Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Modern Threaters, Salem’s erstwhile dream factory

MK Kamalam, the heroine of the first Malayalam talkie film ‘Balan’ died on the 20th of this month. She was 87. The report about her demise mentioned that ‘Balan’ was produced at Modern Theaters Ltd., Salem in 1938.

That reminded me of two things. One was of driving past the studio long ago on the way to visit my children who were studying at Sacred Hearts, Yercaud (SHY). The other was an old photo of my brother-in-law P Thomas Abraham and some of his Montfort School friends with three Hollywood stars. It was taken at Salem in 1952.

The actors, Rod Cameron, Cesar Romero and Marie Windsor who had come down for shooting the movie ‘The Jungle’. It was a joint venture by TR Sundaram, Voltaire Productions Inc., and Robert M. Lippert. The distributors were Lippert Pictures, Inc.

Thomas was kind enough to search out the photo and send it to me. It is reproduced below.

(Click to enlarge. Copyright reserved.)

The story thread of ‘The Jungle’ went something like this: There were several wild animal stampedes in an Indian jungle in which several people in the nearby villages died. The local princess took a great white hunter into the forest to investigate the incidents. They discovered that some prehistoric mammoths caused terror among the wild animals. The great white hunter handles the situation.

‘The Jungle’, directed by William Berke, was released on August 1, 1952. It was a success internationally but did not do too well in India.

Probably that was the only English movie shot at Modern Theaters Ltd., Salem. But the studio produced several pictures in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Hindi and Sinhalese. Most of them were hits.

The man of vision who created Modern Theatres was Thiruchengodu Ramalingam Sundaram (TRS). He was born in a family of yarn merchants and textile mill owners, in 1907. He was sent to Leeds, UK, to study textile engineering. He met and married a British girl, Gladys there.

Back home TRS worked for some time in the family business and then followed his own dream. He turned to the cinema field and started Angel Films in Salem which produced a few movies at Calcutta studios. Then TRS decided to establish his own production facilities.

Thus Modern Theaters Ltd. was born. That, I think, was South India’s first film studio. It was not just a cinema shooting place but a full fledged facility with a modern studio which had equipments for talkie making, a laboratory, and recording arrangements.

The first film to roll out of the new studio was `Sathi Ahalya' in 1937. The dream run continued for 45 years and ended in 1982 with `Vetri Namathe'. Many of the 117 films (some sources say over 150) produced there were hits. They covered many genres. Mythology was there of course. Other themes included folklore, comedies, classics, mysteries and original stories.

As the name suggests, Modern Theaters Ltd was a Joint Stock Company and was operated on modern business lines by TRS. There was an efficient production schedule covering two or three movies a year and tight budget controls. This resulted in new attractive products being supplied to the market at regular intervals.

TR Sundaram who had an eye for talent operated the studio on the old Hollywood system of having actors, writers and technicians on payroll. Those attached to Modern Theaters included M.G. Ramachandran, Sivaji Ganesan, Gemini Ganesan, M. Karunanidhi, Kannadasan, Manohar, Ramasamy, Thangavelu. Jayalalitha, VN Janaki, Manorama, and MN Nambiar have acted in movies made there.

Those introduced by TRS include MR Radha, SV Ranga Rao and Anjali Devi. Mention must also be made of the American, Ellis R. Duncan who successfully directed several films made at Modern Theatres. TRS paid all his people well and without delay.

The first South Indian colour film ‘Alibabavam 40 Thirudargalum’ (1955) was made at Modern Theatres. The MG Ramachandran and P Bhanumathi movie was a big hit. In Malayalam also the first colour film ‘Kandam Becha Coat’ (1961) came out of this Salem institution.

TR Sundaram died in 1963.

By then Madras (now Chennai) was fast becoming the capital of South Indian movie industry. But his son, R. Sundaram took over the management of the great institution the father had started. He did well, concentrating mainly on James Bond-like pictures starring Jai Shankar.

