MEMORIES OF MADRAS
When studios dotted Vadapalani
NOSTALGIA AVM Saravanan on growing up in a friendly colony in Mylapore and taking over as a production executive at 18
Lights on Sivaji Ganesan during the shooting of a film in AVM Studios
We were living in Mylapore, Dwaraka Colony, Door 13.
The entire area belonged to the E.V. Kalyani family, and was rented out.
A lot of people living there have come up in a big way. Durgabhai Deshmukh was living in Door 12; she started the Andhra Mahila Sabha in that house and Mr. Deshmukh was the Finance Minister at that time.
Murugappa Chettiar used to get barrels of syrup from Parry and Co., Europe and prepare the gripe water there. We used to go help them and help ourselves to the syrup.
Thoothukudi Murugadas; producer B.S. Renga; film director B.N. Rao; and photographer Chari, all lived in that area, and there used be a Bengali family — the Baruas. We used to go there to eat chappati with honey. It was a nice colony, we really enjoyed life. We used to cycle around the compound. An Andhra gentleman used to bring us curd and yell ‘Uiii Uiii’ to get our attention. We used to wait for the cart that brought us nice hot groundnuts.
Around the mid-1940s, the Buckingham Canal overflowed, and I remember a gentleman carried me on his shoulder to Edward Elliot Road because the water level had risen.
I studied at the Children’s Garden School till the fifth standard; it was the first Montessori-type of school in Madras started by V.N. Sharma and Ellen Sharma. The Edward Elliot Road (now Radhakrishnan Salai) did not have much traffic, we could cross the road anytime we wanted.
In the evenings, we used to go to the beach. There was a lovers’ path with Casuarina trees on both sides. A Corporation band used to play cinema songs and people would sit around to watch it on weekends. We used to wait for the Modern Café van, a mobile canteen run by the Dasaprakash Group. The coffee was very nice, and we’d have idli or dosa, and people loved to have even the ice water there for half an anna. Families would sit by the water. The boys from Triplicane used to bring masala sundal with chilli and coconut, and it was always served clean.
We had a Chrysler car with a speedometer that changed colours from green to orange to red, depending on the speed, and my younger brother would pester my driver Dorai to hit 120 miles per hour just so that he could see the speedometer change to red. There was practically no traffic on the Beach Road.
If there was a new release, the entire family would go watch the film sitting in the Dress Circle. Today, anybody can sit in the balcony. Earlier, it was only the elite.
I remember watching the shooting of ‘Srivalli’, and my father had brought an elephant down to Admiralty House, Vijayanagaram Palace… My father had started Pragati Studio, and he took us to watch the elephant carry the heroine with its trunk.
I was studying in P.S. High School, Mylapore, and I remember that the rain water in the playground would dry up very quickly. Actually, it didn’t dry up, there was a pipe connection underneath that would take the water from the school ground to the temple tank. It was rainwater harvesting, but later, the pipe got cut because of construction work in the area.
I was the school pupil leader in the Golden Jubilee year of P.S. High School in 1957. Though school would start only at 7.15 a.m., we would try to get there by six to chat with friends. There wasn’t much homework. As long as they passed, people used to be happy. We went to bed by 8 p.m.
AVM Studios – Early days
It was on October 14, 1945, that my father started Pragati in Santhome at a rented place. We had purchased this land (the current premises), but we were not able to get a power connection during the war time. So, we shifted to Karaikudi, Devakottai Rasta, because they had a private power supply connection.
In 1949, we got the power connection in Vadapalani and shifted back. The Vadapalani temple was very small, and every Friday, my father used to visit it.
AVM was the third to start operations after Star Company started by Ramaiah and B.N. Reddy’s Vauhini Studios (later taken over by Nagi Reddy). Later, a lot of studios came up there — Bharani Studio, Majestic Studio, Rohini Studio, Film Center… The growth of this area is purely because of cinema studios.
Madras used to have 28 film studios in the 1950s, today there are only two — Prasad and AVM.
AVM SARAVANAN: Born in 1939, he’s a popular film producer and runs AVM Studios, the oldest surviving studio in the country.
On April 9, 1958, a gentleman called Vasu Menon resigned from AVM to start his own company, and that seat was vacant. I was in school, and had come in during my holidays. I sat in that seat and started asking questions about vouchers. People started panicking. Next day, at breakfast, my father told me I shouldn’t do that. He then took me along with him in MSX 856, a black Ambassador, and asked studio executive Rangasamy to introduce me to everyone, and said that I would work as a production executive. I was 18 then, and now, I am 51 years old at AVM.
AS TOLD TO SUDHISH KAMATH
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