William Shakespeare has been a popular figure in India ever since the British introduced their system of education and the Bard’s plays were compulsory in the syllabus. Many Tamil playwrights have either translated or suitably adapted the plays. Even tradition-bound classicists such as Sankaradas Swamigal did Romeo And Juliet and Cymbeline in Tamil. P. Sambandam Mudaliar adapted quite a few and wrote Merchant Of Venice as Vanipurathu Vanigan .
Not surprisingly, Tamil cinema welcomed Shakespeare, and Serukalathur Sama blazed a trail in 1941 with Shylock . He paid homage to the great dramatist by making his Tamil version of the Merchant Of Venice remain true to the original. The same names of characters were retained, and Sama had the same period costumes and sets in Shylock .
Kinema Ramu, who was a Kumbakonam-based lawyer and Shakespearean scholar, wrote the dialogue for the Tamil version. He and Sama were good friends and worked on several movies, including Shylock . The two directed the film under the name Sama-Ramu.
Lyrics were by Yaanai Vaidyanatha Iyer, P.S. Sivaramalingam (who also played the role of the Duke in the movie) and Papanasam Rajagopala Iyer, the legendary Papanasam Sivan’s brother. S.G. Kasi Iyer, the brother of the legendary icon of Tamil theatre S.G. Kittappa, composed the music. He played Antonio, a major role in the movie.
Bharat Pictures, in which Serukalathur Sama was a managing partner along with his lawyer friend Ramu, produced the film. The film was shot at Bharat Movietone situated in Kilpauk. Earlier known as National Movietone, the site today houses the Kingston School.
Serukalathur Sama, one of the veterans of Tamil cinema was a multi-talented person, who played major roles in notable Tamil films such as Chinthamani , Sakunthalai , Ambikapathi and Marmayogi . Hailing from Sirukalathur in Thanjavur district, he was interested in theatre, had a fair level of education and was familiar with English language and literature. Seeking fresh pastures, he moved to Madras, where to keep himself going he worked as a typist in the famous Cosmopolitan Club on Mount Road. He had an excellent handwriting, which attracted the attention of many high society members of the Club. One of them, A. Narayanan, the pioneer filmmaker, brought him into movies and cast him as Lord Krishna in one of his movies, which suited him well, thanks to his handsome face and pleasant personality. Not surprisingly, his progress was rapid in Tamil cinema.
He adapted the familiar story of Shakespeare’s Merchant Of Venice with few changes and rendered the famous event of Shylock demanding his pound of flesh, excellently. Interestingly, like most films of that day, there was a chorus sung off-screen and dedicated to Bharatha Matha.
The film began with a chorus dedicated to Abraham, the icon of Jews — Shylock was a Jew. There were quite a few songs with most of them being duets between the lovers Portia (Janakam) and Bassanio (Santhanam). Even Shylock sang a song about money — ‘Panamey Pradhanam’.
Serukalathur Sama created movie history by bringing out a book that contained the entire screenplay and dialogue, and sold at a ridiculously low price of one anna . It became a collector’s item even in those days and is difficult to get a copy today.
Despite the research and relentless hard work of Sama and Ramu, the film did not do well mainly because, according to Sama, the film came ahead of its time and moviegoers of that day could not relate to the names of characters, costumes, sets and such. No print of this rare and historic film has survived, and even stills are hard to find. Only the memories of old-timers still linger…
Sama and Ramu lost heavily on this production, and sadly Sama, did not recover completely from the shock for the rest of his life. In later years, he was advisor to many drama troupes of the city. One day while he was travelling in a cycle rickshaw to visit his daughter in T. Nagar, he passed away in the vehicle before he reached the destination.
However Sama, his films and songs live to this day. He is remembered fondly as one of the important personalities in the history of Tamil cinema.
Remembered For The experimental effort of bringing the famous play of Shakespeare in Tamil, using the same dialogues, and recreating the costumes etc, and also the impressive performances by Sama, T.S. Santhanam, T.V. Janakam and others.