Romancing the screen

G. Dhananjayan. Photo: S.S.Kumar  

Sixty kilometres from Chennai, abutting the Andhra Pradesh border, lies the township of Uthukottai where Govinda Chettiar farmed his lands. When his first child, a boy, was born he named him Palani — one of the names of Murugan, the family deity. He continued this tradition when his second and third sons were born — they were called Thanikachalam and Shanmugam.

But when a fourth boy came squalling into the household, Govinda Chettiar sought inspiration elsewhere, from the Mahabharata. This son was named after Arjuna, who won ( jaya) and wealth ( dhanam) for his brothers. To this day, G. Dhananjayan wonders why he was singled out, though he recalls his father's prediction that he would bring fame and fortune to the family. And he laughs at the irony that he won his wealth through means that his father abhorred. “My father hated films. He never saw a single film till the day he died.”

How it all began

His mother, on the other hand, saw — and still sees — every single film that hits theatres, a practice and a passion that she instilled in her youngest son when he was three years old and she needed a male companion by her side for the night shows. Dhananjayan was hooked by the images on screen, from Tamil and Telugu films, though little did he realise then how this invaluable dual exposure would inform his career.

All that mattered, at that wide-eyed and impressionable age, was the rush of adrenalin from B-movie action sagas such as “Enga Paattan Sothu” and “Ganga”. Other times, there was the flush of disappointment, from not being able to sneak into MGR's “Naalai Namadhe” for two whole days. “I could only get tickets on the third day,” he says, with the air of a bronze medallist ruing the loss of the gold.

To get that gold, Dhananjayan would have to wait for school. He ended up “District First.” This was followed by a university rank during his undergraduate studies in Mathematics at Chennai. “I came here in 1981,” he says, and offers a non sequitur. “But even now, I watch a film every alternate day.” Dhananjayan clearly does not want us coming away with the unpardonable notion that he'd parted ways with cinema.

In between, he indulged in a newfangled occupation. “I was among the earliest to study Computer Science,” he says. “COBOL, FORTRAN— it all came to me easily because I was good in Maths.” Equipped with this quiverful of skills, Dhananjayan found himself employed by Asian Paints in Hyderabad (“lots of Telugu films”), though what he really wanted to do was make movies.

The Mani effect

His inspiration was a young filmmaker named Mani Ratnam who had entered the industry armed with a management degree. “He was in cinema and yet he was a professional. I wanted to assist him. I saw ‘Pagal Nilavu' eight times,” he says, proving that a mathematician will lose no opportunity to impress his audience with numbers.

But to appease his father, Dhananjayan was forced to fashion a compromise. He quit his job and enrolled in a management degree at the University of Bombay. “If I could not be Mani Ratnam's assistant, I could at least do what he did.”

The big break came in 1998, when HMV — later, Saregama — was looking for someone very passionate about south Indian cinema to focus on films in south Indian languages. The first deal that Dhananjayan clinched was securing the audio rights for — yes — Mani Ratnam's “Alaipaayuthey”. Dhananjayan quotes from The Alchemist — “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

The universe had further conspiracies in store. When Saregama was hesitant about enlisting in the VCD-MP3 revolution, Dhananjayan moved to Airtel, Bangalore, and three years later, when a former Saregama colleague suggested his name to Moser Baer, then looking to establish an entertainment division for video and film, the boy from Uthukottai finally found himself with nothing left to dream about. His dream had become his waking life.

“I was a fish out of water and they gave me a water tank,” says Dhananjayan. An ocean is more like it, a sea of low-cost cinema to sail in. But when Moser Baer's film production unit did not show signs of expanding in accordance with Dhananjayan's vision, he was forced to abandon ship, and UTV threw him a lifeline. He is now setting up their South business unit, concentrating on Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam films. Among Dhananjayan's first acquisitions was Selvaraghavan's “Irandaam Ulagam”, starring Dhanush.

A second endeavour has been the two-volume book, The Best of Tamil Cinema 1931-2010, a compendium of 232 films, culled after wading through 300 films (besides the 2,000 he's already seen) in his own time. What would his cinema-hating father have said about all this? Dhananjayan thinks for a split-second and then laughs. “He would have called me a mad fellow.”


Dedicated to the pioneers of Tamil cinema, G. Dhananjayan's The Best of Tamil Cinema: 1931-2010 is split into two. The first volume begins with “Kalidas” (1931), the first talkie in Tamil and the only Tamil film produced during the year, and takes a pause with “Bhadrakali” (1976). The second volume picks up with A. Bheemsingh's excellent adaptation of Jayakanthan's “Sila Nerangalil Sila Manidhargal” (1977) and ends with “Nandhalala” (2010).

Each film is discussed over a breadth of two pages, with a mention of cast and crew and plot, along with anecdotal information. In the entry for “Sigappu Rojakkal” (1978), for instance, lies this factoid: “The film received one of the best scores of 53 from [Ananda] Vikatan.” At the end of each volume, there is an additional listing of “select films, which deserve a mention.” A random search yields “Panchakalyani” (1979), where we are told, “[despite no big stars] the film still succeeded mainly because of the excellent acting by the donkey, which moved the audience.”

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Printable version | Jun 15, 2021 4:06:39 AM |

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