Filmy Ripples : Film Directors of nascent stages of Tamil Screen

By P.V. Gopalakrishnan

A film’s narration is in the hands of its Director, besides its Editor & Cinematographer. While a Director’s role in filmmaking is second to none, he has to have teamwork with other functionaries.  The Directors are the professionals who see every sequence shot through the eyes of the ultimate cine goer. They are like the captains  of a ship and pilots of an aircraft.

These days, there is so much talent in the industry that we often witness the avtar of a new talent in film direction.

But think of the times when Cinema itself was in nascent stage & the Directors had the risk of experimenting with a pristine audience. In such a stage there were some outstanding Film Directors in Tamil Cinema who contributed to Tamil Cinema from its silent era, about whom we will talk here. We have excluded here the legend Ellis.R.Dungan, as we had covered in details about him earlier.

Sunder Rao Nadkarni

Sundar Rao Nadkarni, a Konkani from Mangalore, was an actor from Silent Film Era & later became an all rounder as editor, cinematographer, director and producer. He lived his formative years in Bombay which enabled him to delve deep into Marathi theatre and cinema. Thereon, Nadkarni moved to Coimbatore and finally Madras, where he settled down permanently. Inspired by the success of Sabapathy when AVM wanted to launch another comedy, he noted Nadkarni who went on to direct the Tamil Mega Hit film of AVM, En Manaivi (1942).

Following this success, Nadkarni also made other successful Tamil films. But his greatest hit was M.K.Thyagaraja Bhagavathar starred Haridas (1944), which set a record by becoming the first Tamil film to run for 110 weeks at the Broadway theatre in Madras.

Haridas

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

He directed all the top Tamil actors too during his active years, such as T. R. Rajakumari in Haridas (1944), Narsimha Bharathi in Krishna Vijayam (1950), and MGR and Savitri in Mahadevi (1957). (Nadkarni was the co-producer of ‘Mahadevi’).

Raja Sandow

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Raja Sandow PC: Unknown

K. Raja ‘Sandow’ (original name: P.K.Nagalingam) was one of the legendary film-makers right from the silent movie era. Besides, he was also a successful actor, producer and director.

According to Randor Guy, it was a sports enthusiast millionaire from Bombay, Omar Sobhani who took P.K.Nagalingam, for his athletic abilities, to Bombay, where he later met Director Patankar who gave him a break in ‘Baktha Bhodhana’ (1922), purely owing to his physique & good looks. Thus he started his film career. In fact, ‘Sandow’ in his name was appended for his physique, after the Hollywood strongman Eugen Sandow.

Between 1922 & 1943 Raja Sandow ruled the roost in silent  (such as ‘Veer Bhemsen’ (1923) & ‘The Telephone Girl’ (1926)) as well as talkie films in Tamil & Hindi. Later he took to film direction and even had scripted for talkies. The ‘Reformist’ Sandow brought many reforms to Tamil cinema & spearheaded making social themed movies with messages. He was also initially handling the Directorial part of the celebrated MKT movie, “Sivakavi” but was replaced by Sriramulu Naidu. A pioneer in the first generation of Indian film making, he also used to act in Tamil & Hindi till his sudden demise at his 48 in1943.

Y.V.Rao

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Y.V Rao PC: Unknown

Yaragudipati Varada Rao (born 1903) aka Y.V.Rao was a man of many parts that he was a filmmaker, actor and a film director. He was a visionary in his professional thinking & was a pioneer in making films in various Southern languages besides Hindi, right from silent movie era, when he started as an actor in silent films. Then he shifted to Madras in the 1920s & was cast as hero in many silent films like “Garuda Garva Bhangam”, “Gajendra Moksham” , and “Rose of Rajasthan”. Moving on, Y.V. Rao started his directorial debut with silent films, such as ‘Pandava Nirvana’ (1930), ‘Pandava Agnathavaas’ (1930) and ‘Hari Maya’ (1932).

Rao was at the pinnacle when he directed Tamil film, ‘Chintamani’ (1937) with MKT as its hero. The film created box-office records and proved to be a turning point in the annals of Tamil cinema and also in the life and career of Thyagaraja Bhagavathar.

