NOSTALGIA Chitralaya Gopu on tram rides, the Triplicane that was, and his tryst with the stage and the screen

I came to Madras in the late 1940s, just as I was entering the tumultuous teenage years. It was sometime at the end of the Second World War. I still remember the tram ride from Egmore to Triplicane. We young boys used to call it the ‘road train', back then.

I used to visit Madras on a season pass from Chengalpet. I would take time off to watch V. Shantaram's ‘Jhanak Jhanak Payal Bhaje' and his other movies at Broadway Talkies. Triplicane, Mylapore, Chintadripet, George Town and Purasaiwalkam were prime localities — thriving business centres or residential areas. After my schooling, I settled in Madras to pursue a career. I found a job in a marketing company, ACA Enterprises. I had to travel by cycle to different parts of the city. There was no chock-a-block traffic; nor were raging curses thrown at people. Road manners were excellent. The city, on the whole, was a lot cleaner and there were more patches of green than now. But for me, Triplicane was home.

Middle class people in the 1950s called Triplicane ‘sorgam'. A man earning Rs. 100 a month could lead a happy life, while anyone earning around Rs. 500 was considered rich. I switched jobs and joined as an associate writer for the movie ‘Kalyana Parisu' in 1956, after which my tryst with cinema began.

I purchased a Vespa scooter to get around to the various studios at Mambalam and Vadapalani. Vauhini Studios, which was the biggest in Asia then, was busy. Since there was no Kodambakkam bridge then, you had to go via Mambalam station. Sometimes the actors had to wait in their cars when the signal turned red. A huge crowd used to gather to catch a glimpse of MGR and Sivaji.

When I turned 26, I married and settled down in Triplicane. By then, my career had taken off. Gaiety, Wellington, Casino, Paragon and Broadway Talkies were the leading theatres, and in 1962, when ‘Nenjil Oru Aalaiyam' released in Casino, there was a scare that the world would come to an end. People crowded temples but we still went ahead with our release. That movie went on to do well.

In 1963, when ‘Kadhalikka Neramillai' released, the first song sequence picturised on Muthuraman and Kanchana at the Marina Beach came in for a lot of praise from the newspapers.

The very next year, my dear friend director Sridhar got married at Abbotsbury, one of the posh marriage halls run by an Englishman in Teynampet. Celebrities from all over the country such as Raj Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor, Sivaji and Vyjayanthimala came for the wedding. The entire area was blocked by heavy traffic.

Another thing about Chennai of the 1960s is it encouraged theatre arts. There was no TV or computer and this was the only form of entertainment, apart from the occasional film. I started the Unity Club, a theatre group, where I wrote scripts, and popular artists such as Muthuraman, ‘Vennira Aadai' Moorthy, Gopalakrishnan, Manimala and Manorama acted in them. More than 75-100 sabhas used to book us every year. It was a time when legends such as Sivaji, Sahasranamam, Cho and R.S. Manohar ruled the stage.

After all those delightful years spent in the city, I could never get myself to move away from it.


I REMEMBER In the early 1950s, when I was not yet a big name, I would eat at hotels only after making sure I had enough money in my purse. After I became popular, Sridhar and I once went to Woodlands Drive-In. Both of us thought the other had cash. It was only after eating that we realised neither of us had money. The waiter who served us said he knew who we were and offered to pay from his pocket. The next day, we returned his money. I realised how life had changed in just a few years.

Middle class people in the 50s called Triplicane ‘sorgam'. A man earning Rs. 100 a month could lead a happy life, while anyone earning around Rs. 500 was considered rich

CHITRALAYA GOPU Born in Chengalpet in 1936, he moved to Madras after his schooling and entered films in 1957 with ‘Kalyana Parisu'. His wife Kamala Sadagopan is a well-known Tamil author. Director C.V. Sridhar and Gopu were classmates in school where they staged plays for annual day celebrations. They went on to make some of the biggest hits in the Tamil film industry. Starting as an associate writer, Gopu penned scripts for hits such as ‘Kadhalikha Neramillai', ‘Galatta Kalyanam', ‘Nenjil Oru Aalaiyam' and ‘Kasedhan Kadavulada'. After his long stint with director Sridhar, he forayed into direction with ‘Washingtonil Thirumanam'.