Devi Talkies and Rangaraja Talkies were the only two cinemas that existed in Srirangam for a long time, at least I knew of them from my boyhood days. I have quite vivid memories of watching some classic yesteryear films with my parents in these two places during Summer breaks in school, when I visited my grandparents in Srirangam,.
On my last ‘nostalgic’ trip out there though, I went a little beyond my boyhood experience. Having heard the connection between T.A.Madhuram, one of the famous comedy duo, of course the other being N.S.Krishnan (NSK), and Sathara Veedhi(street), I went down that narrow but very popular street in Srirangam, looking for signs. After many tries, a man gave pointer to Rangaraja Talkies.
Devi Talkies, which I believe was once owned by the theatre doyen of those days, Nawab Rajamanickam Pillai, was non-operational and under litigation for long, and has recently been converted into a wedding Hall. An old-dust-covered-projector was still lying in the upper projector room when I paid a ‘final’ visit there. I recall in these ‘talkies’, there used to be 3 breaks during one screening because of projector-limitations and during those breaks, the tea/coffee/snack vendors would buzz in, setting a sudden commotion in the otherwise quiet hall a second ago, thus making it look like a disturbed bee-hive.
On to our mission, one afternoon I walked into Rangaraja Talkies, which looked not a block of brick changed since my boyhood visits (again under litigation). It was break during a matinee-show, a few were stretching their muscle while others crowded near a small tea-stall. There were two middle-aged ladies busy serving tea and I was told by a cinema-goer that they were the ones I was looking for. After the show resumed and the scene outside settled, I walked into the stall and was received with suspicious eyes. On making them comfortable, expressing my interest in yesteryear films and personalities, I was offered a seat and even a cup of tea. I learnt the two women were Maduram’s niece. Then our conversation lasted for almost an hour or so. Here’s a gist of that interaction as far as I could recall –
Madhuram bought this cinema for his brother some 70 years ago and she did support her siblings well – whatever the properties bought in Srirangam were named as “Krishna Bavanam” while the ones in Nagarkoil, the native town of N.S.Krishnan were named as “Madura Bavanam” – NSK’s first wife’s children are more into politics today, while Madhuram did not have any children, her sister’s children (NSK married Madhuram’s sister too) are well-educated and settled – NSK respected scholarly people as he would engage them in discussion and that helped gather material for his scenes, as observed by these ladies themselves – these ladies had lived in NSK-Maduram’s Venkatraman street house in T.Nagar and while NSK-Madhuram lived on the upper floor, Madhuram’s brother and all NSK’s children lived at the lower level – Drinking played a part in both their lives and their end – It was in Srirangam house NSK vomited blood before taken to hospital in Madras where he passed on while Maduram was taken care by NSK’s brother till her end – NSK’s Srirangam house was sold to offset the legal expenses of the murder case both he and MKT were involved in – MKT had easier time in terms of financing the court case as he was co-accused and since NSK’s party including Maduram spent lot of money in trying to free NSK
here’s clip of NSK and T.A.Madhuram –
Comedians in general, be it Hollywood or otherwise, make us laugh but seems they are not free from such tragic spells in their lives. Also, a tragedy of different sort, that the world could not laugh at the antics of such a talented pair of NSK-Madhuram because of language barrier. To me though, they will stay right at the top for ever!!
A short hop over the river Cauvery and into Trichy, the superstar of yesteryear, M.K.Thyagaraja Bhagavathar’s (MKT) bungalow still stands but bereft of that glory days and look. It has been sold by Bhagavathar family and now functions as a hotel. The front yard looks bare and taken over by growth. I could only stand there and let my imagination run – a perfectly manicured garden, his majestic white stallion that starred in the first scene of “Haridoss” leashed to a pillar, his car in the shelter of his portico and him standing in the balcony and waving to his numerous fans waiting out on the street for hours in the sun and the rains just to have a look at their star. The hotel manager told me that his fans from far away countries such as Malaysia still visit, not minding the price they had to pay even for a few hours stay there.
MKT clips –
My father recalled “Free MKT” poster pasted on the walls of Madras in the 1940s, when he was in prison in connection with the murder case. My uncle recalled a Carnatic music concert MKT gave at a wedding on Aandar Veedhi in Trichy and also seeing MKT’s funeral procession, when he was taken in a seated-posture as was the custom with his family sect.
In addition, G.Ramanathan, the great music composer of yesteryear films, belonged to BikshandarKoil, next door to Srirangam and more recently, the gifted lyricist Vaali too has Srirangam roots.