P.S. Srinivasa Rao, actor, director, music composer and producer, was a popular figure of early Tamil cinema. Hailing from Pudukottai, he made his way into movies doing many kinds of characters, including those in stunt films. Indeed, he was known as the ‘Stunt King’ of South Indian cinema, paired with K.T. Rukmini who was known as the ‘Stunt Queen’. He also acted in a few Hindi movies under the name Chandrakant, but did not make much progress and did no Hindi films thereafter.
He was also a music composer, and after retirement, he settled down in Madras where he ran a school teaching bhajans and religious songs to the likes of Dr. Mathangi Ramakrishnan (a leading medical practitioner); Thangam Aiyadurai; and the legendary M.S. Subbulakshmi.
He played Maha Vishnu in Srinivasa Kalyanam (1934), which was the first talking picture to be made completely in Madras (at Srinivasa Cinetone owned by pioneer A. Narayanan). He also composed its music. In those days, there was no system of pre-recording of songs. Orchestra players sat behind the camera or away, and played the instruments. In one song, Rao, singing as Maha Vishnu, noticed one instrument player striking an off-key note ( apaswaram ) and immediately he shouted ‘Cut!’ Due to the hurry to meet the release date, this was not noticed during the editing. At the first show at Crown cinemas, the full house of moviegoers heard Maha Vishnu in Vaikuntam suddenly bursting into English and shouting ‘Cut’! One of the production men in the cinema noticed it and phoned up the director who told him just to snip off the frames without bothering about the jump in the sound track. Surely, those were the days…
Shantha was produced and directed for Vijaya Maruthi Films by Srinivasa Rao. Rukmini played Shantha, a millionaire’s (Chellappa Iyer, brother of the legendary of S.G. Kittappa) daughter studying Medicine. Also studying in the same college is Mani (Srinivasa Rao) who belongs to another community. A good dancer and Classical musician, Shantha is drawn to him, but the relationship is objected to by her parents. Another friend is Manickam (S.R. Sandow), whom Shantha’s mother wishes her daughter to marry. Unable to give up her love, Shantha decides to commit suicide, but is saved by Mani. Enraged, Manickam’s father engages ruffians to kidnap Shantha and throw her in a dark cave. How Mani helps her escape and marries her forms the rest of the film.
Comedian Raju, now totally forgotten, provided humour to the film. Somewhat interestingly, this film has a song in Telugu — ‘Evaru Unna Nannu’, a Tyagaraja composition in raga Mohanam, rendered by Srinivasa Rao as the opening song. Knowledgeable in music, he composed songs in several Hindustani ragas too. Lyrics were by Chellappa Iyer, who also wrote the dialogue. The film was shot in Bombay at Bharathiya Studios, which does not exist anymore. The film did not do well at the box-office.
Remembered For The impressive composing in several ragas of both Carnatic and Hindustani music, and the performances of Srinivasa Rao and Rukmini.