Theatre

The stage was his creative arena

A scene from the English play ‘Macbeth in Mime’ created by ‘Vietnam Veedu’ Sundaram.  

The timing of ‘Vietnam Veedu’ Sundaram’s death has left me nonplussed! I met Sundaram in July, 2014 when he was busy with ‘Macbeth in Mime.’ The Vietnam House theatre production in English also had a well-written soliloquy by ‘Sundaram’s pen’, which ‘spoke’ of him completing 60 years as writer! “My mother got me my first pen with which I began writing stories at the age of 13. I’ve chosen August 5 as the date of the Macbeth show because it is her death anniversary,” he told me. He passed away on August 6, two years later!

Beleaguered by poverty at a very young age Sundaram could not afford formal education. “But I kept reading as much as I could. I still do. Otherwise how would I touch Shakespeare?” Yet how did he create a stylish Barrister Rajnikanth (‘Gauravam’) and pen a story that had many legal angles? “By standing at the doors of lawyers’ offices and getting my doubts cleared,” he said. Not just for ‘Gauravam,’ for his other plays and films also he never hesitated to seek clarifications from veterans in the concerned fields.

His efforts resulted in authentic scripts and Mrs. YGP would correct his English dialogue when required. Veteran actor Nagesh once told him, “If you are sensitive to insults and humiliation, do not even think of entering cinema.” Sundaram mentioned it to me and shrugged, “I persevered and refused to get hurt.”

It is incredible that when Sundaram wrote his first play, ‘Vietnam Veedu,’ staged by Sivaji Ganesan, on the woes of a retired senior executive, he was only in his early 20s! The film came later.

Ganesan once said on stage, “I was mesmerized by Sundaram’s narration. He acted out the entire play. I just followed what he did. The credit goes to this young boy.” (Ganesan wasn’t alive to see Sundaram become a TV actor.) At The Music Academy, even 30 minutes after the play K. Balachander didn’t move from his seat. When asked, he said, “Can a 20 year-old so graphically capture the psyche of a depressed

60-year old? Why could I not think of such a subject?”

Sundaram’s artistic pursuits began at UAA. “He was taking care of the costume and property for our plays. Pattu was the playwright and Sundaram began as his copywriter. Unobtrusively he would add a few lines of his own dialogue and because they were good, YGP and Pattu let them be,” chuckles Y.Gee. Mahendra.

YGP was not impressed with the script of ‘Vietnam Veedu’ when Sundaram took it to him, but Sivaji Ganesan lapped it up. “Pachanna (YGP) is my mentor. He’s done a lot for me. And by rejecting my play he only helped me again,” Sundaram said later. True, because the play may not have scaled as high a peak as it did, without Sivaji Ganesan.

Sundaram and Sivaji Ganesan made a winning combo. ‘Gnana Oli’ was another successful play, which Sundaram wrote for ‘Major’ Sunderrajan. It soon became a hit film with Ganesan as hero. Sundaram’s third play, ‘Kannan Vandhaan,’ staged by UAA, was a milestone (‘Gauravam’) in Ganesan’s film career.

Sundaram wielded the megaphone for it. His directorial ventures, though few were distinct, including ‘Payanam’ with ‘Major’ Sunderrajan as the protagonist and ‘Namma Veetu Deivam’ that placed K.R. Vijaya on a pedestal in the minds of the religiously inclined. He worked with MGR too.

“UAA produced a series of stage hits with him,” recalls Mahendra. “‘Arthamulla Mounangal’, ‘Puli Aadu Pullu Kattu,’ ‘Roobaikku Moonu Kolai ’ and more.” About three years ago came Sundaram’s TV serial, ‘Veetukku Veedu Vietnam Veedu.’

“After the giants I had worked with died I was relegated to a position where some TV production houses, even while calling me over to be a part of story discussions, would suggest using my name in the titles without the prefix. It was too imposing, they felt. But ‘Vietnam Veedu’ is my visiting card. Where will I be without it?” The angst in his voice was disconcerting. But immediately he cheered up.

“The passion of a creator is very much alive in me. ‘Prestige’ Padmanabhan (‘Vietnam Veedu’) was inspired by my father’s life. I plan to make a serial on my mother’s. She was a great lady,” said the septuagenarian. I am not sure whether he began working on it, but I realize that he chose to join her a day after her death anniversary.

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2021 2:12:12 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/The-stage-was-his-creative-arena/article14564097.ece

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