Y.V.Rao married Actress Kumari Rukmini, through which they had a daughter, who would later come to be recognized as Actress Lakshmi.

Acharya

G. Raghavachari was a successful Madras High Court lawyer who was also active in the early Tamil Cinema writing and directing, without identifying himself for his work, as in those times cinema was a taboo in many minds, leaving Raghavachari to be anonymous in the movies he worked, including the popular film ‘Rishyasringar’ directed by him.

It was in 1943 at the insistence of movie mogul S. S. Vasan his name appeared as “Acharya” in the credit titles in Gemini’s ‘Mangamma Sabatham’.

During his days he was the most knowledgeable in South Indian Cinema and was involved in productions such as ‘Chandralekha’ (1948) & ‘Apoorva Sahotharargal’ (1949). As per Randor Guy, it was Raghavachari who directed the famous drum dance sequence in Chandralekha, using multiple cameras to film the sequence, though he walked out of the film in mid way.

T.R. Sundaram

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T.R.Sundaram PC: Unknown

T.R.Sundaram (born 1907) was from a wealthy family & was a graduate from Leeds University. He was married to a Britisher, Gladys while in UK.
Sundaram entered Tamil films in the early 1930s & was involved in film production in partnership. Later he promoted his own company “Modern Theatres” in Salem. He became a successful studio owner & directed “Sati Ahalya’ (1937). Some of the films made by Modern Theatres included ‘Arundathi’ (1943), ‘ Sulochana’ (1947), ‘Utthama Puthiran’ (1940), Manonmani’ (1942), ‘Aayiram Thalaivangi Apoorva Chintamani’ (1947), ‘Adithan Kanavu’ (1948), ‘Digambara Samiyar’ (1950), ‘Manthiri Kumari’ (1950), ‘Ponmudi’ (1950), ‘Valayaapathi’ (1952), ‘Sarvadhikari’ (1951), ‘Alibabavum Narpathu Thirudargalum’ (1956), and ‘Pasa Valai’ (1956). T.R.Sundaram was a great & strict disciplinarian at work.

Manonmani

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

TRS gave breaks to many like M Karunanidhi & Kannadasan who became legends.Almost all the top stars have acted for Sundaram except the legend M. K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar. Even the American filmmaker Ellis R. Dungan worked for him, directing ‘Manthiri Kumari,’ and ‘Ponmudi.’

Modern Theatres, one of the most successful film entities, has produced nearly two hundred movies in various languages. Out of this studio came out the first Malayalam movie, ‘Balan’. Besides, the first Tamil film in Gevacolor, ‘Alibabavum Narpathu Thirudargalum’ was also from Modern Theatres.

T.R. Sundaram who passed away in 1963.

K.Subramanyam

Subrahmanyam, a lawyer by profession, decided to go into movie making and founded in 1937 the Motion Pictures Producer Combines Studio where later Gemini Studios stood. He was a founding veteran of Tamil Film Industry & one of the founders of Nadigar Sangam in 1952.

He started his film career working on silent films directed by Raja Sandow. He started Meenakshi Cinetone, debuting his Directorial career with film Pavalakkodi, in which M. K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar too debuted as an actor.

His remarkable movie was Balayogini, dealing with many social issues of the times. In 1938, he made Sevasadanam, advocating  woman’s empowerment, Bhakta Cheta, on the subject of untouchability and  “Mana Samrakshanam’, a war effort film. His best-known work was Kalki Krishnamurthy written nationalistic film Thyagaboomi, which got banned by the British government, for its explicit National flavor.

As to his personal life, he first married Meenakshi and later Actress S.D.Subbulakshmi. Through these two wed locks, he had children such as S. V. Ramanan, Dr Padma Subramanyam & Abaswaram Ramji, amongst others. His grandson S.Raghuram became a legendary dance choreographer in Indian film industry.

When Subramanyam’s studio was gutted in a major fire, the property came up for auction through a court order. At this juncture, Subrahmanyam persuaded S.S.Vasan to bid for it and enter film production. This is how Vasan’s Gemini Studios came into being.

