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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XVIII No. 14, november 1-15, 2008

To be ecofriendly...

Revive the cycle-ricks
(By Lalitha Ramadurai)

In the process of urbani­sation and development, Chennai has not only lost its original shape but has also shed much of its heritage buildings, traditional customs and culture that provided the city its distinct flavour. Another such element that has vanished is the ubiquitous cycle-rickshaw that you saw on the streets of Madras till even the early 1990s.

Originally introduced in India in Shimla, the summer capital of the British, in 1880, rickshaws in the early days were mainly hand-pulled. In fact, the word ‘rickshaw’ comes from the Japanese word jin-riki-sha, which literally means ‘man-powered-cart’. The early rickshaw was a small, hooded ‘cart’ with large-diameter wheels drawn by a man running between the shafts that extended from the cart. Subsequently, around the 1930s-1940s, the hand-pulled rickshaw gave way to the rickshaw drawn by a human powered bicycle. The cycle-rickshaw was moderately fast and offered comfortable transportation for the lower income groups

Post-Independence, with the increasing availability of motorised vehicles, the cycle-rickshaw started to be regarded as ‘old fashioned’ and people often found it embarrassing to ride in one. The rickshaws were blamed for holding up traffic on the city roads and started to be seen as ‘inhuman’ by many of the educated (though, ironically, ‘coolies,’ an inseparable part of the world’s largest railway network are acceptable!). Although the Government did introduce several schemes to motorise the rickshaws to increase their efficiency and to do away with the physical labour involved, rickshaws lost the race to the noisy and polluting autos and two-wheelers. Today, as in many other Indian cities, Chennai’s cycle rickshaws are on the verge of becoming ­extinct.

But, while Chennai is doing away with the cycle-rickshaws, they are making a comeback across the globe. They are being seen as a greener alternative to motor vehicles as they are zero emitters, contributing nil to air and noise pollution. Rickshaws can now be seen in cities like New York, Edinburgh, London, Oxford, Paris and Singapore – where they are referred to as ‘pedicabs’. They are especially popular among tourists, who prefer visiting the city attractions in an open-top ambience.

Taking a cue from these cities, Chennai might do well to recall its cycle-rickshaws to help ­combat the city’s pollution woes and fuel shortages. The cycle-rickshaw would also provide an inexpensive and customer-friendly transport option for commuters in a city where buses are perpetually crowded and cars and taxis have become unaffordable – thanks to the sky-rocketing prices of gasoline and diesel. They would also ­provide an alternative to the city’s autos, notorious for their emissions.

More importantly, the rickshaws would provide greatly needed employment for the very low income residents of the city. Unlike the earlier rickshaws that took a heavy toll on the driver’s health, the present-day models with multi-gear systems are easier to pedal and manoeuvre. The weight of the vehicle is much lighter and is evenly distributed. And the longer chassis offers stability and prevents toppling. For the passenger, there are comfortable seats and backrests which absorb shocks and offer more comfortable rides. In addition, the permanent hood offers protection against sun and rain.

Though plying such cycle-rickshaws on arterial roads, such as Anna Salai, would be suicidal, they can be used to transport people to, from and in large residential areas such as Adyar, providing links to bus stands, MRTS stations, or transporting within the area. In fact, the entire road network of the city could be classified as rickshaw and non-rickshaw areas, with the rickshaw getting preference in residential areas and densely populated ones. In such places the movement of autos and taxis could be restricted to certain main roads. At present, a large number of short distance journeys are made by auto-rickshaw which, with the right kind of traffic management, could be transferred to non-polluting rickshaws.

One way of reviving the cycle-rickshaws would be to create traffic-free zones in the congested parts of downtown Chennai – such as Mylapore and Triplicane (similar to the manner traffic has been banned in the vicinity of Taj Mahal in Agra). Rickshaws would be the perfect answer to tranpsort requirements in these areas.

