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TALKIE EXPERIENCES IN TAMIL

TALKIE EXPERIENCES IN TAMIL

FOREWORD

CHAPTER I – HOW DID I COME TO ACT IN FILMS?

CHAPTER II – DIRECTING ‘SATI-SULOCHANA

CHAPTER IIIHOW DID I GET TO ACT IN MANOHARA?

CHAPTER IV – TALKIE FILMS, WHICH WERE ADAPTED FROM MY OTHER PLAYS

CHAPTER V – ASPECTS OF ACTING IN TAMIL TALKIES

BOOK TITLETALKIE EXPERIENCES IN TAMIL

AUTHORPAMMAL SAMBANDHA MUDALIAR

ORIGINAL PUBLICATIONFIRST EDITION, PEERLESS PRESS, 1938, TAMIL.

ENGLISH TRANSLATIONSUGEETH KRISHNAMOORTHY.

PUBLICATIONSELF PUBLISHED, 2017, ENGLISH.

TRANSLATION COPYRIGHTS AND DECLARATION – The underlying copyright of the translated work (in English) is owned by Sugeeth Krishnamoorthy, as per existing Copyright Law prevailing in India. This work is licensed under a ‘Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License’, which means that it can be used for any non-commercial use, which includes personal use, academic, research related activities and freely sharing of the file (as-it-is) over the Internet. The license permits printing of the book for individual or personal use, but strongly refrains anyone from doing so, in a commercial capacity.

*Please ensure that the above information is included in any copies of the document which are subsequently being made. *

FOREWORD

A few months ago, I was making plans to travel to Pune. The primary focus of this trip was to interview Shri.Prakash Magdum, Director of the ‘National Film Archives of India’, for my documentary project, ‘THE MISSING REELS OF TAMIL CINEMA1’. The Pune trip eventually materialized in late January, 2017. After having spoken with the ‘Director-N.F.A.I’ on the second day of my trip, the remaining days were spent almost entirely in the library. I visited the N.F.A.I on every working day, for the next two weeks and made the best use of my tenure, there. It is here that the seeds of this rare book’s translation, took birth.

The first edition of this book ‘TALKIE EXPERIENCES IN TAMIL authored by Rao Bahadur. Pammal Sambandha Mudaliar was published in the year 1938. The book is not only a historical work when seen in the context of ‘declining popularity of Stage Dramas’ and ‘Lost Talkie Films’ today, but it also provides ample space into understanding Mudaliar’s own uncompromising attitude on Copyright Law issues like ‘ownership, permissions, royalties and related rights’. These views expressed by him, bear even greater conviction when seen from the fact that Mudaliar, apart from being a successful dramatist and a stage actor, was a qualified lawyer himself and was called upon in ‘public space’ to share his opinions and expertise, as part of various ‘art, cultural and administrative bodies’, during his lifetime.

The authors of Mudaliar’s time, had their own signature stamps over their creations, since it was quite common for contemporaries to be handling a similar subject, at the same time. For instance, the printed drama booklets of Valli Thirumanam stage drama, authored by Sankaradas Swamigal and Pammal Sambandha Mudaliar2 are available and can be accessed via the Internet. The theme of both these books are similar and have a common origin, yet both these authors have treated the work differently and have added their own elements, thereby creating very different derived works, both of which were copyrightable to the new creators.

The fact that Mudaliar could demand a royalty of Rs.1000 even in the 1930’s ( apart from ‘honorarium’ and ‘adaptation’ costs which were paid to him, before the shooting of the film commenced) after the successful run of Ratnavalli, reaffirms the value and importance that the writer held in the film industry, during its nascent years.

In stark contrast, several Tamil movies made in the recent past, have been blatantly plagiarized from older works (which are still under copyright) in recent times, with film makers ‘not seeking the permission of the original author for adaptations’, ‘paying them due royalties’ or even ‘giving basic credit and inspirational acknowledgements on the screen’. With no way out, affected writers today have had to seek justice, post the film’s release or have had to settle for ‘out of court’ judgements, which typically are a fraction of what, they may have originally demanded.

It is also a near shocking co-incidence when one observes a close, analogous and almost prophetic explanation that Mudaliar offers in this book, that has a close bearing to the recent events involving, a successful music composer denying rights to a playback singer, to perform his compositions in public, without seeking his permission and paying the necessary royalties. Mudaliar continues to explain the differences between ‘out-of-copyright’ content and the ownership of derived works, which bears a striking similarity to the subsequent views expressed many by netizens, following the ‘[_music composer-singer’ _]spat.

At times, there may be situations where ‘authors’ or ‘researchers’, looking for ‘primary information sources’, end up with a dead end, due to the ‘lack of knowledge’ of a particular language in which such potential material may have been originally published. I have experienced this myself, and during my conversations with other researchers, I find that this is a common problem. My own challenges in trying to decipher Telugu and Sinhala material unsuccessfully, during my long term goal of researching Director K.Subrahmanyam’s works, has definitely played a part, in me taking up the voluntary translation and publication of this work. It is the potential, to prevent a similar pain, occurring to someone tomorrow, who is limited by lack of Tamil knowledge, but is still interested in studying the history of Tamil theatre or film, that makes the efforts to translate this book into English, worthwhile.

Such an important historical work should therefore neither be limited by ‘language’ or ‘accessibility’ in the times, that we live in today. Therefore, the original text of the book in Tamil has been translated into English, to the best of my limited abilities and re-published in this edition. The Google translator too has been quite helpful to me in this regard.

While several books written by ‘Pammal Sambandha Mudaliar’ are slowly appearing on the Internet in digital form and can be accessed for free, possibly due to his books now slowly becoming a part of the public domain, there is no copy of this book ‘TALKIE EXPERIENCES IN TAMIL’ available anywhere, to the best of my knowledge. Should there exist a good copy anywhere, it would be of great help and add immense value to enhancing human knowledge, if it is digitized in its original form (Tamil) and shared on the Internet for fair-use cases, since the original copy which was preserved all these years in the N.F.A.I and which has served as a source for the translation of this book, is in a very bad state now.

Many times, the paucity of primary sources and the challenges in finding them, leads writers to rely on questionable secondary sources, that invariably dilutes the quality and authenticity of many modern works being published on cinema, today. In this context, this book is a very important one, since it makes first hand references to films that either ‘don’t exist today’3 or ‘which are not directly accessible to the Public4’, in the current contexts of ‘information consumption’.

There are two reasons which make this book, a precious gem. Mudaliar writes this book almost entirely from the first person. This tremendously increases the authenticity of events, described. Secondly, the book was published at a time, when the events being referred to, had happened in the ‘recent past’. This immensely increases the accuracy of information from a ‘timeline of events’ perspective, as human memory tends to be fragile and starts failing over a period of time.

It is a sad story that many primary sources like these which are rare and existing today, continue to be bottled up and held hostage in private archives, libraries or institutions, which for centuries have been seen as the havens of ‘information dissemination and public access’. In the last couple of decades, technology has not only changed the landscape of book publishing and what it therefore means for ‘the author’, ‘the publisher’ and ‘the reader’ in terms of both ‘rights’ and ‘revenue’, but it has most importantly redefined what the term ‘accessibility’ really means. This change has now begun to question the primary objectives of these archaic institutions, in practical terms.

The Internet has seen the creation and growth of open-source technology, free information access websites and Content licensing and distribution standards like Creative Commons. _]This has proved that a ‘[_free information sharing ecosystem’ funded and supported by ‘individual, institutional and public donations’ can co-exist with a traditional copyright Law based distribution system, which has argued for centuries that financial reward alone can serve as a motivation for the creator. Twenty years after the creation of the Internet, we can see both these systems working in tandem with each other, although in all fairness, one must admit that rampant piracy, has questioned the financial viability for the continued existence of the latter.

While interpretational challenges continue to appear over a very slowly evolving ‘copyright law and enforcement’ that cannot keep pace with ‘[_evolving Digital Technology for sharing and information access’ _], digital dilemmas have invariably appeared, based on these challenges and raise several moral and ethical questions.

For example, ‘Should a book currently under copyright, but which has been long out-of-print and is very difficult to trace today and which is not being currently sold in any digital form over the Internet, thereby serving no gain to the author, publisher or reader, be made accessible to the reader in public interest, even if the act of digitizing and uploading may not be legal?’, or alternatively, ‘Should the information continue to be withheld and copyright law strictly enforced, even if the information continues to be denied to the public?’

Thankfully, this dilemma does not exist for ‘out of copyright’ material. Today, thanks to the efforts of multiple individuals and organizations, such information in the form of Digital Artifacts is being rendered free of cost to the public via websites like the ‘The Internet Archive’, ‘Digital Library of India’ and film research portal, ‘indiancine.ma’. Being an immense beneficiary of such digitized ‘out of copyright’ information myself, thanks to faceless ‘donors and individuals’ who have funded and painstakingly digitized and uploaded such material, it is but quite natural, that I wish to give back to the system, in a similar manner, hoping that it would benefit someone else in the future.

Mrs.Veena Kshirsagar, who is in charge of library facilities at the N.F.A.I was kind enough to permit me to scan the original book over my phone, to prevent further damage to the book during manual reproduction5 (Xerox). During my tenure, she was very helpful and at times, went beyond her ‘call-of-duty’, to help me. Thank you very much, Ma’am. I also thank the library staff of the N.F.A.I – Neeraj and Deepak. I am also thankful to Prof.Surjit Singh and M.V.Surender for hosting and maintaining rare ‘out of copyright’ material from the Indian Express Archives on their website. It has been of immense help to me.

I also wish to call out and offer my indebtedness to Rajendra Kumar and Ashwin Kumar, both of them having immensely supported and encouraged my interests, in these last few years. Rajendra Kumar was also responsible for helping me translate some unknown Tamil words, in this work.

I wish to thank all my family members – my grandmother, in particular, for giving me a ‘buffer time’ to do what I desired to do today, without the need to regret tomorrow, ‘that I wished I had done what I wanted to, yesterday’.

- Sugeeth Krishnamoorthy

16 April, 2017.

Web – http://killthepirate.wordpress.com

Email – [email protected]

[_CHAPTER I – HOW DID I COME TO ACT IN FILMS? _]

On completing sixty-two, my friends had been aware of my intention to gradually stop appearing on stage. With this being the situation, after a period of time, I appeared on Talkies, which was a much more difficult prospect than stage. Many people who knew me questioned, ‘Why is this man taking up such a tough assignment at this age?’. Therefore, for the benefit of my friends who are curious to know, I have decided to document my experiences and the circumstances under which I came to act in Talkies.

A few years ago, when Silent Films had appeared and were being screened, I would be happy on seeing them, but the intention of acting in them, never struck me. The primary reason for this was that, I was not impressed with an art form that could reach and entertain people merely with emotions, without using the power of the human voice.

I had turned down the request to act in Silent films a few times, but attempts were made to convince me to train artists, by saying that ‘It would be very helpful for you to find new talent for the stage’ (Am I worthy of this?) and that ‘There is no equivalent person other than you to train such actors.’(I did not agree to this but simply nodded my head.)

I replied by telling them that I have grown old now and was not sure if I could handle such difficult tasks. Yet, they did not agree and continued to insist. I then remembered what Thayumanavar said. ‘Is it right, for what I have wandered , learnt and heard, to go waste?’ I then asked myself, if there could be a better reward for ‘all that I have learnt’, other than teaching it to someone else, and then subsequently agreed to their request.