Sriramulu Naidu

Sriramulu Naidu (born 1910 at Trichy) was another illustrious figure in the development of South Indian cinema. He was a great film personality who promoted as many as three motion picture studios in Coimbatore. In his younger days he was managing his railway retired father’s  bakery in Coimbatore. It was the early thirties when Tamil films were made only in far off Calcutta, Bombay or Kolhapur as till around 1934 the South did not have facilities for movie making. When Premier Cinetone Studio opened in Coimbatore, Sreeramulu Naidu joined the Studio & got trained in several aspects of film msking. Later he co founded the famed Central Studios in Coimbatore, where ‘Tukaram’ was made in Tamil 1938, in which the famous Carnatic Musician Musiri Subramanya Iyer debuted I Cinema. In 1941 Sreeramulu Naidu at Central Studios made ‘Aryamala’. In this movie, Naidu introduced M.S.Sarojini as the heroine. (Later he married her too). In this film Naidu learnt he Art of film making from the other capable co-technicians. When a Madras-based Narayana Iyengar promoted Pakshiraja Films at Coimbatore, Sreeramulu Naidu joined him as his agent and eventually became its Partner. But he quit that and founded the legendary Pakshiraja Studios at Coimbatore, where once Kandhan Studios stood.

Naidu’s second film ‘Sivakavi’ (1943) with MKT in the lead was also a grand success. Raja Sandow initially directed this film but since he fell out with Naidu, the latter took over its direction.

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Song book of Sivakavi. PC: From the archives of TCRC

The other noted films under his direction included Pavalakodi, Kalyaniyin kanavan, Kanchana, Malaikallan & Maragatham ‘Malaikallan’ (1954) was made in various languages including Hindi. In Tamil version the pair was MGR- Bhanumathi & in Hindi the pair was Dilip Kumar-Meena Kumari.

If there was a Hall of Fame for the Film Industry in India, like it is in Hollywood, all the above illustrious as well as industrious men would have surely found their coveted places therein. The current Tamil Film Industry owe a lot to these relentless pioneers.

 

 

 

 

 

Filmy Ripples : Rainy Movies

By P V Gopalakrishnan

Movies are all about dramatic interpretations of incidents of ordinary life; in projecting the life’s stories on this Earth on to silver screen, Cinema gets to be larger than life. In its course, Cinema brings to the viewers added excitement, dramatization, surrealism and what not. This is what is being cinematic! Rain in films is one such element that builds up the excitement, whether the movie is about romance, family subjects, horror, thriller, musical or comedy. So you see a pair holding hands & singing as the down pour is on them, a villain musters his might on the noble as he drenches himself in rain and so on & so forth!

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The lead pair from the film Kovil Yanai (1986) seen drenched in Rain. PC: From the Archives of TCRC

No matter what sequence, Movies always have had cloud burst on their characters! Here we are going to look at some of them, starting with a famous rain sequence from the celebrated Hollywood movie  ‘Jurassic Park’. In this tense sequence, Director Steven Spielberg had heightened both the excitement & fright about the Dinosaurs from the Mesozoic Era by adding rain. However, the film was made on the onset of the Information Era when Technology had already benefited film- making.

But our own period films have used their extremely innovative ideas in the absence of advanced technology. The below clip from the film ‘Avvaiyar’ (1953), produced by S.S.Vasan of Gemini Studios, shows the sequence in which the new born, but abandoned, baby Avvaiyar is carried in a casket by the flash floods following incessant rains, with reasonably credible on-screen presentation!

There have been clever ‘rain’ scenes in some movies, without actually showing any rain at all, as was the case in the movie “Aada vantha deivam’ (1960). Here, in the song “Sottu sottunu peyyuthu paar inge”, the hero & heroine are enacting the effect of the rain inside their porous dwelling while the simulated rain pours outside! The actors were T.R.Mahalingam & E.V.Saroja and this super hit duet of its times was composed by K.V.Mahadevan on the lyrics of Maruthakasi.

In the same year as the above Tamil movie, the black & white Hindi film “Parakh” directed by Bimal Roy was released with its iconic song number, “Oh…Sajna Barkha Bahar Ayee”. Some song sequences become evergreen & this is one such, where Sadhana sedately strolls by the portico and retreats indoors as the rain pours down outside. Shots of rain dripped vegetation and puddles are interspersed with close-ups of Sadhana as she sings about her love. The sequence filmed by noted Cinematographer Kamal Bose simply became equivalent to poetry, due to Shailendra’s lyrics, the music composed in Raag Khamaj by Salil Chowdhary (also happens to be story-writer of the film)  & the vivid capture of the monsoon moods on camera.

