Thursday, April 29, 2010

Undoubtedly, Samikannu Vincent is the founding father of cinema in South India..!!!

By introducing tent cinema, Samikannu Vincent quietly ushered in a revolution.

At the dawn of the 20th century in Tiruchi, a land-locked historic town, a modest and young but ambitious Indian Christian was about to make film history. He was Samikannu Vincent (1883-1942). A draftsman-clerk (salary Rs.25 per mensem) in the South Indian Railway (SIR), he happened to see some silent film shorts screened by an itinerant French film exhibitor named Du Pont. Unused to the local food, water and heat this travelling film exhibitor fell sick and decided to return home. Vincent, who had befriended him, raised the required money with difficulty and bought the Frenchman's projectors, accessories, films and all.

Resigning his dreary desk job, he set up business in 1905 as a film exhibitor and went about screening his stock of shorts. One of the films was ‘Life of Jesus,' which proved to be extremely popular all over South India. Vincent usually screened his films in a tent, which was erected on a stretch of open land close to a town or village. The “tent cinema” concept became very popular.

During 1905 electric carbons were used for motion picture projectors, and during the same year Vincent established his first tent cinema at Madras called Edison's Grand Cinemamegaphone on Esplanade. This was a novelty for the citizens.

The electrically-lit tent and the new equipment attracted large crowds. The shows were a huge success. So he took his tent cinema to Burma, Malaya (now Malaysia and Singapore) and other places where he was met with equal success. Aware of the advantages of having a brick and mortar cinema house, he built one in his hometown, Coimbatore, in 1914 and called it Variety Hall.

This place still exists, though under a different name (‘Delite') and ownership.

Vincent imported films from abroad and also dealt in movie exhibition equipment. Later he turned producer and assisted in directing a few films. He was not very successful in production and so confined himself to exhibiting, distributing films and dealing in movie equipment. Later, when Central Studios was established in Coimbatore in 1937, he joined the board as one of the directors and involved himself in its activities for sometime. Like most pioneers, he is today aforgotten man. Not many remember his contribution to South Indian Cinema outside his native borough.

In 1933, Pioneer Film Company, Calcutta, and Samikannu Vincent co-produced ‘Valli,' the popular mythological tale of Muruga and his romance with a tribal chief's adopted daughter, Valli. Simultaneously another version was made in Bombay. The Calcutta-made film named ‘Valli Thirumanam' had T.P. Rajalakshmi playing the lead and the film was a huge hit. The Bombay-made one did poorly and few remember it today.

After the completion of the film, the prints were taken from the laboratory in Calcutta and were to be dispatched to Madras and other places for its release on January 1, 1933. At that time, it was found that one reel of the negative was missing! As it was impossible to change the release date, the prints were sent to Madras without that reel being printed.

Mega hit

‘Valli Thirumanam' became a mega box office success and the first money spinner of Tamil Cinema. It had three shows, rather unusual for that time and more interestingly, a noon show was also screened at the New Elphinstone cinema on Mount Road.

While the movie was raking in money, the missing negative reel was found in Calcutta. Prints of that reel were hurriedly made and sent to Madras to be added to the prints already in circulation. In a brilliant move, the distributors (Vincent) came out with an innovative poster announcing that the missing reel had been found and that the film would now be screened with the added reel. This created a sensation and practically every moviegoer, who had seen it earlier flocked to the film again.

After the roaring success of ‘Valli Thirumanam,' Samikannu Vincent was eager to produce another movie with the active association of the Pioneer Studios in Calcutta. And they did ‘Harishchandra' (1935). This familiar tale of the truthful king of Ayodhya had been made many times (even a silent one) and in several languages.

The first talking picture version in Tamil of this stirring story was produced in 1932 under the title ‘Sampoorna Harishchandra' in Bombay by Sagar Film Company. One of the early noted filmmakers of Tamil Cinema, Raja Chandrasekhar directed it. Samikannu Vincent's version was produced in Calcutta with famed stage and screen star of the day, V.A. Chellappa, and T. P. Rajalakshmi in the lead roles. It was directed by noted filmmaker Profulla Ghosh, who had made quite a few Tamil films in Calcutta during that period. (It was Vincent who chose ‘Baby' Rukmini to play Lohidasa. Rukmini is none other than the mother of the versatile actor Lakshmi.)

The next film, Samikannu Vincent produced in association with Pioneer Studios was ‘Subhadra Parinayam' (1935) under the banner ‘Variety Hall Talkies.'

