Mathuram hailed from the temple town of Srirangam and belonged to a family of entertainers. She was a lovely young woman with a shapely figure, attractive face, fair complexion and large expressive eyes which could convey many emotions with a mere glance.
When N.S .Krishnan went to see her along with the production manager in Tiruchy, he was bowled over by her expressive eyes that seemed to beckon him to come closer!
Mathuram was anxious to join the unit, which was leaving soon for Poona for the shooting of the film ‘Vasanthasena’. But her mother and grandmother were reluctant to send her alone for they were scared of that ‘Malayala manthrikan (magician). Mathuram, however, was adamant and left to join the unit.
At Madras Central station, the film unit members and the actors, NSK and TAM, got into the train and awaited its departure. Meanwhile, the production manager and his team were arguing on the platform paying no attention to the train, which had started to pull out! It was not long before the team inside the train discovered that those with the money had been left behind on the station platform! Now, NSK, TAM and the rest had to fend for themselves. Quickly, NSK took charge of the situation and managed to persuade TAM to part with her money, which he knew she had! Everyone ate and burped happily, but soon her purse was empty and yet there was no sight of the production men and his gang.
NSK noticed that TAM wore lot of jewellery and appealed to her for help. She yielded after some initial reluctance and gave him some of her jewels, which helped. Of course, the accounts were settled later in Poona.
Raja Sandow was the director of the film and during the shooting, NSK and TAM became man and wife with the blessings of the iconic filmmaker. However, NSK did not tell her that he already had a wife, Nagammal, alive and kicking, as they say, back in Nagercoil!
Over the years, the NSK-TAM comedy pair soared higher in popularity among both masses and classes of moviegoers all over South India. People loved their brand of comedy, satire, irony and social relevance. People did not unduly worry whether they understood the language or not, for their comedy had universal appeal in content and the words did not matter always.
At one point in the Tamil film world, the couple became the most popular attraction. Producers ran advertisements such as ‘Miss Not To See N.S. Krishnan-T.A. Mathuram Comic!’ Their faces appeared in the same size as that of the hero and heroine in posters, ads and songbooks.
As his special brand of comedy proved a major draw, NSK evolved his own system of working. Once a producer hired him for a lump sum which included NSK-TAM 's salaries, the remuneration of the writers, actors and actresses who were part of his team and also other expenses like make-up, costume and special props. When the film was in the final ‘rushes’ stage, NSK and his team saw the footage more than once and worked on the comedy track. Scenes were conceived and fleshed out, dialogue and songs were written and he shot the scenes and directed them himself. Later, he also edited them and only then did the producer or director see them! He gave instructions on how and where the scenes should be inserted in the main film to make them meaningful. He was a good technician and knew all he needed to know about cameras, lenses, lighting, film editing and direction, which he learnt from the silent and talkie films he had seen in tent cinemas earlier.
With so many films on hand, NSK was constantly on the move between Madras and districts like Coimbatore and Salem. To save time, NSK and his scripting team worked on the scenes while travelling in the spacious station wagon.
Actors like T.S. Durairaj, ‘Pulimoottai’ Ramasami, C.S. Pandian, and Kaka Radhakrishnan and writers like Udumalai Narayana Kavi and Subbu Arumugham were part of his team.
He had his own production company, ‘Asoka Films’, in Coimbatore. While he resided in Madras, he preferred to work in the textile town where he produced his own comedy shorts. One such short was ‘Bommi Kalyanam’ (1939), which he sold to the producers of ‘Satyaseelan’ starring the legendary M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar.
NSK made several such short films for which there was demand. He also released some of them as - two -in-one’ features like ‘Ezhanda Kaathal’ and ‘Chandrahari’ (1941). In those days, such shorts were in demand and there was a five-in-1- with an odd name for a comedy, ‘Sirikkathey’ (1939) which was a big success.
NSK also produced several parodies and spoof posters on ancient folklore, mythology and legends. ‘Naveena Vikramadityan’ was one. In it, he played the king in warrior costume and moved around on roller skates! Every morning, noon and night he practised roller-skating in his home, moving around the dining table, sofa sets, and such other places and thus mastered the technique.
Certain studio owners like S.M. Sriramulu Naidu commissioned him to make full-length feature comedies. For S.M.S. Naidu, NSK made ‘Alibaba and the 40 Thieves’ in which he played Alibaba, and Mathuram was Marigiana. The film, however, flopped.
(To be continued)
(A monthly column on the comedians of the Tamil screen. This is the third part of the series on N.S.Krishnan.)