Master of mythological cinema

A. P. Nagarajan set a trend in the 1960s with his mythological films. Will his super hits be restored following the successful re-release of B. R. Panthulu's Karnan?

April 14, 2012 05:12 pm | Updated November 16, 2021 11:27 pm IST

CP: Director A P Nagarajan

CP: Director A P Nagarajan

The recent release and success of the classic Karnan has prompted a lot of interest in the revival of other mythological classics in Tamil cinema. Myths and legends were the predominant subject in the early years of both Silent and Talkie Cinema. By the late Fifties, social themes took over and the contribution of Dravidian leaders to this cannot be denied. The one person who brought mythological stories back to the screen was A. P. Nagarajan.

His son, C. N. Paramasivan, an NRI businessman, says the warm response to the re-released Karnan has encouraged him to seriously consider restoring his father's films such as Thiruvilayadal, Saraswathi Sabatham, Thiruvarutchelvar and Thillana Mohanambal . “As they have all been watched over and over again by people on television, the restoration has to make a marked difference to moviegoers. We need to offer them something more than just a good quality print — like converting them to 3D. Some of the other films of my father such as Kandhan Karunai, Karaikal Ammaiyar, Thirumalai Deivam and Sri Krishna Leela too will be taken up if the restoration costs come down,” says Paramasivan.

Akkammapettai Paramasivan Nagarajan was born in a family of wealthy landowners on February 24, 1928, and christened Kuppuswamy. His father, Paramasiva Gounder, died when Nagarajan was a young boy; within a few months, he lost his mother, Lakshmi Ammal, too. His maternal grandmother, Manicka Ammal, took charge of the boy. Afraid that he might not be cared for by the family, she admitted him to a drama company without informing them of the boy's antecedents. Later he shifted to Avvai T. K. Shanmugam's drama company. As there were many Kuppuswamis, his name was changed to Nagarajan. Nagarajan learnt the basics of theatre and rose to play the lead in the play “Gumasthavin Penn.” A remarkable actor, he brought to life all the roles he donned, his early “sthreepart” roles being very popular with the audience. He worked in the Madurai Jayarama Sangeetha Boys Company as well as Sakthi Nadaga Sabha, along with Sivaji Ganesan and Kaka Radhakrishnan.

Nagarajan started his own drama company, the Pazhani Kadiravan Nadaga Sabha, and, in 1949, married Rani Ammal. He wrote and acted in several plays and one of his plays “Nalvar” was made into a movie. Nagarajan wrote the screenplay for his own story and play the hero in this film. His film career thus began in 1953. In an interview to a magazine, he mentioned his father's name as well as his ancestral village Akkammapettai. Some of his family members read this article and came down to meet him and he was re-united with his family after almost 20 years.

He also acted in many movies for producer M. A. Venu, formerly of Modern Theatres, such as Mangalyam, Nalla Thangal and Pennarasi. He wrote the screenplay for Town Bus and by 1956 decided to focus on writing. He wrote Naan Petra Selvam and Makkalai Petra Maharasi — in the latter, he introduced the ‘Kongu' Tamil accent for the hero. The first of his many mythological films — Sampoorna Ramayanam (1958) — was a big success, and Rajaji, who had little regard for cinema, watched this film and praised Sivaji Ganesan's performance as Bharatha in it. He then started to produce in partnership with actor V. K. Ramaswamy. Some of the works of this period include Nalla Idaththu Sammandham (1958), Thayai Pol Pillai, Noolai Pol Selai (1959) and Paavai Vilakku . He made his directorial debut with Vadivukku Valaigaappu (1962). He launched his own production company with Navarathri and then went on to make a mark in the field of mythological cinema as well.

In 1965, a year after the release of Karnan , Thiruvilayadal hit the screens and set box office records. This was followed by Saraswathi Sabatham, Kandhan Karunai, Thiruvarutchelvar, Thirumal Perumai, Agasthiyar, Thirumalai Deivam, Karaikaal Ammaiyar and Sri Krishna Leela . He made Thillana Mohanambal and Raja Raja Chozhan , both of which too deserve to be restored.

A. P. Nagarajan passed away in 1977 — a self-taught man whose life was as much an epic as were his movies.

Nagesh on Thiruvilayadal

In his autobiography, Nagesh wrote, “Everyone kept telling me that I had done a superb job and at times stole the scene from the hero, so I was extremely scared it might not see the light of day as the director was struggling to trim the film's length. One day when I was in the recording theatre, Sivaji walked in and wanted to see the “Dharumi” piece. He did not notice me in the dark sound engineers' room. He watched it once and then wanted to see it again — by this time I was sure that my scene, especially the solo lamenting, would be axed. To my astonishment, Sivaji turned and said, ‘Do not remove a single foot from this episode as well as the episode featuring T. S. Balaiah. These will be the highlights of the film. This is my opinion, but as the director, you have the final say. Whatever dubbing additions have to be done, get that fellow (Nagesh), lock him up in the studio and don't let him run away till he completes it to your satisfaction. He has done outstanding work.' Such was his generosity to his fellow actors.”

How prophetic, for these two turned out to be all-time favourites and the backbone for the film's success.

Movie with many firsts

• When first released, Karnan was the first of the mythology series that made a comeback in the 1960s. It was an answer to the “rationalistic” dialogue that was catching up in the early 50s and almost drowned the mythology genre — a trendsetter, even then.

• With its re-release, Karnan became the first Tamil classic to be fully digitally restored.

• The first to be re-released in 72 centres across Tamil Nadu.

• The first to be re-released in 10 screens in Chennai City.

• The first re-release to celebrate 25 days in 30 centres, 5 in Chennai and 4 in Madurai.

• Despite the Examination season and the IPL, it is enjoying a healthy collection with many shows sporting the ‘Houseful' sign.

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