Blast from the past
T. K. Shanmugham, T. K. Bhagavathi, K. T. Rukmini, M. S. Vijayal and N. S. Krishnan
first ‘social’ in Tamil cinema From Menaka
Menaka won its place in the history of Tamil cinema as the first film to portray a contemporary theme, known in the Indian movie idiom, as ‘social’. Ever since cinema began to talk Tamil in 1931, all films made until 1935 were either mythological, epic, folk tales or once upon a time there was a king or saint kind of stories. Menaka, a trend-setter, was the movie version of the successful play by TKS brothers, “Menaka”, which in turn was adapted from one of the best-selling novels of the Tamil detective fiction writer, Vaduvur K. Duraiswami Ayyangar. Many of his novels were made into movies, and this was the first attempt.
TKS brothers, Sankaran, Muthuswami, Shanmugham and Bhagavathi, sons of stage actor T. Kannusami Pillai, were one of the biggest names in Tamil theatre, with T. K. Shanmugham, becoming a legend in his lifetime. The brothers pursued their profession with missionary zeal and made use of the stage to good purpose.
A group of small-time businessmen headed by M. Somasundaram was engaged in selling groceries and vessels in Tiruppur near Coimbatore. Somasundaram, his partner and pal S. K. Mohideen and eight others promoted a film production company - Shanmughananda Talkies. They had an interest in the business side of the arts, and planned to produce a film based on the play by TKS brothers.
Following several discussions, Somasundaram entered into an agreement with the brothers to produce their play “Menaka” as a film for which they would be paid Rs. 16, 000. It would include the story, stage-play and the services of the members of the dramatic troupe.
N. S. Krishnan who had left the brothers earlier over a salary dispute was hired to act in Menaka on a salary of Rs. 600.
The production company hired Raja Sandow to direct Menaka which was made at Ranjith Studio in Bombay. The film was about a loving couple who get separated because of the evil designs of some envious persons and their re-union after much anguish and anxiety. The screenplay was written by noted theatre person and Tamil movie pioneer M. Kandaswami Mudaliar. T. K. Shanmugham and M. S. Vijayal enacted the couple, while N. S. Krishnan played the scheming Sama Iyer. The making of the film witnessed a couple of interesting incidents. Raja Sandow, true to his name, was a tough guy who would brook no nonsense from any quarter. There was a sequence to be picturised on NSK and an actor (who was said to be the director’s pet!) which involved some love play. Raja Sandow, who introduced intimate scenes and dancers in revealing clothes in Tamil cinema, threw hints to NSK to keep off that actor. A sequence involving the actor and NSK where the duo had to be tied together and kidnapped had to be shot. It meant the two to be in physical contact and NSK refused to let her touch him. The director tried to use all his authority to convince NSK but the future comedian refused to oblige. With sarcasm NSK said, “Sir, I am a chaste man... a pathivrathan! Only my wife Nagammal can touch me!” (‘Pathivrathai’ in Tamil means ‘chaste wife’, but man has no such ideals! Nor does such an expression exist!) All on the set laughed and Raja Sandow understood the barb and began to develop a liking for NSK from that moment!
T. K. Shanmugham had to make love to a woman played by K. T. Rukmini. Raja Sandow who wanted to make it look authentic asked TKS to plant kisses, starting from her finger tips and moving right up to her neck! To a prude like Shanmugham, this was a shocker and he shivered in his shoes right from dawn, praying that the scene would somehow be given up! But the tough director drove the hero to do it over and over, reducing him to a quivering mass of jelly, much to the amusement of the actor!
Menaka, released in 1935, was a big success and also won a State Award. N. S. Krishnan made a mark and soon would begin the Golden Age of Tamil film comedy.
Remembered for The first ‘social’ in Tamil cinema and the debut of N. S. Krishnan.
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