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VOL. XXIV NO. 13, October 16-31, 2014
The stars in Gandhi Nagar
By Bharati Paul

One of my favourite pastimes is going down memory lane with my husband. We have lived in the days when the word technology had no meaning for us and just did not exist. Those days, in the 1950s and early 1960, catching a glimpse of a film star in person was really exciting, as the media too was very limited.

Having lived for 67 years in Adyar from the time I was a little girl, I have known Gandhi Nagar from the time it was a blueprint. My father, Dr. G.D. Boaz, was one of the Directors of the Gandhi Nagar Housing Society and was instrumental in the birth and growth of the colony. Hence, it was the stomping ground for my siblings and me from our childhood days.

Gandhi Nagar became ‘home’ to many film stars. Living in a neighborhood with ‘Stars’, provided a lot of excitement for my friends and me! Spotting them was always a topic of animated conversation in our otherwise media-free lives. Our present Chief Minister’s aunt (Chiththi) Vidhya, who was the sister of actress Sandhya, lived on 4th Main Road opposite the cricket ground and we would see her quite often. Our former Chief Minister, then an upcoming actor, MGR, also lived on 4th Main Road, opposite the present Gandhi Nagar club, for a short time. We often saw him sitting outside his home with many of his friends, deeply engrossed in conversation. Of course, in those days, he did not wear his characteristic cap and dark glasses.

Actress Jamuna lived in the corner house on 3rd Main Road. The popular B.S. Saroja also lived on the 3rd Main Road at a different time. A supporting actress Tulasi, lived in the upper portion of a house on 4th Main Road.

Actor K.R. Ramaswamy was a resident of Gandhi Nagar, almost from the time it came into existence. He was one of the popular artistes of yesteryears, as he could act and also sing. He was a close friend of former Chief Ministers C.N. Annadurai and M. Karunanidhi. Often, they would be seen playing cards in KRR’s house. My brother, who was a good friend of KRR’s sons, remembers this vividly. KRR’s family also used to come to the Ladies’ club regularly and that is how we came to know them well. His daughter became my daughter’s friend, when both of them went to a small private school called ‘Kalalaya’ on 4th Main Road opposite the cricket grounds. The school was run by Mr. and Mrs. Swamy. Mrs. Leela Swamy paid individual attention to the children. My son also started his schooling there and then shifted to St. Patrick’s. KRR’s daughter married the famous comedian N.S. Krishnan’s son, who was a good friend of another brother of mine and they were classmates at Guindy Engineering College.

Beauty contests were just beginning to take place in those days. This created a lot of buzz amongst us teenagers. Our excitement knew no bounds when Gandhi Nagar resident T. Suryakumari, who was an actress and a dancer, was crowned ‘Miss Madras’. Suryakumari lived on 1st Main Road in one of the houses where the present Titan showroom stands. Since The Hindu and The Mail were our only source at that time, we searched through other publications to get more information. Eve’s Weekly was one of them and in it we found T. Suryakumari looking stunning in a kanakambara orange georgette saree with a red blouse, when she won the title. Some memories do not fade!

The film Kathalikka Neramillai, directed by Sridhar was a super hit of the time. The estate manager role in the movie was played by S. Prabhakar, son of a Mr. Swaminathan, an engineer, who lived in the corner house on 1st Main Road near the temple, where the Parry showroom now stands. Prabha was a good friend of my brothers and was a very talented actor. My mother Daisy Boaz had him act in the small skits that she used to produce for All India Radio during Christmas and Easter.

One young artiste, a cute looking little boy who acted as the child Lord Murugan in Gemini’s Avvaiyar, lived on 2nd Main Road, where Grand Sweets is now. This boy is P.N. Kumar, grandson of the Tamil scholar P.N. Appuswamy.

Actress B. Saroja Devi attained fame after the film Kalyana Parisu. My friends and I were elated when we heard that she had bought a house on 2nd Main Road, close to where Grand Sweets is now. Of course, the area was purely residential at the time. One day, my nephews who were riding their bicycles spotted Saroja Devi sitting outside her house on the lawn with some friends. They rushed home excitedly and gave us the news. Like crazy fans, my nieces and I ran as fast as we could to her house, just to catch a glimpse of the beautiful actress. We stood outside and eagerly peered through the gate. On seeing us, lo and behold, her manager walked towards us and invited us to come inside. Our excitement knew no bounds. We were actually entering a famous star’s home! Saroja Devi was wearing a dark green saree and looked gorgeous. She talked very pleasantly, but we were tongue tied! Her kindness in acknowledging us will never be forgotten by me.

The famous producer L.V. Prasad lived on 3rd Main Road and his children went to Besant Theosophical High School along with us. Jupiter Somasundaram from Coimbatore rented the house next to ours on 1st Crescent Park Road. Jupiter Pictures was a big film company then. His house belonged to Narasimha Rao, one of the directors of the Gandhi Nagar Housing Society. Somasundaram’s daughters and I became good friends. S.P. Adhitanar’s daughter, who lived in house No.1 on the same street as ours, used to join us. Every evening we all got together in each other’s homes and played nondi (Hop Scotch). All our homes had lush lawns in front, with a lot of space for our games. The now-famous actor Sarathkumar, a nephew of Mrs. S.P. Adhitanar, grew up in Gandhi Nagar and was a student of St. Patricks High School.

Actress Vijayashree, who was popular in Malayalam films, lived on 2nd Crescent Road, directly behind our house. Vijayashree’s brother and my son were not only classmates at St. Patrick’s but also good friends.

The memories of life of those days linger on.

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In this issue

Some old rules for new areas
Madras Landmarks - 50 years ago
Swachh Chennai – Can it work?
Observations on a 'troublesome insect'
Encounters with mongooses
When Radio, Film & TV arrived
During those days of dissection
The stars in Gandhi Nagar

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Readers Write
Quizzin' With Ram'nan
Dates for Your Diary


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