A director who stood tall

Memorising lengthy lines was child’s play for the newcomer. A two-line dialogue was given to him and he was ready in a jiffy. After the shot was explained, the lights were switched on. The intense brightness blinded him. In the darkness, he saw the silhouette of a tall and well-built man, and heard him say, “Is the boy all set? Let’s go for the take.” But when the clap sounded and the cue was given, the young man froze! The voice calmly said, “It’s all right. We’ll begin again.” The second and the third time was a repetition of the first. The young man was actor Sivakumar and the director, A.C. Trilokchander. It was Sivakumar’s debut film, Kaakum Karangal.

“In all the years, no one ever saw him lose his cool,” says Sivakumar. Later, Trilokchander directed and produced the runaway hit Bhadrakali, with Sivakumar as hero.

When I met Trilokchander five years ago, he relived the angst. Rani Chandra, its heroine, had died in a plane crash after 60 per cent of the film was completed. “Only the support of Saravanan (AVM) and Sivakumar helped me scale the odds,” he told me. Sivakumar nods, “Saravanan and Trilokchander were like Krishna and Arjuna, very close to each other.”

Trilokchander’s mother was instrumental in triggering the imaginative flights of her son. She introduced him to the world of English and Tamil classics, and they would discuss stories for hours on end. It was this influence that made him write fantasy tales of kings and queens, folklore, family dramas, social subjects and crime thrillers. “Even if he got a few minutes during the shoot, you would see him pulling out a book,” actor Sachu remembers.

ACT changed the English spelling of his name in the opening credits of films at least twice. It was Tirulogchander in Iru Malargal, Tirulokchander in Deiva Magan and Trilokchander later on. I recollect asking him about it — “I wrote stories for magazines under the pseudonyms ‘Trilok’ and ‘Miss. Chandra’,” he chuckled then.

“He was a gentleman and I’m not saying it just for the sake of saying it,” begins Sowcar Janaki. “An educated and accomplished technician, he respected actors and colleagues. Do you remember that scene in Babu, where my hand from behind the door was enough to reveal my fall, from a life of plenty to that of a widow in poverty? No wails, no melodrama — the shot was proof of his capability,” she recalls.

Sivaji told Janaki, “Think of Paul Muni’s performance in The Good Earth. I want you to make a similar impact in this scene.” He then turned around and said, “Trilok, Janaki is like us. She follows Hollywood films closely.” After the emotion-charged scene, in which the mother slaps her grown-up daughter, Sowcar Janaki’s eyes continued to well with tears. “The two were watching me awe-struck. You need a great heart to appreciate the work of others. Both of them always did,” Janaki’s voice turns nostalgic.

“I was shooting in Kutralam when I heard of Trilokchander’s illness,” says Sachu. “The moment I was back, I rushed to the hospital. He couldn’t respond much, but he smiled when I spoke about some of our experiences.”

Sachu’s first film as heroine was Trilokchander’s first film as director: Veerathirumagan. Later, he directed her in Avandhan Manidhan. She had become a comedienne by then, and together with Chandrababu and Cho, provided the humour quotient. “‘Be it comedy or otherwise, you make a mark,’ he complimented me.”

“The moment I met Trilokchander I felt comfortable, like I was working for a dignified, burly officer,” yesteryear heroine Kanchana tells me. “He reminded me of my superiors in the airline where I had served.” Adhey Kangal was a murder mystery, a bi-lingual in Tamil and Telugu ( Ave Kallu), and Kanchana was the heroine in both. She was quite unwell on the sets one day. “He kept enquiring about my health every now and then, but couldn’t cancel the shoot. I understood his constraints,” she smiles.

When Trilokchander entered cinema, he worked in the MGR film, Kumari. “MGR was impressed with the young man who appeared too refined to be third assistant,” says Sivakumar. Sixteen years later, he directed MGR — the film was Anbe Vaa. With none of the formulaic ingredients of an MGR film, Anbe Vaa, a breezy romantic comedy, went on to find a place as an all-time hit. (Incidentally, Trilokchander also produced and directed the Rajinikanth-Sridevi starrer, Vanakkathukuriya Kaadhaliye.)

Trilokchander rarely changed his technical team. Viswanath Rai was the cinematographer for 50 of his films; Aaroordas, the dialogue writer for 40! He made 25 films with Sivaji Ganesan and nine for actor-producer Balajee. Engirundho Vandhaal, a remake of the Sanjeev Kumar-Mumtaz film, Khilona, warrants special mention because of Jayalalithaa’s sterling performance.

“Sivaji and Trilokchander would have lunch together in the make-up room, smoke the same brand of cigarette; even their snore was similar,” smiles Sivakumar.

“The best part was when he had to direct a romantic scene for Veerathirumagan,” Sachu laughs. “He acted it out for me, but I couldn’t control my laughter because he was six feet three inches tall, while I stood down below. Even for a photograph with him, I had to stand on a carton!”

Sowcar Janaki concludes, “He was tall, both physically and figuratively.”

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Printable version | Nov 29, 2021 3:29:28 AM |

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