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Dialogue delivery set him apart

His inimitable voice and impressive screen presence made Major Sundararajan a force to reckon with. RANDOR GUY pays a tribute to the actor, who passed away recently.

In "Idho Endhan Deivam" ... a menacing villain or a caring dad, `Major' sailed through the role with ease.

THE `MAJOR' of Tamil cinema has departed for the yonder blue, the land of no return. The Tamil film star of nearly five hundred movies, theatre person, a good friend, a delightful companion, excellent raconteur, and more, that was `Major' Sundararajan. A screen `father' in his early movies and a top-notch character actor, who played a wide range of roles in his many movies. He had a ringing sonorous voice and an impressive screen presence. In spite of his background in the Madras city amateur theatre he quickly moved out of that mode and became a screen actor using eloquent body language and his inimitable voice.

`Major' hailed from a middle-class Iyengar Brahmin family in Periyakulam in Madurai district. After his education in Madurai, like a Dick Whittington seeking his way to London looking for pavements paved-with-gold, this young man made his way to Madras where his uncle, S. R. Veeraraghavan, a government-servant-amateur actor lived, in Triplicane. As a bachelor, Major lived in a building called `Blue House.' Triplicane was then a predominant and culturally-rich middle-class Brahmin area.

With the persuasive influence of his uncle, Sundararajan entered the world of the city amateur theatre. One of the leading groups of that period was the famous Triplicane Fine Arts of which Veeraraghavan was a part. This successful group staged many popular Tamil plays adapted from the Ananda Vikatan magazine serials written by Devan (R. Mahadevan) like ``Kalyani" and ``Thuppariyum Sambu." Major did minor `also seen' roles in the TFA plays.

S .V. Venkataraman, the `actress' of TFA, theatre director and film lab expert, was casting for a play he was directing, ``Nenjin Alaigal" written by the celebrated Tamil writer Akilan. For one powerful role he tested Sundararajan (he was not yet `Major'!) and for the audition he spoke a long soliloquy of Socrates. The impact was so great that SVV cast him at once in that role. The new actor made a mark in the play enacted by Madras Amateurs.

One of the shows was attended by a top filmmaker of the day who noticed the spark in `Major' and promised to call him for his next film but that call never came. Many directors, many such promises but all of them remained empty and never fulfilled! Undaunted Major continued to work and take part in plays.

To make a living Major joined the mechanical wing of the Madras Telephones and rose to be a Telephone Inspector. And then it happened. Like-minded friends interested in theatre, led by another government servant-playwright named Kailasam Balachandar formed an amateur group called Ragini Creations. This science graduate made waves not only in Tamil theatre. Soon he would create history and trends in Tamil cinema as writer-director. Sundararajan played major roles in the KB-hit plays, and one such hit was ``Server Sundaram." The enterprising talent-hunting movie mogul, A.V. Meiyappan acquired this play for filming and thus Major took his bow in Tamil Cinema in 1964 with ``Server Sundaram" directed by Krishnan-Panju. Major never looked back...

The film after which the prefix `Major' became an inseparable part of him ... Sundararajan (centre) with A.V. M. Rajan and Muthuraman in "Major Chandrakanth".

Balachandar turned director soon and filmed his hit plays like ``Neer Kumizhi" (1965) "Naanal" (1965) and ``Ethir Neechal" (1968) and Sundararajan played major roles in them all. One of the hit plays was ``Major Chandrakanth." In this off-beat play the main protagonist is a retired blind army major who gives asylum to a young man unaware of the shocking fact that the man had killed his son! Sundararajan excelled in the title role of the blind army officer, which won him immense fame and name. More than anything else, the title became a permanent prefix to his name. The play was filmed in 1966 with Sundararajan repeating the role with success.

With his characteristic style of delivering dialogue and emoting with power Sundararajan acquired a large body of fans especially among the educated and cultured class of moviegoers. He acted in many films with the legend Sivaji Ganesan and the two in fact became inseparable companions. Indeed he was there in almost every Sivaji movie. He proved equal to the thespian in many movies and sometimes in some scenes he even scored over him! Some of his memorable movies with Sivaji Ganesan are ``Uyarntha Manithan" (1968) and ``Gnana Oli" (1972, a successful re-hash of the celebrated Victor Hugo immortal novel, ``Les Miserables"). Major's other movies worthy of mention include, ``Vennira Aadai" (1965, directed by Sridhar) ``Bhama Vijayam" (1967, K. Balachandar) and ``Theyn Mazhai" (1966, Muktha V. Srinivasan). Major acted with MGR in many movies, with Gemini Ganesh and other heroes. Major launched his own drama troupe and staged plays like ``Kal Thoon" which he later made into a movie in 1981. Regretfully his attempts at film production landed him in more problems than profits, and he learned the bitter truth that in the world of movies values like gratitude, sincerity and real friendship were unknown.

Major had the astonishing talent of delivering long passages of even jaw-breaking Tamil in an effective manner without imitating others like Sivaji Ganesan. An English movie buff he absorbed by mental osmosis the finer points of screen acting, which he put to good use in the portrayal of his Tamil film roles.

This writer introduced Major to Sponsored Television Serials in mid-1980s and had the pleasure of directing him both on the big and small screens and was amazed by his talent to adapt himself to the small screen and also to the characters he portrayed... A sample of his brilliance as actor... in the award-winner Tamil movie ``Engalalum Mudiyum" (1983, directed by the noted multi-lingual filmmaker Tatineni Prakasha Rao, and written by this writer who also directed parts of the film) loops for the `dubbing' of dialogue were cut by an editor who did not know a word of Tamil!

Consequently most of the loops were more than 300-400 feet long. `Reels not loops!' Major wisecracked.) This writer offered to have the 380 feet-long loop cut into small bits but Major refused the offer. And he spoke the loop in a single `take' pausing at the right places and investing the passage with voice inflections and giving the necessary colour of emotions that the scene needed!

Major was an entrancing conversationalist with an inexhaustible fund of anecdotes about Madras film folks, interesting, hilarious and some of them unprintable! He loved life and did not permit tensions to upset him. Advancing years and problems of health and film production slowed him down considerably and he began to move away from active acting.

His innumerable friends in many walks of life besides cinema will miss him. The only consolation is that they will see him in his movies. Here was a rare Major, when comes another... !

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