||THE HINDU, Cinema
Plus has been featuring a section "Blast from the past" wherein
Randor Guy is
about the old Tamil films - every Friday from Sep 7, 2007. An opportunity
for us to learn about the actors and technicians of those days. Randor
Guy has also recalled interesting incidents about the movies and their
As the Second
World War (1939-1945) drew to a close and the Allies were in sight of victory
over the Axis, the British Indian government requisitioned leading film
producers to make films, highlighting the role of British India in fighting
the enemy and putting down fascist forces. The making of such ‘War Propaganda
Pictures’, as those came to be known, became imperative to established
producers. Some concessions were also held out like the proverbial carrot,
and four Tamil producers made such films, all of them released during 1945....
Burmah Rani pleased the British Indian government which patted its maker
on the back with cheer. Ironically, a few years later, after India attained
freedom, this film was banned for its unkind portrayal of the Burmese and
Krishnamurthi) was indeed the founding father of the genre of historical
fiction in Tamil literature. He created many immortal classics such as
"Sivakamiyin Sabatham", "Ponniyin Selvan" and "Alai Osai". Another was
"Paarthibhan Kanavu", a historical novel built around the Pallava-Chola
dynasties. He wrote it even as he was working for Ananda Vikatan, but began
serialising it only when he established his own weekly Kalki in 1941 in
association with his friend T. Sadasivam.
and One Nights' or 'The Arabian Nights' has been a treasure trove of story
material all over the world, more so in India. There is another collection
of stories, 'Kashi Majli Kathalu', inspired by The Arabian Nights, which
has been popular in Andhra. Many Telugu and Tamil films have drawn extensively
from both these collections.
One of them
is the Modern Theatres T. R. Sundaram production, Adithan Kanavu. Sundaram
cast Mahalingam as hero. Mahalingam was discovered by AV. Meiyappan when
he cast him as little Krishna in Nandakumar (1938).
The saga of
the celebrated Maurya emperor Chandragupta and his advisor Chanakya (also
known as Kautilya, the writer of the famous treatise Arthashastra) was
brought alive on the Tamil screen by one of the most colourful personalities
of south Indian cinema of his day, C. K. Sachi with the singer-actor Bhavani
Sambamurthy as Chandragupta and the iconic Carnatic musician N. C. Vasanthakokilam
as the queen.
MGR who was
yet to make a mark as an actor was cast as Lord Shiva with the Telugu actress
K. Malathi as Parvathi.
a dance number 'Shiva Thandavam' along with Malathi, a highlight of the
film. MGR worked hard, rehearsing the dance for weeks and performed surprisingly
well. His athletic physique, agile movements, handsome looks and graceful
dancing impressed all and proved to be the spring-board for his elevation
as a hero, the big break he had awaited for years. He was cast as hero
in the Jupiter production and Sami’s directorial debut Rajakumari (1947).
was written by noted multilingual filmmaker A. C. Thirulokachandar. An
MA from the Madras University, he entered films as story writer and assistant
director and was earlier associated with the sadly forgotten Tamil cinema
pioneer R. Padmanabhan (his son Balasubramaniam was ACT’s college mate.)
As assistant director, his name appeared in the credits as ‘A. C. T. Chandar,
M. A.’ He also worked with the genius K. Ramnoth. Vijayapuri Veeran gave
him the first major break as screenwriter which took him to the house of
AVM where he began to climb the ladder of success fast.
A good friend
of this writer Babu told him later that Chandrababu hired a rickshaw in
Mylapore for some time and practised 'the art and craft of rickshaw-pulling',
and also spoke to many rickshawpullers of the area to learn their lingo
and 'idiomatic expressions'!
