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Blast from the past

Ali Babavum Naarpathu Thirudargalum 1941

N. S. Krishnan, T. A. Mathuram, K. Hiranaiah, S. V. Sahasranamam, M. R. Swaminathan, N. R. Padmavathi, M. Jayalakshmi and ‘Pulimoottai' Ramaswami

Nagercoil Sudalaimuthu Krishnan, better known as N. S. Krishnan and hailed as ‘the Charlie Chaplin of India', was a treasure trove of creativity. Though he was popular as a comedian, he was a social activist and his humour was purposeful. He not only made people laugh, but also made them think. It is a matter of regret that he remains virtually unknown north of the Vindhyas, mainly because he never acted in films other than Tamil apart from a few experiments in Telugu and Kannada.

Besides acting in almost every other Tamil film during the late 1930s and 1940s, he produced movies, mostly short, humorous films on his own, for which he established his own company, Ashoka Films, in Coimbatore. That was the period when the ‘Manchester of India' was a hive of film production with Central Studios, Premier Studios, Kandhan Studios and later Pakshiraja Studios contributing to the growth of Tamil cinema. Many artistes and technicians were on the rolls of these studios and Central Studios had living quarters known as ‘units' where they resided with their families. NSK, his wife Mathuram and other members of his family lived in one such unit.

In 1941, NSK made a full-length feature film, his first, Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, in which he played Ali Baba. He roped in a leading Kannada stage and film actor, K. Hiranaiah, to star in the film. NSK made Ali Baba… for Pakshiraja Films, a company floated by S. M. Sriramulu Naidu and K. S. Narayana Iyengar. Naidu had been deeply involved with Central Studios right from its inception, and later with differences surfacing in the board of directors, he decided to strike out on his own which resulted in Pakshiraja. As producer-director, Naidu enjoyed a period of enviable success, making many hits in more than one language.

To many, NSK's choice of the subject was somewhat surprising because they felt it was not the right story for a comedian like him to attempt. Expectedly, he played Ali Baba with Mathuram playing the slave girl Morgiana who later becomes Ali Baba's wife. Members of his team such as S.V. Sahasranamam and M. R. Swaminathan played major roles in the movie.

The portly comedian who was part of the NSK team was called ‘Pulimoottai' in the film. That was how Thoothukudi Ramaswamy Aiyer came to be known as ‘Pulimoottai' Ramasami!

The script was written by star writer Elangovan and the film was directed by K. S. Mani, who was merely a name-lender, and worked for NSK's team. The movie was actually directed by NSK who was also a brilliant technician, familiar with all aspects of movie-making. Noted lens man of that era E. R. Cooper handled the camera.

The lyrics were by K. P. Kamatchi, while the composer was N. S. Balakrishnan, also part of the NSK team. One song rendered by NSK, ‘Adichippoottaney noguthadaa…,' became popular.

Despite NSK's amazing range of talent and the strong supporting cast, the movie did not succeed and disappointed NSK, Sriramulu Naidu and others.

Regrettably, no print of this film exists today.

Remembered for the familiar storyline and the comical treatment that NSK gave his brainchild.


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