowed upon them by respectable institutions or the Government.

Gemini Ganesan acquired the prefix ‘Gemini’ in his name, owing to his earlier career as a Casting Director in Gemini Studios. He was later referred as ‘Kadhal Mannan’, a fond title given by his fans for his impeccable romantic roles.

Similarly, titles such as ‘Ulaga Nayakan’ (Kamal), ‘thala’ (Ajit), ‘ILaya thaLapathi’ (Vijay),  were conferred by their passionate fans, in decorating them affectionately.

Though such decorating titles were not as common for female actors, there were, of course, ‘Punnagai arasi’ (K.R.Vijaya), ‘Abhinaya Saraswathi’ (Saroja Devi), “Nadigaiyar thilakam” (Savithri), “Nattiya PerolI” (Padmini) and the like for a chosen few, based on certain USPs.

Ayiram Rubai

An ad for the film Ayiram Rubai from the December1964 issue of Naradar. Here Savithiti is mentioned as Nadigar Thilakam.

In 1963, the duo MSV-TKR was conferred the title ‘Mellisai Mannargal’, suggested by Kannadasan & conferred by Sivaji Ganesan at a star-studded function organized by Triplicane Cultural Academy at NKT Kala Mandapam, Triplicane. ‘Chithralaya’ Gopu, who a close pal of MSV, was instrumental in organizing the event, which was majorly supported by ’The Hindu’ newspaper.

Sometimes, adding a prefix (aka ‘title’) to an actor’s name was necessary in avoiding comedy of errors. In the bygone era of Tamil films, we had “Friend” Ramasami, “PuLimoottai” Ramasami,  “K.R” Ramasami, “V.K” Ramasami each ‘title’ making them distinct with their own ‘brand equity’ and avoiding the potential confusion as to which ‘Ramasami’ one is talking about. If two Gopus were there, one had to carry the ‘title’ of ‘typist’ while the other carried the prefix of ‘Chthralaya’. If Ganesans had to be distinct, one had to be ‘Gemini’ & the other had to be ‘Sivaji’. When two Balachanders were there, not withstanding their different time frames, their names were always referred with their initials & one was S.Balachandar & the other K.Balachander. The Varalakshmis were distinguished whether she was ‘S’ or ‘G’!

Some ‘titles’ of actors were linked to a character they had earlier played or the film in which they were debuted. Some of the actors who went by the names of movies that brought them to fore are ‘Vennira Aadai Murthy, ‘Nizhalgal’ Ravi, “Pasi” Narayanan, ‘Jayam’ Ravi & ‘Vietnam Veedu’ Sundaram. ‘Chiyaan’ Vikram was named so after the character he had played in the film ‘Sethu’ that made him a star.

Such practice extended to even stage artistes, as in, ‘Nawab’ Rajamanickam, ‘Cho’ Ramaswamy, ‘Kathadi’ Ramamurthy, ‘Typist’ Gopu etc. referring to their memorable characters in some play.

Then we had ‘Ennethe Kannaiah,’Gundu’ Kalyanam, ‘Oru viral’ Krishna Rao, ‘Thayir Vadai’ Desikan, ‘Omakuchi’ Narasimhan, ‘Major’ Sundarrajan,  ‘Galla Petti’ Singaram, ‘Loose’ Mohan, ‘Chattampillai’ Venkatraman, ‘Usilai’ Mani,  ‘Kakka’ Radhakrishnan, ‘Naradar’ Mahadevan, ‘Silk’ Smitha and the big names like ‘Danal’ Thangavelu, ‘Thai’ Nagesh & ‘Thengai’ Srinivasan. Of course, in Malayalam too you had/ have the likes of ‘IdaveLa’ Babu, ‘Oduvil’ Unnikrishnan, ‘Nedumudi’ Venu, ‘Kuthiravattam’ Pappu & ‘Jagathi’ Srikumar.

Many film artistes never shed their organic ‘initials’, without the inclusion of which we would never ever refer or even recognize them. In this regard, ‘T.M’ Soundarrajan, ‘U.R.’ Jeevarathnam, ‘S’Janaki, ‘P” Suseela, “S” Varalakshmi, ‘P.U’ Chinnappa, “M.S’ Viswnathan, ‘T.S’ Baliah, ‘M.R’ Radha, ‘M.K’ Radha, ‘M.G’ Ramachandran, “N.S’ Krishnan, ‘T.R’ Rajakumari, ‘SPL’ Jayalakshmi, ‘S.V’ Ranga Rao, ‘A.P’ Komala, “T.V’ Rthinam are few instances. However, the long list goes on!

Some became eternally iconic abbreviations like ‘MGR’, ‘MKT’ or ‘MSV’, which were Brands by themselves.

Some, preferred to be identified with the names of their native place such as “Pattukottai” Kalyanasundaram, “Kothamangalam” Subbu, “Kovai’ Chezhiyan.

For a chosen few only assumed names gave them recognition & reputation, like in ‘Kannadasan’ or ‘Vaali’.

We have stuntmen too with adjectives to their names, such as ‘Mafia’ Sasi, ‘Kanal’ Kannan, ‘Anal’ Arasu. ‘Super’ Subbarayan and what not!

After all, the individual actors or other film artistes are individually selling themselves as a product in a stiffly competitive industry called cinema. This makes a valid reason and absolute justification for such distinctive ‘titles’, as they constitute their market capitalization, in a way.