Everyone loves rain. The fondness for getting wet in the rain is ingrained in all from our childhood  & the film makers have always utilized such universal love for rain in making scenes of rain in movies where the characters in the film are made to soak themselves, drenching to their skins in the studio rain. Often they burst into songs as a pair under the downpour.  Here is a famous rain song sequence filmed on Sivaji Ganesan & Malini, amidst thunderous rains, in ‘Sabash Meena’ (1958), in the voices of T.A.Mothi & P.Suseela (1958), the music score being by T.G.Lingappa. Here goes the very song ‘Kaana inbam kaninthatheno’.

As for the lovers encountering the downpour, here is another instance from the film ‘Thazhampoo”(1965) starring MGR & K.R.Vijaya.

Director Prakash Mehra included the famous rain song sequence, ‘aaj lapat jaiye toh’ in the Amitabh starred hit movie ‘Namak Halal’ (1982), purely as a matter of ‘attraction’ where the pair was through the song wet in the ‘rains’! Smita Patil, featured in the scene along with Amitabh, was an actress par excellent, graduated from FTII. She belonged to a genre of actors such as Shabana Azmi & belonged to he parallel cinema of seventies. Her stellar roles with leading directors such as Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihlani, Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen & G.Aravindan cannot be forgotten.The commercial cinema Moghul, Prakash Mehra has used such an acting material for a pedestrian item in this song!

Sometimes, a lovelorn Nayika is seen dreamingly solo-drenching in the rain as Saroja Devi does it in this sequence from the film “Kudumba Thalaivan’ (1962).

The Directors add rain to a scene to make it more dramatic. And it was not always ‘boy meets the girl under the down pour’ sequence. Here is an inspirational message through a song from the MGR starred film ’Chandrodayam’ (1966) which has been shot in rain.  T.M.Soundararajan rendered it in the music of MSV.

From Sridhar’s “Nenjil oar aalayam” (1962), shot in a matter of less than four weeks, the song “Engirunthalum vazhga” rendered by A.L.Raghavan in the music composition of MSV-TKR was a super hit. This sequence of pathos genre was shot in the ambience of a dark rainy night. Whereas the team of Director Sridhar and Cinematographer A. Vincent have taken indoor shots of the hero singing while showing in between the nightly rain outside, to bring in that touch, complete with frogs croaking from the rain puddles. The orchestration in the song suggest sound of tip-tap rain drops falling with the Hawaiian Guitar Notes & Bongo beats that sustain through the song.

Whenever the Director wanted to add that ‘extra’ to an already tense situation, nobody helps him like rain. There have been many such instances in movies. Here is one such song sequence (Voice: SPB, Music: Ilayaraja) filmed on Mohan in ‘Payanangal Mudivathillai’ (1982) where the hero is drenched to the skin in the rendering of this popular song.

The Award winning, intense Malayalam Feature Film, “Perumazhakalam” (2004) (meaning season of heavy rains) exploited the heavy monsoon of Kerala throughout the film, in narrating the heart wrenching emotional story of a young girl whose spouse is given death punishment in Saudi. Needless to say, the rains soaked movie had its dramatic effects heightened by the real rains.

Are our Indian films alone when it comes to singing in the rain? Nay, look at this song from the MGM produced Hollywood musical ‘Singing In the Rain” (1952), where Gene Kelly tap dances in the rain.

The song ‘ Evano Oruvan Vaasikiraan’ in the mystic voice of Swarnalatha in ‘Alai Payuthe’ vividly demonstrated Director Mani Ratnam’s perennial obsession with rains, in the combo of lyrics and music, to magically contrive emotions. Beautifully cinematographed by PC Sriram, the song emphatically conveyed the binding passion between the hero & heroine.

As we said above, not merely song sequences attracted rains, but even fierce fight scenes were composed in rains, as in Mani Ratnam’s Thalapathi, where Rajanikant encounters with goons, shows.

