Nataka Medai: Kali N. Ratnam, C.T. Rajakantham and V.M. Ezhumalai. Thiruvazhathan: K. Sarangapani, T.S. Jaya, L. Narayana Rao, C.K. Kamalam, P.D. Sambantham and P.R. Mangalam
During the early decades of Tamil Cinema which began to talk in 1931, short films of around 5 ft to 6,000 ft in length were screened as extra entertainment along with the main feature film. This was intended to help the box office potential of the main film, and very often the short films proved more interesting than the main movie! This trend was inspired by a similar practice in Europe, mainly in Germany, and later in Hollywood. Indeed the big-time movie companies in the Mecca of Movies had their own short film production departments where many latter-day top filmmakers, including Billy Wilder and Fred Zinnemann, honed their skills.
The first such short subject in Tamil was made in 1935, Milagaipodi, and it was screened along with the main film Bhaktha Ramadas in which the Tamil star M.N. Nambiar took his bow as a young lad. (Besides it had no females in the cast!) In 1936, Kizhattu Maapillai was screened along with Usha Kalyanam. The same year, two more short films, Moondru Muttaalgal and Sangeetha Ghoshti, were screened along with the main film Parvathi Kalyanam. In 1937, a short film Mister Tight and Loose shown with Bhasmasura Mohini was quite popular. It was shot at Sundaram Sound Studios, in Adayar, Madras, which after changing hands many times became Sathya Studios.
In 1939, Tamil film history was created with a 5-in-one movie collection, all comedies with an ironic title Sirikkathey (Don't Laugh!). These films were made by different filmmakers like the cameraman director Jiten Bannerjee and shot at Newtone Studios, Madras. This collection was a major box office draw, thanks to the brilliant publicity by S.S. Vasan, the latter-day movie mogul, who released advertisements using cartoons by the famous Ananda Vikatan cartoonist ‘Mali’ T.R. Mahalingam (no relation of the actor!) Inspired by the success, there was another 4-in-one collection Mani Malai in 1941 which did not do as well as expected. Then in 1942 came Panchamritham, a 2-in-one film consisting of Nataka Medai and Thiruvazhathan also directed by Jiten Bannerjee with noted comedy artistes of the period.
Not surprisingly, N.S. Krishnan promoted his own production company located in Central Studios in Coimbatore and began to make short films which were released along with the main film. Expectedly, NSK’s short films proved more popular than the main film! There have been instances of an unsuccessful main film hitting the bull’s eye at the box office after a comedy short made by NSK was added to it. It was for this reason NSK was known as ‘film repairer’!
The first film, Nataka Medai, was a stage farce starring Kali N. Ratnam, C.T. Rajakantham and the elderly comedian Ezhumalai who had a characteristic way of delivering his dialogue.
The second film, Thiruvazhathan, had an interesting storyline of a smart guy who made tall promises and managed to somehow get out of the problems he created for himself. With this legend becoming popular, the expression ‘Thiruvazhathan’ came to be widely used especially in Thanjavur and surrounding districts to refer to a man making wild promises and managing to seemingly fulfil them. In this story, he makes wild promises to the king and succeeds by creating the impression with his wits that he is fulfilling all of them!
The film had talented funsters such as Sarangapani, Sambantham and Narayana Rao, supported by Jaya, Kamalam and Mangalam. According to old-timers, this film fared well at the box office. Sadly, no print of it is available now, not even stills. The collection was titled Panchamritham after the sweet dish made with several ingredients such as milk, banana, candy sugar and honey.
Remembered for the comical storylines and impressive performances by the famed comedy stars.