This week was M.S. Subbulakshmi’s 104th delivery anniversary. Remembering her profession in movies and the function that she refused
In 1969, veteran singer, stage and movie character Ok.B. Sundarambal (KBS) acquired the Tamil Nadu State Movie Award for finest singer for her function within the film Thunaivan. Shortly thereafter got here the announcement of the federal government conferring on her the Padma Shri. On this context, the Tamil journal Bommai revealed an interview together with her in January 1970, wherein KBS speaks of her life as a theatre artiste, her relationship with S.G. Kittappa, and her movie profession.
The interviewer highlights the truth that KBS picked her roles in motion pictures very fastidiously and that this led to lengthy gaps in her appearing profession. There was specifically a hiatus of 13 years between the discharge of Manimekalai (1940) and Gemini’s Avvaiyyar (1953). The questioner asks KBS if there have been really no provides in between. There was one she says, from a Subbiah Chettiar. He was eager on making Valli Tirumanam, with KBS to be forged as Murugan. It was, nevertheless, the selection for Valli that made me sit up – M.S. Subbulakshmi! KBS then goes on to state that she and the producer couldn’t agree on the remuneration and so the manufacturing was shelved.
Studying the interview led to a number of ideas. What’s fascinating is that no biographer of M.S. ever mentions this. We do know of the 4 productions that spanned her movie profession – Seva Sadanam (1938), Sakuntalai (1940), Savitri (1941) and Meera (1945). A Hindi model of the final named launched in 1947. There are tales of a proposal that M.S. refused, which was for a movie titled Vipranarayana, to be made by Ok. Subrahmanyam, who had first given her prominence on the Mahamakham competition in Kumbakonam in 1932/33 and likewise directed Seva Sadanam. Chronologically it will seem that Valli Tirumanam, if it had been made, would have been after KBS’ Manimekalai and positively earlier than M.S.’ Meera, after which she refused all movie provides.
Valli Tirumanam is the story of the courting of Valli by Lord Murugan and their subsequent marriage ceremony. It was one of the vital widespread topics of Tamil theatre. It was additionally first made into a movie in 1933. In his detailed biography of KBS, Pa. Chozhanadan (Kodumudi Kokilam Ok.B. Sundarambal Varalaru, Rishabham Pathippagam, Chennai, 2002) recounts how the play made KBS a star and led to an invite to carry out at Colombo for a interval of one-and-a-half years. She was simply 16. However such was her influence that no actor employed to play the lead reverse her may please the viewers. Most have been chased out by hecklers. This was when the organisers determined to usher in Kittappa from India. He was already a sensation and the prospect of seeing the 2 collectively on stage created waves in Colombo.
On condition that this was an period when actors have been anticipated to make their stage entrance singing certainly one of their widespread hits, regardless of whether or not it had something to do with the play, Kittappa made his entry as Murugan in Colombo singing Tyagaraja’s ‘Mokshamu Galada’. KBS held her personal and the play was an important success. When on the finish of his contract Kittappa returned to India, his brother prompt to Sundarambal’s supervisor that the success of the 2 as a pair be inspired. And they also continued to behave collectively in India.
Ok.B. Sundarambal within the Tamil movie Avvaiyar
KBS as Nandanar
Taking part in the function of a male was not one thing uncommon for KBS. She speaks of how, if engaged to carry out in the identical city over a protracted stretch, she and Kittappa would trade roles. If she performed Valli and he Murugan within the first staging, she could be Murugan and he Valli within the subsequent. And so, the identical audiences would return to see how totally different the play was. There could be arguments over who was higher in every function. In 1935, a number of years after Kittappa’s demise, KBS made her movie debut taking part in a male function – as Nandanar.
How would M.S. have fared as Valli? In fact, her music would have seen her via. In all probability, given her early years in Madurai, which was the heartland of Tamil theatre, she would have been conversant in the play as effectively. Actually, the singer’s theatre connections benefit some analysis. The diaries of the songwriter Madhurakavi Bhaskaradas (Madhurakavi Bhaskaradasin Natkurippugal, 1917-1951, compiled by Cha Murgabhoopathi, Bharathi Puthagalayam, Chennai 2009) reveal numerous interplay between him, MS, and her mom Madurai Shanmukhavadivu. He was the mainstay for songs in Tamil theatre and related to some movies as effectively. He writes that he composed songs for M.S. at her mom’s request when she was in Madurai and after she moved to Madras as effectively.
Right this moment, we will solely speculate on what a deal with a movie starring KBS and MS would have been.
The author is a historian and music critic.