Later, I was shocked to learn that both ‘actors’ and ‘actresses’ were part of this troupe. I now landed up in a dilemma. Up and until this point, I had trained only male actors in ‘Sabhas’, ‘Madurai Dramatic Clubs’ and some other ‘Drama schools’. I had never taught a female student before but I later resigned myself to the understanding, that there is no distinction between a ‘male’ and a ‘female’ artist in Drama. As long as my heart was pure, there is nothing wrong in doing this, and subsequently gave my nod to the proposal.

Later, on an auspicious day, I met the participants of the troupe at Dr.U.RamaRao’s Gaana Manthiram. Along with other female participants were present, the ‘Rathna Bai’ and ‘Saraswathi Bai’ sisters. To be honest, I did feel very difficult to initiate a conversation with them at the beginning. Once, the initial phase was passed, I later started freely talking with all the ‘actors’ and ‘actresses’ of the troupe and asked them, ‘Which drama they would like to rehearse today?’. All of them unanimously opted for the ‘Leelavathi-Sulochana’ drama. According to their wishes, I then allocated Leelavathi’s portion to Saraswathi Bai and Sulochana’s portion to Rathna Bai. The other characters in the play were subsequently allocated to various other actors, and then we started our rehearsals. The rehearsals continued for the next two months.

One day, a person by name Mr.Raju, who was a representative of a Calcutta based film studio, obtained permission and saw me rehearsing the ‘stage plays’ and training the artists directly. After the rehearsals were over, he came over to me and requested me to come to Calcutta and act in Talkie films. I told him that, ‘I have grown old now and it is not possible for me to act in Talkie films. I am only teaching what I know to the students, who are interested to learn. That is all.’

He responded and insisted by telling me that, I had immense experience on stage, have invented many novel techniques on acting and that I have earned lot of good-will, based on these performances. He promised to get makeup done for me in such a manner, that my age will not be reflected on screen. He asked me to give it a secondary thought, after he had applied make-up to me. Since he was quite persistent, I decided to give it a try and agreed to his proposal.

Later one day at a shooting spot in Popams Broadway ( Broadway), a new kind of makeup with fresh colours and new techniques was applied to me in such a manner, that the wrinkles on my face were not seen, and subsequently, a picture of mine was captured. When the picture was being clicked, a man called Kumaran, a friend of the photographer and a film producer based in Coimbatore, had also come to the shooting spot.

He was slowly observing Raju apply make up on my face, and at the end of it, introduced himself to me and asked me, how much I would charge to act in a filmed version of the Manohara1 play? Hearing this, I thought to myself, ‘Has my life become like the story of the man, who set out to build a well, but ended up with the demon?’2. Initially, I thought that he was not serious. I thought that quoting a large sum of money would act as a deterrent, and therefore I quoted a large sum of money. The man said that he would consult with his master and get back, and subsequently left the place.

A few days after this incident, I received a letter from the owner of a Calcutta studio requesting me to write the scenario for the ‘Sati Sulochana3’ story, train the artists, direct them and make a talkie film on this subject. Subsequently I agreed to this proposal, wrote the scenario for the ‘Sati Sulochana’ story, travelled to Calcutta, trained the artists and directed the film. For my friends reading this story, I will mention details about this story later.

On returning to Madras from Calcutta after making the Talkie ‘Sati Sulochana’, a person by name Ponnusamy Chettiar from Coimbatore, came to see me one day, all of a sudden. He told me that he had started a film production company, and desired to produce a Talkie version of the Manohara stage drama and wished me to play the role of Manoharan, in that Talkie.

I replied by telling that ‘I have grown old now. The role of Manoharan should be played by a young man of around eighteen years of age, and therefore I refuse to play that role. It is not possible’, and I refused to accede to his request. He then insisted, that I at least play the role of Purushottaman.

I told him that I would think about this and let him know my decision later. I then discussed this proposal with my friends, and all of them unanimously replied by saying that ‘You must agree to this proposal. It will be an opportunity and remembrance for us to see you, in your post-light years. We insist’. I took this as God’s will and decided to act in this film. I received a letter subsequently saying that Ponnusamy Chettiar had agreed to the amount which I had demanded, and he again insisted that I play the role of Purushottaman. I agreed and responded to his letter.

This is the detail over the circumstances that led me to acting in a Talkie film, at this age.

CHAPTER II – DIRECTING ‘SATI-SULOCHANA

Now, I shall describe about my experiences of directing the Talkie film ‘Sati Sulochana’ in the year 1934 in Calcutta.

When I was training a troupe in a rehearsal session for the play ‘Leelavathi-Sulochana’ on behalf of ‘Madras Tamil Actors Association’, a man who saw that one day, spoke positively about me to Babu Lal Chouhan, producer of ‘Bharat Laxmi Pictures’, when he travelled to Calcutta. Babu Lal Chouhan then wrote a letter to me, expressing his desire of producing a Tamil Talkie film in his studio in Calcutta. He also sent his assistant Ganesa Iyer from Calcutta to Madras to initiate talks.

I told Ganesa Iyer that I can only handle the responsibility of training actors, but not other aspects of film production like cinematography, audio recording etc. For this, I would need a ‘Technical Director’ to assist me, in performing these roles. Following their acceptance to make arrangements for such a person, I agreed to direct the Talkie film ‘Sati Sulochana’ for their company.

Prior to this, I had seen some important Tamil and English Talkie films which had been screened in Madras1. I had also been nominated as president for the Publicity Division of the ‘Alcohol Abolishment’ committee. In that capacity, I had written a play titled ‘True Friend’ on the request of the committee’s members. To make this story into a Talkie film, the government had sanctioned a budget of Rs.30,000. During the discussions involving the planned making of this film, I had been to both the studios which were then in existence in Madras at that time, and had seen how Talkie film shootings were being conducted. [2] Subsequent to the reshuffling of the Government ministry, this committee was abolished, which led to abandonment of plans to make such a Talkie film. Never the less, the experiences that I had gained by seeing live shootings in Madras during this period served me immensely when I was to make Sati Sulochana, later in Calcutta.

Regarding Sati Sulochana, I had made ‘Bharat Laxmi Pictures’ sign an agreement with the casting agent of ‘Madras Actors Union’ – T.N.Nataraja Pillai. The company would have to hand over Rs.10,000 to the Actors Union, which would then take care of actor payments, food and transport3 arrangements. The other expenses which would occur during shooting, would have to be borne by the company.

On the receipt of an advance of Rs.5000 from Calcutta, we made arrangements for the actors. On discussions and with permissions obtained from Ganesa Iyer, Mr.Velu Nair and Mrs.Velambal were chosen as the lead actors. T.N.Nataraja Pillai was to play both the roles of ‘Adhiseshan’ and ‘Lord Rama’4. For the other minor roles, we fixed up ‘amateurs’ and a few workers. By the time this work was done, I had modified and written the scenario for the film.

Then on an auspicious day, we started the rehearsals and continued it for the next two weeks. I had informed the producers over letter saying that, ‘To God’s will, we shall come soon to Calcutta.’

One day suddenly, Velu Nair and Velambal did not turn up for the rehearsal. I later came to know that they had been booked by another Talkie company5 in Madras. Since the lead actors of the film were now not available, it felt like I had been hit by a thunder bolt. I decided to steady the situation and wrote to Calcutta informing them, that the money would be returned back to them, or if they should agree, the troupe would reach Calcutta, after a new cast is finalised and re-trained. Then with the permission of their agent Ganesa Iyer, Mr.Nataraja Pillai from Mannargudi was cast for the role of Ayan Rajapart6 and Mrs.Sundarambal from Nagercoil, the Sthree Part. Then, we had to undergo the rehearsals for a week again, before the entire troupe left for Calcutta.

P.S.VELU NAIR AND T.S.VELAMMAL WERE ORIGINALLY CHOSEN AS THE LEAD CAST FOR SATI-SULOCHANA, BUT THEY MOVED AWAY TO ACT IN A FILM, MADE BY ANOTHER COMPANY. IT IS VERY LIKELY, THAT ‘SAKUNTHALA’ WAS THIS MOVIE, SINCE SATI-SULOCHANA ALSO POSSIBLY RELEASED A MONTH AFTER THIS FILM7. UNFORTUNATELY, NO PRIMARY MATERIAL ON SATI-SULOCHANA COULD BE FOUND BY THIS AUTHOR : ADVERTISEMENTAUG 10, 1934 – INDIAN EXPRESS , PROF.SURJIT SINGH/M.V.SURENDER ARCHIVES

Up and until this point in my life, I had never been to Calcutta. Initially, everything seemed so new to me. We had stayed for a few days in a hotel. It was for the first time since my birth that I was staying in such a place and I did not take a liking for the food. Subsequently, Ganesa Iyer booked a home on rent, on the vicinity of the ‘Bharat Laxmi Pictures’ studio, which was based in Dolly Kanch – a suburb of Calcutta. The entire troupe subsequently moved into these quarters. This house was more comfortable than the hotel as arrangements were made to hire a South Indian Brahmin cook, to make food for us.

The next day Babu Lal, the company proprietor, sent word saying that he wished to see me. Since the proprietor was not present at the time of me reaching the studios, Ganesa Iyer took me around explaining important details which I needed to know. He introduced me to various technicians of the studio, including their cameraman, the sound recordist and the studio manager.

The next day, I called all the workers of the studio and explained the written scenario of Sati Sulochana, in detail to them. They were happy to listen to the details and offered to give their best support for the making of this film.

We started shooting the film a week later. In this one week, I had spoken personally with each technician, learnt their role in the film and told them individually, what was expected of them. Meanwhile, Babu Lal had travelled to Germany and brought back a technical person by name ‘Bully’ to assist me. He was a young man, about 25 years old, who knew no Tamil. I explained details of the story in English to him, and translated the screenplay and gave it to him for his benefit.

I wish to go into some detail about the events that transpired during the first day of shooting. The shot that was taken on that day, was that of the conversation between Indrajith and his wife Sulochana in their bed chamber, when he informs her of the boons and gifts that he had given in the morning to the Brahmins, on the occasion of their wedding. The preparations for the shooting of this scene had begun two days earlier, and it came out so beautifully. I have seen the shooting of several scenes in various studios, but never come across one so well, as I saw in ‘Bharat Laxmi’ studios. [8]

There was this Muslim person, whose name I cannot recollect9. He had come and worked in this studio after finding a passion for this job. He was a very talented person, and a scene of any magnitude and complexity could be created so well by him, in this studio. Not only this scene mentioned above, but various other scenes(background sets) were displayed in immense detail in the studio. The most important sets which I must mention are the scenes in which, ‘gifts are given’, ‘Secret chamber of the Temple’, ‘Adiseshan’s Mantapam’, ‘Ravanan’s bedchamber’ and above all, the scene in which ‘Sulochana was playing with her friends in the garden of the snake kingdom’.

Although this was the first scene in the play, it was the scene to be shot last at the studios, as it took almost a week to make arrangements to shoot this scene.

The pathway and the halls were constructed in such a manner that they resembled as if they had been made out of marble. A water tank was constructed and in its middle, a fountain which could sprinkle water upto fifteen feet was fixed. Other props for the set, included lotuses with their large leaves floating on the water and swans swimming around it.

In this backdrop, the camera captured about sixteen unmarried snake girls who were singing and dancing with their water jugs, while some of them were playing with the flowers. This shot touched my heart immensely. Later, when this movie was screened in Madras, many people who saw the movie enjoyed this scene, very much. My friends later told me many times, that many people came to the theatre to watch this scene, alone.

