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Leeds, love and Modern Theatres

Tiruchengodu Ramalingam Sundaram was once hailed as the father of Malayalam cinema. This is till someone very wisely thought that J.C. Daniel was more ‘deserving’. Interestingly, Sundaram never made any such claim. But then his contribution to our cinema can never be undermined. Sundaram produced the first Malayalam talkie Balan and also the first colour film Kandam Becha Kottu.

Sundaram was born in an aristocratic family in Salem on July 16, 1907. His family owned and operated three cotton mills. He had a very conservative childhood in a family where non-vegetarian food and alcohol was a strict no-no. He did his B.A. from Pachaiappa’s College, Madras, and was sent to Leeds University to pursue higher studies in textile technology. The family took this decision hoping that he would help modernise their business.

While at Leeds, Sundaram was a frequent visitor to an English nobleman’s family. This friendship changed his lifestyle. Sundaram began using liquor and non-vegetarian food. This nobleman also introduced Sundaram to a filmmaker, who ignited in Sundaram a passion for cinema.

Meanwhile, Sundaram fell in love with Gladys, the daughter of the nobleman, and they got married. He completed his course, obtained the degree and returned to Salem along with his English wife. His very conservative relatives were reluctant to accept this relationship. And Sundaram was refused any role in the family business.

Sundaram was not frustrated. He decided to start a film studio. In 1936, he set up Modern Theatres, which went on to play a significant role in South Indian cinema. He bought equipment from Bombay Talkies and also managed to lure two technicians from there, S.Nottani, who was film editor and cameraman Bude Gushwalker, to work for him at Modern Theatres.

The first released film made at Modern Theaters was Sathi Ahalya, directed by Nottani. But, this film flopped. Sundaram’s financial position became precarious and he decided to sell out the studio to clear huge debts. That was when he happened to see an advertisement in The Hindu released by A. Sundaram Pillai for the Madras Malayali Association. This proved to be a turning point in Sundaram’s life.

A tie-up with Sundaram Pillai paved the way for Balan. The profit that Sundaram got from Balan helped him make a comeback to the film industry. Later, he produced and directed several films in Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu and Sinhalese. A total of 96 films were produced at Modern Theaters of which 56 of them were directed by Sundaram. He also produced and directed the first Tamil colour movie Alibabavum Narpadhu Thirudargalum (1956). Sundaram was actively involved in the activities of the South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce and later became its president.

After the first film Sundaram never had to experience financial failures. He remained a successful producer-director, financially stable, till his death on August 30, 1963.

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2022 4:10:24 PM |

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