But tragedy struck the family again. A few years later R. Sundaram also died prematurely. With that activities at Modern Theaters ground to a halt. Later the property changed hands. It is now a prestigious housing area.

I wonder how many people are there in the history of world cinema industry comparable to TR Sundaram. He was a one man institution – studio owner, producer, director, financier, company chief, talent scout, inspirational presence. He is a cinema legend that India can be proud of.

Perhaps the present crop of producers who complain so vehemently about high cost of cinema making can possibly learn a thing or two by studying the operational techniques of TR Sundaram.

Also see:

Star wars in Kerala

Malayalam Cinema: Going, going, gone?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Lalit Modi wins for now, but does the story end?

Shashi Tharoor had an impeccable record: belonging to and old family from Palghat, Kerala but born in London, educated in India and abroad, three decades of successful service with the UN, resigns that job to contest for the post of Secretary General of the UN but fails, back home in India scores an impressive win in the Parliamentary election from Trivandrum though his mother and relatives were against him joining politics, straightaway made Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.

So far so good.

Shashi Tharoor was doing okay even though his style of operation was not exactly palatable to the old world politicians. But then he made the mistake of doing two things which Lalit Modi did not like. He sprang a surprise by bringing in a team for Kerala in the recent IPL auctions. Also, his Ministry granted visa to a South African model who Modi, according to reports, did not want to come to India.

Now, everybody knows who Modi is. Technically he is only the chairman of a sub-committee of the BCCI. But that is the India Premier League sub-committee and Modi is its sole effective boss. Even the BCCI does not seem to have any meaningful control over him.

Modi is a genius and he has proved that within two short years. Forgotten or buried were the negative reports about him on different fronts. He made powerful friends and became the number one name in the Indian Cricket officialdom. Nobody really bothered whether all the rules were being followed by the IPL.

When Shashi Tharoor did not toe the line, Modi was not happy. He disclosed the shareholding details of the Cochin team, which had not been done in the case of the other outfits, and stated that he had some doubts. Also, there was a woman’s name in it – Sunanda Pushkar. She was to get a portion of the equity in the sponsoring company of the Kerala team, for free. An explanation that came up was that the shares were in consideration for her services for 10 years. A rumor that Shashi Tharoor and this lady were planning to get married, suddenly caught on like wild fire.

Sweat equity thus became sweet equity and a shadow of doubt was cast on Shashi Tharoor. The BJP went into the attack with all guns firing, possibly without properly evaluating the consequences. It would appear that a major point was overlooked. They concentrated mainly on the Cochin team and Shashi Tharoor being sacked, not on the entire IPL spectrum. The Leftists were quick to join them.

The Prime Minister who was abroad returned to Delhi on Saturday and by Sunday evening ShashiTharoor handed over his resignation. That turned out to be a wet blanket. Suddenly there was no issue left for the BJP in this matter.

But the other opposition parties are not stopping with that. They are demanding an enquiry into all aspects of the IPL from its beginning. Of course, BJP too joined the demand. But the Congress was already on the job.

So, the story goes on.

Also see:

Kerala politics: Confused Comrades

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Vishu 2010

Happy Vishu

This beautiful photo of Kani Konna (Cassia fistula) flower, an essential ingredient of Vishu, by HFret is from Wikimedia Commons licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Click to enlarge.

For more on Vishu, see:
Vishu: Did God Create Earth on This Day?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Moosa bids goodbye

Maramveettil Mammini Moosa passed away peacefully on Thursday, the 8th of this month. That morning he was in his shop next to his house. He felt some discomfort in the afternoon and died half an hour later. He was 83 years old. That is estimation. It was known that he was born after the floods of ’99.

You might be wondering who this person was. Moosa was a native of my village, Olavipe. It is difficult to answer if questioned what his achievements in life were. He just lived and died, one among the many, many millions. But his life was exemplary.

