Playwright ‘Vietnam Veedu' Sundaram remembers his long association with Sivaji Ganesan.
When the Tamil play ‘Vietnam Veedu' starring Sivaji Ganesan in the lead role, was staged for the first time way back in the 1960s, it was an instant hit. The story was written by a newcomer, Sundaram. A few years later, it was made into a film with the same name and it became a success at the box office.
Forty five years later, ‘Vietnam Veedu' was staged by Y Gee. Mahendra with him playing the lead role of Prestige Padmanabha Iyer. And yes, it is still getting the same kind of overwhelming response from theatre lovers as it did years ago.
According to Sundaram, who was in Tiruchi recently, the play created a new wave in Tamil theatre in those days. What is interesting is that today, the majority of the audience comprises youngsters, a fact that makes Sundaram extremely happy and proud. Here he cites the example of ‘Karnan,' which was re-released recently and is drawing youngsters and the old alike.
Hailing Sivaji Ganesan as an actor par excellence, Sundaram remembers his association with the star.
“He was an extraordinary performer. The present generation is astonished by his skill, and this is perhaps one of the reasons for the film running to a full house,” Sundaram feels.
He continues, “His dialogue delivery coupled with a photographic memory, were among his many strengths and he brought laurels to the Tamil language and the film industry as well.”
Talking about his tryst with cinema, Sundaram says his entry into theatre and cinema was an accident.
While he was employed with Dunlop in the mid-1950s, Sundaram would run errands for the United Amateur Artistes run by Y.G. Parthasarathy. He slowly developed the art of story telling as he closely watched the troupe at work, and his sound knowledge of the performing arts and artists brought him closer to Sivaji Ganesan.
After that, there was no looking back and their strong friendship continued for decades.
‘Vietnam Veedu' was Sundaram's full-fledged maiden drama. Incidentally, Sivaji was so impressed with the story that he christened him ‘Vietnam Veedu' Sundaram.
Recalling the glorious days of his association with the thespian, Sundaram describes him as ‘Alankara Priyar', somebody who attached a lot of importance to make-up, and loved to transform himself into the role he portrayed. Other qualities of Sivaji which Sundaram admired were his punctuality, dedication and commitment. “When ‘Vietnam Veedu' was first staged, Sivaji was already a superstar. Despite it, he would never miss rehearsals,” he recalls.
Sundaram's first three plays – ‘Vietnam Veedu', ‘Gnana Oli' and ‘Gowravam' – with Sivaji in the lead, were runaway hits. They were made into films later and set the cash registers ringing.
“Their success got me the honour of a ‘twin-hat-trick',” says the cheerful playwright, signing off.