Although I had seen the construction of this set from the beginning, with wooden planks being patched together and painted white, I got the feeling of watching a real marble palace in the middle of a large garden, when I later saw it on screen. The reason why I stress so much, is that later, I myself felt jealous for not being able to act in such a lovely scene.

On the eve prior to the shooting, all the actors were very excited about acting in a Talkie film. I had provided immense rehearsals to them in the morning, for the scene which was to be shot later in the evening. In the evening, all of us had finished our dinner early and left for the shooting.

Of the cast which acted in Sati Sulochana, barring the roles played by ‘Vibishinan’ and ‘Naradar’, all of the others were first time actors in Talkie films. It was obvious therefore that most of the crew would be a little nervous. I gave them confidence and took them along to the shooting.

Since it was the first day of shooting, it took quite a lot of time to apply makeup to ‘Indrajith’ and ‘Sulochana’. By the time it was finished, it had become 9 p.m already. A rehearsal for the songs to be shot that day followed on stage itself, and it was 11 p.m by the time, we were done. It was 12 a.m by the time shooting commenced.

The entire shooting that lasted the rest of the night, eventually resulted in only five minutes of film footage. It was 5 a.m in the morning by the time, we wound up things for the day. Since it was the first time, many of the shots were ‘Not Good (N.G)’ and had to be retaken.

Apart from the songs10, I would enact the scenes to be performed, along with their corresponding dialogues, in front of the actors, and then make them perform the scenes. Although, the first day of shoot involved only two actors, I made arrangements for the entire crew to witness the first day of shoot, for them to overcome their nervousness.

The challenge for me was that, after I taught the actor how to act and checked it for myself, I would then have to rush to the sound equipment box immediately, to see how the actors voice was being recorded11. The sound engineer was a Frenchman and had no knowledge of Tamil, so each time he got the recording machine ready, I would have to physically check for myself, if the dialogues and songs being rendered by the artists, are being recorded correctly. Although it used to be physically straining, my excitement and passion for this job helped me observe and go into every minute detail of the shooting. In this excitement, I had failed to keep a tab on time. Only when the scene had been successfully shot and I came out of the studio, I realised that morning had arrived12.

We stayed for forty-five days in Calcutta. The shooting took place for only twenty-three days. In these twenty-three days, we had shot about 25,000 feet of film footage. Of this, the footage that remained post editing, due to N.G ( Not Good) and which was not needed in the film, was about 16,000 feet. Under normal circumstances, the footage that remains is typically about 50 to 75 percent. I later heard from some sources who claimed that Babu Lal Chouhan felt very happy that Mudaliar had finished the film in 25,000 feet of footage. The reasons for this have to be attributed to the ‘multiple rehearsals which we conducted’ and ‘cross checking every essential requirement’ at various stages of the shooting.

I wish to describe some important events that took place during the shooting. In one of the scenes, we needed a lovely lady to wake up Indrajith from his bed chamber, by playing an instrument. For that we had made arrangements for a beautiful anglo-indian lady to play a sitar. We had rehearsed this scene quite a few times.

A few minutes before the actual shooting was to begin, I had to go out for a couple of minutes, when I heard the sound ‘Papa!Papa’. The young anglo-indian lady had treated me as a father-figure and would regularly address me in this manner. On hearing her shouts, I immediately rushed inside, to see her hair, on fire. I then arranged medical aid for her and tried to find out the reason for this mishap. It transpired that it was the mistake of the person involved in handling electric (arc) lights for the shoot. He had exposed too much light (and therefore heat) on her hair. I then ordered the reduction of the amount of light exposure, gave the young lady a wig and got the scene re-shot. I realised that excessive ‘amrutham13’ can lead to poison, and only a moderate amount of light should be used and accordingly limited the usage of the lights.

One day, the shooting of Indrajith’s yaga14 scene was taking place. As per the story, Hanuman was supposed to jump on the ‘yaga kundam’ and therefore destroy Indrajith’s ambitions. So, we had dug a small pit about 4 feet deep and asked the actor playing Hanuman, to jump in the pit. The man refused to do so in fear. I convinced him, telling that there was nothing to worry about and asked for a volunteer to do the scene. Surprisingly, no one agreed to do so.

Eventually, I had to demonstrate the scene for the crew. I was sixty-one years old at that time, and the man who was to play the role of Hanuman, half my age. I learnt that day, that a film’s director should be bold and ready to handle any tasks for the film.

I will now tell about something that I learnt about sound recording. There is a scene in the film, where Vibishinan’s daughter, Thirisadai, gives moral support to a captured Seetha Devi, and sings a song from the Ramayana. The actress who was to play Thirisadai, had a nice voice15 and she was to sing a song in Sahana Raagam. This is a very difficult Raagam.

In the second section of the composition, she would have to raise her voice and sing in the second octave. The actress sung this song superbly during the rehearsal. However, when I went to the sound box to listen during the shooting, the French Engineer told me that there was a lot of distortion and told me that the recording was not good.

I did not have the heart to leave out a good song and requested him to find an alternate way of retaining this song in the film, but he refused. So, I cancelled the shooting for the rest of the day and tried to figure a way out to solve the problem. The actress playing the role of Thirisadai felt bad and told me that she had only 2 songs in the movie, and if one of them was left out, what was she to do? I assured her that we would try to figure a way out.

The next day, I held the ropes of the microphone and when the second section of the composition was being rendered, I would pull the microphone away from the artist, and when the first section appeared, I would release it in a manner, such that it would go nearer towards her. The French sound engineer told me that the recording sound was alright now and was very happy. I learnt that day, that no task should be left out as considered impossible, and we must use our maximal efforts to solve issues, using the intelligence given to us by God.

After the shooting was complete, we had to leave back to Madras within the next two days. Since I was totally engaged in shooting the film, I had not gone anywhere. It was only in the last two days that I visited the museum, zoo and other places, in a hurry. None the less, I had learnt many things about Talkie films in these last forty-five days. In this aspect, I must thank the studio’s director Mr.Creed who took immense pains to explain various minute aspects of Talkie films, during this period. I have no idea if I will be destined to meet him again in my life time, hence I use this book as an opportunity to thank him for his immense help, during my days in Calcutta.

Everyone in the studio, right from the proprietor Babu Lal Chouhan and until the makeup boy respected and appreciated me. On the day, I left Calcutta, I had to leave with a heavy heart. What a World this is, I thought to myself ? During those forty-five days, I was so eagerly waiting for these hardships to get completed, but now when the tasks had been finished, I had to leave with a pain in my heart.

CHAPTER IIIHOW DID I GET TO ACT IN MANOHARA?

Now I shall tell about my experiences of playing the role of Purushottaman in the Manohara Talkie, which was shot in Bombay in the year 1935.

One day, a Coimbatore based resident Mr.Ponnusamy Chettiar came to my residence to see me. I had not seen him before and he introduced himself. He expressed his desire of making my Manohara play into a Talkie and requested me to play the role of Manoharan. I told him that I have no objection in giving him the rights to make Manohara into a Talkie, but unfortunately, I could not play the role of Manoharan. On his insistence, I replied that the role of Manoharan should be played by a young man of sixteen to eighteen years and, me playing that role at the age of sixty-two is not right and therefore rejected the proposition. Since he seemed insistent in me playing a role in the film, I agreed to act in the role of Purushottaman1, which he grudgingly accepted.

It was then decided that Rs.8000 would be paid to me cumulatively for the drama’s royalty, my acting services and honorary charges. A few days later, his father-in-law, Mr.N.Maruthachalam Chettiar came over to Madras to finalize things. He requested me to direct the film, as well. I told clearly that either I would direct the film, or act in it, but I definitely could not perform both the roles, at the same time. It is my opinion that no intelligent man would agree to do both these tasks, at the same time. I am aware that Charlie Chaplin has done this, but he is more of an exception, rather than the norm. If others try to do what Chaplin is doing, it would become a case of ‘cats attempting to mimic tigers’.

They then requested me to handle the additional responsibility of training and rehearsing the actors and I agreed to do this, but only for a couple of sessions. Following this discussion, I signed an agreement with the producers. Later, that evening, producers from another film production company approached me with the intention of making Manohara as a Talkie film and agreed to pay me a honararium of Rs.8500. I refused to agree and sent them back, as I had made a promise already, and I never go back on my words.

Mr.Marudhachalam Chettiar, Ponnusamy Chettiar and two of their friends joined together and started a production company called ‘Bharat Films’. I must admit that I had made a cardinal mistake while signing the agreement with this film company, by not seeking to insert a clause, which prevented them from altering the story without my permission, and I was to rue my actions, later. The fact that this story has been around for over forty years, been staged thousands of times all across South India, misled me to the incorrect perception, that there would be no need for any changes to the story.

Later, the proprietors of ‘Bharat Film Company’ told me to take on the additional responsibility of fixing the cast. With memories of casting issues faced during Sati Sulochana fresh in my mind, I refused to handle this responsibility. Instead, I told them, that I would be able to assess and inform them the ability of a certain actor, to play a suitable role in the movie.

My friend Nagarathinam Iyer was posted as a deputy registrar in Thanjavur at that time. I felt that if I continued to remain in the city, I would be engaged in some activity or the other, so while the producers looked out for actors, I decided to move into the countryside to recuperate my health. The film company then made an arrangement with an amateur drama troupe to perform Manohara stage play in my presence. However, none of the actors who performed in the play, made an impression on me.

The producers continued to approach me multiple times and ask my opinion about a few other stage actors who could play the role of Manohara, but I did not find any of them worthy enough. Growing desperate, they asked me one day, ‘how were we to start, if you keep refusing every actor?’.

Eventually, they brought an amateur actor from Salem to Thanjavur, the place where I had been currently put up. They told me that they could not find an actor in the age group of eighteen, and this was the best person, whom they could find. I do not wish to name the actor, here. They told me that this actor had won immense fame, playing the role of Manoharan in the vicinity of Salem, but I had never heard of or seen him before. I made the amateur actor, act a couple of scenes and then told the producers, that he was of slightly better stock when compared to those shown by them to me, in the past and that he could be chosen to play the lead role. The producers subsequently had a discussion with the film’s director and agreed to cast the amateur actor.

Later, I was informed over letter, that the company was now ready for rehearsals to begin, and I immediately left for Madras. I was informed that ‘Kondithope’ Sarathambal and ‘Thirichirapalli’ Kamalaveni were chosen for the roles of Padmavathy and Vasanthasenai respectively. I requested them to act in a few scenes and then told the producers that both these actors would be very suitable for the roles in the film. The actors chosen for the roles of Guru, Bowdhanayar and Neelaveni by the producers, were rejected by me. They then agreed to replace them, with other actors.

While the casting process was going on, I had made a reference for a certain actor to act in the role of Vasanthan, but the producers informed me that this person was not available and had suggested an alternative, Ganesa Iyer, to me. I told him, that this replacement was satisfactory enough for this role. For the roles of Sathyaseelan, Vikatan and Vijayal, a few experienced actors and actresses who had acted in few Talkies earlier, were brought to me. Rehearsals were conducted and I found them to be quite satisfactory and informed this to the producers.

Once the final casting was complete, the producers made arrangements for the formal rehearsals to start on an auspicious date. I was informed that the film was to be shot in Bombay and was handed a copy of the shooting script, which was basically a condensed copy of the original play, and was more suited to be filmed for the large screen. It was more or less based on the original, with only minor changes to the initial aspects of the story.