Sambur Vadagarai Subbaiah Bhagavathar was the first trained Carnatic musician to enter Tamil Cinema. In 1937, when that historic Central Studios was founded in Coimbatore, Samikannu Vincent joined the company as one of the directors. Besides production, he was interested in theatre management and equipment distribution. He was also involved in charitable work.

Realising the need for a printing press to produce quality handbills and other materials, he promoted the printing press (around 1916) that was located in a house near his theatre. He expanded the activities of the press by installingadditional machinery, types and printing accessories in another building. Called Electric Printing Works, he used the cinema house's electric power plant to run the printing press too and created history of sorts.

By 1919, he established the first power-driven Rice and Flour Mill in the heart of thetown. He managed all this by working as long as nine hours a day, until his sons took over. In 1922, the then Government of Madras gave him permission to supply electric power to the famous Stanes European High School. With the encouragement of Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Aiyer, member of the Governor's Executive Council in charge of the Electricity portfolio, he was given enough support by the government. His application was approved and the licence to set up a power house was granted. The streets of Coimbatore and the residential buildings in the heart of the city had electric lights.

In 1927 when Edison's Theater came up for sale,Vincent bought it. He screened English movies at Variety Hall and Tamil films at Edison's Theater. In 1927, movies began to talk in America with ‘The Jazz Singer.' Sound came to India later. Vincent kept up with the progress, improvement and inventions that took place in the international motion picture industry and ordered for sound projection machines for Variety Hall and Edison's Theater. Coimbatore beat Madras (the then capital of Madras Presidency) by becoming the first city in South India to have a talkie equipment (an achievement).

In 1936, Vincent got a third theatre, Palace, just to screen Hindi movies. By 1939, after Central Studios went full steam into production, Samikannu Vincent retired. Son, Paul Vincent, and others took over the businesses. Smaikannu Vincent passed away in April 1942.

It is regretful that there is no fitting memorial for him in Coimbatore. Undoubtedly, Samikannu Vincent is the founding father of cinema in South India, but film historians and other cultural chroniclers have not given him his due.

Comments to : Copyright © 2009, The Hindu

Friday, February 26, 2010

An unconventional artwork of diaspora heritage, Imag(in)ing ‘Home’ ..!!!

2010/2/27 Bas Baskaran
- Show quoted text -

எங்கள் உயர்வு உங்கள் கையில்!
வரும் காலம் வரலாறு படைக்க
விரைந்து செயற்படுவீர்!
உலக அரங்கில் உன்னத நிலைகாண
உறங்காது உழையுங்கள்!

Eezham artist presents heritage as everybody’s property

An unconventional artwork of diaspora heritage, Imag(in)ing ‘Home’ presented by Thamotharampillai Shanaathanan, Lecturer in Art History of the Fine Arts Department of the University of Jaffna, with the participation of Eezham Tamil community in Vancouver, Canada, is now in display in an Art Exhibition of the Museum of Anthropology, University of British Columbia, Canada. What Shanaathanan did last September was asking the members of the diaspora in Vancouver to bring anything that reminds them of the heritage of ‘home.’ 300 objects thus collected, prompting historical as well as structural analysis, were put into plastic bottles and like a collage giving collective meaning they make an innovative display now in the exhibition titled Border Zones: New Art Across Cultures, opened last Saturday.

Visitors to the exhibition in Vancouver

T. Shanaathanan, lecturer in art history, University of Jaffna

Preparation of the display by members of the Tamil diaspora community in Vancouver

A section of the exhibits

Another section of the exhibits

Preparation of the display

Preparation of the display
When colonial Tamil culture first saw a museum established in Chennai, it was known in Tamil language as Cheththa-kaaleaj, college of dead objects, as opposed to Uyirk-kaaleaj, college of life beings, the zoo.

The idea thus imbibed into Tamil mind and still continues is that a museum keeps only obsolete artefacts, rare and precious.

But, Shanaathanan has shown that a museum display is as much connected to memories and inner self of the living, and anything could be an object of heritage provided it is presented in the relevant context of the living.

He has also revolutionised the conventional idea of the Tamil mind that a museum piece of heritage is always of commercial value and is collected or presented only by experts of the trade dealing with bygone times.

In his presentation, heritage objects are liberated from the clutches of the commercial world of antiquarianism and they are properties of everybody. What is a piece of heritage and what is its value have become abstract. The community participation has liberated art and heritage as everybody’s property, providing space for new historical and structural analyses.

