CHENNAI: Just a few days before he breathed his last, the veteran film historian opened up to City Express. We present this first person account as a tribute to the great man...
WORK STARTS AT 8 AM
I started collecting details of films in 1954. To this day, I am continuing to collect information on films. This is my 63rd year. The information I collect is distributed to the entire film industry and also to the government. The Government data is based on the Censor. My data is based on the release date of a film. On the first of January (every year), it (my data) would reach the entire industry. If I start out at 8 in the morning, I would go around giving a copy of my work to all the industry people. I would have finished by around noon.
HOW IT BEGAN
I started collecting information on films because the Film Chamber of Commerce was bringing out a journal. It was called The Journal of the Film Industry then. My father was an accountant general in the AG’s office and I could drive a car when I was 12. So, after dropping my dad at office, I would have the car to myself. When the Chamber asked me if I could collect film details, I readily agreed.
Every month, I would have to gather data about the number of movies that were being shot, the locations, heroes and heroines of the films and also the names of directors. When I started out in 1954, I had data of films that had released during that year. But the first talkie Tamil film Kalidas was released in 1931. So I decided to collect details of the previous years’ films — between 1931 and 1953, and did so in just about a month.
At that point, one other important task that I did was making a note of all the films that had released every month. Then, shooting happened only in Madras. So, I would make a note of the movies and their release dates, title of the films, and their cast and crew. I continued doing this for a year after which, I handed over the data for 1954 to the Chamber. On January 5, the next year, I received a cheque for `120 with a note that said, ‘For your service’. I had been paid `10 for every month and so, for 12 months, I had got a salary of `120. I was overwhelmed as I considered it to be a huge sum.
While carrying out these tasks, I would get to meet all the producers. One day, a thought struck me. Why can’t I collect a still from each of these pictures as well? It was then that I started collecting stills of movies with cast and credits, filmography and song books.
HOW HE PUBLISHED A BOOK
By 2003, I had collected more than 6,000 stills of films. I wanted to publish a book but I didn’t have the money. I did not have a penny in my pocket. I approached several entities and people for help but with no luck. Jayalalithaa was then the Chief Minister of the state. I had known her from the time she was a child as her mother too was an artiste. I sent her a request note and expressed my wish to have a book published. The very next day, I got a call from the CM herself. She said, ‘I got your note. But I can’t understand your handwriting. What is it that you want me to do for you?’ I told her about my wish to have it published it as a book. She accepted immediately. Not just that, she also immediately sanctioned a sum of `5.5 lakh.
I was unaware about the rates of printing and had quoted `4 lakh for publishing the book. However, she, after making enquiries with the government press personnel, sanctioned a sum for the purpose. Had she given me the sum I had asked for, my book would not have seen the light of day. Even before it was published, I was called one day to the secretariat, where they gave me another cheque for `10.5 lakh. At that point, I thought they were paying me for both my collection and the book. I asked the secretary if that was the case. He said that this was for my work and for the collection of materials. The `5.5 lakh were for the book, he pointed out. I finished the book within six months. The copy was released by Jayalalithaa and received by AVM Saravanan. She also went to the extent of putting on record that the entire profits made from selling the books would go to me.
I want to have a permanent exhibition on cinema. The film chamber honoured me and while doing so, they also sanctioned a monthly pension for me. Most importantly, they promised to allot me one wing for a permanent exhibition on cinema when their building, which is under construction, is completed. I am preparing for it now. I want to chronicle the details of Tamil cinema in an orderly fashion. I have plans to present details of other language films too once I am done with Tamil cinema. In fact, I have begun collecting details of films again from 2008. If the film chamber requests my collections from the government, I am sure the government will oblige and there will be a permanent exhibition on cinema.