Cycle-rickshaws could also be extremely useful in market places such as Pondy Bazaar, where parking is scarce and pedestrians abundant. Special areas where rickshaws would pick up and drop passengers could be created in such places.

The State Tourism Department could also promote rickshaws for ‘leisure rides’ along the Marina waterfront and Elliot’s Beach by creating exclusive rickshaw tracks. In order to present the rickshaw service as a distinctive and enjoyable experience, these rickshaws should be given a facelift and the colorfully-uniformed rickshaw-wallahs skill-trained in social interaction.

With corporate social responsibility being the present-day mantra, these initiatives could even be undertaken as Government-private partnerships. The rickshaws could in turn be used to advertise corporate messages.

In a city like Chennai that is reeling under the impact of air pollution, due to the explosion in the number of petrol/diesel-run vehicles, the cycle-rickshaw should have found more governmental support and encouragement. Unfortunately, urban planning continues to focus on expanding the role of automotive transport. Though the Second Master Plan for Chennai does recognise the role that cycle-rickshaws can play in para-transit, it is still not a focus.

Without doubt, there is space and scope for integrating cycle-rickshaws into the urban transport system. What is lacking is political will and public awareness. Though the rickshaws may not be a total solution to the environmental and global warming issues of Chennai, as they say, ‘Every little bit helps to save our environment.’

1. Pinderhughes, R. Alternative Urban Futures: Planning for Sustainable Development in Cities throughout the World. (Rowman and Littlefield, 2004) pages 163-170.

2. Rajvanshi, A.K. ‘Electric and improved cycle rickshow as a sustainable transport in India’, in Current Science, Vol. 83, No. 6, September 2002.

3. Whitelegg, J., Williams, N., and Basu, J. ‘Westernising Travel Policy: Rickshaw Pullers in Calcutta’ in Delivering Sustainable Transport: A Social Perspective. (Emerald Group Publishing, 2003) page 157-170.

4. Das, A., ‘Relics on Wheel’, The Hindu, December 15, 2006

5. http://www.cmdachennai. gov.­in/smp_main.html


Two personalities to remember
(By Sriram V.)

A great-grandfather who was a man of many parts

Aravind Adiga, the author of The White Tiger, has been awarded the Booker Prize and has been much in the news. But his connection with Chennai needs to be better known because, for years, his illustrious family in Madras was one of the best known families in the city. The fortunes of the family were founded by his great-grand­father, Dr. U. Rama Rau, who not only made his mark as a medical man but also left his impression on the social and administrative fabric of Madras city in more ways than one.

U. Rama Rau was born at Kudur near Udipi in the South Canara district. His father, U. Vyasa Rao, worked with the Palimar Mutt of Udipi, one of the eight monasteries that in succession govern the famed Krishna temple in the town. Family tradition has it that clan’s ancestors had extensive lands which were all lost during the Fourth Mysore War and by the time Rama Rau appeared on the scene, the family was leading a hand-to-mouth existence. Rama Rau was given in adoption to U. Krishna Rau, a kinsman, and had his early schooling in Udipi. While in his teens he came to Madras where he first studied at Madras Christian College and, later, at Madras Medical College where he enrolled for the LIM course.

Graduating from the MMC, he set up practice at No 323 (this was the door number then) Thambu Chetty Street in busy Black Town, later named George Town. Married by then to Kamala, who was in every way a helpmeet, he also set up home in Thambu Chetty Street, opposite his clinic. He soon made a name for himself as an excellent physician, his speciality being the treatment of malaria patients. His wife helped him pack the borax mixtures and quinine, thereby enabling their ready availability and quick distribution. Yet another winning strategy was to treat all rickshaw pullers and tonga drivers free of cost and they in turn brought in patients from all over the city! In 1899, he began a pharmacy in the same premises as his clinic. Sri Krishnan Bros, chemists and druggists and also scientific opticians, frequently advertised in various journals of the time. His success was also attributed to his being in possession of a gold coin – the Ram Tanka Varaha – pro­bably one of a series minted by the last ruler of Golconda, Abul Hassan Tana Shah, in the 17th Century, in honour of his minister and the great devotee of Rama – Bhadrachala Ramadasa. This coin was given to Dr. Rau by the pontiff of the Udipi Mutt and it occupied pride of place in his daily worship.

