What made Vasan different
S. S. Vasan elevated cinema to a higher plane. In his centenary year, N. KRISHNASWAMY, who was associated with Gemini Studio for a long period, recalls qualities that have made the movie emperor a legend.
S. S. Vasan with Kasa Subba Rao.
S. S. VASAN the first image is that of a man who studied every frame of his film, worked round the clock to make it more and more interesting. Undoubtedly "a king" among the studio-owners/producers. He walked up and down scores of times, to see the projection, to attend to the mixing of sound, to preview on the moviola, on the editing table, to hold elaborate discussions in his story group. There were instances when he went home in the morning after a whole night's studio work, had his bath and breakfast and came back to the studio within less than an hour.
He was unique in taking the entire staff into confidence, show them the film before release, elicit their opinion and then choose a discerning director.
Mr. Ramnoth was making Miss Malini (R. K. Narayan's story) for Gemini. His crew (including me) saw the rushes and was about to leave the theatre, when Mr. Vasan and his group entered to see the rushes of ``Chandralekha." With a polite gesture Ramnoth moved to leave, but Vasan persuaded him to sit, see and give his opinion on ``Chandralekha." It was the scene where hundreds of warriors of the hero, M. K. Radha, on foot and horseback, rushed towards the palace to rescue Chandralekha (T. R. Rajakumari) from the villain (Ranjan).
Every one praised the photography, shots, action, etc., but Ramnoth remained quiet and Vasan became curious. After much persuasion, Ramnoth expressed his view that suspense could be killed if this scene was shown in its full. This provoked an animated discussion at the end of which Vasan told the editor Chandru to edit as wished by Ramnoth. Vasan was very happy with the result. For those around it was a lesson in film technology. This writer joined Gemini studios as an assistant cameraman on August 11, 1947. The day is vivid in memory. The huge quadrangle before Vasan's office a high building of East India Company style was filled with hundreds of drums used for the shooting of the "drum dance" for Chandralekha. Some patch work remained to be done.
A 45ft-tall scaffold for the camera remained. It was meant for the making of "matte work" for the "drum dance." This photographic process of adding in the same frame "live action and art work," to depict the hugeness of the castle consumed many hours of work on set, table and laboratory. But Vasan's only desire was "the result of the great concept." He got it, thanks to cameraman Ramnoth and art director Sekhar.
Sir Visvesvarayya in his book, "Industrialise Or Perish" talks of the 7 `M's that make the modern industry money, machinery, material, market, motive power and management. This was amply illustrated in Gemini Studios as a modern industry. Vasan always thought of cinema as industry never allowing it to be treated as a mere profession or an adventure.
Then came the grand gala release of the film "Nishan" Hindi (with Ranjan) the Hindi version of (``Apoorva Sagodarargal" in Tamil with (M. K. Radha). The publicity department was headed by V.K.N. Chari with a host of creative workers in commercial art. Mr. Vasan wanted Nishan's release to be on a grand scale in the North with a premiere in Delhi. Chari was to go there and Vasan wanted me (a junior technician) to accompany him. It was a surprise certainly but above all it was a privilege. Incidentally, the table model of Taj Mahal this writer presented to Pattammal Vasan immensely pleased her and it occupied an important place in the famous "Navarathri Kolu" of the Vasan household.
It was in 1952 that R. R. Diwakar, then Minister for Information and Broadcasting, decided to hold the first International Film Festival and the responsibility at Madras fell on the shoulders of the film censor officer, Stalin K. Srinivasan. A committee with Vasan as chairman was formed. The Cine Technicians Association's proposal to put-up an open-air cinema at the Teynampet Congress Grounds was accepted. Meanwhile, the chairmanship of this committee went to the president of the South Indian Film Chamber, but Vasan kept a close watch on the developments.
The other notable event the CTA organised at that time was the first all-India film star cricket match which received Vasan's blessings and help. CTA had taken up an uphill task. It was not a simple affair to airlift 20 top stars of Bombay including Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Devanand, Premnath, Nargis, Nimmi to play against their Madras counterparts, MGR, Sivaji Ganesan, Gemini, Nageswara Rao, NTR, Lalitha, Padmini, Ragini, Savithri, Pushpavalli and so on! But this was made possible because of the cooperation within the industry.
The festival concluded with a dinner when Vasan gave away mementos. He was happy that this sport could prove to be a cultural bridge between the North and the South. Yes, several links were created for making Hindi films. This certainly added a feather to the cap of the CTA that received timely help and moral support from Vasan.
As an orator, Vasan was par excellent as he spoke with total conviction. Entertainment tax for films, censorship, footage regulation to reduce the feature film's length to 13,500 ft were all issues he took up at the highest level. He was responsible for the launching of the South Indian Motion Picture Studio Association (SIMPSA) and to a large extent for the Film Federation of India.
C. N. Annadurai, then Chief Minister, wanted to create a super spectacle for the World Tamil Meet. He invited Vasan and a few others for a meeting (at the Mount Road Government Estate). There was absolute silence. None had the courage to speak in Annadurai's presence. I went home and sat at my desk to prepare the scheme for the Tamil meet with the chief item being the "Tamil Pageant" depicting Kannagi at Pandian's Durbar, Manuneethi Cholan, Avvai with Nellikani, etc. The proposal was submitted to Vasan who called me on telephone congratulating me on the idea and the minute details I had worked out. But he felt sad that I could not execute it myself as it needed money. It was a disappointment but the word of appreciation from Vasan, the country's best film maker was ample compensation. .
Yet another important event was the formation of the Film Industry Committee by C. Subramaniam, to prepare a report on the development of film industry. The members met several times and a report was made. The question of realistic apportioning of the profit earned loomed large. Therefore the report stated that the artistes' remuneration should be reviewed realistically. This Report of Historic importance could not be unanimously passed as there were minutes of dissent from two individuals. This problem remains unsolved, and the report is relevant even today.
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Admirer of Vasan
CLAIMING MR. Vasan as his first and only mentor, film producer-director-exhibitor, N. Krishnaswamy, recalls the happy years as a member of the staff of Gemini Studios.
He was popularly known as `CTA' Krishnaswamy. (CTA stands for Cine Technicians Association). And when he made `Padikkadha Medhai" starring Sivaji Ganesan, he was recognised as Bala Movies Krishnswamy.
An astute student of the economic aspect of the Film industry, Krishnaswamy has great admiration for Vasan.
Out of films, now, he is working on the small screen. He owns a studio outfit. His Model Open Air Cinema atSomangalam, Tamil Nadu, was declared the first of its kind in India.
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