Agreeing to this being a normal practice, I started the rehearsal sessions, which then went on for the next two weeks. Although I had initially agreed to conduct not more than two rehearsal sessions, as per the agreement signed between us, I relaxed this in the larger interest of the film The additional physical strain being exerted on my old frame was not felt, when the lead actors were able to learn exactly what I was teaching them.

In the mean while, the producers had made arrangements for the Talkie film to be shot at Bombay’s Film City studio. On an auspicious day, I travelled with the entire troupe to Bombay. Accommodation arrangements had been made for us on the fourth floor of a residential building, quite close to the studio. One had to climb eighty steps to reach the place where we were staying.

‘It is fine to climb the steps today, but how were we supposed to climb these steps every day, when we were tired and would be returning back from the studio?’, I thought about this to myself and was a little worried thinking about this considering that, I was now sixty-two years old. To my younger readers who are asking me if this is indeed such a tough task, let me give you an example, to put the challenge of the problem, in perspective.

A few days after we had started shooting, my friend Bellary Raghavacharlu had come to Bombay to act in a Telugu Talkie film titled ‘Drowpadi Vasthirabharanam’. One day he had come to see me. On climbing these eighty steps to reach the fourth floor, he said ‘I cannot climb these steps to see you again. Should I desire to meet you, I shall come down and give a shout. You should then come down to meet me, rather than me climbing these steps upward to see you.’ He is fifteen years younger than me.

AD FOR DROWPADI VASTHRAHARANMARCH 21, 1936, INDIAN EXPRESS ARCHIVES – M.V.SURENDER/PROF.SURJIT SINGH

On the second day of reaching Bombay, I made my visit to the ‘Film City’ Studio, which was quite nearby to the place of my stay. The studio was beautiful, very spacious and filled with a lot of comforts. Most importantly, cameras and other technical commodities could be found in abundance. In Calcutta, if something happened to the camera during shooting, the activities would be stalled until it was fixed.

Here in Bombay, as the studio proprietors were themselves involved in the sale of cinematic and studio equipment, one could find items like cameras, microphones and electric lights in abundance. There was also the option to conduct two shootings at the same time, one on the ground floor and one on the first. The advantage of this was that, if the shooting was being conducted in one set, the props and necessary backdrop arrangements could be arranged for the next scene in parallel, which would then be shot in the second set.

Alternatively, one could even shoot two sequences in both sets simultaneously for the same film, or the space could be rented out to two different production companies. The owners of this studio were the Fazalbhoy brothers who were very fine gentlemen. During the five months that I spent in Bombay, they treated me very respectably and I wish to offer them my tributes through this book.

Now, I shall provide some details about the director of the Talkie, [_Manoharan. _]He was a Marathi brahmin and could speak a bit of English, as well. If I told him something, he would be able to understand, but he did not know a word of Tamil. I am not criticizing him, but only telling you the facts. Later when I spoke with him, he told me that he had nothing to do with the screenplay written by me or the rehearsal training offered by me to the artists, before we came to Bombay.

I told him that I would translate the story of Manoharan into English and give it to him, but he said that it wasn’t enough. He insisted on having a copy of the story in Marathi, following which, the producers had to make arrangements to bring someone from Pune to Bombay and get the dialogues translated into Marathi. It took about a month to get the translations done and I have no idea if the translations were done correctly, or not.

In the meanwhile, the director had requested each of us actors, to act in front of him. I have no idea, how much he understood our roles or what we were trying to say. After seeing the first rehearsal, I later heard from a fellow Marathi actor that the director had informed the producer that the script was of no use, and it had to be changed entirely.

What could I do? When I had agreed to license the rights of the Manohara stage play to the production company for a period of three years, to make a talkie version of it, I had inserted no clause, restraining them from changing the script, without seeking my permission. The story has been performed on stage for over forty years in South India without any changes, and never in my dreams would I have imagined that the producers would now change the script of the story for the film version. It was a case of spilt milk, and I could do nothing now.

None the less, I decided to explain my views to the movie’s director and producers before hand, to prevent me from being blamed for not having raised objections, earlier.

Later one day, when we were all together, I spoke with them and told, ‘It is true that I have given you the rights to make a Talkie version of the stage play Manohara for three years and that I have inserted no prior clause to prevent you from changing the story to suit the needs of the Talkie. But there is an important thing to be remembered. This is a story that has been in existence for over forty years, now and has been performed multiple times in the whole of South India, Rangoon, Colombo, Yazhpaanam and other Tamil speaking regions. It has been read, heard and well received by countless Tamil speaking people, and is a very well known story. If you change the structure of the story now, the audience will easily find out and this could very well affect its outcome. A new story can be tweaked and twisted, but an older and a famous one at that, if changed, can badly resonate with audiences familiar with the older story. I am not saying this because it is my story, but I am offering some advice, in general. I have done my job by speaking what I think is correct, it is up to you to take it or leave it’. After this incident, I did not enter the studio premises for around two months.

It took over a month for the story to be translated into Marathi. In the mean time, with the dues having been paid to them in full, the actors originally chosen for the roles of Manoharan, Vijayal and Sathyaseelan were sent back to Madras, citing that they were unfit for the role. I was later informed by someone that this act was done by the producers, at the behest of the director.

When the producers consulted me about my opinion regarding the events which had happened, I replied to them saying that, ‘It is entirely your decision. None the less, it makes sense to find a better set of actors first, before sending these actors home. Only this can be fair to them, as well. I have given you my opinion. The choice is now yours.’

The fruits of the deeds done by the producers without heeding to my words, were to be felt by them later.

After sending the original actor chosen to play Manohara home, the Marathi director recommended a Bombay actor by name Sandow2 to play the part. This person later ended up playing the role of Sathyaseelan. This person could neither read nor speak Tamil properly. The producers had asked my opinion if this actor would be suitable to play the role of Manohara to which I responded by giving the actor four lines each, of a ‘happy’, ‘angry’ and a ‘sorrowful’ scene, and told him to read and practice enacting them.

A few days the producers called me to see his performance at the rehearsal room in the Film City studio. Sandow had translated the lines which I had given to him into Marathi (or Telugu) and memorized them by-heart and he parroted out those lines.

Seeing his performance, I was torn between laughter and sorrow. I suppressed these feelings and told the producers that, if they made Sandow play the part of Manohara, the people of South India would invariably question them, if the producers could not find anyone else to play the role of Manohara? I told this clearly to them, and then left them to their own choices. Following what I said, the producers sent word to Madras, and a replacement for the Manohara character was found.

This ‘Sandow’ was a strong and impressive actor. But if he did not know how to speak Tamil, what could be done? Since the actor had already been contracted by the producers, he now had to be given a role, and was subsequently allotted the role of Sathyaseelan. I must say that his acting even in that role, was quite mediocre.

The producer who had travelled to Madras had returned to Bombay, with an actor by name ‘Chellam’. This was the person, who eventually played the role of Manoharan in the Talkie version of the film. So, let me give you a small description about this person. I have seen him earlier once, but it was only in Bombay that I was formally introduced to this gentleman. After our first meeting, we became very good friends. He was receiving a pension from a government service, and must have been above fifty years of age. His physical appearance was not very impressive, but he had a nice flair for acting. During his stay in Pune, he has performed some of my plays for the ‘Pune Manohara Sabha’. I also came to know that he was quite famous for his performances as Manoharan. He was also very proficient with the dialogues of that character.

The only shortcoming that I saw in this person playing the role of Manohara in the film was that he could not be sixteen years old. I have always had a strong opinion that this Manoharan character, should always be played by a youngster. The high point of that character was that, he could display immense bravery inspite of his very young age. The closest analogous character to Manoharan that I can think of is Abhimanyu, in the Mahabharatha. The legendary epic says that Abhimanyu was only fourteen years of age. The reason why people have so much pride and sorrow for him, can be attributed to his display of bravery at such a young age.

In a similar manner, the one who dons the role of Manohara, should not only be young, but should be able to demonstrate valour and bravery, much beyond his age. As I have mentioned earlier, the fact that Chellam was not a youngster, was the only major hindrance that I foresaw. He did however perform well in the film, but many of my readers may ask, ‘Why then did he not subsequently succeed in the Talkies?’

By denying the freedom to a naturally instinctive actor who has had immense experience playing this character and by changing the various portions of the story, dialogues and emotions, which he has long been accustomed to, the two directors of this film had rendered his acting ineffective. If there was a young man eighteen years of age, who had the natural acting skills possessed by Chellam, and if there was a director who had followed my original story and dialogues and allowed the young man to act as per my commands, it would have made the film a tremendous success. This is not only my opinion, but the opinion of my friends as well.

Later, on becoming quite acquainted with me, Chellam confided that he had no knowledge of a person being selected for the role of Manoharan in the first place, and that he was called upon to replace him. He confided to me that, had he known this, he would never have agreed to come to Bombay in the first place.

By now, the Maharashtrian director had totally changed the story of Manohara and was rehearsing the actors as per the new changes in the script. The producers had called me to have a look at the rehearsals going on and when I saw the first scene being practiced, I observed that a lot of changes had happened to both the ‘script’ and the ‘dialogues’. It was the producer’s decision and I was now only a harmless audience, and therefore decided not to interfere.

After the first scene was rehearsed, the producer who observed me silently sitting in a corner, walked up to me and asked me in English. ‘Mr.Mudaliar. How is it? What is your opinion?’ I decided to tell him what was in my mind, and it was upto them to take a decision.

‘You have changed my dialogues totally. I have to say a word about this to you. This is not a new story. This story has been seen and heard all over South India and in multiple other regions by the Tamil speaking people. It is fine to modify the scenario slightly to suit the needs of the Talkie format. But if you start making huge changes to the screenplay and removing dialogues, and popular ones at that, people watching the Talkie are bound to question about the missing ones. They will ask you, as to why you have changed the story in this manner. It is you who will be responsible.’, I replied.

He did not reply to my questions directly and instead, only asked me as to, what my opinion on the acting was? I replied by saying ‘Okay, I will give you my opinion. The manner in which Padmavathy hugs her son is incorrect. There is a basic difference in the manner, in which a wife hugs her husband and in the way, that she would hug her son. Another thing that I wish to point out is that when Manoharan receives his ancestral sword in the presence of his mother, the normal instinct for a brave man like him would be, to pull the sword out of its sheath and have a look at it. This is a normal behavioral practice.

If you gave a barber a new razor blade, the first thing that he would do is take it out and have a look at its sharpness. If you gave a tennis player a racquet, he would pick it and up and have a look to see, how it fits his hand. If you gave a flute to a musician, he would take it to his lips and blow air into, it to observe the quality of its tone.

In a similar manner, if you gave a sword to a young warrior, it is but natural that he would try to take it out and have a swing of the sword to see how it feels.

I have played this role nearly fifty times. I have enacted it each time, in the same manner, that I will now describe to you.’

Having completed my reply, I even stood up and acted the scene out for him. I then called up Mrs.Saradambal and I demonstrated to the producer as to how Manoharan should hug his mother, Padmavathy. Inspite of the actors around me speaking in favour of my arguments, the film’s director would have none of it. Having realised that there was now no point in going ahead, I decided to retire for the day and returned to my room.

On another day, during a rehearsal session, there seemed to be a conflict between the actors and the directors, on how to enact a scene. One of the actors had suggested to call for me, but the director refused to permit it, citing that I would raise objections to his instructions, and therefore there was no need for me to be called. I heard the information later from someone and decided not to react to it. After this incident, I stopped going for rehearsals.

