Erstwhile director and producer Muktha Srinivasan, who is also a writer and an aficionado of literature, runs a public library in his garage.
At 80, Muktha Srinivasan, acclaimed film producer, director of nearly 50 films, and writer of 55 fiction and non-fiction works in Tamil and English that include short story collections, novels, translations, treatises, historical, biographical and ph ilosophical expositions and essays, is an active man.
“I’m passionate about reading, a diehard book lover,” he smiles. The love that’s been with him since childhood has made him open a public library in his garage. “Let’s see the place before we talk,” he says. Neatly numbered and catalogued the rows of books on the shelves exemplify the meticulousness of the man.
From Adolf Hitler to the Upanishads and from the life of Subramania Siva to the works of patriot-poet Bharati, the genres are aplenty. “Except for a deposit of Rs.100, the books are free for those who wish to come over and browse through or borrow them. It is open from 10 in the morning till two in the afternoon and again from four to six,” Srinivasan informs. Disconcerted by the draw of television that has quelled the reading habit among our folks, Srinivasan sees the library as his effort to revive the interest.
As a writer, after seven volumes of Inaiyatra Saadhanaiyaalargal that he has brought out on Tamil Nadu’s achievers who deserve to be remembered, he is working on the eighth. “I’m documenting their lives for posterity. I don’t write about those who are alive,” he says. “There was this actress called Angamuthu. She began as a theatre artist, went on to do films in the silent era and later was a comedienne till the late 1950s. She lived in North Madras and travelled to the studio and back in a bullock cart! Even if the producer offered to send a car to pick her up she would decline it. Angamuthu played a fruit seller in Sivaji’s ‘Parasakthi,’” he says.
An ardent Congressman
When Kamaraj wished to build Satyamurthy Bhavan, he didn’t have funds to purchase the piece of land. It was Kasturi Srinivasan who gave him Rs.82,000. How many of us know about it? Of course, Kamaraj gave speeches all over the State, collected money and settled the loan,” the ardent Congressman is lost in thought for a while.
G.K. Moopanar and Srinivasan were classmates from Class IV at Papanasam, and friends throughout life. “We were very close to each other. When he died I couldn’t bear to see him lying lifeless, I just walked away,” Srinivasan’s voice chokes. Four times during the conversation, he gets emotional — when talking about his mother’s plight at a very young age, while referring to G.K. Moopanar, when he dwells on his pillar of strength, brother Ramaswamy, and dear friend Sivaji Ganesan.
His affinity for the Congress must have begun quite early in life. “I was a prison-going Communist in my youth and later I was drawn towards Congress ideals,” he clarifies. Srinivasan is an atheist-turned-agnostic-turned-theist. “I believe in the Supreme but not in rituals,” he explains. His hatred for the social structure stems from a deep wound that is still painful and raw. His father, an English teacher, had died early leaving behind three tots for his mother to support. A year later, when his brother Ramaswamy and he went to request the purohits to go over to their home for the annual ceremony they refused because his mother had not removed the tresses off her pate. “Ramaswamy was around six and I, four. We came back home and informed her. ‘Rituals for appa shouldn’t stop da. I’ll have my head tonsured,’ she said softly and went ahead.” For a moment Srinivasan is unable to speak. He closes his eyes and composes himself. “Just imagine! She was just 26! I detest the system that sees the widow as an ill omen and women as lesser human beings.”
Yet Srinivasan chants the Gayatri Mantram regularly! “Chanting it is like my daily walk — an excellent exercise for the mind.” He is convinced that Gayathri Mantram alone has helped him exercise self-control at every stage in life. And being in a profession such as filmmaking, not yielding to temptation must have been tough. “It was. The person who talks most to me is myself! At least thrice I day I would introspect and keep saying that having risen from abject poverty I cannot allow distractions to make me shift focus. The auto suggestions helped,” he says.
A rewarding debut
After a stint as a journalist, and later as assistant director at Modern Theatres, he rose to become the director of ‘Mudhalaali,’ in 1957, which won the President’s Award. The rewarding debut paved the way for a journey of success. After four films as director, Muktha Films was born, and Ramaswamy and Srinivasan became producers.
All projects under the Muktha banner were directed by Srinivasan, while Ramaswamy took charge of the administration completely. Married to sisters, theirs was a joint family. But the joy was put on hold when Ramaswamy passed away around the time of ‘Kadhanayakan,’ a healthy rib-tickler. Sivaji was also no more. Srinivasan’s voice is just a little more than a whisper when he says, “After they went I lost interest.” ‘Kangalin Vaarthaigal,’ his last, was made way back in 1992.
Today, Srinivasan is a contented man with wife Prema and his books for company. “My children are settled. And the writer in me is very much alive,” he says.