Sundaram Rajam and Jayalakshmi
One of the early important Tamil films was Seetha Kalyanam produced by one of the most famous film companies in Indian film history, Prabhat. This company was founded in 1929 by four brilliant young men, Vishnu Govind Damle, Syed Yasmeen Fattelal, Keshavarao Dhaibar, and the most famous of them all, Venkudre Shantaram.
In the early 1930s, Papanasam Sivan, who was virtually unknown then, relocated to Madras in search of greener pastures. He found a patron in a Mylapore lawyer, V. Sundaram Iyer. Sivan taught music to the lawyer’s children, the eldest son, the handsome artistic teenager, Sundaram Rajam, and his sister Jayalakshmi. The guru boarded with the affluent lawyer during their early days.
Watching his siblings learn music was the younger brother of ‘Master’ Rajam, who later made it big in movies as actor, music composer, writer, director and producer, S. Balachandar.
Meanwhile, back at Kolhapur, Shantaram wrote to the Madras-based movie magazine, Sound and Shadow, (more precisely to its brilliant creative trio, ‘Murugadasa’, K. Ramnoth and A. K. Sekhar) seeking help to make a Tamil film using the sets, props and everything else from his unsuccessful Hindi film, Sairandhri (1933, India’s first film in colour). Prabhat was trying to cut down its losses by launching a Tamil film.
Soon the trio, Sundaram Iyer, Rajam, Jayalakshmi, Balachandar, and members of an amateur drama troupe boarded a train at Madras to Miraj en route to Kolhapur. Accompanying them was Papanasam Sivan as music composer blissfully unaware that he was well on his way to fame and fortune. Rajam as Rama faced a movie camera for the first time in Seetha Kalyanam, which was directed by well-known filmmaker Baburao Pendharkar. Jayalakshmi played Seetha.
As there were no facilities for pre-recording of songs, those were sung by the actor himself (or herself), on the floor while shooting with orchestra-players seated on a trolley beyond the camera range. Instruments like harmonium, violin, flute, tabla, clarinet (ones, which could be carried around easily!) were mostly used.
Seetha Kalyanam played a significant role in the growth of Tamil film music. The person who made it possible was Papanasam Sivan!
Interestingly many puritans of Mylapore and elsewhere were upset by the brother and sister playing husband and wife and strongly criticised the ‘sinful’ father! Remembered for the debut of Papanasam Sivan as film music composer.