A recap session with well-known filmmaker A.C. Trilokchander as he offers glimpses into his eventful past.
During my conversation with popular yesteryear filmmaker, A. C. Trilokchander, I realise that well-educated people entering the film industry isn't a recent phenomenon. He came into cinema with a Masters in Economics and it was while waiting to take the Civil Services exams that cinema came his way. “Even as a child I was fascinated by the innumerable stories my mother told me. Listening to her tales from Shakespeare and Alexander Dumas my imagination would take wings. She had read them all as translations. Later when I read Sherlock Holmes, it rang a bell. The ingenious Ananda Singh, the character my mother described vividly, was Holmes! Hamlet was Amaladithan,” says Trilok.
The narratives spurred the young Trilok on to write short stories for weeklies, and act in plays on AIR. “My father would never have approved of my creative exploits and so I wrote under the pseudonyms of Miss. Chandra and Trilok,” he laughs.
Trilokchander may not be in the pink of health today, but mention his glorious innings in cinema and the day when the magic gates of AVM, the famous production house, opened its doors wide for him, his eyes light up.
It was good friend, actor S. A. Asokan who first took Trilok to the house of AVM. “‘We are meeting an important person today, come prepared with a story,' was all that Asokan told me. Imagine my awe and apprehension when he stopped at the gate of AVM Studios! The joy that a devout Hindu feels when he sets foot in Tirupati, a Muslim when he reaches Mecca or a Christian when he goes to Jerusalem is the same that a cinema aspirant experiences when he enters AVM,” says Trilokchander. “From that day life changed.”
A young, good-looking man greeted them at the office. Trilok learnt that he was Saravanan, the third son of A.V. Meiyappa Chettiar. The rapport they struck was instant. “Even now Saravanan calls me up everyday. I was talking to him just before you entered,” he smiles. “I'm close to all in the AVM family.”
“Trilok has worked as associate director for Joseph Thaliath's ‘Vijayapuri Veeran,'” introduced Asokan. At once Saravanan asked Trilok to tell him a story. “Halfway through I stopped because Saravanan's concentration was more on the pencil in his hand which he was sharpening with a blade. ‘What happened,' he asked. Rather miffed, I replied, ‘You don't look interested. Let's not waste time.' ‘Come on, this is just a habit. If I'm engrossed I keep using the pencil and blade. Your story is very interesting,' he smiled. Asokan butted in, ‘You told me about a social theme and now I hear a historical!' I've brought two stories with me,' I said. A day later Saravanan called me up to say that AVM liked both. That I was asked to don the mantle of director for one – ‘Veera Thirumagan' – came as another surprise. But how do I tell my father about this development?” laughs Trilok. But he had to.
The other story – ‘Paarthaal Pasi Theerum' -- was directed by Bhimsingh with a formidable cast -- Sivaji, Gemini, Savithri and Saroja Devi. Trilok later directed both Sivaji Ganesan and MGR, though the ratio is a little lopsided – he made 25 films with the former and one with the latter! Generally, it wasn't possible for a director to work in both the camps.
When Trilok wrote a light line, producer A.V. Meiyappan suggested that he approach MGR for the part. The choice is intriguing because ‘Anbae Vaa' has none of the pointers that MGR, the brand, stands for. Invariably, his films highlight chivalry and love for the mother, and portray him as a champion of the downtrodden. His heroines are rich, not he. But ‘Anbae Vaa' broke every norm. Remembers Trilok: “I found him smiling throughout the storytelling session. At the end he said, ‘I'll do it. We will be mere puppets in your hands and the credit will go only to you.' ‘AV' was a smashing hit, and I was moved when he repeated the words at the film's 100th day function.” Trilok had known MGR from the time he worked in ‘Kumari.' He had just joined its director, Padmanabha Iyer, as third assistant.
His first encounter with Sivaji was equally memorable. During the meeting when Trilok excused himself to go out for a smoke, Sivaji said, “Relax, why do you have to go out for that?” They hit it off right away, and the duo went on to create evergreen sagas with a host of films, such as ‘Thangai,' ‘Deiva Magan,' ‘Babu,' ‘Bharatha Vilas' ‘Engirundho Vandhaal' and ‘Enga Mama.'
Trilokchander's admiration for producer-director L.V. Prasad is immense. “I never got a chance to work under him, but I've always maintained that he's my guru. I'm like Ekalaivan,” he says.
Later, turning producer Trilok faced both highs and lows. “Though ‘Bhadrakali' had a tremendous run at the box office, the challenges it posed make me shudder even now,” Trilok goes back in time yet again. Rani Chandra, the doe-eyed heroine from Kerala, debuted in Tamil with a performance-driven role in ‘ Bhadrakali.' Shooting was proceeding without hiccoughs and the sheer strength of Trilok's story had distributors lapping up the project, much before its completion. That was when tragedy struck. Rani Chandra had gone to Dubai for a star show. While returning, the ill-fated flight from Mumbai to Chennai crashed and 95 passengers on board perished. Rani Chandra was one of them!
“It was in 1976. The news left me shattered. Sivakumar, the hero of the film, and Saravanan, came over to my house. They consoled me saying that I would find a way out. Only when Sivakumar suggested Pushpa, a group dancer, to duplicate Rani, did I see a ray of hope. My cameraman, Viswanath Rai, helped me cast a spell on screen -- Pushpa bore only a slight resemblance to Rani. I told Rai, ‘We are in the boxing ring with our hands tied behind. But we have to win.' Rai changed angles, used long shots and finally even went in for two close-ups! ‘We can get away with it Trilok. We have already established the heroine's identity. Audience will not notice the changes in the close-ups,' he said. And he was right,” laughs Trilok.
Today Trilokchander is a contented man. “My children are well settled. My wife was an asset. We enjoyed 50 years of marriage,” he pauses. Wife Bharathi passed away about three months ago.
Experiences, good and bad, have been his teacher. “But that doesn't qualify me to offer unsolicited advice to youngsters. None likes to be told what he should do. Each gets a chance to learn life's lessons,” he smiles.