Memories of Madras - Flashback

STAR POWER: At New Woodlands, during the thanksgiving dinner after the benefit cricket match. Seen here, among others, are Nargis, Nirupa Roy, Shobhana Samarth and Nimmi. Photo: Special Arrangement  

I am from Papanasam, but would come to Madras often to stay with my father's friend, auditor P.N.S. Iyer of Iyer and Co. I was hardly nine, but was allowed to travel alone on the Shengotta Passenger. What fun train journeys were; despite the wooden seats and it being III class.

At dawn, the train would chug into Tambaram. For a village boy used to very few electric lights, Tambaram and its twinkling electric lights resembled heaven. Egmore was even better. Those days, cars could come right up to the platform, and I would hop on to my uncle's open-top car with driver Aramudhan and head to uncle's home —1/87 Hisab on Mount Road.

Famous personalities would visit him at home — Sir Mohammad Usman, Justice Yahya Ali, G.D. Naidu… Home was also where we played badminton for hours.

I got a chance to spend more time in the city when my mother fell ill and was admitted to Stanley Hospital, Washermenpet. I would travel from Teynampet by tram carrying food for her. At times, I would stop by Triplicane and buy her her favourite peni from a stall near Coimbatore Krishna Iyer mess.

Trams were an ideal mode of transportation — they allowed you to see the city, take in its sights and sounds.

I took a break from Madras and returned here in 1942 to join the School of Technology in Broadway.

This was also the time I joined Jwala Singh and Co. as an apprentice. I was roped in to help in the electrification of the dome of Globe Theatre. They needed someone really small-made for the delicate task of fixing the bulb right at the centre of the auditorium, and I suited them fine.

I was always interested in films, and it was natural that I ended up joining the Government School of Technology's Cinematography and Sound Engineering course. There once came a situation when I had to meet the State Minister Dr. Rukmini Lakshmipathy to help resolve an issue. I went to her house in pouring rain. She opened the door, gave me a towel to dry myself, heard me out patiently and decided in our favour. Can you imagine meeting a Minister like that today?

I made the move to Gemini Studios as assistant cameraman on August 11, 1947, four days before Independence. S.S. Vasan threw a feast for all of us on August 15. All the speakers remembered freedom fighter and renowned orator Satyamurthy, who passed away in 1943, and many were moved to tears.

The working conditions at the big film studios were good, though the same could not be said about some of the smaller ones. So, we started the Cine Technicians Association (CTA), which was the springboard for many activities to build the prestige of the industry. And, contrary to what people thought, S.S. Vasan, despite being a studio owner, supported the move.

Celebrating films

In 1952, it was time for the Madras leg of the first International Film Festival of India — those days, film festivals moved from city to city, ensuring more people watched films. Film censor officer Stalin K. Srinivasan was in charge, and a committee was formed to help put up the show. For many days, we sat on Teynampet Congress Grounds, munching verkadalai and drawing up plans. We finally came up with an open-air cinema that could seat 8,000 and, over 11 days, screened classics such as ‘Fall of Berlin', ‘Bicycle Thieves', ‘Spring Frost' (Chinese), Czech puppet films, Russian films and more. Tickets were priced at one rupee.

In fact, Hal Haughton of Paramount Films refused to give us Cecil B. DeMille's ‘Greatest Show on Earth' because it was an open-air screening. Once he saw the arrangements here (helped to a great deal by Mody and Nagarajan of Photophone Equipment), and the screen (more than 48 ft. wide), he happily allowed us to screen it as the inaugural film!

The same year, we held a filmstars' cricket match to raise funds for the CTA. We chartered a flight and brought to Madras Hindi stars such as Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Nargis, Shobhana Samarth, Nimmi, Nirupa Roy, David and Dev Anand. Their side was led by Dilip, and ours (Sivaji Ganesan, Akkineni Nageshwara Rao, Gemini Ganesan, etc) by Veenai S. Balachander. The stars drove into Nehru Stadium in a pageant of seven cars, and people went into raptures.

Years later, more interesting things happened. Can you believe that the famous Italian movie ‘The Triumph of Sandokan', co-produced by Titanus Productions Mysore, and myself, was mostly shot in our city? Kabir Bedi and 60 foreign artists were put up at Taj Coramandel, Connemara and Hotel Sudarshan.

The magic of this city as a creative hub will continue to thrive as long as we harness technology effectively.


N. KRISHNASWAMY Born in 1925, the producer-director has been the driving force behind many associations in the film industry. His films as producer include “Ondre Kulam”, a feature on untouchabilIty that won many awards, and “Padikaatha Methai”. He moved on to documentaries and programming for television under his banner Enkay Visions. His “The Tamil Stage in Freedom Struggle” was well received. He is also known for his model open air cinema at Somangalam.


Soon after I'd signed Waheeda Rahman for ‘Ondre Kulam' for a ballet dance-drama based on Tagore's Chandalika, Guru Dutt wanted her for ‘Pyaasa'. We sent her to Bombay, and she returned months later to do our film. Effectively, she was introduced here.

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Printable version | Apr 18, 2021 5:38:09 PM |

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