In our movies, special effects people use hoses, pipes and sprinklers to create rain effect. They can be freestanding for close ups shots or mounted on a crane for larger wider shots. They also hose down the water in the backdrop to make it look dark, wet and drippy. Most film production units use a device called rain curtains along with fans and low lighting to create the illusion that it is raining.

If we closely observe films featuring day time rains, mostly the shots are from above with tight close ups on the characters so the audience won’t notice the fact that it’s not raining more than a few yards away. Whereas shooting nightly rain is said to be easier as the depth of field is shortened by the low light conditions, making it, anyway, difficult to see much beyond the characters being filmed.

 Well, the mythical Lord Varuna, thus, had been donning a role in our cinemas past & present. And today we have 7-D theatres where the moviegoer even gets wet in a rain sequence.  Not withstanding such surge in technology, there are, today, even specialist companies, that create digital special effects to simulate rain, as GenArts, in Hollywood.

So, keep watching for more rains in your neighborhood cinemas!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 : When Film Stars are from the Fauna (Part 2)

By P.V Gopalakrishnan

Elephants have been used as attraction seekers in Tamil Cinema ever since a pachyderm called ‘Chandru’ played heroine, singing star Thavamani Devi’s (from Ceylon) accomplice in ‘Vana Mohini’ (1941). In this film, a rehash of a Hollywood ‘jungle’ movie , the story, screenplay and direction were by Hindi film actor and Director Bhagwan. The elephant virtually stole the hearts of all as he indulged in many tricks.

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Vanamohini PC: unknown

‘Sri Valli’ (1945), produced by AVM featured the elephant named Krishnan Kutty, sourced specially from South Perinkulam in Kerala, which is, by the by, also the village of this writer.

According to the well-known writer & film historian Theodore Bhaskaran The Gemini Studios resembled an elephant camp in 1948 while the Magnum Opus ‘Chandralekha’ was in production, as many elephants were in residence in the studio premises. He goes on to say “Two well known circus companies, Kamala Circus and Parasuram Lion Circus, camped in the Gemini Studio compound for shooting a film. At least one of them changed its name into Gemini Circus after the shooting of the film Chandralekha (1948) that Vasan was then engaged in, and in which the circus elephants were featured.”

In Gemini’s Avvaiyar (1953), a large herd of elephants were needed for a battle scene in the film and Vasan’s search ended in an elephant camp near Vayanad at Manandhavadi, which featured in the spectacular scene in which stampeding elephants attack a Fortress.

In the MGR starred ‘Gulebakavali’ (1955), there was a much publicized scene of MGR fighting with a live Tiger. However, there is no mention of the tiger’s name in its credit titles.

Now, I want to dwell in detail about exotic animal specie that featured in a Chennai produced Hindi Movie as early of the fifties.

Mr. S. S. Vasan of Gemini Studios who had produced grand movies praised as Magnum Opus made a Hindi movie in the fifties, starring Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand & Bina Rai. After shooting quite a footage of the film, when Vasan reviewed the same he felt an immense need to introduce an animal character in the film, which he felt was otherwise dull. After all, Vasan has had the benefit of featuring a bunch of elephants in his immediately preceding grand Tamil film ‘Avvaiyar’, much to the movie’s box office advantage.

Someone in his team suggested a monkey, which sparked an idea in Vasan’s industrious mind.  In those times, Chimps were often featured in many movies & TV Shows with ample fan following in the USA. One of such Chimpanzees, called Zippy was a star of his own right there. He is believed to have earned about USD 55k per month through his busy engagements in TV Shows, Night Clubs & other special events.

Living up to his reputation as India’s ‘Cecil B. DeMille’, the movie mogul, this time, turned his sights West and struck a deal to fly in Zippy, the Chimp, at a phenomenal price. Before the month was over, the chimp from Hollywood was on his way to India. Zippy, from USA, landed on a hot day in 1955, with his Trainer (Ralph Quinlan) & Owner (Lee Ecuyer), within a month, first At Santa Cruz Airport & then on to Madras Meenambakkam.

