N. Hariharan’s inheritance of old movie song booklets provide an amazing lot of information about South Indian cinema, finds out K. Jeshi

A black-and-white photograph of M.K. Tyagaraja Bhagavathar stares out of the worn-out cover of a song book titled Sathiaseelan, a Tamil film released in the 1930s. The songs, which are now more than 80 years old, keep alive memories,” says N. Hariharan, holding up the dog-eared volume.

He is a retired postmaster who has inherited a collection of film song books that date back to the 1930s. The book, a compilation of about 60 song booklets of old films, takes you back in time. They cost a few paisas and were sold at the venue of theatres where the movies ran. They have details of the story, lyrics of songs, names of singers, music director, the stars, and other trivia. “My collection belongs to my grandfather N. Krishnan Nair, and my mother Kalyani Amma, a musician,” he says.

Leafing through the collection, you spot Sathi Leelavathi, produced by the Coimbatore-based Manorama Films in 1936. Based on S.S.Vasan’s novel, MGR made his debut as Inspector Rangaiah Naidu, in the film. The booklet also carries a congratulatory note by P. Sambandam, one of the prominent names in films from Chennai. It also has a copy of a telegram sent by Murugappa Chettiar from Colombo to Manorama Films, in which he writes: “Sathi Leelavathi having splendid reception. Great popular appeal. Expecting two more glorious weeks.”

Cinema in Coimbatore

Some of the song books reaffirm Coimbatore’s connection to films. Coimbatore Variety Hall Talkies that belonged to Samikannu Vincent who pioneered the film movement in the south, produced and distributed a number of films. They included Harishchandra (1935), a ‘100 per cent’ Tamil talkie produced by Pioneer Studios in Kolkata.

“The booklet cost just six paisa,” Hariharan shows you the price. “Films were going through a transition from silent to talkies. That’s why the song books advertise the talkie part,” he says.

The booklets describe Adangaapidaari, as the first Tamil hasiya padam, Maya Mayavan as a stunt film made by Modern theatres Limited, Salem), and Menaka, made by Tirupur Sri Shanmugananda Talkie Co.’s as the first social talkie.

In Mr. Tight and Mr. Loose, a comedy, B. Dasaratha Rao (who played the role of Tight) is referred to as the south India’s Charlie Chaplin. An old photograph of the actor reveals the striking resemblance.

The pages give a lot more information on the flourishing film studios and printing presses in Coimbatore. We learn that Ali Badusha was made by Universal Talkies Production on Jail Road, which belonged to N.P. R. Venkataswamy Chettiar. Manorama Films made Viswamitra a movie that was 15,000 ft long!

Hariharan still sings the songs from Gnanasoundari to the younger children at home. It was made by The Sakunthala Films Limited, Coimbatore. “There is no vulgarity or obscene lyrics. Every song is profound and proof of our simple lifestyles and the rich culture,” he says. Gnanasoundari has 57 songs. It features C.V.V. Bantulu in the title role. The heroine is referred to as Mrs. Sarojini Devi!” Thooku Thooki is another films in which Bantulu acted along with K.T. Rukmani.

Remembering N.S. Krishnan

“Many books in the collection feature the legendary N.S. Krishnan’s songs. My mother cried so much when he died of jaundice at a young age. Fans affectionate, and not addicted to the stars.” The 51 songs in Sampoorna Kovalan take you through the history of Kovalan, through Kovalan paatu, Madhaki paatu and Kannagi paatu. The film featured artistes from Bengal.

Some of the films came with two names, for example Bhama Parinayam is also called Syamanthaka Man, Maruthi Vijayan is also called Lanka Dahanam and Sairendhri is referred to as Keeshagavatham

Hariharan treats his collection as a piece of history. “ I share the songs with youngsters to educate them in music. Even love songs were so good then. Each film had more than 50 songs and they were a part of the story. Simplicity defined everything.”