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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XXI No. 10, September 1-15, 2011

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51 things to do

How old is Tamil Cinema?

Mouthwatering 19th Century Thanjavur fare

Celebrating a sailing centenary

51 things to do
(By Vincent D'Souza)

St. Mary’s Co-Cathedral on Armenian Street, which is today more popular for the devotion to Saint Anthony by Catholics and non-Catholics alike, and the Cathedral in San Thomé have long been on my ‘must visit’ list and I strongly recommend them to visitors.

Greater than the history, the heritage and the uniqueness of places is the experience they offer. So, in connection with the ­Madras Day celebrations (, a group of us have launched the ‘51 THINGS TO DO IN CHENNAI’ blog.

We are hoping that this ‘51 Things To Do’ list will try and suggest places, people, things and events that are truly Madras/Chennai and offer the ‘experience’. So, instead of suggesting a visit to the church atop St. Thomas’ Mount, we would recommend ­enjoying your visit by taking the one hundred plus steps to the top, the views you should not miss, and the other little places around the church.

To ensure that this ‘51 Things To Do’ listing has a local flavour, it is best enriched by people like you who know the city well. Lots of people, especially young people, highly recommend visiting the Broken Bridge behind the Theosophical Society, a bridge which once linked Uroor kuppam in Besant Nagar with Srinivasapuram in Pattinapakkam. The bridge collapsed many years ago. They say the view and the experience at sunrise or at sunset is amazing.

A walk on the Marina, well-stocked with sundal, bajji and raw mango slices dipped in salt and red chilli powder, is a must-do. I am sure you too can make a recommendation like that. Go to – and don’t stop with a line. Give us at least two paras! Tips and all. – (Courtesy: Mylapore Times.)

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How old is Tamil Cinema?
(By Theodore Baskaran)

To say that Tamil cinema is 75 years old is not only a gross mistake but it disowns a precious heritage of the industry – the silent era.

An automobile spare parts dealer, Nataraja Mudaliar, was fascinated by moving pictures and decided to make films himself. He travelled to Pune, sought and met Steward Smith, a cinematographer of the British Government, and learnt film-making. As the primitive camera was operated by hand cranking, it took only a few days of learning. Returning to Madras, he set up a studio, India Film Company, in Miller’s Road, Kilpauk, and made Keecha­kavatham, the first Tamil film in 1916.

R. Nataraja Mudaliar.

The characters spoke Tamil. However, sound system in film had not been invented yet; so what they spoke was written on cards (called ‘title cards’) that appeared on the screen between shots. If you have seen Charlie Chaplin films like Gold Rush, you will know what I am referring to. The viewers, instead of hearing, read the dialogue. For the benefit of those who could not read, a man stood near the screen and read the dialogue aloud. Soon a few other studios were set up in Madras. In the next 18 years, nearly 110 Tamil silent films were produced. The first talkie picture, Kalidas, was released in 1931. Silent films continued to be made till 1934.

In Madras, there were at least three studios regularly producing films. The leading company was General Pictures Corporation, known as GPC, founded by A. Naryanan. It was here that many of the later directors and actors of the talkie era had their initial training. It was a school for film-makers. Many films were based on Puranic stories like Macha­vataram (1927). Some were from the epics, like the film Kovalan (1929). A few socials also came out: the film version of Vai. Mu. Kothainayaki Ammal’s novel Anadhai Penn (1931) was directed by the legendary Raja Sandow. These films were reviewed in contemporary Tamil magazines.

So how old is Tamil cinema? 95 years old. No cinema in the world disowns its silent era. That is where the roots of any cinema lie. Every cinema in the world glorifies its silent films and counts its own history from the silent era. Look at British cinema. Many of Charlie Chaplin’s films, including the classic Gold Rush, a silent film, are part of British film heritage. Russian film-maker Eisenstein’s unforgettable silent film Battleship Potemkin is almost a symbol of Russian cinema. Our own Hindi cinema celebrates Dadha Saheb Phalke and his Harishchandra (1913). The rules of film grammar were formed during the silent era. The silent era is to cinema, what childhood is to a human being.

