AVM, the adventurer, the maverick, the pioneer


A tribute to cinema's pioneer and innovator, A.V. Meiyappan.

Among South India's movie moguls whose contribution to Indian cinema has been immense, A.V. Meiyappan stands tall. A far-sighted entrepreneur and filmmaker with dash and dynamism, he had an uncanny talent to feel the pulse of the Indian moviegoer. Entering the world of movies soon after it began to talk in India in 1931, for nearly half a century he worked incessantly, producing pictures of many kinds in many languages. He was venturesome by nature and an innovator in film production techniques. A man of great foresight, he faced much adversity early in his career but like a true pioneer fought relentlessly and made it to the top. A talent scout he opened the doors of opportunity and success to many performing artistes and technicians. Born on July 28, 1907, Avichi Meiyappan hailed from a Nattukottai Nagarathar family of Karaikkudi in Tamil Nadu. How celluloid became family business is an interesting story. Avichi Chettiar ran a mini-department store, named AV & Sons. It sold gramophone records. Meiyappan, who joined his father's shop even as a teenager, decided to produce gramophone records instead of merely marketing them. He came to Madras where along with friends K.S.Narayana Iyengar, Subbaiah Chettiar and others promoted Saraswathi Stores The dawn of the talkie era (1931) inspired Meiyappan to start Saraswathi Sound Productions and he launched his maiden movie venture, `Alli Arjuna,' a mythological. At this point, an aspiring amateur actor and college graduate A.T.Krishnaswamy joined the unit as assistant director. ATK, as he was known, was associated with Meiyappan for nearly a decade and wrote and directed the early AVM productions. The reverses forced Meiyappan to lie low but only for a while. In association with Jayanthilal, a cinema house based in Bangalore, he promoted a new company Pragati Pictures Limited, Bangalore. Grabbing an opportunity that came his way, AVM made and `Nanda Kumar,' Tamil version of a Marati film launching it as a Pragati production. The highlight was the entry of T.R.Mahalingam as Krishna. The film was a landmark because for the first time playback singing was tried, with Lalitha Venkatraman singing for the actor who played Devaki. Meiyappan took the sprawling Club House off Mount Road on lease and shot scenes without going to studios and erecting sets. (The lead in this direction was given by K. Subramaniam in 1938.) Thus Meiyappan had anticipated location shooting by almost 30 years. Soon he shifted his unit to another sprawling edifice known as Admiralty House in Adyar. Bombing of Madras during 1942 forced Meiyappan to move to Karaikkudi.

Mythology created history

During 1940 Meiyappan produced `Bhoo Kailas' a mythological which created history. A milestone was crossed in 1943 with the making of `Harishchandra,' dubbed from Kannada to Tamil. After the success of "Sri Valli" Meiyappan closed shop in Madras and moved back to Karaikkudi. At the outskirts he took a drama auditorium with a large open area around it on long lease and put up a studio. Thus was born AVM Productions with AVM Studios. .`Nam Iruvar' (1947), a hit play based on patriotism, was well adapted and it was a roaring success. The film ushered in the AVM Era. AVM moved back to Madras where in Kodambakkam, he built a studio, which grew into a humming hive of hectic filmmaking activity and continues to be so to this day. In 1949 he brought out yet another box-office bonanza "Vazhkai" (Life), a light musical comedy in which he introduced a new face, a slim, attractive teenager who became a star overnight and gallopped to win stardom at a national level. Vyjayanthimala. Meiyappan made this film in Telugu and Hindi ." Bahar" the Hindi version took the Hindi belt by storm and AV.Meiyappan marched his way into Hindi cinema with bells on. With S. S.Vasan paving the way with his stunning spectacle "Chandralekha" (1948) Meiyappan followed to carve a cosy slot for himself in the Hindi film world. An AVM motion picture became synonymous with clean wholesome family-oriented entertainment. Meiyappan realised that the story was the thing for making a narrative film and he bestowed great attention on the theme and storyline. Anything offensive or vaguely vulgar or in low taste was eschewed. Ever an enterprising entrepreneur, Meiyappan produced a songless-danceless Tamil film `Andha Naal' (1954), with Sivaji Ganesan playing the anti-hero. Meiyappan showed yet another proof of his versatility when he made a children's film with national integration as its basic theme. `Hum Panchi Ek Daal Ke' (1957) won high acclaim and a National Award.Meiyappan's track record in Hindi Cinema too is formidable. He made several hits, re-makes of south Indian language films. During a period of time " the Madras Formula film" had a successful innings. (Such films meant a strong family melodrama, heavily sentimental, with song and dance numbers, and comedy. Evil was always punished, good praised and blessed and all lived happily thereafter.) The AVM Hindi films fell into that mould. The roster includes " Bahar"..."Bhabhi"..."Barkha"... "Chori Chori"( a Raj Kapoor- Nargis starrer)...." Ladki"... Mein Chup Rahungi" and others. Widely travelled, Meiyappan was devout and deeply religious and donated to several causes including education. He also founded schools. Meiyappan passed away on August 12,1979, and after his demise his sons took over the mantle. Currently the AVM Empire is being run by M. Saravanan and M. Balasubramaniam. Saravanan's quiet dignity and amiability have made him a popular figure in the Madras social and business circles. The AVM saga continues, its glory undiminished.

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