No ordinary monkey and being a bonafide American star, he was welcomed with a garland in Indian Tradition by Mohana, one of the Artistes of the film ‘Insaniyat’. Film India magazine reported about Zippy: “On arrival at the Santa Cruz airport he kissed Mohana and stuck to her till he departed. That proves that Zippy believes in cushioned comforts. So do many but they are not as fortunate as Zippy…”

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Welcoming Zippy. PC: www.thebigindianpicture.com

The Hindu reported, “No star in recent times received such a tumultuous reception as was accorded to Zippy, the chimpanzee, at the Meenambakkam airport when he arrived with his trainer and owner”.

I recollect, I was in fifth standard, when Zippy took Madras City by storm. Gemini Studio was issuing special viewing sessions of Zippy to the public. VIPs & school children were accorded special ‘audience’ with the great chimp. Zippy was an instant hit with the Press as well as the crowds who had been awaiting his arrival. As a news report in The Hindu noted the next day, “the patience of the crowd was amply rewarded when they had the fun of seeing the chimp walk and do things like a boy, and shake hands with all those who wanted to do so. With close fitting dress and boots, Zippy delighted the people by his mannerisms”. For the short period of a month that Zippy stayed in Chennai, he received royal treatment. Lee Ecuyer, in a New York Times interview, recounted people “bowing at our feet as though he really was royalty”.

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Zippy with S.S Vasan PC: From the archives of TCRC

As Zippy was small in stature, scenes featuring the chimp were reportedly shot slightly lower than eye level, so cleverly that the audience never realized that the action on screen was physically impossible for such a small creature.

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The lovable diminutive young chimp Zippy, trained & adept at playing piano, roller‐skating and typewriting, besides several other feats, was featured in not just one but two song sequences — “Beta Bada Hoga’ and ‘Main Hoon Bandar Shaher Ka’ in the film ‘Insaniyat’.

 

 

When the movie was at last released, Zippy was the Star, not the Bombay’s biggest stars, to the curious crowds. Their verdict was unanimous: the chimp had stolen the Show. It is learnt that as Zippy grew old, its owner found it difficult to manage it & donated it to The Bronx Zoo, New York.

Some sections also conspired that since the owner Lee Ecuyer had multiple chimpanzees with him for featuring in TV shows, it was not clear whether the very ‘Zippy’ who landed in “Insaniyat’ was the same celebrity who had appeared on popular American shows ‘Howdy Doody’, “The Ed Sullivan Show’ or ‘Cheeta’ of  “Tarzan’s Hidden Jungle”.

There was another chimp called ‘Pedro’ who acted in Indian film produced by Homi Wadia of Bombay who specialized in making Tarzan kind of movies in Hindi. In fact he produced a series of such films, which were also dubbed & released in Tamil.

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Song book of the Tamil dubbed Hindi Film Zimbo (1958) featuring Pedro the CHimp PC: From the archives of TCRC

In South Indian film industry there was Sandow Chinnappa Devar who regularly featured animals in his films. His delightful Hindi movie ‘Haathi Mere Saathi’, extolling the loyal instincts of elephants for their masters, starred Rajesh Khanna and Tanuja.

 

There have been innumerable films in which animal species have appeared and it would be difficult to enlist all. Here is some of the cross section of movies with animal actors. Devar also produced Shatrughan Sinha‐Jaya Bhaduri paired ‘Gaai Aur Gori’ featuring a cow. The same film was remade in Tamil as ‘Aattukara Alamelu” replacing the cow with a goat. Thangamalai Rakasiyam (1957) had Sivaji Ganesan in a Tarzan­like character talking to elephants, which were picturised in Anamalai woods. Chinnappa Devar, who used extensively animals in his films, made Yanaipagan (1960) & Nalla Neram (1972), the later with M.G. Ramachandran as hero, both these films featuring elephants. Yanai Valartha Vanambadi (1967) & its inevitable sequel, Yanai Valartha Vanambadiyin Magan (1972) too had pachyderms in stellar roles. Even in Kumki (2012) an elephant featured as a main character. Film ‘Saivam’ had a Rooster in it, whereas ‘Kumudam’ had a Cat in it in the song ‘Meow meow poonai kutty’. Server Sundaram had a parakeet in the beautiful song ‘Thathai nenjam’. However, it was nota talking parakeet, as was presented in the sequence. The parakeet’s voice in the song was lent by, mimicry artist who worked with MSV, named Saibaba (one of the sons of T.S.Baliah).

