Poverty forced MGR to join a theatre group when he was seven years old, when he joined the Madurai Original Boys.
Tamil cinema will be eternally faithful to the quirks of fate which helped identify the actor in MGR at such a young age. It was from theatre, where he learnt acting, dancing and the swordplay that he was inimitable in, that he got to graduate into films and debuted with 'Sathi Leelavathi' in 1935. The rest, as they say, is history: both MGR’s and the entire Tamil cinema's.
This ex-school teacher from Muthupet got into serious theatre as a playwright. He made waves with 'Navagraham' and 'Edhir Neechal', which were later made into films. MGR made him pen dialogues for Deiva Thai, and direct his first film. His popular films as director include 'Avargal', 'Nizhal Niajamaagiradhu', 'Arangetram', 'Solla Than Ninaikkiren', 'Apoorva Ragangal', 'Ek Duje Ke Liye', 'Punnagai Mannan' and more recently 'Kalki'. Many of his troupe members also came to the big screen with him.
Manorama owes her roots to theatre. Originally Gopishantha, she was a singer in a traditional folk theatre group. And it was her harmonium player who suggested sje change her name to Manorama!
Her talent, which blossomed even as she was on stage, led actor SS Rajendran to make her come to Chennai and be part of Kalaignar’s drama, Manimakudam in 1958.
Manorama has been part of many popular movies, and has the distinction of acting in over 1,200 films.
It was K Balachandar who spotted his talent while the cheerful youngster was acitng in plays even as he was employed with the Indian railways. His roles were not always big, but Nagesh made sure he was noticed and would soon get to be an indispensable part of films of the leading doyens of his time: MGR and Sivaji Ganesan.
Nagesh’s most popular movies include 'Server Sundaram', 'Thiruvilayaadal', 'Pattanathil Bootham', 'Major Chandrakanth' and so on.
Tamil cinema's most celebrated actor got the title Sivaji, due to his performance as Sivaji Maharaj in a stage play Sivaji Kandha Indhu Rajyam.
As a member of the Madurai Mangala Baala Gana Sabha, Sivaji enacted many noteworthy roles. In 1953, that he was launched into filmdom through 'Parasakthi'.
'Manohara', 'Navarathiri', 'Parthal Pasi Theerum', 'Thillana Mohanambal', 'Veerapandiya Kattabomman', 'Paavam Mannippu' and 'Paasa Malar' are a few of the acting legend's most popular films.
Whoever imagined that an employee of Madras Telephones, with nominal interest in theatre, would be one of the more famous theatre artistes of the state? Sunderrajan, a part of the Triplicane Fine Arts club with meagre roles, came under K Balachandar’s watchful eyes, and soon became part of K Balachandar’s amateur theatre group, Rahini Creations. One of his important roles in KB’s plays, Server Sundaram, won him an entry into films in AVM’s Server Sundaram.
His famous films include Major Chandrakanth (in which he got his title Major), 'Uyarndha Manidhan', 'Gnaana Oli', Then 'Mazhai' and 'Vennira Adai'.
Part of legendary thespian TK Shanmugam's group, Kamal Haasan toured widely to perform on stage and hone his acting skills.
Kamal Haasan's early National Award winning performance in 'Kalathur Kannamma', But his urge to formally learn acting is reflective of his quest for perfection. Kamal's interest was also perhaps his reason to essay the role of a theatre artiste in Simla Special and name his comedy flick 'Avvai Shanmugi', after TK Shanmugam, his theatre guru.
Visu and Mouli:
Lore has it that these two men, who've proved their mettle in the film industry, make films which are largely symbolic of the way plays are made. Visu, an exponent in middle class issues, and Mouli, who has several noteworthy comedies to his credit, both hail from theatre groups.
Visu had charmed popular directors K Balachandar and SP Muthuraman, who were later instrumental for him to blossom as a script and dialogue writer for films. Direction was a later addition, and many of his plays were made into movies. Pattina pravesam, kudumbam Oru Kadambam and Manal Kayiri (Modi Mastaan on stage) are a few such plays made into films.
The most acclaimed character artiste of South India today, who has wowed people with both brash, crass roles and sensitive, soft ones, actually has his roots in Kannada theatre. Active in stage activities from the time he was in college, Prakash Raj honed his acting and dialogue delivery skills by formally being part of a theatre group in Karnataka. It was later that he plunged into films, and was spotted by K Balachandar who was on the lookout for new talent to play the baddie in Duet. Some of Prakash Raj's most noteworthy performances have come from 'Kalki', 'Appu', 'Ghilli', 'Mozhi' and 'Abhiyum Naanum', more recently.
A theatre artiste turned film actor can be spotted a mile away. With actor Pasupathy, it's not that hard. Part of the serious mainstream theatre group in Tamil Nadu, Koothu-p-patarai, Pasupathy's outstanding film performances stem from his years of toil facing the arc lights. This jockey on All India Radio was also on shows in Doordarshan until he did a noticeable portion in the DD serial 'Vizhudhugal'.
Some of Pasupathy's most famous performances come as Kothaalan in 'Virumandi', Aathi in 'Majaa', Nedumaran in 'Raman Theydiya Seethai', Murugesan in 'Veyyil' and Balakrishnan in 'Kuselan'.