Saturday, December 31, 2011

Murugan Talkies , Mint -Article by me in the Hindu Metroplus.

from Hindu April 1932 ,

Another one bites the Dust. ( Kinema Central – Sri Murugan Talkies is no more)

It is a common site for a Chennaiite to see an old building being torn down to make way for a modern structure. Residents of Xavier Street , in Mint woke up last week to find one of their iconic structures being brought down –The Sri Murugan Talkies . With this demolition one more Single Cinema Hall is reduced to rubble. “It is not because the Theater is doing badly, as we were screening B Grade dubbed films that draws a fair crowd but to more effectively utilize the land and create better facilities” said Balasubramanian the Grandson of the founder. The proposed Construction plans to include a mini Theater , so that the 100 plus year old tradition started by his grandfather continues.

In 1895 , Murugesa Mudaliar, a rich Landlord from Ponneri came down to Madras to start some Business. He acquired a square plot of 10 Grounds , surrounded by streets on all four sides and built a “Market”. Sadly the business did not take off as he had hoped. During his frequent travels to Bombay he had noticed many Halls built for staging Plays. He came back and in 1910 converted the Market to a Theater and called it “Majestic Theater”. Many popular Drama Troupes like T.K.S Brothers , Kali N Rathinam, S.G.Kittappa and M.R.Radha staged many Plays here. “Avvai” T.K.Shanmugam recalls in his autobiography that it was in Majestic Theater that he first played under Electric Lights and it was also the first time he ate “Poori – Potato”. He also called it “Grand” and not Majestic.According to the family In 1915 Murugesa Mudaliar went to Bombay and purchased equipment to screen Movies. A huge crowd gathered to welcome him and the Projection equipment at the Central Station and he was taken in a procession led by a band and folk dancers to the Theater. He started screening silent films . Huge crowds gathered to watch this wonder , called the Motion Picture and Business was booming.hey built a second Theater in 1923 on the same plot and called it Prince , to mark the visit of the Prince of Wales to India. The Theater ran into a problem with the licensing authorities and shows were suspended after a few months, so the first multi Theater venture did not take off.

In 1931, Majestic’s name was changed to “Kinema Central” , it soon screened “Alam Ara” the first Indian Talkie. People from all over Tamil Nadu were fascinated with this new audio visual experience and flocked to the Theater. People came by Road and Rail to watch this film. There were 2 shows every day and the highest class Ticket was priced at One Rupee only. People used to bring food, snacks and even drinking water to the shows.

On October 31st , 1931, the first “Tamil-Telugu” Talkie Kalidasa was also screened here. It is ironic that exactly 80 years later the Cinema Hall is coming down. Soon the films of M.K.Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, P.U.Chinnappa , T.P.Rajalakshmi , K.B.Sundarambal , T.R.Mahalingam were all screened here. The Theater was made to look like a Sivan Temple for Avvaiyar and that attracted huge crowds who broke Coconuts and lit Camphor outside the Theater. The Lobby has a huge collection of Photographs , a film historian’s delight.

After Murugesa Mudaliar passed away in 1942 , his son Paramasiva Mudaliar took charge and for 60 plus years his practice of opening the counter and selling the first 11 tickets daily till he passed away in 2006. He changed the name to Sri Murugan Talkies in 1948 in memory of his father. It had a capacity of 908 seats. It was his Passion for Cinema that kept the Theater functioning despite all odds.

Classics like Meera, Shakunthala , Avvaiyaar , Chinnappa’s Uththama Puthiran, MGR’s first film Sathi Leelavathi , K.Subrahmanyam’s Thyagabhoomi were all released here. MKT’s Ambikapathy , Thiruneelakantar, Ashokkumar enjoyed great runs and Chinthamani ran for nearly 3 years in Kinema Central. Once MKT wanted to watch the film along with the audience and a special Box was built to accommodate him.

MGR was a close friend of Paramasiva Mudalier. He re- released “Maruthanaattu Ilavarasi” and gave it a lot of Publicity to coincide with MGR ‘s taking over as Chief Minister. MGR wanted to watch this film and when they offered to send the Print over , MGR refused and said , though the Theater did not have Air Conditioning he still wanted to watch the Movie in Murugan Theater. Normal shows were suspended and the Chief Minister and his brother , and many friends watched a private show , re living memories of their youth when MGR used to stay near Wall Tax Road and watch movies here.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

My Article in the HINDU on P.Kannamba , Actress.