Two months later, one of the producers of the film intimated me that shooting was to begin the following day and requested me to come to the studio. On arriving the next day, I told them that it would be an auspicious thing to start the shooting, by making an invocation to God and in my heart, I offered prayers to Ganesh and Saraswathi.

The scenes that would be shot that day would be the ones in which the characters Vasanthan, Vikadan and [Neelaveni _]would be introduced. I was shocked to see the tonsured head of the _Vikadan character. When I questioned him, as to why he had done this, he replied by telling me that the director had visualised the character in this manner, and he was simply following instructions.

I then spoke with a Chettiar who was working on behalf of the producers and asked him, ‘What a joke is this! Can such things ever be done? The story is taking place in the Pandiya – Chozha kingdoms. In such regions, would anyone tonsure their head, unless it is for an offering to God? Even if one referenced to Sanskrit Drama, didn’t Vidushargal and Brahmins tonsure their hair, without keeping atleast a small tuft on their heads? More over should the costumes not be represented in a certain specific manner?’.

He replied by questioning me, as to why I did not inform this to them before, to which I retorted by saying that, ‘I would have, if I had been questioned about it in the first place’.

He then replied by saying that, what I said was right, but now it was too late to do anything about it, as shooting had already commenced. Moreover, changing the costumes would lead to an invariable stalling of the shooting. I angrily responded back, by re-iterating that I had informed him and it was now their wish, as to how they preferred to proceed, and stormed back to my room.

Following this incident, from the beginning of December until the shooting of the scenes involving Purushottaman, I never stepped into the premises of the studio.

Later, the actors and actresses came up to me and complained that the director had changed the entire story, and was now telling them to act in a manner, very different from what they had practised all these years and that, he had also changed the songs to be sung by them. I replied to them saying that I had erred by not inserting a clause, that no changes would be allowed to my script, without my permission. There was nothing that could be done now, and that they could take up their grievances with the producers, should they wish.

They later did raise the issue, but the producers did not respond to their objections, possibly due to the immense confidence that they had in the director’s abilities, or maybe even feared them.

Subsequent to this, only one occasion did I change my decision. One day, Sarathambal who was playing the role of Padmavathy came up to me and complained. ‘What is this, Sir? In the scene where Manoharan sets out for war, the director has asked me to appear and act with loose hair. My mother has played this character several times, and I have seen many others play this character as well. I have never seen anyone play a morose character with loose hair, until now. I request you to kindly stop this.’ Saying this, she literally pleaded to me.

Following this complaint, I personally took this up with the producers. I told them, ‘This story is written in South India where we live. Is there any instance of a married woman who has come out to bid her son goodbye, appearing in loose hair? This is a practice that happens only when a married woman loses her husband or close relative, and is in mourning.

The character Padmavathy is a very strong woman in the story. I referred to a dialogue in my play, where Padmavathy is conversing with her daughter-in-law and mentions that, even if Manoharan laid his life in battle, she would be happy as he would now be praised as a brave warrior and a martyr. Why then would such a brave mother wishing her son good luck, when he sets out to the battlefield, come out with such loose hair, which only symbolizes death and negativity? This is totally incorrect and unacceptable.

I wish to point out that, I have raised this objection, now itself. Later, when this show is being screened in Madras, the audience would not raise questions to either the director or to you, the producer. They would question me, as to how, I allowed such a gross error to happen? I would then have to tell them, that I am in no way responsible for this to happen.

Inspite of this warning, if you wish to continue with the director’s heed, then let me tell you, that this film will be a disaster in Tamilnadu.’

I told them in an angry tone, mixed with lots of pain. Inspite of my objections, it only ended up being the classic case of ‘Blowing the conch on a deaf man’s ear’.

Around the month of December, the scenes involving me, commenced shooting. Although, I had had some differences with the production team, I felt that it was my duty to play my part as Purushottaman, as per the agreement which I had signed.

I must admit that the costumes designed for my role were very beautiful and fit me perfectly. Although I have mentioned several negative qualities about the director, it is my duty to also speak about some of his positive ones. Prior to becoming a director, he was a qualified artist. His experience as an artist immensely helped him, both in costume designing for stage actors and to build stage sets. Barring Vidushinan, the costumes designed by him, suited all other actors very well. The quality of the costumes designed for this film, were definitely much more superior to the Talkie films that I have seen so far. Later, after the release of the film, I have heard several people speaking about the background sets and the costumes worn by the actors in this film. I am also aware that several people even copied designs3 of these costumes and used them in later films.

Even then, there was an instance where the director and I , ended up clashing with regard to the issue of costumes.

I had re-written the opening scene of the story, specifically for the Talkie version. This scene detailed Padmavathy taking a vow to not see her husband again, on realising that he was having an affair with [_VasanthaSenai. Manoharan _]is around five years old, at this point in the story. I was supposed to play the role of a man who is about twenty-three or twenty-four years old. For this, a black wig had been arranged for me.

The later scenes in the film happen around eighteen years after this incident. At this point, Purushottaman must have been around forty-one or forty-two years old. When it was time to act in these scenes, the director had made arrangements for me, to wear a slightly ‘salt and pepper’ wig.

I objected to this by saying that, I had worn even fully white wigs and played much older roles on stage. However, Purushottaman wasn’t entirely old, and therefore there was no need for me to wear the wig being offered. To justify my opposition, I made arrangements for my own photograph taken when I was forty-six, to be sent to Bombay and showed it to the director, to prove that I did not have a single strand of white hair at that time.

More over, in the forty years in which Manohara has been presented on stage, not once has anyone worn a white wig while representing Raja Purushottaman. The director refused to cede to my arguments, following which I ended up wearing the same wig provided by him and acted in the film. The makeup only ended up worsening the situation.

Later, many of my friends and well wishers from Coimbatore and Madras on seeing the film told me that, ‘You have grown old naturally, but you look much more older on screen’. I told them that it is the fruit of the director’s ego. It is the fate of me having to act in a Tamil story, which landed up in the hands of a director who knew no Tamil. Atleast let us hope that in future, film producers hand over the director’s mantle to people, who have have a good knowledge of Tamil.

Up and until the first week of December, only a quarter portions of the film had been completed. Three months had already gone past. By this time, the actors and actresses had revolted, citing that the time period for the agreement was now over and that they were willing to act, only if a fresh agreement was signed. The producers were left with no choice but to effectively pay the actors their original salaries, again.

Having realised their mistake now, the producers came up to me and enquired about the actual progress of the film, which had been completed, so far. I told them that about a quarter portion of the film has been completed with three quarters still pending. More over, it has been almost three months since I left home, and I reminded them that I needed to reach Madras by 24th of this month, due to my other priorities.

On hearing this, the frightened producers sought the help of FazalBhoy, the proprietor of the studio. He called the original director of the film and asked him to provide an estimate of how long more, it would take to finish the film. The director replied, six months.

The producers sensing a hopeless situation looming, looked up to Fazalbhoy to find them an alternative. Following this, Fazalbhoy arranged an alternative director by name, KabuliSaheb. This was the person, who was responsible for completing the second portion of the Talkie Manoharan. Therefore, I wish to speak a bit about him.

I have no knowledge of the director’s real name, but he informally came to be called in this manner due to his place of origin – Kabul. He had been running a drama company for a long period of time and had even acted in several of his own plays. When sound appeared, he started acting and directing in Talkie films. He was particularly an expert in rendering comic portions.

He had partial knowledge of English but knew, no Tamil at all. If spoken to in Tamil, he would reply by saying ‘Gudu Gudu Jilla, Kadubidi Jillaan! Mudaliar, what sort of a language is this?’, and he would then proceed to make fun of Tamil, in English. Since he had had a lot of experience in the stage, he was quite naturally gifted in training artists, and took additional efforts for the comic portions.

One night, he came over to see me and listened to the story in full. The next day, he saw portions of the film, which had been shot so far, on the screen and agreed to complete the remaining portions of the film by 24th December, and eventually managed to do so by that date.

Since he had had experience in both ‘acting’ and ‘directing’ films, I must admit that he completed his tasks quite energetically. If one had to compare the work efficiencies, between the ‘current director’ and the ‘previous one’, one simply needed to compare the ‘first’ and ‘second’ portions, of the movie, to get a clue.

Most importantly, this director has immensely exhibited his talents in the scenes which show ‘the fall of Vasantha Senai’, ‘the seperation of Purushottaman and Padmavathy’ and the ‘war scenes’ of the movie. Inspite of this, the scene in which the ‘iron shackles are broken’ has not been justice, is my humble opinion. I will speak about this later.

It is my opinion that if this director was originally chosen, the film would have been completed in less than two months, with far lesser production costs, have made a much better impression on the viewing audience and would have obtained larger profits for the producers.

I had earlier mentioned that the ‘iron shackles breaking scene’4 had not been taken properly. I shall now describe this in detail.

This is the most important scene in the story of Manoharan. People who have ‘read this story’ or ‘seen the stage play’ would be aware that this scene is bound by two strong elements – ‘valour’ and ‘pain’. The fame that I have obtained during my days of acting in Manoharan drama, may, more or less, be attributed single handedly to this scene.

Normally, when audiences view Manohara stage play being performed by artists who do shows for a living, they typically wait only up and until this scene is performed and then leave the place. However, unfortunately, the importance of this scene for some reason, did not strike our second director.

On the day of shooting this scene. Manoharan was tied with two chains and was made to stand on the side of King Purushottaman’s durbar without being surrounded by the guards. Manoharan looked like a small animal which was shut inside a cage. On seeing this, the actors and actresses beside me told that the scene looks very absurd. [5] The person playing the role of Manoharan also aired his grievances to me. He told me that, if he performed Manoharan in this manner on film, all the name and fame that he had earned for years, performing the same character on stage, would be lost.

I sensed that if this scene was not executed properly, the whole movie faced a danger of collapse. I immediately called one of the producers and told them that the scene should be executed in its traditional manner, as it was a very important portion of the film. If this was tinkered with, it could lead to an invariable financial disaster for the film. He admitted to what I said, but for some reason, was rather hesitant to take it up with the film director, himself. He instead asked me to approach the director, directly.

Although I had long decided, not to interfere with the activities of the director anymore, I decided to let him know my opinion this time. ‘If he didn’t take up my suggestion, it was his problem.’, I thought to myself. I then went up to him and spoke in English.

‘Please do not think that I am interfering in your work. This story has been presented over a thousand times in Madras Presidency. The people who have seen the drama version will definitely grumble on seeing the Talkie version, if it is presented in this manner. I have played this character myself, for over fifty times.’

On hearing my words, the director got angry and shouted at me, and asked me to act out the scene in the manner in which I desired. The moment he said this, I told them to take away the small (dog) chains tied around Manoharan and sent word to bring out four larger iron chains, which had been kept for the swing scene. I had the chain tied around Manoharan and ordered four jawans to hold each end of the chain. On taking a long look and observing that there was something indeed being conveyed, his ego however refused to mellow down immediately. The director responded by asking me, ‘How then, will the chains be broken?’.

I performed Manoharan’s reaction of being offended, when Raja Purushottaman asks him, ‘if he was indeed his son’, by breaking the chains, in anger. The people around me murmured that this approach was more dramatic and impactful. The director responded by saying that, I was probably right, but he was not aware of the possibility of such a powerful expression. Since arrangements had already been done as per the director’s vision and time was already short, things could be changed anymore and the scene was shot, as per the instructions of the director.

