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.

SIvakavi

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filmy Ripples: Moonlit Movies (Part 1)

By P.V.Gopalakrishnan

The poets, from as early as Sangam literature times, have been obsessed with Moon. Due to the attributes such as soft glow, grace, cool & calmness that Moon affords, poets always compared a moon to a women and the gender of the Moon itself was considered Female. So the natural association of a woman & moon came to be in place in literature. As a corollary the ‘nayika’ always considered the moon as her beloved friend to whom she could confide her emotions from the deep fathom of her mind! In fact, she considered Moon as her friend & emissary.

The song writers in cinema, known as lyricists, inherited such literary legacy and endowed the Moon in many a film song, There have been so many memorable songs in films with Moon as a subject of reference, either in the lyrics or visual form. Of course, the trend prevailed till such time in cinema till a generation changed along with the changed world they lived in. Now, you hardly have any reference to a moon in film songs, as the song writers too are from a different generation and any such references would perhaps become incongruent today, as subtleties & niceties of life & their associated charm are often not taken cognizance of in the current fast world! Technology, lifestyle & mindset of people too have so much changed that such moon sequences are thing of the past, as they were relevant only to the period of largely the Baby Boomers & to an extent Generation X.

The old talkie movies from the Black & White era, often had sets depicting a glowing moon in a scene that portrayed peace, tranquility & romance. Often, there were water bodies in the scene, reflecting the studio moon, to add to the magic of the frame. Sometimes, a row-boat is added too to the water-body, trusting the physical prowess of the rowing actor. The studio hands did their best to imitate a real moon by propping up dome lights in the backdrops, as the artificial creepers slowly swayed on the sets denoting mild nightly breeze, thanks to the giant fans! And whenever the heroine was in her solitary space or with her hero, it was time for a melodious song, with the Moon invariable featuring in the frame.

The soul stirring “Chanda oh Chanda” by KishoreDa from ‘Lakhon mein ek’ in the music of R.D.Burman and  the immortal “Chaudvin ka chand ho” by Rafi in the composition of Ravi too are remembered to this date.

Such numbers demanded situations, which the present day films do not simply have or can relevantly have, as sentimentalism in romance has become a thing of the past. So to say, the moon has retired, sort of, in our films!

This writer made his own little research of some fifty popular Tamil film songs, referencing the Moon, from 1950 to 1973. Surprisingly, fifty percent of such songs were in the decade of fifties, summing up to twenty five. The sixties’ films had just seventeen songs on Moon. The early seventies had just about four only. This showed a diminishing trend of cinema, as far as moon was considered, based on the viewership expectation of the relevant times. Of course, even among later films there were romantic ‘moon’ melodies, by exception, such as in eighties, when infatuation about the ‘moon’ in cinemas had already become almost extinct. Who can forget “En iniya pon nilave” from ‘Moodupani’ (Lyrics:Gangai Amaran) & ‘Ilaiya nila pozhigirathu” (Lyrics:Vairamuthu) from “Payanangal Mudivathillai” (both Ilayaraja composed)? Then, there were “Nilave vaa” from Mouna Ragam (1986) “Vennilave Vennilave” from Minsara Kanavu (1997).

But, don’t you clearly think that Moon as the friend of heroine has slowly shied away from cinema?

The Moon appeared on earlier Movie screens in different contexts. When the single woman was in the clutches of Cupid, when she was with her new found love, when they disagreed on things, when they parted temporarily, when the parting was permanent, in times of sorrow and so on. There had to be some situation when the directors were too eager to film the Moon with a melody!

Some of the Music Directors, in the Pre- Ilaya Raja era, who had composed amazing songs on or about the Moon include, alphabetically:  A.M.Raja, A.Rama.Rao. Aswathama, C.Ramchandra, G.Ramanathan, Ghantasala, K.V.Mahadevan, MSV, MSV-TKR, S.M.Subbiah Naidu, S. Rajeswara Rao, T.G.Lingappa, T.R.Paapa, T.V.Raju & Vedha.

Here, we are going to talk about some twelve popular song sequences from Tamil movies of yester years, as representational of the various ‘Moon’ songs from 1943 to 1968, used in varied emotions & sequences. You will find, each of them was in different contextual situation, as we observed earlier!

