Holding centre stage

T. V Varadharajen. Photo: K.V. Srinivasan   | Photo Credit: K_V_Srinivasan

He has donned many hats with élan — banker, television personality and stage actor. He tasted a remarkable degree of success in all these fields, but decided to finally settle for theatre. Meet S. Varadharajen, who entered our drawing rooms reading the day’s news and is now in the news for his play, ‘Sri Thyagarajar.’

Hailing from Damal, near Kancheepuram,, Varadharajen was named after the presiding deity of Sri Varadaraja Swamy temple, Kancheepuram. His siblings, also named after the temple’s other deities — Pranatharthiharan (Damal Ramakrishnan) and Perundevi — are religious orators.

“My father D.V. Srinivasa Iyengar was a Sanskrit scholar and taught at The Hindu High School, Triplicane. Every day during lunch, he read a sargam from Valmiki Ramayanam in the Headmaster’s room, attended by teachers and students. Watching him doing this was thrilling, although I did not understand much about the subject at that time,” he says.

At the school, his father acted in plays twice a year to collect money for the Masters Benevolent Fund while the students staged plays to raise funds for the mid-day meal scheme. Varadharajen initially assisted his father backstage by running small errands or as a dialogue reader and was, therefore, a part of every rehearsal.

Once in higher classes, Varadharajen was cast as the hero in plays by the students. At Vivekananda College, he continued his association with the stage in the company of Suppini (actor, United Amateur Artistes). Their mimicry shows and plays in inter-college competitions were hits.

He had graduated and it was time to start a career. Did the stage thirst subside? “No,” laughs the actor. “On the contrary, it got a boost,” he says. At the Bank of India branch that he joined like-minded friends got together to stage plays during cultural programmes. “T.S.B.K. Mouli (actor and director) encouraged us by giving us his script. Once we gained confidence, we entered a drama competition conducted by Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha. Y.Gee. Mahendra even directed us in a play scripted by Venkat. I was in a trance, when I received the best actor’s award from M.G. Ramachandran (MGR). He hugged me and promised to attend my plays. YGM helped in honing my acting skills and also gave important tips on different aspects of stage production.”

Varadharajen’s colleague Srinivasan cast him as a hero in his group’s plays. Crazy Mohan also wanted him to act in his plays, which he did, and in return Mohan wrote ‘36 Bheerangi Lane’ for Varadharajen.

It was at this point that he got selected as a Tamil news reader for Doordarshan. “The support of my bank is something I can never forget. My managers encouraged me in all my pursuits. This continues even today, after I have opted for voluntary retirement,” he says.

As a TV news anchor, his fame spread. Varadharajen recalls an interesting incident to showcase the magnanimity of MGR. “It was Independence Day and I was part of the DD team covering the flag-hoisting ceremony. MGR, the then Chief Minister, was compelled to have breakfast with my team after the function. Since we were covering events in and around the city throughout the day, we landed up at Tiruverkadu where a samabandhi bhojanam was being organised, with MGR presiding over it. There he met our team and asked us to have lunch. ‘Sir, with your blessings we have had breakfast and lunch. What will we do for dinner?’ I joked. He smiled and left. That night we were covering a function at Kalaivanar Arangam, where the Chief Minister was giving away awards. As we were packing up to leave, a person came running towards us carrying a huge bag full of fruits. He informed us that the delivery was as per the CM’s instructions. No wonder MGR is called Makkal Thilagam.”

Varadharajen has also interacted with veteran political leaders such as A.B. Vajpayee, L.K. Advani and M. Karunanidhi.

In 1994, Varadharajen started a theatre group called ‘United Visuals.’ “S.Ve. Shekar was a pillar of support, taking care of the technical presentation of the video in the play. Despite being so well-known, he sat in the pit for the first four shows manning the technical aspects. R.S. Manohar also lent a helping hand by promoting our plays.”

Director K. Balachander was so impressed by Varadharajen in ‘Pattukottai Periappa,’ a film by Visu, that he made him the hero of his TV serial, ‘Kaialavu Manasu’.

“Thereafter, I was a regular in most of his serials. The experience was enriching. I would also discuss every new script with him. He fine-tuned me as an actor.”

The death of his wife, Usha, shattered Varadharajen. She had a pivotal role in the functioning of United Visuals. “Somehow I regained strength to continue my journey,” he says, thanking his scriptwriters for their support.

Varadharajen’s plays usually highlight the middle class and its problems. He says that doing Cho’s ‘Endru Thaniyum Inda Sudandira Daagam’ was a feather in his cap. He was appointed member of the Tamil Nadu Iyal Isai Nataka Mandram Committee in 2011 by Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa.

Currently, the musical ‘Sri Thyagarajar,’ a team effort of Varadharajen (he plays the bard), VeeYesVee and Bombay Jayashri, has received rave reviews and is poised to cross the golden jubilee milestone.

S. Varadharajen, with the efflux of time, came to be known as T.V. Varadharajen. As a popular joke goes, ‘even after switching off the TV, Varadharajen keeps appearing’.

Sri Thyagarajar

Date: May 21

Time: 6.30 p.m.

Venue: Narada Gana Sabha

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Printable version | Nov 25, 2020 6:08:46 PM |

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