Going forward too, the animal kingdom is sure to continuously attract the attention of film-makers throughout the world, for the simple reason that the animals are ever irresistible to people. The child in us would demand to see animals in films. However, the filming of animals in India is subject to certain regulations by the Animal Welfare Board of India. We only pray that the animals are not ill treated in the course of filming, as has been reported in the past.

 

 

Finding a treasure and losing another

While editing our upcoming Filmy Ripples article – When Film Stars are from the Fauna (which is scheduled for Monday) we were going through our archives to find relevant pictures that could accompany the article.

During our search we came across a gem from our photo archive. Below is the picture.

Zippy

PC: From the archives of TCRC

Our writer of the Filmy Ripples series, P V Gopalakrishnan, confirmed that the above picture was indeed Zippy and SS Vasan most likely taken during the time Zippy was brought down from the USA to Madras for the shoot of the Hindi film Insaniyat.

What is exciting for us at TCRC is that not only does our archive have photos of stars of a bygone era who were not just heroes and heroines but also animals who were stars in their own right like Zippy. Hoping to give our reader more information about the above picture and the people in it, our founder, Sruti had immediately made contact with the eminent writer Ashokamitran last Wednesday.

Mr.Ashokamitran was the PR person at Gemini studios and had written a popular book called ‘My years with the boss at Gemini studios’. In the book he had written the fascinating story about Zippy being brought to India by Vasan to be part of the super hit film Insaniyat.

We couldn’t have asked for a better source to give us more details of the above photograph. He had asked Sruti to come over to his house on Thursday with the photograph.

Sadly we received the news that Mr. Ashokamitran had passed away on Thursday before we could meet him. The passing away of this genius who was one of those rare writers who wrote both in Tamil and English is a great loss for both the literary and the film world.

We at TCRC mourn the death of this great man.

PS: We are still hoping we get more information on the above photo so do pass the word around.

 

 

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)

 

Filmy Ripples: Train spotting in cinema (Part 2)

By P.V.Gopalakrishnan

A major, gory train accident happened in November 1956, in real life, involving Tuticorin Express at Ariyalur near Trichy. This left 142 passengers dead and 110 injured, with many more missing, their bodies never to be recovered. Torrential rains had swollen the river Maruthaiyar to a level where the waters almost touched the rails on the railway bridge near Ariyalur, causing flash floods.

In fact, Sri. Lal Bahadur Sastri, who was then the Railway Minister even resigned on moral grounds.

The filmmaker T. Prakasa Rao rushed his crew to the scene of Ariyalur train accident and shot much footage, which he included into his Tamil movie, ‘Madhar Kula Manickam’ (meaning ‘Gem among women’) starring Gemini Ganesan & Savithri in the lead, released the same year. This movie was based on Rabindranath Tagore’s story ‘The Wreck’. Later, S. S. Vasan remade this film in Hindi as ‘Gharana’ which turned out to be a big hit.

(Watch the real footage of the train wreck after the 39th minute in the below video from the film Madhar Kula Manickam)

‘Neelagiri Express’ (1968) was a successful thriller movie involving a train journey, whose screenplay was written by Cho. Jayashankar, Asokan, Vijaya Laltha were among the prominent actors besides Cho. The movie was a remake of Malayalam movie ‘Cochin Express’, which was also remade in Telugu & Kannada. The Hindi version ‘The Train’ had Rajesh Khanna as its hero.

nilagiri-express

A song book of Neelgiri Express. PC: From the archives of TCRC

The scene in ‘Thillana Mohanambal’, where Sikkal Shanmugasundaram  & Danseuse Mohanambal travel with their parties aboard a train cannot be forgotten. The old wooden coaches of Indian Railways featured in the sequence were fitting to the film, set to some early period in time.

The movie ‘Raman ethanai Ramanadi’ (1970) too had a song ‘Chithirai madham pournami neram’ by P.Suseela, filmed aboard a train by Director P.Madhavan. Penned by Kannadasan, the music for this song was set by MSV to the chugging of a steam train, complete with its long whistles.