Nobody is sure of Pasupuleti Kannamba's date of birth. Various forums mention the year as 1910, 1912 and 1913. However, in an interview toPesum Padam in October 1949, Kannamba said her date of birth was October 5, 1911, which makes this her centenary year. It is probably the earliest recorded interview of hers, giving personal details. Here her daughter-in-law Kalavathy gives insights into the legendary actor-producer's life.

Kannamba was born in Cuddapah to Lokamba and M. Venkanarasaiah, a Government contractor. She was their only child and grew up with her maternal grandparents in Eluru. Her grandfather, Nathamuni Naidu, was the village doctor. Her grandmother doubled as the village nurse. Even as a child she could sing well and was taught Carnatic music. Her grandfather who was a lover of literature and poetry supervised her education.


In 1927, when she was 16, she attended a play, titled “Harichandra”, staged by the Narala Nataka Samajam in Eluru. In the play, the actor who played Chandramathi sang and cried herself hoarse, but the audience laughed. Kannamba shouted that she should perform better. Upset, the actor said acting was not easy and dared the girl to try it. Kannamba jumped onto the stage, sang, acted and moved the very same audience to tears — a precursor of things to come. From the very next day, she became the leading actor of the drama company and went on to play Anusuya, Savithri and Yasodha to great appreciation.

One of the organisers of this drama group was K. P. Nagabhushanam. He fell in love with Kannamba and they married in April 1934 — this was his second marriage. The same year the couple launched their own drama company called Sri Rajarajeswari Natya Mandali and performed all over the Madras Presidency and the Nizam's Territories. The next step was obvious. A. Ramaiah of Star Combines approached her for the role of Chandramathi in their production “Harichandra”, to be shot at Shalini Cinetone, Kolhapur. She accepted the offer and thus her film career was launched.

The Saraswathi Talkie Company from Bezwada (Vijayawada) approached her for the title role in “Draupadi Vastrapaharanam” (1936) again to be shot in Kolhapur. In “Kanakadhara” shot at Vel Pictures, her portrayal of pathos got her rave reviews and she inched her way to stardom. She partnered with H. M. Reddi and B. N. Reddi in their production “Gruhalakshmi” (1938). She also acted in “Kalidas” made by Jaya Films, which became Shobanachala Studios and Venus Studios much later. In partnership with Saraswathi Talkies, she made “Chandika” and played the title character, displaying a gamut of emotions — anger, hatred and passion all of which were new to her tragedy queen image.

When Rajagopal Pictures wanted to make “Krishna Thoothu” at the Motion Picture Producers Council (later Gemini Studio), director Raghupathy Prakash approached her for her first Tamil film. Her dialogue delivery left much to be desired and her pronounced Telugu accent was one of the reasons why the film failed. Thankfully, the producers of the M. K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar classic “Ashok Kumar” approached her, despite the earlier debacle, and she delivered screenwriter Elangovan's lines in Tamil so perfectly that she became the automatic choice for the title role in the 1941 film, “Kannagi”.

By this time, she and her husband had started their own banner, Sri Rajarajeswari Film Company. She learnt Bharatanatyam to dance to MKT's singing, and this “ivar paada – avar aada” type of scene was so well received by the audience that it became a trendsetter.


In the Jupiter Films production of “Kannagi”, directed by R. S. Mani and written by Elangovan, she handled the literary and poetic Tamil without compromising on emotion, diction or cadence. Her performance in that film remains iconic. Kannamba became synonymous with Kannagi.

The question and answer in song between her and U. R. Jeevaratnam in this film became a pattern that many movies later followed. The music director of this film S. V. Venkatraman (who too celebrates his centenary this year) got this break because he was already composing for Kannamba's home production “Thalli Prema”. He went on to give classics such as “Meera”.

A pious person, Kannamba performed pooja every day before leaving for her film shoots. She was not blessed with children and adopted a son and a daughter. The daughter Rajarajeswari married director C. Pulliah's son, C. S. Rao, also a director. Kannamba's son was a tabla player. Her performance as the Queen Mother in “Manohara” was another highpoint in her career of over 150 films as an actor and over 25 films as a producer.

Veteran actress Anjalidevi recalls how helpful Kannamba was to aspiring actresses. “She taught us how to deliver dialogues in Tamil and even simple things like how to greet people with a Namaskaram. She was the inspiration for many Telugu-speaking actors to enter the Tamil film world.”

Kannamba passed away on May 7, 1964. Kannamba proved that you can excel as an actor in any language, provided you decide to learn it — a lesson many today need to learn.

