Comedy is one genre that is considered to be safe in Tamil cinema. But there is a higher chance of failure too. There is always a start to everything, and if I am not wrong, I think Sabapathy was the first full-length comedy movie in Tamil cinema. It was not surprising that it came from the stable of AVM Productions.
Sabapathy is a comedy character developed by Pammal Sambanda Mudaliar based on Handy Andycomic character created by Samuel Lover in English literature. Sabapathy is an innocent, stupid servant of a not so intelligent boss of the same name. AT Krishnaswamy was a writer-producer who worked in a drama troupe and he gave an idea to AV Meyyappa Chettiar to create a movie around this character. AVM had already given two consecutive flops and was brooding about whether to make a movie. He wanted to give a try at comedy, and they both started working on the script.
The story is simple and ran around the boss-servant characters. The Boss is a young man (Sabapathy played by TR Ramachandran)who have failed in the pre-university exams, and his father is worried about his future. So he decides to get his son married, and after the wedding, the husband and wife are kept separated until Sabapathy passes in the exam. The movie continues with comic extravagances of the young man’s servant (Sabapathy again, played by Kali N Ratnam). They use the name similarity to play the bride’s family and everyone else. Finally, Sabapathy clears his exam with the help of his wife.
AVM roped in TR Ramachandran, who was in a high salary bracket of Rs.35 with Pragati Pictures (the studios that AV Meyappan started before AVM Studios) that time. Kali N.Ratnam did the role of servant Sabapathy. Padma and Rajakantham made the lady love, respectively. Sarangapani, one of the most sought-after comedians of those times, did a vital role of a Tamil Teacher, ragged continuously by his students.
Why is Sabapathy is special?
- Sabapathy is probably the first full-length comedy in Tamil cinema. The movies at those times were mostly reproduction of mythological stories, historical fiction or pro-independence films with a social outlook.
- The movie showed how pure comedy could be more entertaining and unforgettable. The pithiest part is that these movie scenes have been repeated enormously in many other films in different forms and ways. The ragging of the Tamil teacher and the boss-servant swap sequences while seeing the bride have often been repeated in many movies. It shows the versatility of the comedy scenes.
- The duo of TR Ramachandran and Kali N Ratnam. The acting, chemistry and camaraderie between the two were the reasons for the success of the movie.
Why is it on the list?
- The movie introduced the genre of comedy to Tamil cinema and eventually paved the way for more comedy movies.
- Sabapathy also revived the career of AVM and they made En Manaivi (1942), Harischandra (1944) and Sri Valli (1945) that were runaway hits . Although AVM would have been successful, Sabapathy became a landmark movie in their history and changed their fortunes. Needless to say, AVM Productions has a significant position in the history of Tamil cinema.
- The entire movie was made with a budget of Rs.40,000. It was a resounding success and made AVM get into regular movie making and eventually movie mogul .
- AV Meiyappa Chettiar was born on July 28, 1907, in Karaikudi. Meiyappa Chettiar’s father Avichi Chettiar ran a store called AV and Sons in Karaikudi. In 1928, AV and Sons got the rights to sell Kittapa and KB Sundarambal’s LP records in Southern districts of Tamil Nadu. Later they started making LP records through a partnership with Odeon. AVM’s first movie was Alli Arjuna, made in Kolkata (then Calcutta), it failed. The next two films, Rathnavali (1936) and Nandhakumar (1937, TR Mahalingam’s debut) failed too. AVM didn’t give up and started his studio, Pragathi Pictures and produced Bookailash, a Telugu movie, that became a hit. But Sabapathy was the first significant hit that changed the fortune of AV Meiyappa Chettiar .
- TR Ramachandran was a superstar, and MGR was initially calling himself MG Ramachandar to avoid confusion. Thirukampuliyur Rangarao Ramachandran was born in Tiruchi district and was a truant in school. He dropped out of school in Fifth standard, and although he was good at singing, he wasn’t keen on learning. His father, who was a contractor, couldn’t gauge his son and asked him what he wanted to do. He said he wanted to be on stage. His father admitted him to Boys Company — Madurai Bala Mohana Ranjitha Sabha and he started doing female roles when he was 14 years old. During a trip to Kolar, the Sabha’s owner left them in the lurch. While his colleagues like MR Radha and SV Venkatraman went for greener pastures, TR Ramachandran along with some other boys had to perform on the streets for food and money. TR Ramachandran later joined SV Venkatraman’s drama troupe. His first break in the movie was Nandakumar, in which he acted as a comedian but Sabapathy was his big break. TR Ramachandran ruled the next decade with some memorable films like Dewan Bahadur (1943), Devakanya (1943), Sri Valli (1943), Samsara Nowka (1948), Vidyapathi (1946), We Two (‘Naam Iruvar’, 1947), Lavangi (1946), Vaazhkai (1949), Maapillai (1952), Kalyanam Panniyum Brahmachari (1954). And his last role as a lead actor was in Adutha Veetu Penn (1960). Post-1950s, he primarily acted as a comedian with some excellent roles in Kalvanin Kadhali (1955), Yaar Paiyan (1957), Padikkatha Medhai (1960) and Anbe Vaa (1966). He was fondly referred to as Eddie Cantor of India .
- AVM’s name made it to the title card as a director along with AT Krishnaswamy for the first time.
