As part of the Madras Week celebration, the South India Heritage Programme launched Randor Guy’s latest book Memories of Madras. R T Chari’s Ramu Endowments and the TAG group sponsored the book.
Chari assembled a cross-section of the cognoscenti of Chennai. A 52-minute film on Chennai titled The Story of Madras. The First City of Modern India was shown. The documentary is based on a lecture by historian S Muthiah.
Guy began his career as a lawyer working under another multi-faceted cultural czar V C Gopalratnam. Thus, he gained deep insights into the evolution of the Madras High Court and the legal luminaries of Mylapore. Guy observed the predilections and seamy sides of zamindars, film personalities and others in the upper strata of society from close quarters. He joined Efficient Publicities (EP) as an executive and sharpened his flair for writing.
Closely watching the personal lives and attitudes of film personalities, Guy wrote in engaging style salacious gossip. His column in IE Beds Below and Heavens Above received widespread acclaim.
Evolution of movies in Madras...
Memories of Madras is a 470-page record of the evolution of movies in Madras, covering six decades from 1897 to 1956 – from the era of silent movies to the efficient use of this mass medium by the DMK for building the party. One is struck by Guy’s phenomenal memory, yen for detail and ability to narrate thousands of incidents and episodes. There is a graphic description of the pioneers of the industry, the talkie era, the adventurous spirit of those who had access to technology and could take risks and the rise and fall of many in such attempts.
There is a detailed narration of the switch from theatre to cinema in the 1930s with music and mythology dominating the industry for the next two decades, the fervor of independence, followed by social themes and the deft use of the medium for political propaganda by the DMK. The author pays tributes to the outstanding contributions of Ellis R Dungan, the American cinematographer, who infused technology, systems and management techniques into cinema, S S Vasan, A V Meiyappan, Kothamangalam Subbu and others who made great contributions.
When top ranking musicians turned cine stars...
An entire part of the book is about movies and musicians. In the era when films had songs in dozens, the film industry attracted top musicians. Guy talks about the contributions and performances of legendary singers. This section provides insights into the quick entry and quicker exit of top ranking Carnatic musicians into and from the film industry.
Guy has profound insights into the practices of the legal profession. His description of the judiciary in Madras and the personality of V L Ethiraj make for interesting reading. The various qualities of head and heart this famous criminal lawyer and his munificence in dedicating his considerable property for setting up the Ethiraj College for Women should reinforce current day interest in the art of giving.
However, disappointingly, the chapters on the two great lawyers of Madras, S Duraiswamy Iyer, and T Muthuswamy Iyer are scrappy.
TAG Chari and his companies deserve credit for funding this book.
Such a comprehensive chronicle on films is not available and I’m sure there will be multiple prints of this edition. The task of the editor, T S Gopal, another informed citizen of Madras, has been arduous. He has done great work in wading through mounds of manuscripts and has selected and edited these to provide concise reading material. In planning the next edition, I suggest he looks closely at avoiding repetition of episodes and correcting the numerous spelling errors that have crept in.