His professional success thus assured, Dr. Rama Rau turned his attention to matters concerning Madras society and politics. He enrolled as a member of the Congress party and was to remain one all his life. Irked at the fact that despite the many Indians in the field it was the English doctors who hogged the limelight, he founded the Indian Medical Association and, along with Dr. T.M. Nair, another well-known doctor and one of the leading lights of the Dravidian movement, began The Antiseptic, a journal for Indian doctors. Dr. Nair was its editor till his passing in 1919 and, given the wide-ranging interests of its promoters, the magazine had plenty of articles of general interest, including pieces that supported the nationalist cause. After Dr. Nair, Dr. Rama Rau himself brought out the journal for many years. He also brought out a second journal, Health, for some time. Dr. Rau was also President of the Indian Medical Association.

Dr. Rau, along with Lt. Col. Dr. Pandalai, former dean of the Madras Medical College, founded the St John Ambulance Association in Madras and was also its Superintendent for some time. When the Indian Red Cross was set up following an Act of the Imperial Legislature in 1920, Dr. Rau worked on getting the South Indian branch set up.

In the 1920s, Dr. Rama Rau moved home to the upmarket Puraswalkam area where he acquired Hawarden, a sprawling garden house. Here he celebrated Rama Navami, the birth anniversary of Lord Rama, with fanfare. The house was to see a steady stream of visitors all through the day and well into the night and soon became a landmark. For some reason it was referred to as ‘Egmore House’ by the locals.

Dr. Rama Rau became a Councillor of the Madras Corporation contemporaneously with Sir Pitti Thyagaraya Chetty. He was elected a member of the Madras Legislative Council in 1927. In the Council, he participated in the debates on the Anti-Nautch legislation proposed by Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy with whom he sided. Like her, he was a practitioner of medicine and was well aware of the health issues faced by girls who were dedi cated to temples. In the initial stages of the debate, he was all for complete abolishing of the system, but by the end of the year his opinion regarding the art practised by the women was to change, thanks to the All India Music Conference that was held in Egmore in December 1927. This was held in conjunction with the All India Congress Session and Dr. Rama Rau was President of the committee that organised the music conference. As is well known, the Music Academy was set up in 1928 following a resolution to that effect in the Music Conference.

Dr. Rama Rau became the first President of the Music Academy and held the post till 1935. He helped steer it though many a financial crisis in its early days, including giving Gana Mandir, his erstwhile residence on Thambu Chetty Street, to the Academy free of rent for it to conduct its music performances. The official address of the Academy was that of his clinic. It was at Gana Mandir that Dr. Rama Rau came to appreciate the ­necessity of saving the dance practised by the Devadasis, thanks to a series of performances orga­nised in 1932 by E. Krishna Iyer, that indefatigable champion of the arts. Thus, while the legislation against the Devadasi system was passed in 1928, Dr. Rau and his team at the Music Academy quietly worked on getting the public to appreciate the importance of saving the dance form.

In 1933, the traditional art of Sadir was renamed Bharata Natyam and it became more popular. In 1931, the Music Academy also established its Teachers’ College of Music and this again functioned from Gana Mandir. Dr. Rau donated money for scholarships and prizes to be given by the Teachers’ College, though he did not allow his name to be publicised. He also kept the fledgling journal of the Music Academy alive by releasing advertisements of his pharmacy in it and paying for the publication. In later years, Dr. Rau was not very active in Music Academy affairs, though he did rejoice in it growing from strength to strength. In 1946, when the ­Music Academy observed Tyagaraja’s death centenary, Dr. Rau inaugurated its annual ­conference. Music was very important to Dr. Rau and he ensured that all his children and grandchildren learnt it from Lakshmi Das Rao (also known as Dadda), who was a disciple of Harike­sanallur Muthiah Bha­ga­vatar, the famed music persona­lity.