Coming back, to later films you may recall the flash dance performed by Kamal Hasan and troupe in the Tirumayilai Rapid Transit Station in the film ‘Avvai Shanmukhi’ or the dramatic interactions in ‘Anbe Sivam’ between Kamal & Madhavan at Pollachi Junction? Who could forget those intense dramatic scenes shot in Railway Stations or Rail crossing gates (Moonram Pirai, Puthiya Paravai)?

Bharathiraja’s ‘KIzahkke pogum rayil ‘, which debuted Radhika, is still remembered for its hero and heroine communicating through their graffiti on the rear of the last van.

kizhakke-pogum-rail

Song book of Kizhake Pogum Rail. PC: From the archives of TCRC

In the film Thalapathi the train played mother to none other than Superstar Rajinikanth, as Srividya abandoned her baby in a goods train, as the haunting melody ‘Chinna thaay aval, thanga raasa’ played off screen. The wailing whistle of the train in the opening of the song, indeed, added much dramatics to the pathos.

In another Mani Ratnam film ‘Alai Pauyuthe’, suburban trains and railway stations figure as major locations, as the hero waits at a railway station every morning to catch a glimpse of the heroine. In ‘Gentleman’, the song chikku bukku raile is dedicated to trains.

The ever popular ‘thaiya thaiya’ song & dance sequence filmed atop a moving Nilgiri Mountain Rail is ever remembered from the film ‘Uyire’.

In Gautam Menon’s ‘Vinnai thandi varuvaya’ the leading pair is shown to share their first moment of intimacy in a train journey.  Even in the recent ‘Kakka Muttai’ the child workers are shown collecting coal pieces strewn around the Basin Bridge yard for a living.

The recent movie ‘Thodari’ featured Dhanush as a Railway pantry worker.

The list is endless, as many more instances of bondage of trains to Tamil films.

The Train related sequences dominated many Hindi films too, to name a few, in random order: Dil Se, Ajnabee (old), Chennai Express, Aashirwad, Dost, Kaala Bazaar, DIl tho Pagal Hain, Dilwale dulhaniya le jayenge, Kuch kuch hota hain, Bunty aur Babli, Julie, Sholay, Burning Train, Kitaab, Mera Naam Joker, Pakeeza, Professor, Waqt, Railway Platform, Toofan Mail (1934), Aap ki kasam, Coolie etc.

Some of the memorable songs that featured in old Hindi films were shot on trains, to name a few: ‘Uparwala jaan hain’ (Kaala Bazaar),  ‘Main chali main chali’ (Professor), ‘Gaadi bulaa rahi hain’ (Dost), ‘Hum dono hain premi’ (Ajnabee). Whereas the immortal song ‘Chalte chalte’ rendered by Lata & filmed on late Meena Kumari (her last movie) in the cult classic film Pakeeza (1972), which was in production for sixteen years, had the hallmark wailing whistle call of a passing steam engine at the end of the song, bringing great emotions to the fore, as set in the storyline.

The Hollywood had its share of romance with trains & locomotives as the following long list of films would suggest: Skyfall, From Russia with Love, French Connection, Spiderman 2, Strangers on a Train, A Passage to India, Bowani Junction, Gandhi, Murder on the Orient Express, The lady vanishes, Arizona Express, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Cassandra Crossing, Murder she said, 39 steps, North by North West, Von Ryan Express, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Bridge on the River Kwai.

The modern film making even permits the real bogey visuals being replicated by CGI (computer-generated imagery) capabilities. But that’s a different story.

There is an exclusive overseas company by name ‘train chartering’ which provides total solutions to film shoots, whether movie, TV or Ad. Films. They provide train and rail locations & offer consultancy for filming on a Train or Railway Station anywhere in UK, Europe & America, their services spanning Locations, Sourcing trains, carriages, delivering Train carriages to non-railway sites such as studios etc. They claim to have Trains and carriages from 19th century onwards.

The Indian Railways seem undeterred in encashing its popularity among filmmakers, as they recently hiked the hire charges on special trains (of four coaches and one Semi luggage van with a distance cap of 200 km) for film shooting purposes to a whopping      Rs. 4.74 lakhs per day.

The obsession of film makers to trains will only continue to grow and, may be, in times to come, there may even be films shot on the ensuing Bullet Train in India!