‘Muktha Srinivasan was a people’s person’
Eminent film personalities talk to Cinema Express about the Muktha Srinivasan they knew
Filmmaker-producer Muktha Srinivasan, who directed more than 50 films including Jayalalithaa-starrer Suryagandhi, Polladhavan, and Simla Special, breathed his last on Tuesday night. He was 88.
In his seven decade-long career, Srinivasan worked with veteran actors like Sivaji Ganesan, Gemini Ganesan, Nagesh, Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan.
His debut directorial venture, Mudhalaali, featuring SS Rajendran, fetched him the National Award for the Best Feature Film in 1958.
Srinivasan also produced the iconic film, Nayagan, directed by Mani Ratnam. In addition, he wrote numerous books and short stories about cinema, history and science, in both English and Tamil. He was the one to introduce lyricist Vaali to the film industry.
Two years ago, Srinivasan had announced he’d return to direction (after Brahmachari in 1992) with a film called Thoopul Vedanta Desika that traces the life of Vedanta Desika, a 13th century vaishnavite philosopher. Alas, it was not to be.
Eminent film personalities talk to Cinema Express about the Muktha Srinivasan they knew:
I knew him as Mudhalaali Srinivasan. Almost 75 of his 89 years, he gave to cinema. He was a revolutionary, an intellectual, and a fantastic writer. At the age of 18, he gave me permission to be critical of him. I sang my first song in his film. He was one of the few to believe in my acting capability. He was a man who always stood by his decisions.
I wrote the dialogues for his directorial, Katha Nayagan (1988). Srinivasan was a connoisseur of arts, who could discuss anything about cinema. He was first and foremost a people’s person. Katha Nayagan was a huge success because of the freedom he and his brother Muktha Ramaswamy extended to the unit. He used to treat even junior artistes with respect during those days. Last week, I visited him in the hospital, and he was sleeping. Ippo kooda, I think he’s still sleeping. I cannot come to terms with the fact that he’s dead.
Srinivasan used to tell me that he wanted to be alive till 100. It’s unfortunate that he has passed away. As a producer, he was thoroughly professional. He used to finish shooting by 6 pm no matter what. He decided to cast me in Rajinikanth’s Polladhavan after seeing my performance in a stage play, Thuppariyum Saambu. He had a great regard for stage artistes.
I still have fond memories of watching the shooting of Thaamari Kulam, which had my dad (MR Radha) in the lead. They shot a few scenes in Rangarajapuram. Later, I got to work in a couple of his films. There are a very few seasoned producers who treat you like family. He was one of the best producers that Tamil cinema had.
We worked on two brilliant projects — Chinna Chinna Aasaigal and Kodai Mazhai. In my career, the only director to wear khadi shirt, khadi veshti and simple slippers was Srinivasan sir. He proved that being a director isn’t about the looks, but about the work. He was a practical man and the reason why he has worked with stars such as Sivaji sir, Rajini sir and Kamal sir was because of his eye for perfection. He told me that while others act as themselves, I can mimic actors and so, called me a periya nadigan. I remember falling on his feet when he said that. Chinna Chinna Aasaigal was when I met my co-brother Ravikanth; so I can safely say that Srinivasan sir was a major reason for me getting married.
S Ve Shekher
My friendship with Srinivasan dates back to the 70s. He came from the traditional school of cinema, who always worked with proper call sheets, a tight budget and so on. He valued others' time so much, which you don't see in filmmakers today. Most of his films were huge hits. Odaadha padangal konjam irundhalum, he made sure they didn't suffer losses. And if you were committed to his banner, you didn't have to worry about your payments. He was one of the very few people that Jayalalithaa truly respected.
Srinivasan’s favourite actor was Sivaji Ganesan, and he directed 12 films of his. Also, he used to tutor MGR those days to get his Tamil diction right. He had a cordial friendship with Indira Gandhi, Kamaraj and other Congress leaders of that time. I played an important role in his son Sunder’s film, Pathayeram Kodi. During that time, I got to interact with Srinivasan a lot. He was a simple, self-made and down-to-earth person, who encouraged healthy humour.
I worked with him on Oru Malarin Payanam early in my career. I remember that his brother and he maintained the production house with discipline. To work in his production was like studying in an esteemed institution. Even if we got 10 minutes late to the shoot, we had to explain why and only then could we resume work. We realise its importance only now. My sister Kalaranjini acted in his direction too. His son Sundar did the serial Dr. Vidya on Doordarshan in 2000 and Srinivasan sir asked me to star in it as it’s a huge opportunity. Whenever any Sangam takes an important decision, they always consulted with Srinivasan sir as well.
Y Gee Mahendra
If I am respected today in the industry, it’s because of Paritchaikku Neramaachu. I had written and staged the play in 1978. Muktha Srinivasan liked it and wanted it to be a film; he eventually directed it himself. We convinced Sivaji Ganesan to act in it. Incidentally, I revived the play after many years on stage, and I reprised the role played by Sivaji. Srinivasan watched it and appreciated me. He was quite an honest person who called a spade a spade. We used to discuss music, stage plays and films.
Muktha Srinivasan did not have a single vice. Such a humble and honest person. Alongside Modern Theatre and Chinnappa Thevar, he was famous for always settling the salaries of every single person who worked on a film. No other production company ever gave us the amount we were promised. I worked with him on a film based on surrogacy and it was a great experience. “Kadaisi moochu varaikkum uzhacha manushan.”
I learned from him how to shoot a film. I understood honest filmmaking from him. We shot in film reel those days and the last ten feet would usually be unused, but he wouldn’t waste it and shoot images of a fan running or a floor shot. When asked, he said he would use it for another film in the future. I worked with him on two films - Katha Nayagan and Vaai Kozhuppu - and I learned discipline from him. He was punctual with his shooting schedules. He never said ‘avan ivan’; he addressed everyone respectfully as ‘vanga pa, ponga pa’. He would only have juice for lunch as he wouldn’t want to waste time away from work. There was a scene of me drowning in Katha Nayagan. I was holding my breath and couldn’t hear him calling off the shot. He got so worried about me that when I came up, he had fainted himself. That’s how he much he cared for his team. I kept a picture of him speaking with MGR sir in my wedding and I wanted to give it as a surprise to him, but I couldn’t.
A founder member of TFPC, he was a visionary and a passionate man. I wish I can continue his good legacy, and fulfil the promise he asked of me to keep the TFPC respectable and honourable till the end.