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Celebrations … in and on AIR


Commemorating Tamil cinema’s platinum jubilee, FM Rainbow offers a series.

Tamil cinema is 75 years old, and celebrations are in the air. Cinema had a ‘silent’ beginning in 1895, when the Lumiere brothers screened three silent ‘films’ in Paris. These were just scenes from everyday life. One of them was that of a train pulling up at a station. The audience, thinking the train was heading for them, ran out of the theatre!

The word ‘shooting’ with reference to films is of French origin. A Frenchman designed a camera that resembled a gun. To take a picture, a trigger would be pulled. So taking a picture became ‘shooting’!

In the early days the elite in America saw cinema as crude entertainment for the hoi polloi. Women kept away because they did not want to sit in the dark with strange men.

These are just some of the facts on All India Radio’s programme, ‘Nizhalin Nijam,’ being broadcast on FM Rainbow. The programme has 34 episodes of 30 minutes each. The programme comes under what is called ‘Software Production Schemes.’ Every year, under this scheme, AIR comes out with programmes on personalities, landmark events, milestones in the history of cultural institutions. This being the 75th anniversary of Tamil cinema, a programme documenting landmark events in Tamil film history seemed apt, explains K. Srinivasaragavan, Station Director, AIR. Chennai. The FM channels are confined to the metro. Why did they not choose to carry the programme on the primary channels, so that it can reach a wider audience?

“Although FM is available only in Chennai, it is a misconception that other places are automatically excluded. FM is available on DTH to whoever has a set top box of Prasar Bharati. In fact, Tamils living in other States, such as Gujarat for instance, not only listen to our programmes, but call or write to give their feedback. Anyway, we plan to broadcast ‘Nizhalin Nijam’ later on the primary channels too,” says Srinivasaragavan.

The first nine episodes cover the period from silent films to 1951, and the script for these episodes is by Randor Guy. The script for 1951 to 1961 is by Tamil scholar Gna. Manickavasagan, 1962 to 1971 by Film News Anandan, 1972 to 1981 by S. Swaminathan, 1982 to 1991 by K. P. Arivanandam, and 1992 onwards up to the present by Chalan.

“It’s a programme that’s been one and a half years in the making,” says programme executive, Sankaranarayanan, who is better known as Sankar G.

Challenges faced

“AIR Chennai has over 500 auditioned voices. Once the script is ready, we have to decide who will read the script. For this one, we have used a mix of male and female voices. LIC Housing Finance is the sponsor for the first 13 episodes. Over 300 songs and 15 interviews have been included. Choosing a song or a dialogue that would not only be appropriate, but would also fit in the time available without any portion of the script being cut, deciding upon the title music and superimposing [a] suitable background [one] — these were some of the challenges we faced,” says Sankar G. “We used to have rehearsals with dubbing artistes from 10 in the morning until 2 p.m., everyday. For all of us, production assistants — V. Yoganand and Punitha Velusamy, and the engineers — it was a labour of love,” he adds.

Forthcoming episodes feature M.S.Visvanathan, S. S. Rajendran and Aroordas. Tune in to FM Rainbow (101.4 MHz) every Saturday at 3 p.m., for ‘Nizhalin Nijam.’

Some Snippets

This writer tuned into the first two episodes. Excerpts:

•When the reels of the first Tamil talkie Kalidas were brought to Madras, thousands gathered at Central Station, and followed the box to Kinema Central, where it was screened.

•K. Subramaniam’s ‘Pavalakkodi’ was shot outdoors in Adyar. When the clouds appeared, that was the signal for everyone to have lunch. The moment they disappeared, everyone had to scramble back to work. But the uneaten food attracted crows, so to frighten them, Subramaniam hired a man who would shoot an air gun. The shooter’s name was mentioned in the credits!

•In the early days, films were based on mythological and folk themes. This helped to avoid copyright problems. The result, however, was that sometimes the same story would be used in many films, with the producers vying with each other to be the first to come out with the film. If the first film was called ‘Valli’, the next was called, what else, ‘Naveena Valli’ — New Valli!

•Sometimes in their haste, producers lost reels. In 1933, when ‘Valli’ starring T.P.Rajalakshmi was released, a reel was lost. Nevertheless, the film ran to houseful shows. Later the missing reel was found, and it was advertised in the newspapers. Those who had already seen the film went a second time, to watch the scenes they had missed!

•Have you heard of Lord Rama wearing a wrist watch? You’ll have to watch a Telugu film from the 1940s for this treat!

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