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Mylapore's hall of fame

Despite its name, the ``Kamadhenu'' cinema was no money-spinner. The story of a landmark in Mylapore.

IT WAS a pleasant June morning. The zamindar of Jaggampeta, Raja D. V. Appa Rao, a fine gentleman of old-world culture, with a good sense of humour and a penchant for anecdotes, narrated the history of the ``Kamadhenu'' cinema.

Jaggampeta is in Andhra Pradesh near Tuni. J. J. Road in the Kasturirangan Road area stands for Jaggampeta Jamindar Road and not for the initials of the former Chief Minister as presumed by many! In the good old days it was known as `Jaggampeta Avenue.'

There were two palatial mansions owned by the Portuguese who held sway over the wooded Luz area before the British took control over Mylapore. Indeed the word `Luz' means `light' in the Portuguese language and it was so densely wooded that the Luz Church was known as ``Kaattu Koil ". To this day some people still refer to it by that name!

Army commanders lived in colonial splendour and style in these mansions and when they decided to pack up and leave they sold the two mansions to the famed and wealthy Buchibabu family.

(The founding father of the Buchibabu clan was M. Venkataswami Naidu. He had amassed a huge fortune during the East India Company days as ``Dubash")

As soon as an Englishman landed on the Coromandel Coast (mutilation for `Chola Mandalam'!) in Madras with no knowledge of the local language, culture or customs, a `native' well-dressed gentleman greeted him rather surprisingly in English! He was known as ``Dubash". The word is a mutilation of the Sanskrit word, "dwi-bhashi''— one who knew two languages, English and the local lingo, Tamil.

Dubash was not merely an interpreter. He was also a man of business who could act as the newcomer's agent and put through deals for him, of course, for a fee or commission!

Many such Dubashes amassed huge fortunes and the most famous of them all was a pious man, Conjeevaram Pachaiyappa Mudaliar. He bequeathed much of his fortune to education among other charitable causes, and the Pachaiyappa's College, Madras, endowed by him is one of the oldest and most well-known colleges of South India.

Another well-known Dubash was Avadhanam Papaiah, the Dubash of John Parry, and the founder of Parry and Company. A road in Purasawalkam is named after him.

The Portuguese sold the two mansions to Venkataswami Naidu who lived here with his family in zamindari style.

In later years due to disputes in the family, one of the mansions named`` Lakshmi Vilas'' was sold in 1875 to the legal giant of Madras, Sir Vembakkam Bhashyam Ayyangar for Rs. 48,000! This property is today worth several crores of rupees!

The Venkataswami Naidu family gave birth to many prominent cricketers of Madras like Buchibabu, M. Venkataramanujulu, M. Balaiah, M. V. Bobjee, M. Suryanarayana, M. V. Prakash and M. M. Kumar. The most famous of them all was Venkataramanujulu, familiarly known as ``Bhatt'' and referred to as ``Bradman of Madras.''

Bobjee played cricket and tennis well, while Prakash was one of the best polo players in India. An excellent sporting family of Madras!

The great jurist Bhashyam Ayyangar enjoyed a fabulous practice with an incredible monthly income of Rs. 50,000 in the early years of the 20th Century! His clients were maharajas, rajas, zamindars, wealthy merchants and such.

Besides Bhashyam Ayyangar, many illustrious persons had lived in "Lakshmi Vilas.'' Such occupants included Sir C.P. Ramaswami Aiyer as a lad when his father C. R. Pattabhirama Aiyer, the top lawyer of the Tanjore (now Thanjavur) bar relocated in Madras from Tanjore at the invitation of Bhashyam Ayyangar.

The great Mylapore lawyer wished that his good friend who was new to Madras should stay with him until he found his feet in the city bar.

The C. R. Pattabhirama Aiyer family lived here during 1886-1887 until they moved into their own home, ``The Grove", on Eldams Road in Teynampet in 1888.

Another person who lived here for a few years was a legend of the south Indian legal profession and fabulously successful lawyer of the Original Side of the Madras High Court, V. V. Srinivasa Ayyangar.

He had had his palatial house in P. R. Square (Police Raghavachariar Square) in Park Town and became a High Court judge in 1924.

He sat on the bench for about four years and during that period he lived in ``Lakshmi Vilas".

VVS resigned his judgeship and went back to the bar for he found that a judge's salary was not enough to make both ends meet! (According to this writer's `guru-in-law', the top city lawyer, theatre person, sportsman, playwright, and more, V. C. Gopalratnam, during a month in the 1930s his income was Rs. 48,000!) VCG was Srinivasa Ayyangar's son-in-law.

In the early 1930s the Bhashyam Ayyangar family sold the property to the Jaggampeta zamindari family who lived here for many years.

During the Second World War years of 1942-1943, when Madras City was under the threat of Japanese invasion and bombing, the Reserve Bank of India took over ``Lakshmi Vilas'' under the Defence of India Regulations.

As a measure of wartime safety and security, the RBI moved its Cash and Issue Department to this building. Here it functioned until 1945-1946 when the Jaggampeta family got it back.

In the late 1940s Raja D. V. Appa Rao decided to build a cinema house in the open space of the bungalow but residents of the area objected to a cinema coming up and disturbing their domestic peace and tranquillity! The matter went to court and the noted lawyer, V. C. Gopalratnam, appeared for the plaintiffs-objectors while Raja Appa Rao conducted his own case without the help of a lawyer.

A daring move indeed for the zamindar, who was pitted against one of the top lawyers of the city and a master of court craft and legal strategy!

However, he won the case and went ahead to put up the cinema.

("Gopalratnam, my good friend at the Cosmopolitan Club patted me on the back and congratulated me in open court, '' Raja recalled with glee after half a century!)

The cinema named ``Kamadhenu'' was no money-spinner in spite of its blessed name!

In view of its location in a residential area the owners found it difficult to obtain new releases, and sadly it soon became more of a second-run cinema.

Soon Raja Appa Rao sold it to a Nattukottai Nagarathar, Chidambaram Chettiar and it is now run by Senthilnathan.


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