Cinema

Mandapam to moviedom

Marriage has been the focal point of many a Tamil film. We’re not talking about fictional marriages—as in the case of Suresh Krissna’s Aahaa— here but real ones. K. Baghyaraj’s Antha Ezhu Naatkal is an example. The plot is about how a doctor tries to unite his wife with her former lover (Bhagyaraj) after she attempts suicide. The film ends with Bhagyaraj saying, “Our culture is such that my lover can become your wife, but your wife can never become my lover.”

Bhagyaraj confided in this writer that during his early days as a struggling filmmaker, he heard of the marriage of famous comedian J. P. Chandrababu. The version he had heard is popularly believed. Rumour is that actor Chandrababu, at his honeymoon, asked his wife to tell him about her relationships. When he learned of one, he arranged for her to be reunited with him. The true story, however, is different. Chandrababu saw Sheila Diane, his bride-to-be, in Madurai, while en route to Kodaikanal for a film shoot. It was love at first sight. Sheila was the daughter of G. R. Ramamurthy, a businessman from Madurai, and Eileen Ellen, from Sussex, England. The marriage was solemnised at the Santhome Church on May 29, 1958. Many famous stars attended the ceremony. Later, there was a reception at the residence of Chandrababu’s family friend and minister, Lourdammal Simon. This version is from an article written by Chandrababu for a film magazine in the 1970s, and my own discussions with his brother and friends.

After a while, he found her to be despondent, and after much persuasion, she confessed to being moved by how warm Chandrababu was to her. She had expected him to be a “typical film guy”, who would drink and be unfaithful. Chandrababu was naturally taken aback and upon further probing, learned that her true love was elsewhere and that she was hoping to carry on with the relationship. But Chandrababu was so decent to her that she couldn’t but feel badly about it. She became increasingly depressed and even attempted suicide at one point. Director K. Subrahmanyam took her to the hospital, and after treatment, “She stayed with us for a while,” says Padma Subramanyam, noted Bharatanatyam exponent. Her parents came home and an amicable solution was arrived at in the presence of MGR and Sivaji, who were reportedly of great support.

“A generous settlement, including all the silver gifts that came for the wedding, was given. Her father’s business required funds and my brother helped a bit, but there was always a demand for more—that too may have contributed to the break up,” recalls J. P. Jawahar, Chandrababu’s brother. She later went away to England.

The second film is Balaji Tharaneetharan’s Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom. The plot is about a groom with temporary memory loss, who has his friends covering for him. In reality, the groom was the cinematographer of the film, C. Prem Kumar. Director Balaji was one of his friends. Another friend, Bagavathi, played himself in the film.

“I was searching for an interesting story, and while on the way to the cinematographer’s house, I thought I should make a film about what happened to Prem,” says Balaji. Only after the film got released, did many people, including Prem’s parents, come to know of what actually happened.”

Real marriages, it turns out, can sometimes be more exciting than fictionalised accounts.

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Printable version | Nov 29, 2020 5:04:33 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/Mandapam-to-moviedom/article14431812.ece

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