- AT Krishnaswamy joined as an unit assistant in AVM’s studios. As he was part of the team that worked on Sabapathy, AVM made him as a co-director. AT Krishnaswamy was known for his dialogue writing and lyrics. He wrote lyrics for famous songs like Yuga Dharmamuraiye (the first song of TR Mahalingam in Nandhakumar) and Deena Dayabarane (the first playback song in Tamil because it was sung by Lalitha Venkatraman for S Saraswathy). He directed movies like Mani Maalai (1941), Naveena Markendeya (1941), Sri Valli (1943, co-direction with AVM), Vidyapathi (1946), Devamanohari (1949), Arivaali (1963) and Manam Oru Kurangu (1967). But he was more popular as a dialogue writer in movies like Thooku Thooki (1954), Menaka (1955) and Sadaram (1956). His last movie was Arut Perum Jothi (1971) that traced the life of Vallalar .
- TR Padma, the lead actress in the movie, was a Lux Soap Model. According to Randor Guy, she was a popular actress in the 1940s but never made it to the top. She is credited in movies like Vaayadi (1940), Prabhavathi (1942), Aayiram Thalaivaangi Apoorva Chintamani (1947), Geeta Gandhi (1949), Devamanohari (1951) and En Manaivi (1942). She married Director and Audiographer VS Raghavan (not to be confused with the famous actor). VS Raghavan was the first audiographer to introduce playback singing in Tamil cinema in Nandakumar, and he directed movies likes Kalvanin Kadhali (1955), Sarangadhara (1958) and Manimegalai (1959) .
6. Kali N Ratnam, born as N Ratnam in Kumbakonam in 1897. He studied until 5th standard and joined the Madurai Original Boys Company run by Satchithanandam Pillai and Jagannatha Iyer. He started acting in female roles when he was 12 years old and continued doing different parts in the same troupe for 27 years. Parameswaran Iyer is the one who used to play the role of Kali in the Kannagi drama. Kali apprenticed with him for the part and played it to perfection. Looking at his performance, Parameswaran Iyer bestowed him with the sobriquet “Kali”. He made his debut in movies with Pathi Bakthi (1936) produced by his Madurai Original Boys Company. He played a double role in this movie, and his comedy partner was PR Mangalam. A short film titled “Mannarsami” accompanied the main picture (Yup, like Pixar does these days) in which Ratnam and Mangalam were the leads. But Ratnam got popular with Chandrakanta (1936).
7. When the Boys company travelled to Coimbatore, they stayed in a house where a young girl wanted to act in plays. SR Janaki (owner of Ganapathy Gana Sabha), the lead actress in the troupe took her as an apprentice. This young girl was CT Rajakantham, and she played a minor role in which Ratnam was the lead comedian. They later become comedy partner, fell in love and acted together in movies like Uthama Puthiran (1940), Sathi Murali (1940), Sabapathy (1941), Manonmani (1942), Burma Rani (1945), Sri Murugan (1946), Valmiki (1946) and they were close friends with NS Krishnan — TA Madhuram. In fact, the four stalwarts acted together in some movies. Kali N Ratnam was a trained martial arts artist and could play traditional instruments like Thaarai, Thappattai, Thavil, Mirudangam and Nagaswaram. He passed away in 1950 .
8. CT Rajakantham was married before to Appukutty, an employee in Lakshmi Mills, Coimbatore when she was in school. Her husband deserted her when she was three months pregnant. It was SR Janaki who took Rajakantham in her care and groomed her. Rajakantham recalls her relationship with Kali N Ratnam as turbulent as they separated when they were acting in Bhojan (1948). Rajakantham, garnered a salary of Rs.10,000 when she was famous. She helped MGR and Chakrapani during their struggling days, and CT Rajakantham presented the first watch that MGR wore. Rajakantham continued to act in movies after Kali N Ratnam’s demise. She did some exciting roles in Maya Bazaar (1957), Baga Pirivinai (1959), Pazhum Pazhamum (1961) and Nallavan Vazhvan. Her pinnacle role that scared the 80s/90s born kids would be the old Pechi in Vidathu Karuppu that ran in Sun TV. She played the Cheroot smoking old money lender role with aplomb. Her daughter was married to Tiruchi Loganathan (the famous singer/musician), and they gave birth to TL Maharajan, Deepan Chakravarthy and TL Thiyagarajan. CT Rajakantham passed away in 2002 .
Additional fun trivia: SR Janaki, the mentor of CT Rajakantham also acted in Tamil movies including Nalla Thambi (1949), Sarvathikari (1951), En Thangai (1952), Ratha Kaneer (1956), Maman Magal (1950) and Nadu Iravil (1970). In fact, she and Rajakantham acted together in Bhaga Privinai (1959) and Madras to Pondicherry (1966). But you would remember SR Janaki in a scary role; she is the one who informs Ravichandran about the women in Oomai Vizhigal.
- The Hindu — Blast from the Past by Randor Guy
- Pic Source: Wikipedia
- Tamil Cinema Varalaru — Part 1 — Dinathanthi Publications
- Pride of Tamil Cinema Part (1931–2013) — Part 1 — by Dhananjayan
- Man with the saucer eyes — Randor Guy — The Hindu
- ஏவி.எம்மிலிருந்து அருட்பெரும்ஜோதி வரை சென்ற ஏ.டி.கே! — Vamanan — Dinamalar
- Played many parts — Randor Guy — The Hindu
- Sayee and Subbulakshmi’s Film Industry Relatives — Cinema Nritya Gharana
- Kali N Ratnam — Andru Kanda Mugam
- Ratnam brand of comedy — Randor Guy — The Hindu
- எம்.ஜி.ஆர் என்னை ‘ ஆண்டவரே’’ன்னு கூப்பிடுவார்’’ — சி.டி.ராஜகாந்தம் — Thaii.
- Remembering the yesteryear comedienne from Kovai — The Indian Express