An interesting aside in his life was the small but key role he played in getting the composer Purandara Dasa’s songs well known in Madras. Among his patients was Madras Lalithangi, a famed singer of the city. Lalithangi and her husband were facing hard times and Dr. Rau assisted them by getting them tuition engagements. Once, while visiting his house, Lalithangi heard a Dasa from Mysore, who was lodged at Dr. Rau’s residence, sing. She was so ena­moured of the songs of Puran­dara Dasa he sang that she learnt them all and, in 1941, published them in Tamil at her own expense.

During his tenure in the Legislative Council, Dr. Rau was nominated to the Council of States in Delhi. A grand celebration in his honour was held in Bombay by the residents who had migrated there from the South Kanara area. As a member of the Council he participated in several important committees, including the Road Development Committee of 1927 which first mooted the idea of a grid of roads divided into National and Provincial Highways, the format of which is still followed. In 1930, following the directive of the Congress party, he along with other party members resigned from the Legislature and participated in the Civil Disobedience Movement.

From 1930 to 1932 Dr. Rau ran what was called the Congress Hospital in Madras city. This was meant primarily to treat those who were injured in lathi charges while participating in the protests organised by the Congress! In 1937, he once again became a member of the Madras Legislative Council. He served as its Chairman till 1943, a post that he accepted at the instance of Rukmini Lakshmipathy. He was a member of the Madras Univer­sity’s Senate and also of the ­Madras Medical Council. He was one of the founders of the South Kanara Dravida Brahmin Association and its first President. Later, this became the Karnataka Sangha which runs schools in the city even today.

Retirement did not exist in Dr. Rau’s lexicon and he ­remained active till his sudden death on May 12, 1952. By then, two of his sons, Krishna Rau and Mohan Rau, had become doctors with extensive practice. Krishna Rau was to follow in his father’s footsteps in politics, becoming, successively, Corporation Councillor and Mayor of Madras. He also represented the Harbour Constituency in the Madras Legislative Assembly. In the Rajaji Government between 1952 and 1954, he was Minister for Industry, Labour and Public Transport and between 1957 and 1961 he was Speaker of the Legislative Assembly.

Dr. Mohan Rau shone in the medical field and his surgical clinic on Poonamallee High Road was a landmark for many years. Today, the Dr. U Mohan Rau Hospital functions at the same place with his descendants carrying on the medical tradition. Aravind Adiga is Dr. Mohan Rau’s grandson, born to his daughter.

Dr. Rama Rau too is remembered. The building where his clinic stood is named after him, though Gana Mandir has vanished. Hawarden too is gone, but the Rama Rau Kala Mandap, belonging to the Karnataka Sangha and standing on Habibullah Road, is a much sought after venue for music concerts and is the venue for the Nungambakkam Cultural Academy’s annual music series in December. His portrait presides over the goings on in the Committee Room of the Music Academy. The Antiseptic continues as the Indian Medical Association’s journal, now being published in Madurai. Perhaps the best memorial to him is his family, which has achieved so much in so many walks of life.


He and Sruti spoke out
for music and dance
(By Sriram V.)

Sruti, the magazine for the Indian, particularly South Indian, classical performing arts, turned 25 on October 16, 2008. It was an achievement for a publication that had led a hand-to-mouth existence, at best, for most of its life. Its small but dedicated band of readers expressed their happiness by participating in the events that were held to commemorate the jubilee, but the man who founded the paper and who would have rejoiced the most, N. Pattabhiraman, was not around to witness the celebrations.

