The three heroines of the film and co-writer ‘Chitralaya’ Gopu go back in time to regale Ramya Kannan with stories from behind the scenes

Not very far from where it all began, a motley group, thrown together 50 years ago, and bound by that solitary incident, gathered on Saturday.

The four of them, in the twilight of their lives, sat in Chennai’s not-yet-summer gentle shade, and spoke about that epoch of their lives: ‘Kadhalikka Neramillai’.

The three heroines of the film — Kanchana, Rajasree and Sachu — and one of the men behind the rip-roaring comedy, ‘Chitralaya’ Gopu, co-writer on the film with director Sridhar, came together, chatting merrily over cups of coffee and biscuits, talking as if they were still on location at the Aaliyar dam bungalow; as if not a day had gone past since.

In March 1964, ‘Kadhalikka Neramillai’ broke out on celluloid screens in the South, in glorious Eastman Colour, with songs (by Vishwanathan-Ramamoorthy) that were an instant hit.

It was a romcom, in the days before the word came into being, probably, and from a director known for his pathos and gripping scenes that wrenched tears out of you.

Gopu, Sridhar’s buddy, says, “We were sitting in a car on the Marina, opposite the DGP office, when I told Sridhar, ‘Why don’t we do a comedy?’ Initially, he was reluctant. He thought the audience would not accept a comedy from him.” Sridhar agreed in the end, and decided to go the whole hog and do a full-length comedy. He came up with the stunning title, which translates to ‘No time for love’.”

“We were so thrilled to be working with Sridhar sir,” the women chorus. Kanchana, an airhostess, made her debut; Rajasree, the Telugu actor, got a break in Tamil; and though Sachu had started as a child star, this was her first solid role. “Sridhar sir had the courage to introduce fresh faces,” says Sachu. From time to time, they crack up at the recollection of a fond, shared memory. The loudest laughs are reserved for reminiscing about the legendary scene between Nagesh and Balaiah, where the former is narrating a horror story.

“I was standing behind, trembling to control my laughter. The moment the scene was over, the entire team began to laugh, so hard, we soon had tears running down our faces,” says Kanchana.

Rajasree played the heroine, not only in Tamil, but also in Telugu (‘Preminchi Choodu’) and Hindi (‘Pyar Kiya Jaa’). “Those colours and the clothes… we wore nighties, and tight jeans, perhaps for the first time in Tamil cinema. The movie breaks for interval with a shot of a lipstick mark on a pillow. You could say it was sexy in a subdued way, for our times,” says Rajasree.

For all the success the film turned out to be, no one wanted to exhibit it initially. “Chitralaya, our production house, released the film in Madras, at Casino Theatre, and in Madurai. In a few weeks, however, distributors were scrambling to exhibit it. The story line is simple: a businessman tries to find rich grooms for his daughters, one of whom has fallen in love with a middle-class guy; a comedy of errors follows. It was the elements that went into the film that made it rich. Everyone on the team did a fantastic job,” says Gopu.

As the four of them chat on, the shadows lengthen. If you hear them speak, you cannot tell they are alone. For them, Sridhar hovers about in spirit, as do Nagesh, Balaiah, Muthuraman and the dashing Ravichandran.

Slowly, the spacious grounds of Iyal Isai Nataka Mandram seem to fill up with the spirits of the departed stars of ‘Kadhalikka Neramillai’, and this time around, there is time to love.