Saddened by Colombo’s antiquarian trade of traditional artefacts stolen from Tamil areas by the occupying forces, there are views that the diaspora should organize funds to purchase them. This is waste of money and will only promote further plunder.

As has been demonstrated by Shanaathanan, meaningful study of heritage, its preservation and presentation are far different from patrons of antiquarian trade flaunting wealth in their hobby.

Shanaathanan’s innovative ideas stem from the call of his times.

Forced diaspora, global and mass-scaled, is hitherto unseen phenomenon for Tamils. It was never experienced in the entire realm of the history of Tamil civilization.

The historic task of Tamil artists is not merely presenting the heritage of home of the homeless, but initiating a new heritage of looking at heritage.

Hope the inspiration picks up in the Tamil diaspora for permanent museums of heritage around the world.

Born in Thaavadi, Jaffna 36-year-old Shanaathanan is currently engaged in research for Ph.D at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. Six years ago, he organized an art exhibition in Jaffna, bringing together Tamil and Sinhala artists for the first time in 50 years attempting to deal with the trauma of war.

The current art exhibition in Vancouver features the presentations of twelve internationally acclaimed artists from Iran, Canada, Australia, France, Malaysia and Eezham.

Note a Sri Lankan birth-certificate being an object of heritage for the diaspora

Preparation of the display

A son remembers the heritage of his father and through that the 'home'

An iron-handled curved knife called 'Kaampuch-chaththakam' used in peeling palmyrah leaf to make baskets, mats etc.

Barbed-wire is a heritage object reminding 'home'

A Tamil primary school text book, published in Chunnakam, Jaffna, reminds someone of 'home'

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

VK acted in over 300 films & with his winsome smile & compelling good looks was the undisputed romantic hero & heartthrob of the local silver screen.!

Vijaya Kumaratunga’s 22nd death anniversary today:

Vijaya, the romantic icon

Today marks the 22nd Death Anniversary of actor-politician Vijaya Kumaratunga who etched his name in the Sinhala cinema and the hearts of millions of film-goers in the country for ever.

Several programs have been arranged to commemorate the event by the Vijaya Kumaratunga Foundation and his loyal fans throughout the country.

The void left by his demise is still felt in the local cinema which today is bereft of such charm and screen presence.

Vijaya burst into the celluloid world in the ‘mountain moving’ film Hantane Kathawa and took the local cinema by storm.

Since then he acted in over 300 films and with his winsome smile and compelling good looks was the undisputed romantic hero and heartthrob of the local silver screen.

He blew a breath of fresh air into the lacklustre scene and emerged as the knight in shining armour to conquer the local film world.

Born on October 9,1945 in the coastal hamlet of Seeduwa, Vijaya was marked out as a budding artiste even while a student at Benedict’s College, Kotahena where he acted in school plays and was a livewire in the school’s drama society.

Incidentally the College was known to have produced many an artiste and cinematic personalities with names such as Premnath Moraes, Robin Fernando and Ravindra Randeniya standing out. Vijaya was also a member of the College debating team which stood him in good stead in his subsequent foray into the world of politics.

His unchallenged popularity of his era helped him in no small measure to ascend the political stage where he made a big impact with his lyrical oratory and captivating presence.

His first venture into national politics came when he contested the Katana constituency albeit unsuccessfully. Subsequently at the 1982 Presidential election he was the chief lieutenant of SLFP candidate Hector Kobbekaduwa whose campaign he single handedly steered amidst attempts from within to undermine his chances.

He later founded the Sri Lanka Mahajana Party with wife Chandrika which brought under one umbrella all the left and progressive forces. He was gunned down at his Polhengoda home on February 16, 1988 silencing the voice of one of the most phenomenal stars off the local silver screen and political stage.

- Rodney


Sunday, January 3, 2010

Canadian Tamil:SURESH JOACHIM's film on Sri Lanka Tamils enters Guinness Book...!!!

Indian Tamil film on Sri Lanka enters Guinness Book

New Delhi: A two-hour Tamil film made in less than 12 days has entered the Guinness Book of World Records.

The film, Shivappu Mazhai, based on Tamils in Sri Lanka, had over 600 technicians working round the clock to complete the film by June 3, 2009.

Suresh Joachim and Meera Jasmine star in the lead roles of the film.

"Prior to this, a British production company held the record, which was when they shot a film in 13 days in 1990. This took 12 days only. This is a big achievement," said Shivappu Mazhai director V Krishnamoorthy.

The film is due to release on January 14, 2010. However, there has been some problem on receiving the necessary certificates after its completion. (Ibnlive)