Pattabhiraman was born in 1932 to V. Narayanan and Sarada. His mother was the daughter of P.R. Sundara Iyer, the well-known lawyer and, later, judge of the Madras High Court. The family had always prided itself on its journalistic and literary skills. Pattabhi­raman’s father was a linguist, fluent in Sanskrit, English and Tamil. Elder brother P.N. Sundaresan was sports editor for The Hindu. Great-uncle A. Madhaviah was one of the early Tamil novelists and his son M. Krishnan was an expert on wildlife whom he captured in words and pictures; his columns for The Statesman made him one of the best known columnists in India. Given this, it was perhaps no wonder that Pattabhiraman also acquired good writing and speaking skills very early in life.

A polio-afflicted foot notwithstanding, Pattabhiraman was passionate about sports, playing cricket and table tennis with gusto. Graduating with a degree in Economics from Vivekananda College, Pattabhi­raman acquired an M. Litt from Madras University and then went to the US where he completed his doctorate, his subject being the trade union movement in India. He worked with the UNDP in the US, but found time to contribute regularly to several Indian newspapers and magazines.

Taking premature retirement from the UNDP in 1981, Pattabhiraman returned to Madras where he built Alapana, his elegant home in Alwarpet. He planned to spend his time listening to his large music collection and continuing with his hobby of photography. But that was not to be. The journalistic bug, always active, went into overdrive and he decided to launch Sruti, which, as he termed it, would become India’s premier magazine for classical music and dance.

The fine arts in India have had a long history of journals that were launched with much fanfare and folded up within a short while for want of support. Sruti’s launch, therefore, was received with much scepticism. Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, the doyen of Carnatic music, had predicted that it would vanish after the first issue. But that was not to be. Pattabhiraman brought into the creative process a set of highly knowledgeable and well-informed people, all of whom ensured that the magazine was never lacking in content. Their input was transformed into high quality articles by Pattabhiraman, who saw to it that the literary style of the magazine was top notch.

Pattabhiraman was a fighter and he was determined to battle several of the mediocre and fraudulent aspects of the world of fine arts. He lampooned the Music Season relentlessly, for it had become a byword by then for poor acoustics, rampant favouri­tism, quantity over quality, and the worst kind of stage décor. He came down heavily on the tendency of musicians (like politicians) to acquire phoney PhDs from nameless universities abroad and exposed many. He wrote reams on the poor quality of theses that passed muster for doctorates in India in the field of fine arts. He criticised the habit of myth-making when it came to biographies of exponents of Carnatic music and, for the first time, thanks to him, the great Carnatic composers, especially the Trinity comprising Syama Sastry, Tyagaraja and Muthu­swami Dikshitar, came to be viewed as greatly gifted human beings and not as men who performed miracles all their lives. All this did not make Pattabhi­raman a popular man, but he could not care less.

Sruti carried profiles of artistes, anecdotes, analysis of ragas, critiques of musicians and dancers and their performing styles, book and CD reviews, reports of music and dance events from all over the world, and a variety of articles of interest to rasikas. It tried to maintain a balance between dance and music and to represent arts from all over India. The serious readership that the magazine attracted was evident in the highbrow content of its “Sruti Box” which was the ‘Letters to the Editor’ ­section. Its readers ensured that the magazine was on its toes when it came to providing ­quality content.

Perhaps the one feature that generated the maximum amount of interest and fireworks was the Whispering Gallery. Written largely by Patta­bhi­raman under the pseudonym Anami, it was a wonderful piece of investigative journalism or the worst instance of muckraking, depending upon which viewpoint you took. Orthodox Mylapore, Mambalam and T’ Nagar were shocked, for they had long held the view that everything was at its best in the fine arts. But criticise though they did, none could point out factual errors in the Whispering Gallery. Ultimately, everyone knew that Anami had done his homework before publishing any of the stories.

Pattabhiraman was not without his faults. He could be extremely stubborn and he often rewrote what others had sent in, sometimes putting in his own opinions and then going ahead and publishing the pieces without once consulting the original author about the changes. He also had his pet theories and often tilted against windmills. One of his continuing conflicts with the Music Academy was that they had not honoured a famed dancer with their ultimate accolade – the Sangita Kalanidhi – no matter that it was given only to musicians and not dancers, with the sole exception of T. Balasaraswathi who was in any case a fine singer. He also held the view that sources and references need not be acknowledged in Sruti, which was surprising considering that it was a serious journal with well researched pieces. Sruti, according to him, was the reference! Later, he relented on this point.