When I had initially written this play and published it in book form, the response by Manoharan involved about hundred lines. By the time, I started acting in stage plays, it had become fifty or sixty lines. The director possibly by not knowing the value of this scene, shrunk it further, to a mere five or six lines. On knowing about this, the actor playing Manoharan approached me to find a fix for this problem.

MANOHARAMANOHARAN (SIVAJI GANESAN) CHAINED AND BROUGHT TO KING. PURUSHOTTAMAN’S COURT BY FOUR SOLDIERS. THIS SCENE WAS A BONE OF CONTENTION DURING THE SHOOTING OF MANOHARA AND WAS EVENTUALLY NOT SHOT IN THIS MANNER

Although by now, I was tired of taking up each and every problem, I decided to have a word with the director, at the behest and insistence of my friend, actor Chellam. The director initially refused to extend the scope of the dialogues, but later agreed to a compromise, where he allowed space for about 20 to 25 lines6.

Chellam was disappointed that he was not given the full freedom of expressing himself and therefore did not do full justice to his potential.

The Director should not be blamed for the dilution of the scene’s impact, since he had never been exposed to the reaction of the audience7 watching this scene in the play, when ever it was screened in Madras Presidency.

I now wish to speak about some of the other debates that we had during the making of this scene, in the film.

Following Purushottaman’s insult, Padmavathy rushes and prevents her angry son from chopping his father’s head8, in retaliation. In the stage version, Padmavathy is seen wearing a veil, and in the hurry to stop her son, her veil moves slightly and Purushottaman sees the face of his wife, after eighteen long years. The director refused to agree with my views and said that, it was an impossible proposition to get the veil to move automatically9.

I told him that the scene has been executed in this same manner, at all stage performances. Hearing this, the director got angry and replied by saying that he had twenty-five years of experience as an actor and questioned my ability to teach him acting. On hearing this, I suppressed my anger and replied calmly in English, saying that ‘While you may have had twenty-five years of experience in acting, I have had forty-four years. If you permit me to do so, I can show you, how it can be done.’

He then challenged me to demonstrate the possibility of that action. I took up the challenge, took the veil and wore it around my face, and walked towards Manoharan, held his hands and prevented him, during which, the veil fell down automatically from my face. It was not a difficult task for me, as I have explained this scene and the technique multiple times, to the actresses who have performed the role of Padmavathy. The director replied by telling me that, ‘It is possible for you to perform this technique, let us see if Padmavathy can do it?’.

I agreed to what the director had told me and instructed the actress Saradambal, who was performing the role of Padmavathy. She followed my instructions and successfully carried out the scene to perfection. This only ended up irritating the director, who told me to take over his duties and went and sat in a corner.

I retorted back angrily saying that, ‘Please do not think that I do not know how to direct films. I have had the past experience of directing a talkie film, in Calcutta. Since it would be difficult for me to perform dual duties as both an ‘actor’ and a ‘director’ considering my old age, I refused to consider the requests of the producer, who had wished me to be the director of this film, originally.’

Following this stand-off, the producers brought peace between both of us. Up and until this point, the director had only known my reputation as a playwright, but he was now told by those around, that I had had immense experience as an actor as well. Following this tiff, we forgot the events that transpired that day, and later became good friends.

By December 20th, the second director had shot nearly double of what had been shot by the first director, in two months. Not only did he get things shot fast, but he also got them done, intelligently. He would also explain to each actor, the little nuances of acting in detail.

Of the scenes shot by this director in the film, one of them was done very well. This was the scene in which, Purushottaman informs Padmavathy that he was leaving for battle. There would be a screen separating both of them, and Purushottaman would tear the screen and attempt to kiss her hands. The director had taken this scene intelligently in eleven shots. He also shot the other scenes very well with other actors and also ensured that not much of film was wasted. Other directors need to learn a lot from this man. Although he was not physically very strong, he did strain his body to its limits and worked very hard, indeed.

Barring the war scenes, most of the shots involving me, were completed by December 23rd. Therefore as per my request, the producers sent me back to Madras on 23rd of December. As vice-president of the ‘People’s Park South Indian Association’, I had to be part of a ‘Park-Fair’ event that was being conducted in Madras on 24th December. I stayed here in Madras for the next ten days, following which I travelled back to Bombay. In this interim period, the shots which did not involve me had been completed by the Director. The war scenes too, had almost been completed in this period.

Of all the war scenes, shot in Talkie films in India, it is my personal opinion that the scenes shot by the second director were of a much higher standard.

There is a fort in a small village called Mahim, a few miles away from Bombay. I feel that this is a fort that has been constructed by the Maharastrians. Although the fort was partially in ruins, it still looked very pretty. More importantly, one of the walls of the fort was directly facing the sea. One day, we had all travelled to see the fort and realised that this could be a good location for shooting.

Once the costumes for the soldiers had been made ready and the permission of the Government was taken, we had planned to shoot the war scenes of the film, in this fort. [10] The next day, we woke up early in the morning, applied make-up and travelled by motor car to the fort. I found it a little uncomfortable to travel with make-up in an open car. Had a similar thing happened in Madras, then the crowd looking at this spectacle, would have laughed and followed us. However, this appears to a normal event in Bombay, and the common people simply chose to ignore us.

Hundreds of artists who were to be shot in the war scene were ready for us, with their make up on. There is one important thing that I need to mention here. Since one wall of the fort was facing the sea, our Director KabuliSaheb made a spectacular improvisation to the film script.

The soldiers and I were placed in ships and the film was shot as if the Chozha army was attacking the fort by invading it from the sea. It was a very extravagant scene to see soldiers coming off the water and running towards the fort, and the scene was captured very well. Later, several of those who saw the film appreciated this scene very much. For this, I offer my whole hearted appreciation to the second director of this film.

Most importantly, the scene elevated the value of the original story, without making modifications to the original script. If the film had been shot throughout in this manner by making changes to the film version, within the framework of the original story and adding aesthetic value over all, it is my opinion that the film would have earned a very good name11.

In this scene, Manoharan is originally supposed to appear in disguise during the fight and save his father. This was changed in the film, and Manoharan was replaced by Sathyaseelan to do the job. This was done against my wishes, and most importantly, the role was performed by ‘Sandow’, the strong Marathi actor, whom I have described earlier. Later when this film was screened in Tamilnadu, many people disappointingly raised this contradiction with me, and I replied by saying that the character was replaced without my consent and I was not responsible in any manner for what had happened.

Most of the important actors were injured during the shooting of this war scene. I received about four or five injuries. I subsequently made arrangements for ‘Tincture of Iodine’ to be applied to everyone, who was hurt.

Actors, producers and directors who are involved in the making of such scenes must make note of this. Normally, the swords used in the making of such scenes, typically have some some amount of rust in them. No matter, how much they are polished, the rust stains do remain and cannot be eliminated. This creates a possibility for blood poisoning to happen, and it becomes difficult to recover from a festering wound. So, it is better to take the necessary precautions before hand, by applying ‘Tincture of Iodine’, or an alternate disinfectant, immediately on the wound.

MANOHARAADVERTISEMENT DATED MARCH 13, 1936 – INDIAN EXPRESS ARCHIVES – M.V.SURENDER/PROF.SURJIT SINGH

It was 6 p.m before the war scenes were completed. By the time I finished the scenes in which I was involved, I had become very tired. Never the less, I chose to ignore these minor inconveniences. The director had apparently questioned my abilities to fight initially, considering my age. He however decided to give it a go and asked me to take part in the fight. Since I had practiced ‘Silambam’12 during my youth, I did not face much difficulty in enacting these scenes. The director was surprised to see an old man, display such brilliant skills and took about four or five shots of my performances. Later that evening, the producers had told me about the director’s initial apprehensions.

Barring ‘editing’, the completion of these shots now meant, that the film was more or less over. In the next two days, I left for Madras, thanking God that the task which I had been involved in, had been completed successfully.

On March 4th, 1936, the inaugural show for the movie ‘Manohara’ was conducted in Coimbatore. The producers had invited me and I had accepted their invitation. DiwanBhagadur Rathinasabapathy had been invited as the chief guest for the event. Following the screening of the film, the Chief guest, retired Former District Judge of Coimbatore – Sankara Iyer, minister in the current cabinet Mr.Ramanathan, and a couple of others spoke positively about my performances in the film.

The producers had honoured me by presenting a large Silver Cup and an Ink Stand. Although I had seen portions of the film in Bombay, it was the first time that I was seeing the film, in which I had acted, in its entirety. Although I was happy at one level, I was disappointed considering the immense changes that had been made into the story and was doubtful if these changes would resonate with the audience. My premonitions proved to be true, with several people including my friends, who later saw the Talkie film, asking me as to why the scenes had been changed in the Talkie?

Behind my back, some people even held me responsible for the changes that had come over to the story. It is for these people, that I have described the events that transpired in Bombay in detail, in this book. I atleast hope that my friends who read this book, will understand that I was not in any way responsible for these changes.

As far as the film goes, I can only take responsibility for acting as Purushottaman and delivering his dialogues on screen. Infact , even the dialogues too have been changed due to the director’s tinkering with the original script. Of the original script and dialogues in the Manoharan play, which I had published almost 40 years ago, there is only about 5% of that in the Talkie version. This is my bad luck.

The fact that I did not insist to insertion of a clause, during the signing of the agreement preventing any changes to the original script, during the tenure of making the Talkie film for a period of three years, is my fault alone. This, I have already expressed earlier. I also earned the rewards for my mistake.

Later, when I gave the rights for filming my other play ‘Kalvar Thalaivan13’ for three years, I specifically insisted on this clause. I also recommend other play-wrights to ensure the same. When one makes a story originally written for a play, into a Talkie, it is obvious that the same story cannot be used verbatim. However, the adaptation should be done in such a way that ensures, that the structure of the story, its characters and other essential elements of the story are not tinkered in any manner such that, it destroys the beauty of the original story.

More over if the story has already been a successful stage play, under no circumstances should any changes what so ever, be applied to portions of the play, which audiences typically look forward to, each time they come to see the play. If these essential portions are not taken forward to the Talkie, then it is obvious that the audiences are bound to grumble about these essential scenes and the talkie will then be bound to fail. I hope that atleast in future, film producers, directors and actors will pay heed to these essential inferences.

The Manoharan stage play was performed in several places. Those who saw the film for the first time on stage, without having seen a stage version of the play prior-to, were quite happy with the film. However, those that had seen the stage play and then subsequently saw the talkie, were totally disappointed and grumbled sorely about the film. I have got feedback about this impression from multiple quarters.

If one looked at the technical aspects of film making, this is a fine film, indeed. Several directors who saw the film have given feedback in this manner. Yet at the same time, they acknowledged that fiddling with the story was a blunder. They had told me that, this has resulted in affecting the tempo of the film, and I had to agree with them.

The three year agreement which I had originally signed with the producers for the making of Manohara, expires in August of this year. Should another producer come forward and intend to again14 adapt Manohara to the talkie format, I would still tell them the same. There must be no changes to the main story, strictly no modifications to important scenes – which are eagerly awaited by the audience, and no speed breakers to the tempo of the film from the ‘first scene’ to the ‘end’ and most importantly, it must keep the audience happy. I will also request the film maker to cast a young and strong man between eighteen and twenty years15 for the role of Manoharan and a beautiful young lady between fifteen and eighteen years for the role of Vijayal.

CHAPTER IV – TALKIE FILMS, WHICH WERE ADAPTED FROM MY OTHER PLAYS

The first of my stage plays to be made into a Talkie film was Galavarishi. A few years ago, my friend T.C.Vadivelu Nayakkar took my permission and travelled to Bombay and made this film. When I later saw it in Madras, the only satisfying thing about it, was the acting of the Subhadra character.