There were some pioneers in Tamil Nadu who had made short films in the silent era, even before Nataraja Mudaliar. A landlord from Thanjavur, Marudamuthu Moopanar, film­ed the coronation of George V in 1911 in London and screened it in Madras. When the first airplane landed on the Island grounds, he filmed it. From 1905, Swamikannu Vincent travelled all over India screening short films in tents. He ­travelled up to Peshawar. Later he built a cinema house called ­Variety Hall in Coimbatore . He also made a few films. Though all these films were lost, the ­details have been documented.

It was the pioneers of the silent era, like Nataraja Mudaliar, A. Narayanan and S. Vincent, who laid the foundation for Tamil cinema. Hopefully, when we celebrate the centenary of Tamil cinema in 2016, we will remember these pioneers.

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Mouthwatering 19th Century Thanjavur fare
In the Saraswati Mahal Library with Pradeep Chakravarthy

If India is well known for her hospitality, Thanjavur must certainly rank as amongst the best areas in the country. An eclectic combination of Telugu, Kannada, Tamil and Marathi cuisines makes Thanjavur a foodie’s paradise, albeit the really best food is served at homes and not in the ‘hotels’.

The Thanjavur Saraswati Mahal has a fascinating book called the Raghunatha-Adbutha­yamu. Written in the 16th Century, it recounts one day in the life of Vijayaraghava Nayaka and includes a mouthwatering array of 38 dishes that formed part of the royal feast. From the Maratha collections are two manuscripts and some recipes from them have been published in a book called Sarabendra Paka Shastram. Another publication of the library is the Bhojana Kuthukala that deals with food that is more medicinal in nature.

The manuscripts from which the 144 recipes in the Sarabendra Paka Shastram were taken are dated 1816 and 1825. They were recorded from oral statements (Jabbani) of “Butler” Venkatasami and Narayanan. Serfoji II had three kitchens in his palace – one for vegetarian food (Brahmani), one for non-vegetarian dishes (Marathi), and the third for English preparations (Angrezi). Note that the food in the court was quite different from the Maharashtra food. Tamarind, for example, was used extensively and, in fact, it is believed that sambar as we know it today was created in Tanjore when a Maratha cook added tamarind to dhal. Several streets in Tanjore still bear names of ‘Mudubhogi’, or palace chefs.

In addition to the kitchen was the Sherbet Khana, a department that specialised in liquid drinks – sorbets, milk, liquor, etc. Quality of ingredients was also carefully supervised.

The book has a collection of recipes in both English and Tamil and is divided into the following parts:

Non-vegetarian dishes

a. Pulavs; b. Kababs (similar to our cutlets); c. Kaliha, Kurma and Sauces; d. Gola, Sunti, Dalsa, Fried varieties. Here is a sample recipe:

Mincemeat Pooris

Ingredients: Mutton – 1 pound, garlic and coriander seeds – 1 tola (10.5 grams) each, pepper and cloves – 1/32 of a tola each, onions – 10 tolas, paneer – 5 tolas, salt – 1 tola, Ginger – 3 tolas, Cinnamon – 1/16 of a tola, Cardamom – 1/3 of a tola, Ghee – 10 tolas, Mint leaves – ½ tola, Maida flour – 40 tolas, and Ghee – 30 tolas.

Method: Make minced meat of 40 tolas of mutton after it is cleaned and washed. Add ½ tola salt and 10 tolas of water to cook. When the water evaporates, grind the cumin, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, pepper very well and then add it to the meat.

In a vessel, pour 10 tolas of ghee and when it is hot, add the onions and when they are brown add the meat and cook till moisture evaporates. Remove from heat and add the mint leaves finely chopped and the paneer finely shredded.

Make maida dough and between two small discs of dough place some of this meat and then fry it in a vessel with 30 tolas of ghee as you would make regular pooris.

Vegetarian dishes

a. Rice dishes; b. Sambar, Kolambu and sauces. Here is a sample recipe.