It was often said that he ran Sruti the way he wanted to and others had very little say in the matter. Perhaps he was justified in this, for the magazine largely survived in the initial years only because of his financial injections, which it required often enough. He later established a Sruti Foundation with corporate support, which was shaky most of the time mainly because of his indulging in what he felt was plainspeak which many potential donors interpreted as open rudeness. However, in all his years and, later, there was no delay in any issue of Sruti and not one issue was ever held up due to want of funds. He saw to that. The result? At the end of ten years, a grand celebration was held and the very same Semmangudi who had expressed his doubts about the viability of such a magazine came and released the anniversary issue.

Somewhere along the line, Pattabhiraman became obsessed with another idea of his and this was the Subbulakshmi Sadasivam Music & Dance Resources Institute (SAMUDRI). In an art form where archiving was largely unheard of and when practised was of an ­extremely amateur variety, Pattabhi­raman had grand plans of an archival centre which would not only have print and audio sources, but also have teachers to impart training in the traditional style. He was all for extensive documentation of the art forms of India for posterity, all of which, he planned, would be stored in SAMUDRI. He drove everyone up the wall, talking of SAMUDRI all the while, and embarked on a funds and archival material collection drive. It must be said that archival material was more easily accessed than funds. Eventually, a large parcel of land was bought for SAMUDRI in the outskirts of Chennai. It was in vain that friends such as S. Rajam, the well-known painter, musicologist and musician, warned him of the fruitlessness of such a project. To Pattabhiraman, SAMUDRI was the strange device called Excelsior which he had to bear ‘midst snow and ice’.

Pattabhiraman expected to live long. He had been assured of this by an astrologer who was also a famed musician and composer. He was therefore totally taken by surprise when, in November 2002, he suddenly fell ill. He was told within a week or so that full recovery was well nigh impossible. Even at death’s door, he was a fighter, for he quarrelled long and hard with the astrologer who had called out of courtesy! He, however, hoped to survive, but death came very swiftly. Rather appropriately, it happened in the middle of the music season of 2002.

After the obsequies, what many had feared came to be true. No long-term arrangements had been made to keep Sruti going. The Trustees of the Sruti Foundation brought in K.V. Ramana­than, former senior civil servant, who had later been an Editor of the Indian Express and who was known for his deep understanding of the fine arts, to take on the post of Editor. KVR did so in February 2003, and kept the flag flying high with the help of a dedicated staff and a committed set of readers. In November 2006, the Sanmar group stepped in and took over the Sruti magazine. From then on, the magazine has gone colour and glossy and is on a better financial footing. Hopefully, it will have a long life ahead. But it will forever be associated with the colourful personality who conceptualised it, gave form to it and kept it going for almost the first two decades of its life.


Round the City’s old studios
(By Randor Guy)

When twin bugles blew, there were some great shows

(Continued from last fortnight)

When the MPPC Studio came up for court auction there were many bidders. S.S. Vasan was one of them and his bid, the highest, was accepted by the presiding judge. Yes, another dream of Vasan’s family had been fulfilled. His mother blessed her son for further success and more dreams to come true; her early struggles and fight against poverty and adversity had not been in vain.

The winning bid submitted by Vasan was for Rs. 86,427-11-9! Vasan’s bid had, besides the rupees, eleven annas and nine pies.

Why the odd figure? Numerology? No. Vasan was no believer in such things. Thereby hangs a tale, wherein this writer discovered in 1991, during the International Film Festival held in Madras after a lapse of 13 years. He heard it from M. S. P. Haran, the film editor of the Government of India, Films Division, Bombay, who had begun his career at Gemini Studios in the editing department. As the son of Vasan’s friend and legal consultant, M.P. Sundara­­­rajan, he knew the answer!