(This was published in the Hindu Metro Plus of 1st October 2011.)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

GOWRAVAM – Re visited.

With Sivaji in Meendum Gowravam where he reprised the Role for a TV serial
made by Sivaji Films for Doordarshan - we clashed in the Court.

Barrister Rajinikanth - in Gowravam

My Father Senior Advocate Sri V.P.Raman


Cho, Mrs YGP, YGP, MGR, ARS and Y.G.Mahendraa

When a number of us (including the YG family) went to watch the re run of the Sivaji starrer – Gowravam at Shanthi Theater , my mind went back to how the movie came to be made. Some 40 plus years ago , Mr YGP , the founder of UAA , a Stage Play group came to my father , late Sri V.P.Raman , with a request to check out a Play written by “Vietnam Veedu” Sundaram . YGP’s reasoning was that the Play was based on the travails of a Barrister’s family because of two Trials - The first where Barrister Rajinikanth the Senior Advocate gets a man acquitted from Murder charges and the second where the same man is again accused of another Murder.

My father was initially reluctant to do this task but his close friendship with YGP could not get him to refuse. So , Vietnam Veedu Sundaram , the writer , came home and read out the Play – scene by scene. I vividly remember these sessions , when my father used to correct the legal angles , The Court Dialogues , the Judges normal comments etc . The difference between the Trial in the Sessions court and the High Court appeal was correctly portrayed probably for the first time on Tamil Stage. There were many scenes in which my father , who was himself a great lover of Cinema , allowed “poetic” licence to the playwright. In the end YGP was satisfied that the Play had been “legally vetted”. Then they inaugurated “Kannan Vandhaan” – this was the original title and every time the Play was staged , my father’s name was mentioned in the Titles as the Legal consultant. In fact when UAA Celebrated its Golden Jubilee Y.G.Mahendraa gave a memento to my late father that I had the honour of receiving.

When Sivaji wanted to make this Play into a film , one of the first questions he asked was – “is it accurate – legally ?” – He was told that my father had corrected the script and that satisfied him.

Many years later , after my father had passed away , Sivaji asked me whether I knew the inspiration for the character of Barrister Rajanikanth , that he had essayed on Screen . He then elaborated that the Pipe smoking style was inspired by the Industrialist T.S.Krishna of TVS , The hair style was inspired by the other Industrialist T.S.Narayanaswami of India Cements and some of the other aspects were from my Father.

I was stunned to see so much of my dad on screen. The “rationalist” – anti ritual thoughts from a man belonging to “orthodoxy” , the love for a glass of “ale” , the swanky dressing , the mannerism of clasping the hands behind the back and walking , the sheer confidence in one’s own ability and talent and so on. In fact to quote Sivaji he said - "maththa ella thimurum unga appan da". The ability of Sivaji to pick traits from various people and blend them into a stylish package amazes me. He was always so keen an observer , noted various points from various people seen in various times and all of that was stored in that Computer Brain of his, to be suitably modified and blended for later use. What an Actor !!

Almost as if the Circle had to be completed – Sivaji reprised the role in his only ever Television Serial – “Meendum Gowravam” – I played the Public Prosecutor and opposed him in Court , that still remains the highpoint in my career.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Cinema Rani - The first Lady Director and Super Star of Tamil Cinema

I have written an article that was published in today's ( 23/6/2011) HINDU -Metroplus.... on the first lady film Director from South India - Mrs T.P.Rajalakshmi.
I am publishing here the article as Unedited....this gives her date of birth , researched and found out by me for the first time...... she was born on 11/11/11...... A truly No 1 , date of birth.


This is the centenary year of Smt. T.P.Rajalakshmi. There are many legends in the history of South Indian cinema. Among them TPR holds pride of place. She was the first woman director in South Indian Cinema – and second in Indian Cinema after Fathima Begum . She was the path breaker for P.Bhanumathi, Vijayanirmala, Jayachithra, Sripriya, Suhasini , Revathy , Jayadevi and V Priya , all Ladies who have successfully wielded the directorial baton in Tamil cinema. TPR Produced, Directed, wrote and donned the lead role in her films Miss Malini , which she Edited too and Madurai Veeran in the 1930s . Her remarkable life was an example of dogged determination and a willingness to go through hardships in order to realize her potential.

