In the big league

A scene from AVM's ‘Sabapathi.’

A scene from AVM's ‘Sabapathi.’  

The movie, which firmly established K. Sarangapani’s reputation as a Tamil comedian was the 1941 box office hit, ‘Sabapathi.’ It was the first big success of the movie mogul AV. Meiyappan, who put his name for the first time in the credit titles, along with noted writer, director and producer A.T. Krishnaswamy.

At that time, farces were popular. The successful playwright, filmmaker and actor Pammal Sambandam Mudaliar wrote many farces, several of which were built around a well known comic character called Handy Andy, created by Samuel Lover.

Andy, who was employed by a British Squire as a stable boy, had a knack of doing everything wrong.

Mudaliar’s ‘Handy Andy’ was called Sabapathi, whose employer was a foolish young man by the same name.

It was Krishnaswamy’s idea to make a comedy film based on the funny character, to which Meiyappan agreed. So Krishnaswamy wrote the screenplay based on Mudaliar’s farces.

T.R. Ramachandran was cast as the hero and another comedian, Kali N. Ratnam, played the title role. R. Padma was the hero's educated wife, who teaches her husband English and the saucy C.T .Rajakantham was the ‘Man Friday's’ heartthrob.

K. Sarangapani, played a Tamil teacher, who was ragged by his students. During that period, Tamil teachers were the butt of jokes because they were considered inferior to those who taught English!

As a test, to judge how the public response would be, A. T. Krishnaswamy invited the noted Tamil writer, journalist and novelist ‘Kalki’ R. Krishnamurthi to view the film with his friends. The continuous laughter, ‘Kalki’s’ being the loudest, that greeted almost every scene reassured both of them. The humour, which included jokes revolving round the wrong usage of English and how the students made fun of their Tamil teacher made it a success.

Sarangapani’s acting ability and comic talent as the ridiculed Tamil teacher came to the fore.

It made him a major star pushing him into the same league as N. S. Krishnan.

(To be continued)

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