Olavipe has only about 10 Muslim families. They are all inter-connected. Chekutty (see Nostalgia: Cinema, cinema) was the first to come. He joined my great grandfather (see A judgment.) as a young boy and saw five generations of our family. I remember him proudly describing to us the velvet attire (perhaps a sherwani) which he had worn for his wedding about a century ago. My great grandfather had bought this for him, from Cochin I suppose.

After his marriage Chekutty set up home in Olavipe in a plot called Kalathara. Then he brought his younger brother Kunjo and his brother in law Mammini also to our village. Moosa was Mammini’s son. Mammini died of cancer, in the 1960s.

Moosa was fair and handsome from his schooldays (primary school) till his death. Even in his later life he did not have a paunch or flab and looked as young as ever, except for the hair turning gray. Also unchanged was his smile. It was always there. I have never seen him looking worried or sad.

He was an honest, straightforward and uncomplicated man. And a gentleman to the core. One could always trust him. Moosa was Ammachi’s. Mukthiyar Kariyasthan (manager vested with General Power of Attorney) with even the power to sell her lands. That was a rare statement of trust. In our family such power of attorney was given only to the most reliable of our supervisors.

The last time I was in Olavipe I called on Moosa at his house. I was meeting him after quite some time. It was a happy occasion for both of us. We spent a long time chatting, mostly about the bygone days and people.

A cousin of mine once said that Moosa was one of the very few people who were qualified for Heaven. I suppose that is where he is now.

Well, adios, Moosa.

Also see:

A unique prayer.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Hyderabad drama

The Shoaib Malik – Ayesha Siddiqui confrontation in Hyderabad is over. The wedding of the Pakistan cricketer and the Indian tennis star Sania Mirza has been advanced to today according to some reports. The reception is to be on 15th April as announced earlier.

Yesterday Shoaib had made a statement for the benefit of his countrymen in which he said that he is no one to judge what is right and what is wrong but God knows the truth. That is right. For five years or so he decided that he was married to Ayesha. Then he decided she was not wedded to him. But finally he accepts that he was married to the Hyderabad girl and grants her the divorce that she had been demanding.

It would have been a graceful event if Shoaib Malik had made some sort of apology for the unnecessary tension that he caused to millions of Sania fans in India because of his recent refusal to grant the divorce which apparently was a legal requirement. Sania is India’s daughter and almost every Indian was concerned about her. Anyway, now we can all wish her a long and happy married life.

Shoaib Malik is certainly sensitive to the feelings of his people. After India beat Pakistan at Johannesburg in the 2007 Twenty 20 World Cup finals, this man made a strange statement at the podium. He apologized to the entire Muslim population of the world for the failure to win the cup. Did Salim Malik consider that it was more of a religious contest than a sporting event?

April 16, that is the day after his wedding reception at Hyderabad, seems to be the last day for Shoiab Malik to appeal to the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) against the one year ban and Rs.2million fine that have been imposed on him. This punitive action has nothing do with the recent marriage controversy.

The enquiry committee appointed by the PCB found Shoiab Malik guilty of poor performance, infighting within the team and for faking, during Pakistan’s last New Zealand tour, an ankle injury. Six others were also punished by the PCB.

Sania Mirza has stated that she would continue to play tennis for India and Shoiab Malik has endorsed it. In Pakistan tennis is a minor sport. There is not much that a player of Sania’s class can do there. But the Pakistanis are hoping for her support to women’s tennis in their country. Dilawar, the Pakistan Tennis Federation President has already suggested that Sania should team up with Aisam-ul-Haq who is ranked within the top 50 doubles players in the world, for mixed doubles.

Would Sania be qualified to play for India after her wedding to Shoiab Malik? I suppose that she would be till, if at all, she obtains a Pakistani Passport. Indian tennis legend Vijay Amrithraj’s son Prakash was dropped from the Indian Davis Cup team because he holds a US Passport.

Well Sania, all the best.

Also see: At 22, can Sania Mirza make a comeback?