EVENT Film historian Randor Guy engaged the audience at Namma Chennai with some sensational stories of old Madras
When filmmaker, film historian and writer Randor Guy speaks, you listen. And if the topic is “Scandals and Madras,” you don't want to miss a word. “It is a saucy subject,” the scandal-tracker told his audience at the Sheraton Park Hotel, before proceeding to unspool his collection with the guarantee that “all anecdotes and stories are true, but of course with names involved omitted.” He should know, he was a practising lawyer and song-writer at the time of these ‘anecdotes', most of them dating from the Forties to the Sixties. Where first-hand information was insufficient, he cross-checked details with people in the know. Saying that he remembered everything, he quipped this was “not always a pleasant thing.”
Introduced by Sheraton Park's General Manager Virender Razdan, Guy took his roomful of listeners at the Namma Chennai event on a guessing game of “Do you know who that was?” throwing a friendly challenge, “Identify the person from this clue,” and drawing mischievous satisfaction in, “Once, a lady in the audience smirked because my story was about her family.” Ah, the Madras bohemians!
Why do people gather to listen to scandals, Guy teased. Because anything that happens next door is tasty, he said. People love salacious stories — whether they take place behind closed doors or outside them. You couldn't dismiss his as just a yarn. These were human chronicles, events often recorded in print. That's why Guy's scandals are so special.
And they are class, profession and gender neutral. There was one about a Maharaja of the Madras Presidency, who sought advice from his grandfather about his wife. Advice was given, the case was heard, the Maharani was restored to her husband, although she had left for another ‘destination'.
“Every old building in this city has seen a scandal,” announced Guy, his prologue to the affairs at a notorious building which was visited by movie makers, men who traded in used Cadillacs and Pontiacs, bureaucrats, sharebrokers, jurists — the glitterati of the Forties. In one instance, the tale would have had a bigger bang but for the “timely precaution” taken by an officer of the law, Guy said, as he dropped his clues. Raids were made, trials were held, laws were found fault with, and cases dismissed. Ha!
Then there was the one about a dealer in pornographic films who escaped imprisonment by sharing his cache with a senior judge; a prominent theatre that screened them for influential citizens who trooped in after lights-off; a peephole for voyeurs in a well-known home; a movie mogul who got Mumbai's top stars to work out of his studios. “He lived by his scandals,” said Guy, “and was game for getting the succulent details published;” the Karunguzhi murder, for which an innocent man went to jail trying to protect “bigwigs”. “I wrote this story in 1970,” said Guy.
The sordid tale of C. N. Lakshmikanthan was the pick of the evening. Guy filled in the details, but preferred to leave the mystery intact. “CNL had a brilliant mind,” he introduced the man. “He was a tout, master of forgery, jailbird who argued his cases, and made fortunes through blackmail.” Instance after instance followed establishing these credentials, till the narrative wound to his journalistic methods, the consequent stabbing attack, and death, in which he became a martyr, a champion of “the purity of womanhood.”
Guy hasn't updated his anthology. Madras is Chennai, having shed its small-town attitudes long ago. It takes a lot to create a true scandal today. Guy seems to think today's scandals are manufactured. Truth to him is juicier than fiction.
(Namma Chennai is an event held every month to highlight different aspects of the city. It is jointly organised by The Hindu MetroPlus and Sheraton Park Hotel and Towers.)