TPR was born to Panchapakesa Sastri of Thiruvaiyyaru, who was the Karnam of Saliamangalam Village. As a child she could sing any song that she heard. She studied upto 5th standard. Hers was a child marriage. At the tender age of 7 she was given in marriage to a Muthumanii. Soon after there was some misunderstanding between both families and she never went to her husband’s home. Her father died – he did not commit suicide as is often written. Her mother Meenakshi did not get any support from her family and moved to Trichy.

TPR has given an account of her life in an Interview to a Tamil Magazine “Kundoosi” in 1950 – she states she was born in 1911 ( Virodhikkridhi ) – based on the Punarvasu Star she mentions for Aippasi month we can say that she was born on the 11th of November 1911. She also mentions that it was a Thursday and the 13th day of the month , these do not tally with the Almanac.This is verified by the Head of the Department of Astrology at the Madras Sanskrit College.

In Trichy, she joined the Theater to help the family which faced abject poverty. Her mother took her to meet V.S.Shamanna Iyer, whose Drama Company was camped in Trichy. Luckily for TPR, Sankaradas Swamigal who was there recommended her as she had nice features. TPR always felt that the blessings of the father of Tamil Theatre Shankardas Swamigal helped her in life. This move angered her family and the orthodoxy that they cut off all links and excommunicated her. The family of Muthumani formally dissolved the marriage .

Her first role was in the famous play “Pavalakkodi”, a play that went on to become a movie launching the careers of M K Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, S.D.Subbulakshmi and its Director K.Subrahmanyam. She then joined Aryagana K.S.Chellappa’s Drama Company and moved on to K.P.Moideen Sahib’s troupe. Here she was to remain for 3 years, the longest she spent in any Drama Troupe. Here she started playing the lead role in all the plays and even travelled to Rangoon toperform. On her return she joined the famous Cunniah Company – she was the first woman to be admitted there – here she played Sita to S.G.Kittappa’s Rama. From here on she stopped working for any particular drama company but became what is known as a “Special Drama” – Star. She even acted opposite MKT in the early staging of Pavalakkodi in Chennai, when MKT was contracted to Nataraja Pillai.

In 1929, she joined The General Pictures Corporation founded by A Narayanan to act in the Silent Film “Kovalan”. The film bug had bitten her and she shifted to the Associated Film Company in which K. Subrahmanyam was involved. She worked in “Ushasundari “and Rajeswari “in 1931, playing the lead in the latter opposite Raja Sandow. When the Imperial Film Company was keen on making a “Talkie” film they approached K.Subrahmanyam for casting suggestions and he recommended TPR. She donned the heroine’s role in the first South Indian Talkie, sang two keerthanas, two patriotic songs and performed a kuraththi dance. She then did Ramayan (1932) and Sathyavan Savithri (1933). In 1933 S.Vincent made Valli Thirumanam – this shot her to Stardom and she was bestowed the title – “Cinema Rani “. It was here that she met and fell in love with and later married the actor playing Narada – T.V.Sundaram. She stayed on Calcutta to make several films like Kovalan, Draupadi Vasthrabharanam, Harichandra, Gul e Bhagavali, Lalithangi.

On her return she started Sri Rajam Talkies and wrote, Directed , edited and Acted in “Miss Kamala” – 1936. She followed this up with “Madurai Veeran” where she paired up again with V.A.Chellappa, this proved to be a Hit. Her next Directorial venture – “Indhiya Thaai” proved to be a financial failure – undeterred she carried on gamely. Her younger brother T.P.Rajagopal was a talented musician and composed the music for all her home productions. Her other brother T.P.Rajasekharan assisted her in her business. She passed away on the 20 th of August 1964.

“She was given the Kalaimamani award in 1961 and as he did not want her to come in a taxi , MGR personally sent his car to pick her up and have her dropped back” recalls her daughter Mrs. Kamala. Kamala’s only tryst with the film Industry was when she played the infant Nandhanar in the 1938 film Nandhakumar. “We owned several properties in Kilpauk , all of which were steadily sold to maintain the upkeep of the family. In the end she suffered a stroke and without her knowledge she was shifted to a rented premises in Aspiran Gardens and our house in Rajaratnam Street too was sold . She wanted to celebrate her grandson’s first birthday and the family took the Gold in her Kalaimamani award , melted it , made some rings and gave it to TPR to present to her grand son. She was not aware of the dire financial straits that the family was in.”

