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M.S. & the two centenarians

WITH TWO biographies of M.S. Subbulakshmi coming out at the beginning of the year, there has been much discussion about M.S. at various fora in the city. All this focus on M.S. provided the TAG South Indian Heritage Series an opportunity to get Randor Guy to speak on `M.S., Melodies and Movies' to a packed hall a couple of weeks ago.

While screening clips from "Seva Sadhanam" (1938), "Shakuntalai" (1940), "Savithri" (1941) and "Meera" (1945), Randor Guy mentioned in passing that this year was the birth centenary of K. Subrahmanyam, who had directed M.S. in her first film. Coincidentally, it is also the birth centenary of S. S. Vasan, who benefited not a little from his associations with T. Sadasivam, who was to become M.S.'s husband, and Subrahmanyam. Sadasivam, as Advertising Manager of Vasan's Ananda Vikatan, helped make the journal a financial success, and Subrahmanyam steered Vasan into the movie world.

It was also Subrahmanyam who first helped to make M.S. a star in the world of song. S. D. Subbulakshmi, later to become his wife, persuaded him to give M.S., daughter of her friend from Madurai, Shanmugavadivu, a chance on the concert stage at the exhibition he was organising in connection with the 1932 Mahamagam Festival in Kumbakonam. It was on that stage that a star was born. Later, when he negotiated with Sadasivam for the film rights for a story serialised in Ananda Vikatan, starring M.S. in the film came almost as part of the package. Thus there started her film career in "Seva Sadhanam," with S.D. Subbulakshmi guiding her throughout. The film, the second of Subramanyam's vehicles of social protest, was based on Munshi Premchand's story in Hindi. M.S.'s success in "Seva Sadhanam" led to Sadasivam deciding to form his own film company for her next film. And so his Chandraprabha Cinetone made "Shakuntalai." This decision of his was undoubtedly the reason why Subrahmanyam decided to star S.D. in his third and greatest film of social protest, "Thyaga Bhoomi" (1939). The film becoming a hit owed much to Vasan, who not only managed its publicity but also made his entry into the movie business when he agreed to distribute it. From there it was but a short step to buying Subrahmanyam's ailing studio, Motion Picture Producers' Combine. Its reopening in 1940 as Gemini Studio was to take Vasan into yet another world of success.

Meanwhile, Sadasivam and Kalki decided to part company with Vasan and found their own magazine. "Savithri," M.S.'s third film, was to provide them the capital for Kalki, which was launched in 1941. The film may not have been a great success, but the fee for M.S. (the first Naradar to wear a top garment) was said to have been handsome. And her songs were hits. Which they were to be in her fourth and last film too. This was "Meera," once again a Sadasivam production, but a pan-Indian one. Thereafter, M.S. was to be the singer-saint alone.

S. MUTHIAH

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