RATHNAVALLI ADVERTISEMENTDATED JULY 6, 1935. – INDIAN EXPRESS ARCHIVES – M.V.SURENDER/PROF.SURJIT SINGH

Later on, after obtaining my permission, the stage play ‘Ratnavalli’ was made into a film. The RatnaBai-SaraswathiBai sisters played an important role in this film. I heard that this film was very profitable for its producers. The main reason for this is, that it was an almost ditto version of the one, performed on stage. Although the Ratnavalli story is an old Sanskrit one, I had introduced some new scenes in the stage play version along with two additional comic characters by name ‘Papparavayan’ and ‘Damaravayan’. This was a huge success and the producers had to give me Rs.thousand as royalty1.

The producers must note that although the story is an old one, if it had been substantially adapted in a modern format with the introduction of new characters and elements, resulting in the possibilities of creation of a new and modern film, then they must mandatorily pay the royalty to the author.

In the year 1935, a production company based in Salem, approached me and paid me Rs.5000 for the rights to adapt my stage play ‘Leelavathi-Sulochana’ to the Talkie format, for a period of three years. Subsequently, the film was completed quickly and screened in Madras. These producers too, substantially modified the structure of the story. I think this is again the reason as to why, the film version of the story was not as successful as the stage version. Even then, I am aware that the film generated substantial profits for the film producers.

Later, in the same year, a landlord from Salem purchased the rights to film an adaptation of my stage play “Vedhala Ulagam’ for a period of three years. On an auspicious day last year, a function was even conducted to commence shooting for the film, in Madras, but beyond that, nothing has happened. The agreement signed for three years, is due to expire in a few months, and I wish to bring it to notice to the right holder. I wish to also inform him that, if he does not complete the film within this time period, he shall lose the rights to make this film.

In the year 1936, The ‘Premier Cinetone’ company paid me Rs.2250 and purchased the adapation rights of my drama ‘Kalvar Thalaivan2’. Like the cat which is afraid to climb into the kitchen after being burnt once, I have been very careful this time to insert a clause while signing this film, that prevents the film makers from modifying the story, without my permission. I think that this film should release in the theatres, soon.

In the year 1938, at the beginning of this year, I was approached by producers of the ‘Jothi Pictures Company’ of Madras to write a stage play form to make a film based on the life of Ramalinga Swamigal. I have written that and have given it to them and learn that shooting of this film should begin shortly.

Some producers have approached me and asked my opinion on which of my other stage plays would be suitable for the Talkie format. I shall write my opinions here.

From the mythologicals, I think ‘Buddha’s Avatar’, ‘Yayati’ and ‘Urvasi’s Curse’ should be quite suitable. If you need to make Social films, I would suggest ‘Vijayarangam’, ‘Pon Vilangugal3’, ‘ Brahmanum Suthiranum4’, ‘Dasi Penn5’ and ‘Uthamappatthini6’. For those who wish to make comedy films, ‘The Four Portions of Sabapathy7’, ‘ChandraHari8’, and ‘Kadhalar Kangal9’ would be suitable. For those who wish to make shorts10 based on short stories, they may make use of ‘KuraMagal11’, ‘RajaputhiraVeeran12’, ‘Santhaiyir Kootam13’, ‘Vaikunda Vaithiyar14’ and ‘Narkula Deivam15’. For those intending to make long romance themed films, ‘Irandu Nanbargal16’, ‘Satrujith’ and ‘Peyyala Penmaniye17’ should be suitable, according to my opinion. Apart from these, I am currently writing two new books – ‘How to Make Tamil Talkies18?’ and ‘East and West’, for the benefit of the Talkie world. By God’s will, I hope to complete these books, soon.

In late December 1936, I was nominated as the president of the hosting committee for the ‘Second All India Cinema conference’, which was held at Madras. In that capacity, I had spoken in English about the current situation of cinema and suggested ways to improve it. Some of my friends suggested me to publish the same, in Tamil. Instead of doing that, I had decided to cumulatively publish all my views on Tamil cinema in a small booklet titled ‘Tamil Pesum Pada Kaatchigal19’, which was released the following year in 1937.

DEC 27, 1936 – SECOND ALL INDIA MOTION PICTURE CONGRESS HELD AT MADRASPAMMAL SAMBANDHA MUDALIAR GAVE THE INAUGURAL SPEECH IN THIS CONFERENCEINDIAN EXPRESSPROF.SURJIT SINGH/M.V.SURENDER WEBSITE ARCHIVES

In the end of 1937, I was nominated as a board member of the Censor Board Committee, by the ruling Congress Party. The irony of this, was that I had to censor20 the very first film, that I over saw.

During these last three years, I have also been nominated as a Vice-president of the Madras Film League, and I function as a Judge in the Film Ballot, held annually every year.

APR 6, 1935 – MUDALIAR IS PART OF THE JUDGES FOR THE MADRAS ANNUAL FILM LEAGUE’S BALLOTINDIAN EXPRESSPROF.SURJIT SINGH/M.V.SURENDER WEBSITE ARCHIVES

CHAPTER V – ASPECTS OF ACTING IN TAMIL TALKIES

Lastly, I am including a small article which was published last year in ‘Sudesa Mithran’ news magazine under the same title and thus completing this book.

It can be said that it is about ten years since the origin of the Talkies in our country. In these ten years, no one can deny the immense growth that they have enjoyed all over the country. Comparatively speaking, it is common knowledge that Talking Cinema has developed much more in continents like America and Europe, than in our country.

In those continents, it is rare to find even a small town without the influence of cinema. In our country, studios have started mushrooming in larger towns like Bombay, Calcutta, Lahore, Poona, Kolhapur and Madras. In Madras Presidency alone, studios have been started in Coimbatore, Salem, Madurai, Bangalore and Tiruchirappalli. There are about 250 theatres in Tamilnadu. It is an undeniable fact, that these theatres create livelihoods for thousands of people, dependent on them.

Whether the Talkies are interpreted as a ‘modern rendering of the story teller’ or seen as a ‘profession’, there is no doubt that they have been immensely beneficial to the general public. In the next few years, there is no doubt that cinema would continue to grow, and one can safely predict that at some point in the future, there may be not be a single village, without its own theatre.

So, it is our duty to provide support in the larger interest of the nation to ensure that this medium that provides both ‘knowledge’ and ‘entertainment’ to the public, needs to continuously grow and be in constant development.

If we have to focus on ‘long term development’ of anything, we need to first identify what are its current ‘short-comings’, and suggest ways so that they can either be ‘rectified’ or eliminated. So, let us first see what are the shortcomings facing the Indian Talkie Industry, at this moment.

IMPORTANT SHORTCOMINGS

The major shortcomings which can be seen in contemporary Talkie films are ‘production of Puranic Stories’, ‘incorrect casting of actors’, ‘Transition of Talkie films into Sangeetha Kacheris1’, ‘incorrect costume designing with regard to the demands of the film’s story’ and ‘lack of acting abilities of lead actors2’. Although the above mentioned shortcomings can be extrapolated to all Talkie films shot within the country, many people are of the opinion that they are particularly applicable to Tamil and Telugu films, made within Madras Presidency.

When Foreigners have a look at our films, it is inevitable that they would share these views. Amongst these shortcomings mentioned above, they particularly stress on the lack of acting abilities of our actors. So, our responsibility is to mainly focus on this aspect and improve the quality of our films, in future. I will offer my suggestions on how to improve our acting skills, to the best of my limited knowledge.

THE ART OF ACTING SHOULD BE LEARNT

The common public have a very incorrect perception about acting. Many of them presume that acting need not be learnt and that it would come out naturally and spontaneously. There is no greater misconception than this. Inorder to become a doctor, an engineer or a lawyer, one must spend several years in general study, followed by a certain specialization, write exams and then pass the course. Only then, do they become qualified in their respective professions. Similarly, if one desired to become a sculptor, a singer or a dancer, one would have to spend years studying the foundational aspects of these art forms, followed by attaining practical experience by assisting a senior Guru.

Only if one followed such stringent discipline, could they later become an expert in the field and take it up as a profession, to make a living. The common people clearly understand this fundamental logic and apply it to all professions of life, barring acting. ‘One needs to learn nothing, do no research, act in a stage drama or assist a guru. It will all happen automatically.’. This is the general perception of acting, amongst the masses.

As long as this incorrect attitude continues to remain in the minds of majority, the art of acting will never improve in our country and our Talkie films too will stagnate.

THE STATE IN FOREIGN COUNTRIES

Let us now see the opinion which is spreading about this art form in European and American Nations. As with the immense struggles one undergoes in learning alternate art forms, he too shall do the same to become an actor. Several acting schools have been set up in France, Germany and Russia. The graduates from these schools are directly absorbed into the Stage and Talkies. The students who study in these schools have to undergo examinations, following which they are given certificates of merit. This practice is followed in America, too. Many schools have been setup to encourage singers, dramatists and actors. These students are taught professionally, even if they have to perform simple actions like kissing or ‘winking of the eyes’. There is a stringent procedure and only the talented students from the training academy come out with flying colours.

THE STATE IN OUR COUNTRY

In our country, if an ‘actor’ or an ‘actress’ is a little beautiful or can sing a bit, they would be on the stage, the very next moment. Alternatively, if they had a good reference, they would be the star in the next Talkie. Several stalwarts in this industry unanimously agree that there are several contemporary stars who have ‘zero knowledge’ of acting. The foreigners who see our Talkie films also point out this obvious shortcoming.

In the context of what we are speaking about, let me tell you a small story that I am aware of, personally. A rich producer from the North had come down to South India to select two actresses for his film. He was recommended two popular actresses from the stage, by someone. On seeing them act, he became very disappointed and suggested that the actresses first learn ‘how to act’, and then discussions may be held later ‘about the casting aspects’, and he left back disappointed. If this is the situation that has happened to two popular stage artists, one can imagine the quality of acting currently demonstrated in a Talkie film, by a film star who has never been on stage.

Most of these stars are not even able to speak their dialogues properly. Forget acting! In my opinion, they do not even know how to walk. However there are exceptions. Acting comes naturally, to a few, and we must accept that. It is possible that these rare and talented actors may appear from somewhere and take the stage by storm. The remaining people have no other option, but to struggle and work hard, is my opinion.

Mrs. Devaki3 Rani, an actress who has earned ‘name and fame’ across the length and breadth of the country, has expressed her views in a magazine recently saying that ‘Acting in Talkie films is no easy task and one must work hard to learn and emote the nuances and expressions of this art form.’

WHAT SHOULD ACTORS LEARN?

Importantly, actors aspiring to succeed in Talkie films should focus on some important aspects like ‘clarity of speech’, ‘body movements suited to auditory response’, ‘facial expressions’ and ‘eye signals’. On learning all these nuances, he must then study in detail, about the character that is going to be performed on stage. He must also study elements of ‘by play’, i.e., ‘How is an actor on stage supposed to behave, when he is part of a scene, but the dialogue is being rendered by someone else at the moment?’. After completing the study and training of the various elements mentioned above, an actor must also know important elements of ‘dancing on stage’ and ‘acting in cinema’.

A SCHOOL TO TRAIN ACTORS

Unfortunately, we do not have such training schools in our country. This is definitely a short-coming. With training schools being established for other forms of art in the country, we definitely need to establish ‘acting’ schools to train our actors. Only then, can we see substantial improvements in the quality of our Talkies. If rich people can fund the creation of these institutions ‘here’ and ‘there’, then there is no doubt in my mind, that it will be beneficial to thousands of budding‘actors’ and ‘actresses’.