Her daughter asked me in a voice filled with emotion – this is my mother’s centenary year, will anyone remember her in a fitting manner? I did not know what to reply – Will the Cinema Industry and the Government wake up and honor the first Queen of South Indian Cinema?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Book on M.K.Thyagaraja Bhagavathar

At long last a definitive work on the life of MKT.

I wonder if Passion is also transmitted through Genes ? Some years ago , in 2000 to be exact, I met a Mr Bala (Balakrishnan) who was a retired Bank Officer and one of MKT's biggest fans. He had written a small booklet in Tamil on the Films etc of MKT. We were in touch for a while and then I lost contact....

Two days ago my friend Kavithalaya Krishnan wanted to get a book on MKT in English , to which my answer was - not to my knowledge (barring articles on him by Randor guy ) ... then he came up to me this morning with a wonderful book....I was stunned to say the least...Immediately I went to meet the Author , a young man, born probably after MKT died , and he turned out to be Mr Bala's son.... Mr Suresh Balakrishnan , he is an advocate by profession and had done his legal studies in England. He seems to have inherited his fathers passion for MKT and the result is this book - all 514 Pages of it.

There has been tremendous research and I sure see a labour of Love. I have scanned the Book in full and have read the first 50 pages - am actually writing this blog in the gap between reading. It has a very exhaustive account of the Lakshmikanthan Murder Case and being an advocate he has analysed it very well and dispassionately. Indeed , many a small error , found in Randor's writing of the case has been corrected here.

He has in London , collected some material , especially the coverage of the Trial by "The Mail" Newspaper and also to the film archives in Poona - where he even watched MKT's first film "Pavalakodi" in the archives... wonder why the archives have not bothered to release it as a DVD for all to see, after all it is the EARLIEST TAMIL TALKIE available.... Wish the K.Subrahmanyam family will take it up.

The book is being sold at Higginbothams , he has not been able get through Landmark/ Cross word etc....A pity , wish some Book Distributor helps him do so. The Book costs Rs 495 , and every paise is well worth it.

He may be contacted at
New No 22 Devanathan Street
R A Puram , Chennai - 600028

PS - I am not his Press agent....ha ha ha....but would like every film buff who loved the early Musicals and the Music makers to read this work.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Heroines at last

India Post has honoured six legendary heroines drawing from the earliest like Devika Rani, who dominated the early silent and talkie era. She was Tagores niece, and had studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts....she married Himanshu Rai and co founded bombay Talkies....her role in Achyut Kanya (1934) ensured that Pandit Nehru became a fan of hers.

Kanan Devi , started first as Kananbala became a legend of early Bengali cinema. She started as a Child artiste and went on to act in Barua's Mukti, and soon became the top star of New Theatres which she left in 1941 to freelance in both bengali and Hindi Films.

Leela Naidu , was the femina Miss India in 1954 and was featured in Vogue as one of the most Beautiful women of the world. She made her film debut in 1960 with Hrishikesh Mukherji's Anuradha. She acted in a few Merchant Ivory films like the Householder and Guru.

Nutan - Daughter of actress Shobana Samarth , made her debut in Hamara beti, to be moulded by Bimal Roy and his successors like hrishikesh Mukherji, Bimal Dutt and Sudendu Roy. Her song with Kishore - Yeh ratein yeh mausam , is one that still haunts me and is a favourite of mine. Her classic beauty is so very evident in the image on the Stamp.

Meena Kumari - Born Mahjabeen , renamed baby meena , joined films at the tender age of 6 and went on to become one of our most celebrated actresses. Renamed meena Kumari for Bhatts baiju Bawra , she acted in all genres , comedy - Miss mary, Socials - Parineeta and the classics like sahib bibi aur Ghula, Do bigha Zameen and her husband kamal Amrohi's classic - Pakeezah. She also wrote urdu poetry under the pen name Naaz. A tragedy queen , had a tragic life too much like the next heroine to be honoured with a Stamp.

Savithri - What can I say about this brilliant actress ? Just ask people to watch "Paasa Malar" , made during her peak or even Chandrababu's Thattungal Thirakkapadum , made during her last days and you will know. She started as a dramatist , worked in Drama with NTR, Jaggiah etc. Made her debut with L V Prasad's samsaram and K V Reddy's Paathala Bhairavi until she hit stardom with her role in Pelli chesi choodu.

I personally think this is probably the only case of Husband and wife both being honoured with a stamp in the Film world . Gemini , got it a few years ago....of course actress Devika Rani mentioned above , went on to later re marry the Russian Painter Svetoslav Roerich , who has also been given a Stamp.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.