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Visionary and entrepreneur

LEKSHMI GOPALAKRISHNAN

P. Subramaniam’s drive and imagination fostered the Malayalam film industry in its infancy. His birth anniversary falls on January 7.



Pioneer: P. Subramaniam

In the Fifties, computer graphics, digitalisation and multiplex theatres were still in the realm of the future for Malayalam Cinema.

In those predominantly black-and-white days, a 44-year-old visionary showed what imagination and hard work could achieve with a cast of talented actors, a two-floor studio complex and a camera. The sceptics were forced to eat their words and watch dumbstruck as he went on to make 69 films, some of them award winners too. He unearthed, supported and groomed a wide range of artists, lyricists, composers, directors and technicians and laid the foundation of the fledgling Malayalam Cinema industry. When the visionary and canny entrepreneur P. Subramaniam opened ‘Merryland Studio’ in 1951, Malayalam Cinema was still in its nascent stage.

Born on January 7, 1907, Subramaniam began his career as a clerk with the Water Works Department in Thiruvananthapuram. He tried his hand in various enterprises and even in politics. For some time, he was the Mayor of Thiruvananthapuram. It is also hard to come by any other studio owner who built so many theatre complexes in a district (Sree Kumar, New Theatre, Karthikeya and Padmanabha).

Passion for cinema

It was his close acquaintance with K. Subrahmanyam, director of ‘Sreekrishna Leela,’ that nurtured in him the dream of making a mark in cinema. When cinema became a passion he decided to buy some property to begin a studio complex. His son and film producer S. Kumar clearly remembers those days: “In 1950, we were in search of a quiet place to start a studio in the capital city. It was then that we came to know that Father Mar Ivanious’ school at Nemom had been closed down as he feared attacks from radicals. Although Father Ivanious was reluctant to sell us the property that might turn out to be dangerous for us, my father showed the pluck and imagination to buy the land for Rs. 200 per cent. And in 1951, my father stepped into tinsel town by constructing a studio there.”

Thus Merryland became a reality with two floors and a single camera. The other floors, consisting of the current dubbing studio and lab, were built later. In 1952, Subramaniam produced ‘Atma Sakhi,’ which was given a lukewarm reception by viewers. The next film met with the same fate. It was ‘Avakashikal,’ a rollicking comedy that put Merryland on the success chart. Over the years, Subramaniam tried his luck not only in production but also in direction, distribution and construction of theatres. ‘Mantravadi’ was the first film that made him a director.



The cast of ‘Atmasakhi’ with P. Subramaniam

Of the 69 films that came out of Merryland, 59 were directed by Subramaniam himself.

Film stars, lyricists, composers, directors and technicians entered filmdom through the doors of Merryland. ‘Atmasakhi’ marked the debut of Satyan. Kottarakkara, Raghavan, Bahadur, Miss Kumari, Kaviyur Ponnamma and Sreevidya are some of the stars who shone on the silver screen, courtesy Merryland.

Quite a few block busters of Prem Nazir happen to be Merryland’s movies. Music director G. Devarajan, playback singer Kamukara Purushothaman, script writer and lyricist Sreekumaran Thampi were some of those who made their mark in films made by Subramaniam. Merryland’s ‘Kumarasambhavam’ bagged the first State Government award for the best film. Winning the National Film awards for ‘Randidangazhi,’ ‘Paadatha Painkili,’ and ‘Adhyapika’ helped Merryland make a mark at the national level as well.

S. Kumar admits that there was a healthy competition between Subramaniam and his contemporary, Kunchakko, owner of Udaya Studio. “But I can sincerely say that there was no personal grudge between them. They competed professionally; released films with almost similar titles and contents. But they always respected each other.” Subramaniam was dismayed when ‘Sree Murukan’ (1977) bit the dust at the box office.



Members of the royal family of erstwhile Travancore after the screening of the movie ‘Paadatha Painkili’

That was the last mythological he made. ‘Hridayathinte Nirangal’ was the last movie to come out of Merryland.

Subramaniam passed away on October 4, 1978. Sadly, it spelt the death knell of Merryland as a powerhouse of Malayalam Cinema.

However, melodious songs and reruns of his films on television remind us of this pioneer of Malayalam Cinema.

***

Merryland hits

With devotional films such as ‘Bhakta Kuchela,’ ‘Sree Guruvayurappan,’ and ‘Devi Kanyakumari,’ entertainers such as ‘Chattampi Kavala’ and ‘Bharya Illyatha Raatri,’ and family movies such as ‘Hridayam Oru Kshetram,’ Merryland gave birth to a host of hits.

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