Vietnam Veedu : From Stage to Celluloid

By Karthik  Bhatt

Monikers over a period of time become so deeply entrenched with one’s identity that it becomes impossible to identify the person without it. While Sundaram may not ring a bell readily, Vietnam Veedu Sundaram would immediately bring to mind the successful stage and cine writer from the 1960s and 1970s. This post on the film that gave him his identity.

Born in Trichy in 1940, Sundaram came to Chennai around 1955. His formal education had been cut short by poverty. Perhaps as an indicator of how his life would unfold, he found accommodation with and company of two others at the famed Club House in T Nagar (opposite the Siva Vishnu temple) who were already on their way to becoming well-known names in the tinsel world, Nagesh and Srikanth.  He joined the Dunlop Tyre Company as a machine operator even when their factory was under construction on a night shift.

It was around this time that the world of Tamil theatre was undergoing a transition of sorts.  A new order so to speak was developing, with the era of professional drama troupes (made up of members with acting as their chosen profession) slowly giving way to amateur troupes, where members juggled their day jobs with theatre. One of the earliest such troupes to be founded was the United Amateur Artistes (UAA) by YG Parthasarathy and N Padmanabhan (Pattu). It had its genesis in 1952, ironically in the tennis lawns of the Suguna Vilasa Sabha!

A chance encounter with YG Parthasarathy resulted in Sundaram becoming a part of UAA. He soon became an integral part of the support cast, taking care of costumes and set properties. His role included that of a copywriter for Pattu, who wrote the scripts for the troupe. Y.Gee.Mahendra in an interview recalls that Sundaram would unobtrusively add a few dialogues of his own, which would be retained as they were so good. Then came the script that would propel Sundaram to fame.

Vietnam Veedu was Sundaram’s first full length play. It dealt with the story that contrasted the pre and post retirement life of an honest company executive, Prestige Padmanabha Iyer and his family. Those were the days when retirement was looked upon as an event that brought about with it significant changes in lifestyle and was considered ominous, especially if there were family obligations still to be fulfilled by the householder. On completing the script, Sundaram took it to his mentor YG Parthasarathy in the hope that it could be staged by UAA. Much to his dismay, it did not find favour with him and it seemed that the script would remain on the shelves. Destiny would have other plans though.

The script caught the attention of Sivaji Ganesan, who by then had risen to great heights as one of Tamil cinema’s biggest stars. His passion for stage had remained undiminished though and he continued to be a busy drama artiste running his own troupe, the Sivaji Nataka Manram. Impressed by the script and its dialogues, he decided to stage the play. In his biography Enathu Suyasarithai he says that he was so impressed by the dialogues that he spoke them verbatim and did not improvise them, as he was prone to do at times. Yet another interesting incident he narrates in his biography is from the inauguration of the play. The first scene had Prestige Padmanabha Iyer paying tribute to the supreme sacrifice and love of his mother who had worked at a hotel, grinding batter and bringing him up with great difficulty. Sivaji Ganesan says that the moment he spoke the dialogue, he heard the sound of a person sobbing in the audience. It was SS Vasan, the boss of Gemini Studios, who was reminded of his mother who had brought him up under similar circumstances. At yet another staging, a visibly moved Vasan went up to Sivaji Ganesan’s father who was in the audience went up to him and hugged him.

The play was a resounding success and Ananda Vikatan published the entire play in a series of issues. Its success meant that it was not long before it was made into a movie. Produced by Sivaji Ganesan under his own banner Sivaji Productions, it was directed by P Madhavan and was released in 1970.

Vietnam Veedu Sundaram’s went on to write successful scripts for UAA such as Kannan Vandhaan (which was made into a movie as Gauravam) and Nalamdhaana.

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Song Book of Vietnam Veedu PC: Archives of TCRC

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A still from the film Vietnam Veedu PC: Archives of TCRC

Filmy Ripples: Train spotting in cinema (Part 1)

By: P.V Gopalakrishnan

The enduring allure of Trains is obvious to all, both young and old, as one can hear them much before actually seeing them. The romance and glamour of railways fascinate train enthusiasts everywhere. And when it is a steam engine, all the more its great hum pierces the stillness of the serene landscape, wheels screeching under the load of the grand locomotive.

The film makers always loved to use the drama associated with a train’s motion & sound, to express various emotions in film sequences, right from the silent film era. It is said that a train’s idea of an extremely compact space has appealed to filmmakers in generating dramatic tension, particularly when it is in motion.

A French short documentary film of silent film era, “L’ Arrivee d’un train a la Ciotat” (1895) (the title translates as ‘Arrival of a train at Ciotat’) is arguably the first movie to feature a train in a film, though for less than a minute duration. From that moment to date, as of writing this, even the latest released movies such as “Lion” & “Rangoon” have scenes involving trains!

Coming to Indian cinema’s connect with Railways, it has been very formidable from the age of steam locomotive to the era of electric hauled trains.