1) Moon as compared to the facial features of Nayika: “Vadaname Chandra Bimbamo” from Sivakavi (1943)

SIvakavi

Song book of Sivakavi PC: From the archives of TCRC

Starting from the film ‘Sivakavi’  (pairing M.K.Thyagaraja Bhagavathar & S.Rajalakshmi) it had very beautiful song sequence where the hero compares his heroine’s face to a moon’s crescent, though the frame does not show any moon, per se. The musical score was by G.Ramanathan, the lyricist being Papanasam Sivan. By the by, the heroine of the sequence was S.Rajalakshmi, the elder sister of late Veena Maestro S. Balachandar. This song, “Vadaname Chandra Bimbamo”,  showing the romantic overture of hero & heroine, was a super hit song in the film.

There is an interesting anecdote on this duet by MKT & Jayalakshmi, set in Sindhubairavi Raga. Papanasam Sivan first wrote the opening line as “mugham athu Chandra bimbamo”. However, sequel to the recording when the Positive was projected every one was taken aback as it sounded like “Mohammed Chandra bimbamo”. Immediately Papanasam Sivan rewrote that line as “Vadaname Chandra bimbamo” still retaining the intended meaning. Those days, in the absence of tape recording, songs were first recorded on Sound Negative and later developed, to be projected. This was a tedious process to locate mistakes, if any.

 2) Moon & sky as a simile to inseparableness: ‘Neela vaanum nilavum ploey’ from “Pon Mudi” (1950)

The lovers (P.V.Narasimha Bharathi & Madhuri Devi) in Pon Mudi swear to live as inseparables in the simile of the Moon & the Blue sky, in this rather poetic song.

The story of ‘Pon Mudi’ was by Bharathidasan & was made into a movie by Movie Mogul T. R. Sundaram at Modern Theatres, Salem. For Direction, TRS engaged Ellis R. Dungan who delivered Pon Mudi full of glamour, though far ahead of its times. He gave Ponmudi excellent technical inputs, good cinematography and slick editing. As per Randor Guy, for the love scenes on the beach, Dungan brought the sand from Madras to the studio in Salem and shot the sequence, along with long shots of Madras’ Elliot’s Beach. G. Ramanathan was Ponmudi’s Music Director who himself has sung this song along with T. V. Rathnam.

3) Moon in times of loss of peace: “Amaithi illathen maname” from ‘Pathala Bhairavi’ (1951)

Filmed on N.T.Rama Rao & Malathi, the popular hit of those times, ‘Amaithi illathen maname’ rendered by P.Leela & Ghantasala was in a sequence where the love-lorn pair share their status of mental restlessness with the glossy Moon, up above the world, so high, as if an alibi to their romance.

In scenes featuring the moon in the background in this film, no hidden lights were used behind the painted moon, as a source for lighting. Instead, a drawn circle on a screen was lit to make it look like the moon. Cinematographer Marcus Bartley ensured that the actors in such scenes had their shadows away from the screen, which showed an illusion of a moon. Besides, he also used dissolve techniques.

Marcus Bartley, an Anglo Indian, served as a photographer with ‘Times of India’ in Bombay, in early years. While being there, he learnt cinematography and keenly studied the various methods and its applications & later became a ‘News Reel Camera Man’ for ‘British Movie Tone’ in India. He keenly observed the various lighting systems in photography in the films. He also experimented with these new techniques in photography.

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Marcus Bartley at a shoot. PC: unknown

Bartley debuted as the cinematographer for the Tamil movie “Tiruvalluvar” (1941) and worked for many notable films, including the Malayalam film “Chemmeen” for which he earned a Gold medal at Cannes Film Festival.

If you observe the set properties of this song sequence it would explain the attention to details that was involved by the Art Director. An entire ambience has been created by the Art Directors M.Gokhale and Kaladhar, as enhanced by the cinematography of Marcus Bartley and the lilting music of Ghantasala.

Pathala Bhairavi was the first big budget film produced by Vijaya Vauhini Studios. Major portions of the film were shot in lavish sets and many trick shots were deployed. On the centenary of Indian cinema in April 2013, CNN News 18 included Pathala Bhairavi in its list of “100 greatest Indian films of all time”.

                                                                                                                                                (to be continued)