Word Theater Day – March 27
‘Major Chandrakanth’, an immensely popular film which won actor Sunderrajan the title Major, was originally an English play by K Balachandar, which later was reworked to be made in Tamil. Though rights were acquired by AVM to film it, the play was first released as a movie only in Bollywood, as ‘Oonche Log’.
It’s World Theatre Day on March 27 and to Tamil Nadu, it is as much a celebration of cinema as it is of theatre. Cinema today may have evolved a lot, but we still owe a lot to the stage, whose forms our films still adopt, be it in the song and dance format or the utilization of many characters in one plot.
That the oldest and most legendary actors of Tamil cinema have had their roots in theatre, from MK Bhagavathar to Sivaji Ganesan and MGR, only shows how dependent we have been on theatre.
That many actors of today, like Pasupathy, Sayaji Shinde, Atul Kulkarni and Prakash Raj, have also branched from theatre only reinstates the medium’s importance. Other popular actors who learnt their basics of acting on stage include Manorama, Nagesh, Kamal Haasan, Sowcar Janaki, Poornam Viswanathan, Cho, Srikanth, Muthuraman and Kathadi Ramamurthy. Playwrights and directors like K Balachandar, Mouli, Visu, S Vee Shekher and Crazy Mohan also hail from the stage.
Sivaji’s ‘Manohara’ was a popular play by Pammal Sambandha Mudaliar, and interestingly, had Sivaji play the role of the queen and not the king that he did in the film. MGR’s ‘En Thangai’ originally had Sivaji play the lead role when it was a stage play by TS Natarajan.
An entire array of Tamil films, from Cho’s ‘Muhammad Bin Tuglaq’, to K Balachandar’s ‘Achchamillai Achchamillai’, ‘Navagraham’, ‘Iru Kodugal’ and ‘Server Sundaram’, have their roots in theatre. But it wasn’t just serious flicks that were adapted from plays. Rib ticklers like Visu’s ‘Manal Kayiru’ were also adapted from the stage.
But the story of films being inspired or adapted by theatre isn’t exactly confined to the past. Even recently, critics noted that certain scenes from Madhavan’s ‘Nala Damayanti’ were inspired by the Tamil play ‘Flight 172’. The film and the movie were by Mouli.
Theatre today may not be drawing the crowd that it used to earlier, but it still is, without doubt, the biggest influence on cinema today. On world Theatre Day, here’s hoping the earliest medium of entertainment flourishes and ‘stages’ a comeback.