T. P. Rajalakshmi,
the first multitalented star of south Indian cinema, is hardly known to
the present generation. Hailing from Tiruvaiyaru, Rajalakshmi was married
off at the age of 11. She was abandoned by her husband soon after over
dowry problems which drove her temple priest father to suicide. Along with
her mother, she fought a lonely battle for survival. Breaking all norms
of conservative society, she entered Tamil theatre where she scaled great
heights. This paved the way for her entry into silent cinema where she
tasted enormous success. When the first Tamil movie Kalidas was made in
1931, she was the automatic choice to play the heroine. She played the
lead in many hits. She created history by writing, directing and producing
a film titled Miss Kamala. She was the first female to achieve such distinction
in south Indian movie history and, perhaps, Indian cinema.
told thriller turned out to be a surprise package and scored well at the
box office. A slim, active movie star named Jaishankar was born and he
never looked back… It also had melodious music (T. R. Papa) with some songs
‘Iravu varum…’ and ‘Ullathin kadhuvugal….’ becoming hits.
fared well at the box office and acquired the status of a mini cult film
because it had political innuendoes.
for Sivaji Ganesan’s brilliant performance, Karunanidhi’s whiplash political
satire and pleasing music.
During a chat
years later, Sivaji Ganesan told this writer that Kannamba stole the film
from him with that single line, and at that time he almost wished he played
the queen’s role. Interestingly, when he was a stage artiste, he had played
the role of the queen in ‘Manohara’! The play, of course, did not have
this line, much to his regret.
more wooded than it is now. Numerous crows hovered over the food packs
meant for the cast and crew of the film. In those days, all involved in
a movie irrespective of their status ate the same food.
taking place in bright sunshine, the cast and crew would break for food
only if a cloud cast its shadow on the sun. The artistes would rush as
soon as the cloud cleared, abandoning the food packets, and the crows would
swoop down to peck at the food. Their incessant cawing interfered with
the recording of dialogue and song (as artistes had to sing songs on location
just as they delivered dialogue). The exasperated director brought on board
an Anglo Indian to shoot an air rifle into the sky to scare the crows away
before he started shooting.
That was not
all. There was a credit card in the titles, `Crow Shooter - Joe'. Perhaps
the only one of its kind in movie history!
(one of the producers) passed away during the making of the film, and some
of the songs written but not composed by him were done by his assistants
Viswanathan-Ramamurthi. The hit song, 'Wulagey maayam, vaazhvey maayam.',
was composed by this talented duo.
of the film was the avalanche. Shots staged in the Modern Theaters Studio
at Salem were inter-cut with ‘duplicated’ shots from the Frank Capra classic
Lost Horizon (1937). (The creative filmmaker Capra shot the mind boggling
avalanche sequences, creating snow in a warehouse in Los Angeles, using
tonnes of ice and other material. The atmosphere was so cold that in many
shots the camera froze and stopped functioning!)
In those days,
there was an unhealthy practice in the South Indian movie world of a story
being filmed by more than one producer simultaneously in competitive spirit.
The story of the Panduranga devotee was similarly used by S. S. Vasan and
Jupiter Pictures with both launching the production almost simultaneously.
Vasan with his drive and dynamism brought out Chakradhari (1948) much earlier,
which reaped a rich harvest at the box office, while Sudharshan was in
production for a long time and was released only in 1951.
legend Bette Davis rose to great heights with The Old Maid (1939), one
of her many hits, in which she and her cousin fall in love with the same
man who goes away to fight in the American Civil War. Before he leaves,
the Davis character has an affair which ends in premarital pregnancy and
he dies in the war. The cousin marries a rich man and in a cruel stroke
of revenge takes over the female baby and brings her up as her own, with
the child growing into a young woman thinking that she is the mother and
Davis is only a poor relation staying along as `the old maid' like a `charity
used a novel gadget which attracted much attention in that day. A palace
watchman wears a belt into which a key is tucked. Like most watchmen, he
snoozes a lot. When an intruder tries to pull out the key, a hidden mechanism
in the belt bursts into loud instrumental music waking up the watchman!
told this writer that many people asked him whether this gadget could be
made on a commercial scale, patented and sold! Ramnoth, like most creative
souls, shrugged it off).
has an interesting postscript. When RMK sought to renew the Censor Certificate,
the then Regional Censor Officer G. T. Sastri, perhaps the toughest Film
Censor the movie industry has ever seen, incorruptible to the core, rejected
the renewal. Moreover he asked RMK to surrender the negative and all available
prints for destruction! Indeed, Sastri commented that J. R. Rangaraju should
never have written such a novel! The story is all about a judicial officer
who misuses his office to serve his personal ends. This theme, according
to Sastri, was illegal, immoral and anti-social! Looking at it today, one
is likely to be amused by Sastri’s decision. How times have changed!