Online edition of India's National Newspaper
Monday, Sep 06, 2004

About Us
Contact Us
Metro Plus
Published on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays & Saturdays

Features: Magazine | Literary Review | Life | Metro Plus | Open Page | Education Plus | Book Review | Business | SciTech | Entertainment | Young World | Property Plus | Quest | Folio |

Metro Plus    Bangalore    Chennai    Coimbatore    Delhi    Hyderabad    Kochi    Madurai    Tiruchirapalli    Thiruvananthapuram    Vijayawada    Visakhapatnam   

Printer Friendly Page Send this Article to a Friend

Americans in Tamil cinema



Ellis R. Dungan (Courtesy: Randor Guy collection)

AS MUCH as I have been repeating that the mansion in Government Estate is Government House and not Admiralty House as so many, including its occupants, insist on calling it, Randor Guy keeps repeating that that American film director who left his mark on Tamil cinema was Ellis Dungan and not Duncan as so many keep calling him. In the last few weeks, Randor Guy must have exploded at least half a dozen times over this repetition of what he considers sacrilege, with even reports of his own talks carrying the error.

Ellis R. Dungan, a cinematography graduate of the University of Southern California, arrived in India in 1935 with Michael Ormalev, a college-mate, at the invitation of another USC student, Mani Lal Tandon of Bombay, whose family was planning to enter the film industry. When those plans did not take off, Tandon invited them to Calcutta where he was directing the Tamil film "Nandanar." There, he introduced them to a Tamil film producer who was making "Sathi Leelavathi" and suggested that, tied up as he was, Dungan be hired in his place to direct the film. When the American was hired, it was to be the beginning of a new era in Tamil film-making, Dungan - with Ormalev having vanished along the way - making a major contribution to it.

"Sathi Leelavathi," released in 1936, may not have been the greatest success as a film, but it launched the careers of many who were to become successful in the Tamil film world. Marudur Gopala Ramachandran made his debut in the film as did M.K. Radha, T.S. Balaiah, and N.S. Krishnan. And the script was based on a novel by S.S. Vasan that he had serialised in Ananda Vikatan. When Vasan sold the film rights of the novel, it was his first involvement with filmdom. That script, similar to that of another film being produced at the same time, led to legal action that was resolved only when Vasan pointed out that he and the scriptwriter of the other film had both derived their stories from Mrs. Henry Wood's "Danesbury House!" The legal wrangle delayed "Sathi Leelavathi's" release, and though N.S. Krishnan had started work in it first, he found himself debuting on the screen in his second film!

Much in demand

Dungan was much in demand after his debut film and made "Seemanthini" and "Iru Sahotharargal," the latter, deriving from `Corsican Brothers,' his first hit. Then followed an even greater hit, "Ambikapathy," owing to Romeo and Juliet and Thyagaraja Bhagavathar's singing. But what sealed Dungan's reputation were two films now considered classics of Tamil cinema, "Sakunthalai" (1940) and "Meera" (1945), both starring M.S. Subbulakshmi. Other films followed, but none as successful as these. In fact, a couple of films he made were panned by the press as being "vulgar" and he was accused of "corrupting the population with American ways." Dungan, however, regained lost ground and bowed out on a high note with "Manthri Kumari," written by Mu. Karunanidhi. Dungan left for the U.S. shortly after its release in 1950. During his 15 years in India, he had introduced many a Hollywood technique to the Tamil cinema, such as modern make-up, the mobile camera and getting actors away from bringing the stage on to the screen. But he also introduced the cabaret number, which later led to song-and-dance routines becoming essential ingredients of Indian cinema.

Another American who played an important role in Tamil film world was William J. Moylan, who was general manager of Vasan's Gemini Studio. He was not a film professional, but he brought management skills to what was a huge, unwieldy operation, given the penchant of the man he called `Boss' to have a stableful of every discipline. Moylan's wife ensured that not only were the gardens at Gemini kept immaculate, but that the whole studio was spick and span.

S. MUTHIAH

Printer friendly page  
Send this article to Friends by E-Mail

Metro Plus    Bangalore    Chennai    Coimbatore    Delhi    Hyderabad    Kochi    Madurai    Tiruchirapalli    Thiruvananthapuram    Vijayawada    Visakhapatnam   

Features: Magazine | Literary Review | Life | Metro Plus | Open Page | Education Plus | Book Review | Business | SciTech | Entertainment | Young World | Property Plus | Quest | Folio |


The Hindu Group: Home | About Us | Copyright | Archives | Contacts | Subscription
Group Sites: The Hindu | Business Line | The Sportstar | Frontline | The Hindu eBooks | Home |

Comments to : thehindu@vsnl.com   Copyright 2004, The Hindu
Republication or redissemination of the contents of this screen are expressly prohibited without the written consent of The Hindu