I am also of the opinion that investing in these institutions would also additionally, be financially profitable to its owners, after deducting all expenses involved. The creation of these training schools will create a pool of talented actors and actresses, who can then directly be absorbed into the Talkie industry.

Those aspiring to become actors must also learn from experienced actors from the Talkie industry. A minimum qualification in foreign countries is that, these budding actors must atleast view the films and try to understand, how experienced actors have performed on film, and learn from that. This is not an art that immediately comes over, when one views something. It has to be practiced hard and learnt continuously for improved results.

Lastly, there are several English books and a couple of Tamil ones, that provide invaluable information on tips to act in Talkie films. One can read these books and learn from them as well.

THE END

[1] For more information on this project, click here – https://killthepirate.wordpress.com/the-missing-reels-of-tamil-cinema/[.]

[2] Mudaliar’s work has been published under the title ‘Valli Manam’.[.]

[3] Manohara(1936), Ratnavalli(1935), Drowpathi Vasthirabaranam(Telugu) and Galavarishi are lost films. [.]

[4] Sati Sulocahana (1934) is preserved as film in the golden cages of the N.F.A.I. One can view the film only at the NFAI premises by paying an amount close to Rs.2500 for a single view. A legitimate DVD (infinite views) costs on average Rs.100, while streaming models have evolved that allow users to consume as many movies (infinite views) that they want by paying only Rs.200 per month. Companies like YouTube have evolved business models built upon advertising, that offer content for free. [.]

[5] This immensely helped me to translate this book at leisure later, in the comfort of my home, while allowing me to focus on other important material at the N.F.A.I.

[.]

[1] Manohara was performed on stage for the first time in Victoria Public Hall in the year 1895 – Memoirs of the Stage, Pammal Sammandha Mudaliar. [.]

[2] This is probably the famous story of a man who desired to build a well, and a demon appeared to do any task for him, but he had to be engaged, otherwise he would eat the man. The man initially quite happy to save a lot of manual labour, and orders a series of tasks for the demon. However, he is soon shocked to learn that he cannot keep in pace assigning tasks to the demon. The man is finally saved by his wife, who orders the demon to straighten the tail of the dog. The demon unable to complete the task, vanishes.[.]

[3] Sati Sulocahana(1934)/Pammal Sammandha Mudaliar and Pavalakkodi(1934)/K.Subrahmanyam are the oldest surviving Tamil films, today. Both these films have been preserved in the National Film Archives of India, Pune. [.]

[1] Mudaliar uses the word ‘Chennai’ through out the story. All though, the official English name of the city is now ‘Chennai’ as well, the city was called ‘Madras’ in English, at the time of its writing. Since the story was published in Tamil, it uses the word ‘Chennai’, in the original as well. [.]

[2] It is possible that these studios were ‘Meenakshi CineTone’, ‘Srinivasa CineTone’ (or) Vel Studios(1934), the earliest functioning studios in Madras. [.]

[3] Transport of Actors Via Rail. [.]

[4] The assignment of dual roles given to T.N.Nataraja Pillai in this film by Mudaliar, is probably consciously done. As per the ‘Sati Sulochana’ story, Adiseshan, the serpent king reappears in his next birth as the avatar of Lakshman to take revenge on Indrajith, the son of Ravana. Since there was no possibility of Lord Rama meeting Adiseshan in the story, the same actor T.N.Nataraja Pillai could now perform both these roles, without the technical challenges of doing a ‘double-act’. [.]

[5] This is very much likely, the Premier company. See ‘Sakunthala’ Advertisement on next page. [.]

[6] The terminology for Lead roles in Stage plays. [.]

[7] In his book ‘Sadhanaigal Padaitha Tamil Thiraipada Varalaru’, ‘Late’ Film News Anandan mentions the date of release of Sati Sulochana as 22-9-1934.[.]

[8] Mudaliar is probably referring to the stage props and background sets, here. [.]

[9] From Film News Anandan’s book, we understand that his name was Dinshaw Irani. [.]

[10] Unlike his other contemporary Sankaradas Swamigal, Mudaliar was not very well versed in composing of songs. This can be observed from his own memoirs. Most of his stage play publications do not have songs in them. The Sati Sulochana drama which was published in print, after the making of this movie, contained the song compositions used in the Talkie. [.]

[11] Live Recording of Songs and Dialogues, in the early era where there was no ‘voice dubbing’ and ‘song playback’. [.]

[12] This is in sharp contrast to the early films made in Madras in the 30s, which would only be shot in day time under sunlight. We understand this from various primary sources which include Montage footage shots of Ellis R Dungan’s resurfaced footage of his making of various films in the 30s and also S.D.Subbulakshmi’s memoirs published in an article for South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce in the year 1956. [.]

[13] A drink consumed by the Gods, which gives them immortality. [.]

[14] A yaga is a sacrifice typically performed to appease the gods, who in response would give a boon to their devotees. [.]

[15] Actors with good voices and from stage were preferred to act in the early Talkie films. [.]

[1] The book ‘Sadhanaigal Padaitha Tamil Thiraipada Varalaru’ by ‘Late’ Film News Anandhan, features a rare image of Pammal Sambandha Mudaliar, donning the role of Purushottaman in Manohraa(1936).[.]

[2] This ‘Sandow’ should not be confused with P.K. Raja Sandow. Raja Sandow had travelled to Maharashtra from Tamilnadu and became a very successful actor and director there, we understand from records like Avvai Shanmugam’s memoirs that he had a very good knowledge of Tamil literature as well. [.]

[3] Plaigiarism in Early Tamil cinema. [.]

[4] This is the scene when an angry Manoharan breaks the iron shackles when Purushottaman, accuses Manoharan of being born to a prostitute. We understand subsequently from Mudaliar’s words, that this scene was already quite popular with the masses, long before the year 1940. Subsequently, Sivaji Ganesan’s emotional acting and rendering of M.Karunanithi’s long monologue in Manohara(1954) have raised the value of this scene to ‘cult status’. [.]

[5] Mudaliar uses the word ‘Aabasam’ in the original script. While a literal translation of the word would logically mean ‘vulgar’, it is possible that he contextually means ‘absurd’[.]

[6] The long continuous monologuing subsequently became a successful trend in Tamil cinema in the 40s and 50s. [.]

[7] We again realise that this scene must have been a huge success with the masses, who watched the play. [.]

[8] In Manohara(1954), Manohara charges to chop off Vasantha Senai’s head. [.]

[9] In Manohara(1954), we can observe that Padmavathy(P.Kannamba) manually lifts the veil off her face, when she stops Manoharan swinging his sword to chop Vasantha Senai’s (T.R.Rajakumari) head. [.]

[10] Outdoor shootings were part of Tamil cinema much even in the Silent Film Era. Of the only surviving Non-Feature Silent Film shot in Tamil Nadu, ‘The Catechist of Kil-Arni’ directed by Raghupathi Prakash and produced by a Catholic priest -Thomas Gavin Duffy, one can see shots of the Gingee fort. [.]

[11] There are multiple signs from this book that tell us that Manohara(1936) probably ended up being a financial disaster at the box office. [.]

[12] A rural game/martial art form where individuals display and demonstrate their physical powers using a long stick. [.]

[13] Leader of Robbers. [.]

[14] It was a common practice for films with similar themes to be made by different production companies, many of them releasing around the same time, in the 30s and early 40s. E.g Lotus Original Sarangadhara and Naveena Sarangadhara, films with similar themes, and produced by different film companies were both released in the year 1935. The same story ‘Sarangadharan’ was remade in the 1950s, as was Manohara.[.]

[15] Sivaji Ganesan was 25 (born 1928 – Wikipedia) during the filming of Manohara, which released in the year 1954. [.]

[1] We understand from multiple sources, that Pammal Sammandha Mudaliar strongly enforced his Intellectual Property Rights from those that made commercial derivatives of his plays and published works. Almost every of his printed book makes a reminder and a warning asking those who wish to stage his plays, to first take his permission and pay the required royalty, before performing his plays. The context of the above statement also seems to be reflective of the same. Here, he provides a classical interpretation of the variation between ‘out of copyright’ works and the underlying rights of the new author who can modify these classical works. This topic continues to be relevant even today, in the era of the Internet. [.]

[2] Leader of Robbers. [.]

[3] Golden Animals.[.]

[4] The Brahmin and the Shudra.[.]

[5] Girl born in a Dasi family. [.]

[6] The Honourable Woman. [.]

[7] Sabapathy starring T.R.Ramachandran and Kali.N.Ratnam was made into a successful Talkie film in the year 1941. [.]

[8] This play is a parody on ‘Harischandra’, the king who always spoke the truth. ChandraHari represents the man who only spoke lies. [.]

[9] The Eyes of Lovers. [.]

[10] This was a very interesting trend in the 1930s, where several short films each with an independent cast – crew and director, each of them with an independent certificate, would them be combined and released. The best example for this kind of film is ‘Sirikkathey’, which was made of five films stitched together. One of the short films which has survived and preserved today at the N.F.A.I is ‘Naveena Vikramadithan’ which featured the iconic comedy actor – N.S.Krishnan. [.]

[11] Tribal Girl. [.]

[12] The Rajput Warrior? [.]

[13] The Market Crowd. [.]

[14] The frequently called Vaidhya.[.]

[15] The Goddess who Blessed. [.]

[16] Two Friends. [.]

[17] ‘O Love, I am not a Devil!’[.]

[18] A copy of this book titled ‘A Handbook for Tamil Talkies’ has been preserved in the N.F.A.I. [.]

[19] Scenes in Tamil Talkie films. [.]

[20] The context of this sentence is very unclear. It is possible that Mudaliar means severely ‘criticise’ this film. [.]

[1] The Early Tamil Talkie films had a large number of songs. For example, Pavallakkodi (1934) had 50+ songs of which 20+ songs were rendered by M.K.Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, the lead actor. [.]

[2] Since the Talkie evolved from Stage, and there was no play-back facility back then, Many good singers were given roles, although they proved rather incompetent in the acting department. [.]

[3] This is a printing error in the original. It should be Devika Rani. [.]


TALKIE EXPERIENCES IN TAMIL

TALKIE EXPERIENCES IN TAMIL' was written and first published in the year 1938. The work originally done in Tamil, chronicles legendary playwright, Pammal Sambandha Mudaliar's own experiences in writing, directing and acting in Talkie films, which were made in the 1930's. The book provides us a first hand view of the challenges faced by Tamil film makers, who had to travel to the North to make Talkie films, a comparative analysis of 'stage' and 'nascent Tamil films', and the evolution of the Tamil Talkie industry in Madras. Mudaliar speaks in detail about the film 'Sati Sulochana', which he directed in the year 1934, in Calcutta, and the trauma that he underwent during the making of Manohara, in Bombay, two years later. While the former has the distinction of being the oldest known surviving Tamil film, the latter is believed to be lost. The original text written in Tamil by Sambandha Mudaliar has been translated into English, with the addition of necessary annotations and the inclusion of 'rare primary vintage news paper clippings' to provide a better impression of the original text, to the reader.

  • Author: Sugeeth Krishnamoorthy
  • Published: 2017-04-22 17:50:32
  • Words: 19636
TALKIE EXPERIENCES IN TAMIL TALKIE EXPERIENCES IN TAMIL