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A pioneer speaks ...

Documenting the history of Tamil cinema began as a pastime but soon earned `Film News' Anandan a unique place in cinema. What's more, now the State Government has decided to convert his entire collection into a permanent exhibition. In conversation with MALATHI RANGARAJAN...

MGR in "Nadodi Mannan"

AS HE walks in slowly with his characteristic round collared shirt, bindi and shoulder bag, he is respectfully ushered to his seat, where he settles down with a genial smile to record the happenings mentally, and on paper. No film function, press meet or special screening for the media, is complete without this simple man.

"The regard with which every person in the film industry treats me is the greatest wealth I have earned. Recently, when I met the Chief Minister, the deference she showed overwhelmed me," says the septuagenarian — popular `filmographer', photographer and film p.r.o. `Kalaimamani' Film News Anandan.

The amazing aspect of Anandan's career is that he did not seek a job — he created them for himself. "Just like I decided to call myself Anandakrishnan at the age three, when I entered school ... " he laughs. He was called Mani as a kid, because elders just didn't find time to think of a name with the appendix "Krishnan", as was the family norm. So the lad decided to do something about it.

Film units those days had only a consultant. A film p.r.o was an unheard of designation ... I stumbled upon the career by chance," says this pioneer. But it began with the avid interest that the young man had in photography.

From his school days, Anandan would go around with a box camera, clicking people he came across, but most of them were shots of family members.

Pic by K. Gajendran

Dual roles were a new concept then and the young boy tried shooting a still on similar lines. Actor N. S. Krishnan's cameraman C. J. Mohan, who happened to see the photograph couldn't believe his eyes ... and Anandan became his student.

At the same time, the Film Chamber was coming out with a monthly journal for circulation among producers with information about the films being made, the artists and technicians. And Anandan took up the job of going to the studios and collecting matter for the journal.

The tasks put him in proximity with all the top stars of the day. "But I never went near any of them or asked them to pose for a photograph ... I was scared of getting slighted." But he gathered courage one afternoon when he saw Sivaji Ganesan relaxing under the tree during the shooting of "Raja Rani" and asked him whether he could click a picture of him. "Of course, you can,' he replied in flawless English and I was pleasantly surprised," Anandan relives the moments... (That he later worked as the official p.r.o. for Sivaji Films for many years is another story.)

From then on stars thronged him in the studios asking to be photographed. Soon his friend C. B. Devarajan's magazine Film News began to publish his photographs and P. G. Anandakrishnan became `Film News' Anandan.

Again Anandan turning a p.r.o for films happened quite by chance. MGR's "Nadodi Mannan" was being made and Anandan happened to go to MGR Films' office with a friend. Innumerable publicity stills were on manager R. M. Veerappan's table (The same person who later became Minister).

Anandan offered to distribute them among the magazines because by then he was a familiar figure among film journalists. When in a couple of days every magazine had pictures of "Nadodi Mannan" splashed all over it, MGR was thrilled and entrusted him with the job on a regular basis. So if it was Sivaji Ganesan who posed for him first, it was through MGR that Anandan took another avatar in filmdom.

This liaison work became his job and from those very old times till as recently as three years ago Anandan has worked as p.r.o for 2,000 films in various languages including English.

But his name, with the designation p.r.o first appeared in the titles in the film "Nattukoru Nallaval". "The entire press stood up and clapped then," he recalls.

Yet it was Anandan's job with the Film Chamber journal that paved the way for an innovative pastime — recording the history of Tamil cinema. What he began in 1954, more as a hobby, gave him a unique place in cinema — the rarest photographs, the essential details, the significant features and the noteworthy aspects of every film made since the first Tamil talkie, "Kalidas", in 1931, were all with him. He slowly expanded his archival collection and went beyond Tamil, to all the languages of the South, and to Hindi cinema.

None has created such a meticulous record of every aspect of cinema for posterity so far, and there doesn't seem to be anyone else taking over the mantle after him.

"The job requires a lot of patience and diligence ... I keep awake till late into the night writing out the details everyday. Many a time, I spend money from my pocket to see a film, because not always do you have press shows and I have to record the technical credits for every film. I don't miss even the films from other languages dubbed into Tamil."

Any one who sought access to information on films could approach `Film News' Anandan and could be sure that his search would stop there. Or so it was ... till a few months ago. Recently, the Tamil Nadu Government took over the entire collection, which will be set up as a permanent exhibition with Anandan as the curator.

From "Raja Rani"

"Actually I wrote to the Chief Minister to help me bring out a book on the History of the Achievements of Tamil Cinema (Sadhanaigal Padaitha Thamizh Pada Varalaru)," begins Anandan.

One day, he got a call from the CM's office stating that the Government was willing to take over his entire collection and also that it would offer monetary assistance for publishing his book.

In Anandan's own words: "I thought it was a good idea to part with all the information I had collected in the past five decades, because otherwise, after me everything would go waste without anyone to keep it catalogued and useful. I was told that I would be paid a sum of Rs. 4 lakhs for my material and a separate amount for the book. My joy was manifold and I stood there speechless when the Chief Minister gave me a cheque for Rs. 10 lakhs and sanctioned another Rs. 5.5 lakhs for the book. She spoke to me for more than 10 minutes about our association when she was in films and the exhibition which I held after she completed 100 films with "Thirumangalyam". (In fact, holding such exhibitions for stars, who had reached a milestone in their careers, is another significant part of Anandan's pastime.)

But when it actually came to parting with his relentless toil spanning decades, it was not easy.

"They had brought a lorry to take them away. And I couldn't bear to see it. It was as though I was giving away my child forever," Anandan eyes swell with emotion.

Even today, the man works with indefatigable energy. And now the feverish pace is because he wants to complete the book on December 31.

"I have requested the CM to release it and she has agreed. And the next job is to send it to Delhi as an entry for the award given annually to the best book on cinema."

And if the gentleman is hopeful of winning it, he has every right to be.

How many know?

EVERY YEAR, the February issue of the Film Chamber Journal comes out with details of payment received from the All India Radio as royalty for the producers whose songs or scenes have been used in their programmes. But not many producers make the effort to collect it. Similarly, the money for the lyricist, composer and singer for the songs would be with the musicians' association. But how many know about it or collect the amount is a big question, says Anandan.

The first Tamil talkie

"KALIDAS" (1931), the first Tamil film to speak, was an interesting medley of languages. Not all characters spoke Tamil. For example, T. P. Rajalakshmi, the heroine of the film, may have uttered her lines in Tamil, but sage Narada's replies to her were in Telugu!

"But no one minded _ because cinema was not mute any more and that was what mattered," says Anandan.

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