Curd sauce

5 pounds of thick sweet curd. Grind it into a paste after frying it in ghee with 1 tola each of cumin and pepper and 2 red chillies. Grind the following: 1 tola garlic, 2½ tola ginger and 3 tola salt and dissolve them into the curd. In a vessel, heat 4½ tolas of ghee and to that add ¼ tola of cumin seeds, 1 tola mustard seeds, ¼ tola asafoetida, a small bunch of curry leaves. When the sound abates, add the curd and immediately remove it from the fire. Add coriander leaves and the other remaining paste. Well-cooked vegetables and vadas without holes (amavadai) can also be added after they have been cooked/roasted in ghee.

English preparations

a. Jellies, jams; b. Meat dishes and accompaniments

c. Pickles. Here is a sample recipe:

Mango jelly

12 green raw mangoes (approx.160 tolas), remove skin, cut to pieces and keep aside. Mix 1 tola powdered cardamom, 4 cups sugar, and 2 tolas rosewater. In a tinned vessel kept on fire, add the mangoes and 20 tolas of water. Cook this well and strain the juice out for about 4 cups with a clean white cloth. Separately mix 160 tolas of sugar with 15 tolas of water into a thick syrup. Ensure the syrup is crystal clear. Mix mango juice into the syrup when the latter is boiling and add the rosewater and the powdered cardamom (in a small cotton bag tied). Remove vessel from fire, remove bag of cardamoms and check for bits and pieces in the jelly. Cool and store in glass jars.

Appendices have useful information on conversations about ­measures used for the book in our terms, English and Tamil words for Marathi words used, and a bibliography. The author laments the disappearance of the Maratha Military Hotels (in 1988, when the first edition was published) and it will be interesting to compare their menu with those in the book.

The Sarabendra Paka Shastram can be purchased from the Library at Rs.150.

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Celebrating a sailing centenary

Sailing first started in Ennore, north of Madras, more than 100 years ago and then came to the city. Sir Francis Spring, the first Chairman of the Madras Port Trust, founded the Madras Sailing Club in 1911. The Club was later accorded ‘Royal’ status by a warrant from the Sovereign of the United Kingdom and its name was changed to The Royal Madras Yacht Club.

International Regatta 2010 held in Madras.

The Club used to be located near the timber shed area of the harbour. The popular class at that time was the Bembridge which is a largish boat like the Sea Bird today. The RMYC was a livewire club where the bottom line was Fun. The photographs of the parties held at the RMYC in the middle part of this century are those of ladies and gentlemen dressed in long dresses and tuxedos respectively. The dinners were formal “sit down”, service was classy, the waiters wore white uniforms, turbans, etc. and the ambience “proper”.

Claudius Cup – Race to the Marina Beach in the late 1990s.

Today, after a number of re-locations, the RMYC has come a full circle and is back at the original premises selected by Sir Francis Springs; the area is now known as the Springhaven Wharf. The new club house was inaugurated on February 4, 1987.

The first of the Inter-Club Regattas, which this year’s Centenary Regatta commemorated, was held in 1924 between the Royal Colombo Yacht Club and the RMYC in Madras.

Old Club House.

The Club was affiliated to the Yachting Association of India after the YAI was formed in 1960 and has been conducting national sailing events.

At the international level, Rohini and Ajay Rau, Pallavi Shanbhag, Zephra Currimbhoy, Vir Menon, Deep Rekhi, Kuruvilla Abraham, Drona Narayanan, Navaz Currim­bhoy, Sandeep Srikanth, Niloufer Jamal, Rohit Ashok and Varun Prabhakar represented India between 1970 and 2010 winning many prizes.

During the December 2004 tsunami, the Club lost 12 boats and materials worth Rs. 25 lakh. Rafiq Sait, Munna Jamal, Jayraj Rau and many others kept the Club afloat during those tough times.

Evening tea and cake being served in the ­traditional style.

The present Commodore of the Club is Capt. Vivek Shanbhag, a keen sailor and an Airbus flight instructor in Air India.

The Club has planned to celebrate Madras Day on September 4, 2011 by sailing from the Harbour to Elliot’s Beach in a procession. It has welcomed members of the public interested in the sail to join them – for a fee.

The Bembridge class of boats.

Prize-giving head table.









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Signing for Heritage Act
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Walking children through history
The passionate collectors
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Quizzin' with Ram'nan
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