When the MPPC Studio closed, the employees filed petitions before the Original Side of the Madras High Court for their arrears of unpaid salary and other dues and claimed the interest due on such outstanding
amounts until the date of settlement! The odd figure was due to the accumulated interest due on the arrears!

Gemini Studio

Vasan took over the studio, and renamed it ‘Gemini Studio’ and refurbished it. He built a new façade facing Mount Road. It had the name of the studio on top with the Gemini Studio emblem, ‘The Gemini Twins’, blowing the bugle between the words ‘Gemi­ni’ and ‘Studio’. Below was the name, ‘MOVIE­LAND’.

Why did Vasan name the studio ‘Gemini’? Many people think that he made big money on a horse named Gemini, with which he bought the studio. Sounds romantic, but it is not true! There was no horse named Gemini at the time or even later. Indeed, apart from School For Scandal, which he bought on a challenge, he owned only three other horses: Morning Rose, Primrose and Evening Rose. It was also not his zodiacal sign! It was his wife’s.

When Vasan was planning the opening of the studio, he asked the ace cartoonist of Ananda Vikatan, ‘Mali’, to work on a monogram for the new project. Mali drew a cherubic child blowing a bugle balancing it with a twin! The sign of Gemini! And a telling slogan was coined. ‘When the Bugles Blow / There is a Great Show!’ The Gemini Studios emblem soon became famous all over ­India and beyond too.

After a rigging incident in Poona, Vasan lost faith in Indian horse-racing as a sport. Even though he continued to be a steward of the Madras Race Club for many years, he never played the horses again. Indeed, he advised and discouraged his friends and acquaintances from betting on horses when they asked him for tips.

At one time, Gemini Studios had declared a handsome bonus to the staff. On the weekend after the bonus payment, he noticed by sheer accident a member of his staff, a noted cinema­to­grapher, at the Guindy Races backing the horses. Consequently, he revised the policy of giving the bonus in one lump and released it in three instal­ments, to discourage his staff from taking the first electric train or bus to Guindy!. Such was his concern for the welfare of those who worked for him.

To commemorate the inau-guration of Gemini Studios in April 1941, the popular entertainment weekly owned by S. S. Vasan and edited by ‘Naradar’ Srinivasa Rao, Naradar (price one anna) in its issue dated July 23, 1941 carried a special feature with pictures of the various facilities, technical and otherwise, available in the studio.

The studio had three shooting floors and all the necessary supporting facilities and services, like movie cameras, lights, sound recording and preview theatres, film processing laboratory, editing rooms, make-up rooms for men and women, art department wing, rooms for directors, guest rooms for people to stay, offices and also a canteen for food and beverage requirements. This was unique for the Madras film industry of the time.

The feature also carried the photograph of the palatial mansion at 95, Mowbray’s Road (now TTK Road) which was used as office for writers, lyricists and creative persons. Known as India House, it was owned by the well-known city businessman and industrialist, C. Rajam of ‘India Company.’ Later it became ‘Sivaganga House’ when the Raja of Sivaganga lived in it. Vasan acquired it in 1949-1950 and it became Gemini House. Here Vasan lived with his family for years and passed away in it in 1969.

The feature also carried a picture of the famous make-up art wizard, Haripada Chandra (Hari Babu) doing the make-up for the dancer Gopinath (of ‘Gopinath-Thangamani’ fame), and a ‘working still’ of Jeevan Mukthi being shot.

As soon as the studio was open for business, two films commenced production. One in Tamil and the other in Telugu. Not many are aware that the Gemini Studio-S.S. Vasan’s maiden movie venture was in Telugu, Jeevan Mukthi (1942). This was a remake of the successful Tamil film, Bhaktha Chetha (1940), produced and directed by K. Subramanyam. A folk myth tale inspired by the epic Mahabhara­tham, it was a ‘Social Protest’ film, a genre so dear to Subra­man­yam who made such classics as Bala Yogini, Seva Sada­nam and Thyaga Bhoomi.

