Bombay Kannan, who took to the audio medium with ease, will release three DVDs of Kalki’s ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ at a function on June 14.

To Bombay Kannan, the transition from a visual medium such as the theatre to the realm of audio has been smooth. For one who began his acting career as a hobby with stalwarts such as YGP, Visu, Mouli and Mahendra, theatre was a passion in the early 1980s. While serving the banking industry in Mumbai for eight years, Kannan continued staging Tamil plays under the banner, ‘Natakakkaaran.’ The title ‘Bombay’ stuck to his name after he returned to Chennai in 1984.

On his agenda is the soon to be launched DVDs (three of them, which are close to 80 hours) of Kalki’s classic, ‘Ponniyin Selvan.’ Bombay Kannan talks about theatre and his work. Excerpts:

How many plays did you stage?

I staged four scripted by me, starting with ‘Just a Second Please’. ‘Iru Veedu Oru Vaasal’ was another successful play, which crossed 100 shows. Venkat’s ‘Mariyadaikuriya Manavi’ for Amirtham Gopal was another landmark play. A few plays scripted by Murthy, Sankar and K.K. Raman were also staged by me. I would say that I introduced ‘Boskey’ to the stage in KK Raman’s play. A collection of my plays has been published by Alliance Company.

What made you leave the theatre for audio books?

There are already too many Tamil theatre groups in Chennai. But I have not given it up totally, as I have done radio and TV plays. However, when I brought out the life history of Sai Baba in audio form, I felt inspired by the new medium. I produced the songs on ‘Mother’ of the Aurobindo Ashram, short stories of the Tamil writer ‘Pooram’, Sujatha’s hilarious play, ‘Mama Vijayam’ and humourist Bhagyam Ramasami’s Appusami stories.

What about audio plays?

I brought out Komal Swaminathan’s ‘Aatchi Maatram’ with Manorama and ‘Iru Veedu Oru Vaasal,’ scripted by me. ‘Tamilaga Isai Mahangal’ by Usha Subramanian and ‘Super Samayal’ by Shanthi Vijayakrishnan were of different genres.

What prompted you to produce ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ in audio book form?

Inspired by the commercial success of ‘Sivakamiyin Sabatham,’ I wanted to take up the challenge of ‘Ponniyin Selvan.’ Initially a number of friends dissuaded me, as half a dozen producers had abandoned the project after attempting to translate to the big or small screen this epic novel.

Fortunately, Mr. C. K. Venkatraman from Bangalore, an ardent fan of Kalki, called me one day and said, “I was pleased with your ‘Sivakamiyin Sabatham,’ you must bring out ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ as fast as possible!” We did not even know each other till then.

“It was a marathon project involving 60 or more artists who lent their voices, and I worked on it for more than six months. All the 15 songs, including that of Kalki and Ilango Adigal were tuned and sung for the audio. Sathyaseelan has handled the music segment. I drew artists from different theatre groups and also those who had taken part in radio plays such as Jayakumar, Veluchami, Ilango and Devanarayanan’s daughter-in-law Keerthi, to name a few. The only well known personality is Fathima Babu, who did the role of Nandini.

What was your role?

I narrated the parts Kalki had written. Kalki’s epilogue has been added and synopsis retained. It is a touching narration. I have not omitted a single word of the author. I produced this zealously to pay respect to Kalki in a unique way and that is why I did not hand over the selling rights to established players in the field. I did not want this work to be tagged along with the CDs or DVDs of other contemporary writers. There is no commercial purpose either, so I have priced it at a nominal Rs.600 for the three DVDs.

Do you think people would spend such long hours listening to Kalki’s magnum opus?

Look, there are umpteen publishers in Tamil who have brought out the volumes that range from Rs. 250 to Rs.1,500, (2200 pages). They are still being sold. Readers, perhaps, complete one chapter and leave a book mark. I have done the same. All the 293 chapters are in 293 individual files. You can go to the next chapter after finishing the earlier one. It is easy.

What do you think will be the response, judging from the sales of ‘Sivakamiyin Sabatham’?

Kalki does have a global readership. These audio books sell more in foreign countries than in India.

The ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ DVDs will be released on June 14 at Narada Gana Sabha’s Gnanananda Hall. Writer S. Ramakrishnan and Kalki’s former editor, Seetha Ravi, will attend the function to be presided over by Nalli Kuppusamy Chettiyar, patron of arts. Kannan has also organised a symposium that will be held after the launch, on the subject, ‘What is the dominant factor in Kalki’s works – his extraordinary imagination or his illuminating ideas?’ Well known personalities including advocate Sumathi and Dr. Tiruppur Krishnan will take part in the discussion, which is expected to be a lively affair.

(Bombay Kannan can be contacted at 98411 53973)