A tribute: To writer “Sakthi” T.K. Krishnaswamy, well-known for his fiery dialogues in Veerapandiya Kattabomman, on his birth centenary

In the midst of celebrating 100 years of cinema we sometimes tend to forget a few who helped this industry grow and flourish. One such is writer “Sakthi” T.K. Krishnaswamy whose birth centenary was on March 13 this year. A man who was at ease writing mythological stories as well as social drama, he was also a fiery patriot who wrote the alliterative speeches of Veerapandiya Kattabomman, and the soft but firm dialogues in Enga Veettu Pillai among others.

Born in Thanjavur to Kaliaperumal Pillai and Vedavalli Ammal he was schooled at Veeraraghavan High School and later sent to the Karandhai Tamil Sangham for getting the “pulavar” certificate. As the great dramatist ‘Nawab’ Rajamanickam was a relative, Sakthi’s father sent him to join Nawab’s drama company. Here he learnt the art and the commerce of Tamil theatre and in 1943 broke away to form his own troupe called the Sakthi Nadaga Sabha.  His first play was staged at the Nagapattinam Baby Theatre and from then on he continued to write a wide variety of plays.  Bhayankari was a James-Bond type thriller while Vidhi was a love story.  He was one of the earliest to have three different stages set up and when the scene was over in one the action would shift to another by the side. One of his most popular plays was Kaviyin Kanavu written by S.D. Sundaram. This play brought S.V. Subbiah and M.N. Nambiar a lot of fame. Sakthi’s plays were so popular that the Railways ran a “Sakthi” special from Trichy to Nagapattinam and Trichy to Kumbakonam when they were staged.

In his authorised biography Sivaji Ganesan talks of how Sakthi persuaded Annadurai to allow Sivaji to join the Sakthi Nadaga Sabha. He played the villain in Vidhi. In the climax, the heroine shoots him and he dies even while struggling to stand up. Periyar was watching the performance and saw the villain being shot but not dying at once. Sitting in the front row he was so involved with the play that he shouted “You fool, you have been shot, why don’t you die?” Both the play and the performance were so powerful.

P.A. Perumal spotted Sivaji’s talent when he played Noorjehan in a Sakthi Nadaga Sabha play of the same title and cast him in Parasakthi. A few years later while Sivaji and Sakthi were travelling via Kayatharu, the place where Kattabomman was hanged, Sivaji expressed a long felt desire of doing a play based on the life of Kattabomman. Sakthi immediately agreed and started to write the play. It must be remembered that Sivaji’s first exposure to the world of acting was when he saw the street play on Kattabomman’s life called the Kambalaththaar Kooththu

Sakthi wrote his play in a month and it was launched in Salem on August 29, 1957. Sivaji had invested close to Rs 50,000 in sets and costumes for the play and delivered one of his all-time classic performances. In his biography he says, “no one can write dialogues like Sakthi …” The play was staged in Raja Annamalai Manram over a dozen times and when producer B.R. Panthulu saw it he was so taken up that he decided to make it into a movie. The film won accolades and the best compliment for Sakthi was that for years thereafter any aspiring actor when asked to perform would deliver lines from the film. The poetry in the prose, the fire in the dialogues and the manner in which Sivaji delivered them immortalised the words.

Sakthi created the little girl’s character — Meena based on his own daughter Mynavathi who had died as a young girl of five. His son remembers that he refused to write the scene of the death of the girl and kept pushing it till they could wait no more. He completed writing the scene sobbing.

Once during the shooting of the MGR starrer, Enga Veettu Pillai, the director found the actors struggling with the words, the director asked Sakthi’s assistant to change the words, despite MGR warning him not to. Sakthi heard this, came to him took the dialogue papers, tore them and walked away saying no one can change my dialogues. MGR who watched all this with a smile called the director and told him to go to the writer’s house to apologise. Sakthi came back and wrote dialogues that were agreeable to all.

He was a Gandhian who set up the Mahatma Gandhi Library in Saidapet for the economically weak and helped it grow from 20 books to 20,000 books in his lifetime. He passed away after a brief illness on November 5, 1987.

Great movies and performances can only come from great scripts.