In some of the old movies, they also erected dummy bogies in the studio sets where the characters swayed deliberately to mimic the motion of the train. Sometimes, the studio hands back-projected the images of telephone poles and trees moving in the reverse direction to give that extra make belief effect. They even shook the dummy compartment rhythmically so that you & me would believe it is a real bogey. But often, they went for the big real trains or engines, paying enormous fee to Railways.

Trains have been romantic in movies. They have facilitated boy meeting the girl, helped them to trigger a love story. You may recall David Lean’s great classic, ‘Brief Encounter’ (1945) where a pair fall in love in a train station, with the story unfolding in the backdrop of the whistle of the engines and the clanging sound of the bogies till the affair disappears in the smoke of the locomotives.

In earlier Black & White Tamil films, when a character moved to another town, they invariably included a stock shot of a speeding train, as a symbolic communication. Or whenever they wanted to convey that the story was happening in Madras City, they would simply include a stock shot of the majestic Madras Central building.

When Rajesh Khanna rode a jeep, lip syncing ‘Mere sapnon ki Rani kab ayegi thu’ with his eyeballs set on a petite Sharmila Tagore on a hill train, ‘the film Aradhana’ created flutter in Indian Cinemas. The rest was history!

As kids, we have all played a train, tailing behind one another in a single file, mimicking a moving train, in the sheer fascination of rail. Particularly those burly, black, boisterous steam engines have always kindled our amusement, curiosity & fear as well, as they puffed along, emitting black clouds of smoke! Here is an old song, which used to be played often on Radio Ceylon during my child hood, featuring a song on a train game! The song was from ‘Vallyin Selvan’ (1955). The lyrics were by Kothamangalam Subbu & the music was by P.S.Anantharaman.

In a similar sequence in the film ‘Ashirwad’, Dada Muni Ashok Kumar lent his voice & acted too in the famous song ‘rail gaadi’. In fact this very song was interpreted in a creative way in a promo for Indian Railways.

The old black & white movie ‘Porter Kandhan’ (1955) showed many scenes intimately connected with railways. In the wholesome comedy ‘Missiyamma’ the comedy of errors begin with both Savitri & Gemini alighting from their train. The soul stirring number ‘Annai enbaval neethaana’ from the AVM film ‘Annai’ (1962) was shot in a sequence involving a moving train that added dramatics.

The whole story line of ‘Pachai Vilakku’ (1964) was interwoven, through the film, with the life of Hero, Sivaji Ganesan, playing a loco driver of a Steam Engine. The song ‘OLi mayamana edhirkalam’, involving shots of these artistes were filmed inside a moving ‘black beauty’ WP Canadian Engine. The shoot for the film was all over the yards of Basin Bridge Junction, with tight close ups, Pan shots, trolley shots and what not, involving Sivaji & Nagesh. Who can forget the song ‘Kelvi piranthathu anru’ shot outdoors, showcasing the various railway facilities?

In Anbu Karangal Sivaji Ganesan also donned the role of a benevolent Railway Station Master with Nagesh as a Station hand.

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The song book cover of “Anbu Karangal’. PC: From the archives of TCRC

‘Onna irukka kathukkanum’ number rendered by TMS was filmed on Sivaji on a railway platform, with a vintage rolling stock waiting to leave the station. It was fascinating to view at the type of antique railway rakes with their wide, open windows, in this sequence.

All train travellers encounter people who seek alms in exchange of a song. While some of them could be physically challenged, some just take up this practice out of sheer poverty. But a study had revealed that many of these beggars are also musically trained or belong to families that have been practicing music for generations together. The Hindi song from the film ‘Dus Lakh’ (1966), “Garibon ki suni who thumari sunega’  was a favorite song by people begging on trains. Here is a Train singer seeking alms from the Movie ‘Vaazhvu en pakkam’ in the voice of Music Director M.S.Viswanathan. The song “Tirupathi malaiyil eruginraay” is set to the chugging rhythm of a steam train.

                                                                                                                                                         (to be continued)

The Evergreen voice of Tamil Cinema, T M Soundarajan is no more.

T M Soundarajan has been the voice of many great legends like M G Ramachandran and Sivaji Ganesan. He passed away on 25th May 2013 at the age of 90 in Chennai.

You can read more about him here

T K Ramamoorthy of the Vishwanathan-Ramamoorthy duo passes away!

We at TCRC deeply mourn the demise of veteran violinist-composer TK Ramamoorthy. Along with MS Vishwanathan, he was responsible for some of the greatest songs produced by Tamil cinema, scoring music for evergreen classics such as “Kadhalikka Neramillai,” “Padagotti,” “Bale Pandiya,” “Karnan” and many others. The picture below is from an interview that he gave to The Hindu in November last year (click on the image to read that interview).

Violinist-composer TK Ramamoorthy. Photo Courtesy: The Hindu

May his soul rest in peace.