Regrettably, Gemini Studios closed down for many reasons some decades ago and now only its memories remain…



An auteur no more
(By Mohan Raman)

An auteur is a film-maker whose individual style and complete control over all elements of production give a film its personal and unique stamp. Certainly C.V. Sri­dhar, who passed away in October, left his mark on every film he made. He had been ailing for a few years after a stroke and for those of us who knew him as a suave and debonair man – he was always stylishly dressed and took great care of his personal appearance – to see him after his stroke was truly tragic.

C.V. Sridhar

Sridhar began his film career as a writer/scenarist and ended up as a director and producer. His career can be divided into distinct phases, beginning with his films in the 1950s and 1960s, then in the 1970s and, lastly, his films in the 1980s and 1990s. From Kalyana Parisu in 1959, which was his directorial debut, to Than­dhu­vittaen Ennai in 1991 he made more than 60 films. He was equally at ease in introducing newcomers like Jayalalithaa, Ravichan­dran or a Kanchana as he was in directing superstars MGR, Sivaji, Kamalhassan and Rajinikanth.

Just to see how well Sridhar used his artistes and the wide spectrum he covered, let me give a few examples from the films he made with Sivaji Ganesan. As a scenarist, he made three films with Sivaji. Edhir­paaraadhadhu was a film on an improbable love triangle. A man finds his lover becoming his step-mother. That was in the mid-1950s. Then came Amaradeepam, which was a conventional emotive subject with the hero suffering from amnesia and forgetting his earlier love. Uth­thama Puththiran was a period film and Sivaji essayed a dual role to perfection.

Sridhar directed Sivaji in Vidivelli (1960) with a story about a necklace. The ­problems that a necklace causes in the life of the hero, his sister and their family formed the basic theme. ­Between this and the next Sivaji film there was a gap of seven years. In those years Sridhar made some of his classics like Then Nilavu (1961), Sumai­thaangi (1962), Nenjam Marappa­dhi­llai (1963), Nenjil Oru Alayam (1962), Police­kaaran Magal (1962), Kalaikoil (1964), Kaadha­likka Nera­millai (1964), and Vennira Aadai (1965).

The wide range of subjects these films covered shows the breadth of the director’s talents. In all these films, music played a major role and the manner in which Sridhar visualised these songs was extraordinary. He made the first Eastman colour film in the comedy blockbuster Kaadha­lik­ka Neramillai, introduced Jaya­lalithaa in Vennira Aadai, shot Then Nilavu extensively in Kashmir, and then Nenjil Oru Alayam in a single hospital set.

In 1967 he made Nen­jirukkum Varai with Sivaji. He dared to have all his ­actors appear without make-up. The subject was based on the trials and tribulations of a group of young men searching for jobs. The title song is a ‘must’ for all those who want to see the Marina beach of Chennai as
it was in the mid-1960s. Who can forget the songs ‘Muth­thuk­kalo Kan­gal’ and ‘Poo Mudippal Indha Poonku­zhali’?

The same year he made with the same lead pair (Sivaji and K.R. Vijaya) a colourful comedy called Ooty Varai Uravu, thus transiting from an emotional drama to a rib-tickler. The second film too had great songs like ‘Poomalayil Ore Malligai’ and the seductive ‘Thedinaen Vandhadhu’. In 1969, he made what can be called a full-fledged masala blockbuster with Sivaji – Sivantha Mann. This film was partly shot in Europe, a great novelty in those days. ‘Patta­thu Rani’ and ‘Oru Raja Rani­yi­dam’ were just two of the hit songs from the film.

After another gap he made Vaira Nenjam with Sivaji in 1975. This was a James Bond type action thriller. And then he made Mohana Punnagai in 1981. This was the story of a man in search of true love. He meets four women but does not find it. It was partly shot in Sri Lanka.

He was able to use Sivaji in so many different genres. The true hallmark of a genius.


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