As you walk into the room, an air of nostalgia envelops you. Around the corner is a framed poster of Nadodi Mannan, the iconic MGR hit, flanked by a poster of Mehboob Khan’s Mother India. In the huge drawers adjacent it lie a treasure of posters, ranging from super hits of the past to lesser known films.
Cinema posters from the South, lobby cards, LP records, rare pictures of landmark films’ shooting in progress, clippings of interviews of yesteryear stars, magazines that have gone out of print today and much more memorabilia give you a glimpse into the tantalising world of cinema. Along with the material on Southern films, there are a number of Hindi and Hollywood posters that find a place in the centre, apart from rare books on cinema and scripts.
In the house-like centre that has three rooms, every space is a discovery of the celluloid history in the South; you stumble on rare fractions of the medium’s glorious journey that began a century ago.
The collection is the brain child of filmmaker, model and entrepreneur Sruti Harihara Subramanian, founder- trustee of The Cinema Resource Centre (TCRC).
The idea was born out of the realisation that with changing technology, audio-visual treasures of the past have been elbowed out, leaving nothing for the next generation to refer to.
Sruti began working on the idea when she saw a garbage can filled with film material, when a famous theatre was shutting down.
“Being a filmmaker I understand the value of these things. The Indian film industry is the largest in the world but we do nothing to preserve its history,” she says, adding that the emphasis is on Southern films. “When I meet people abroad and tell them that I am a filmmaker, they immediately ask me if I am from Bollywood. It is unfortunate that no one knows about the rich legacy of Southern films,” she adds.
Most of the records are from garbage bins and many scripts that she has sourced, from scrap paper dealers. “But now all the dealers call me whenever they come across film material and they have started charging me a higher price, as they understand how much I value them,” she says with a laugh.
Going through the amazing collection, one also gets a feel of the film environment in those days. A bundle of newspaper and magazine clippings throw light on brand endorsement by celebrities.
Another rare artefact is the records of MK Thyagaraja Bhagavathar’s works, the legendary K B Sundarambal-starrer Avvaiyyar and Malayalam film thespian, Prem Nazir. But among the familiar faces are relatively lesser known works like the Tamil film Anni, the poster of which is archived at the centre.
As you take a journey into the centre, you realise how much even a film buff wouldn’t know about the medium.
Sruti shares some of her observations about a few misconceptions. “Not many know that one of the iconic films of the 70s Aval Appadithaan, starring Sripriya, Rajinikanth and Kamal Hassan, was actually made by C Rudhraiyah. Many assume it was directed by K Balachander,” she says, as she shares an album of black and white photos of the film.
Among the other long-term goals of TCRC are converting the project into a bigger venue comprising a book and video library, a cinema museum, memorabilia store and a café.
The biggest challenge, Sruti and her team at TCRC reckon, is the restoration and digitisation of archival material. The centre has tied up with Orange Street, that enables NGOs to raise funds for their projects.
Sruti says, “It is definitely not easy to keep the material we have collected intact. It is a continuous process and needs constant effort.”
(Contact https://www.orangestreet.in/projects/tcrc for information on TCRC and donations towards the project)