Meera Srinivasan

He made smashing hits such as ‘Kalyanaparisu’ and ‘Kadhalikka Neramillai’

CHENNAI: One of the chief architects of contemporary Tamil cinema, director Sridhar, passed away here on Monday after a brief illness. He was 75.

“He wrote very interesting stage plays when we were in school,” recalls Chitralaya Gopu, a classmate, close friend and colleague of the director. Born in Chengalpattu district, Mr. Sridhar did his schooling in St. Joseph’s School there. After his schooling and a brief stint in the Co-operation Department, he left his job to get back to what he loved most, script writing.

He wrote a play titled ‘Rathapasam.’ Theatre personality T.K. Shanmugam, who was very impressed with this production, ensured that the play was staged at all major sabhas in the city. Following the success of this play, he received offers to write scripts for Tamil films. ‘Rathapasam’ was later made into a film.

Mr. Sridhar’s screenplay and dialogue was of a style that Tamil cinema had not seen before. Gradually, his fascination for other aspects of film-making grew. He wore the director’s hat for the first time in ‘Kalyanaparisu’ for Venus Pictures in the late 1950s.

Soon after this smashing hit, he started his own production house Chitralaya Pictures. His first film for this banner, ‘Thenilavu,’ starring Gemini Ganesan and Vyjayantimala Bali was a very successful venture. The film was largely shot in Kashmir.

Refreshing dialogues

Mr. Sridhar also has the credit of launching actors Jayalalithaa, Venniradai Nirmala, Venniradai Murthy and Srikanth in his film ‘Venniradai.’ “Whether it was romance, sentimental themes or comedy, he could handle them with ease. He was a trend-setter in Tamil films. His dialogues were refreshingly conversational,” says Mr. Gopu.

His film, ‘Kadhalikka Neramillai,’ made waves in the industry and remains one of the best-loved comedies in Tamil cinema.

Mr. Sridhar’s other hits include ‘Nenjil Or Aalayam,’ ‘Sivandaman’ (one of the first Tamil films to have portions shot abroad), ‘Urimai Kural’ and ‘Meenava Nanban’ and later, ‘Ilamai Oonjal Aadugiradu,’ starring Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth. He made nearly 60 films in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada and Hindi.

Role model

Director K. Balachander says: “Mr. Sridhar was my role model.” Mr. Balachander recalls having waited in a queue at Casino theatre for nearly five hours to buy a ticket for ‘Kalyanaparisu’.

Recalling his “moment of glory” with the director, actor Kamal Haasan says: “He had a very casual humility and would treat all of us like his contemporaries. When I was about 25, just after ‘Ilamai Oonjal Aadugiradu,’ he asked me if I could direct a film for Chitralaya.” This gave the young actor such a high that he would tell other colleagues playfully: “Listen I have a direction offer from Sridhar sir. Better utilise me properly or I’ll take it up.”

Music director Illayaraja said it was during director Sridhar’s period that technicians received due recognition. “He is an important chapter in Tamil film history.”

Mr. Sridhar did not like hierarchy. Director Santhana Bharathy, who earlier worked as his assistant, says: “He would trust us completely and make us feel very important.”

“He was very friendly to everyone irrespective of the job they did. He loved playing table tennis and would often play a game with the office boys,” recalls veteran public relations professional ‘Film News’ Anandan.

Leading technicians, actors and close friends paid tribute to the master director at his Neelankarai residence. Local Administration Minister M.K. Stalin laid a wreath on behalf of Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi and paid tribute to the director. Mr. Sridhar is survived by wife Devasena, son, daughter, and grandchildren.

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