Director K.Subrahmanyam was one of the founders and pioneers of the nascent Thamizh film industry, having played a minor part in the ‘Silent Film’ era, itself. His film legacy is best defined by his iconic ‘informal’ social reformist trilogy Balayogini(1937), Sevasadanam(1938) and Thyagabhoomi(1939). Equally, he is also well recognized for introducing M.K.Thyagaraja Bhagavathar in his maiden Talkie film Pavalakkodi(1934) and was the maker of Kacchaa Devayani(1941), the first film of actress T.R.Rajakumari – to be released.
Of over 20+ films made by Director K.Subrahmanyam in various languages including Tamil, Kannada, Sinhala and Telugu, only 5 of his films are known to have survived. ( PREM SAGAR – The first Hindi film to have been made in South India has been incorrectly credited to K.Subrahmanyam, across various publications. The film produced by Mahalakshmi Studios and made in the ‘Motion Picture Producers Combine’ Studios was directed by Pandit Narottam Vyas. The film was distributed by K.Subrahmanyam’s flagship company – ‘Madras United Artists Corporation’. These rights were transferred to ‘Kannan Talkie Distributors’ in Nov 1943.)
Pandithevan(1959) – Film Advertisement – Indian Express
The five known surviving films made by K.Subrahmanyam are Pavalakkodi(1934), Thyagabhoomi(1939), Geetha Gandhi(1949), Kapati Arakshakaya(1948-Sinhalese)* and PandiThevan(1959). Sadly, although the copyright of the first four of these films have long expired, they continue to elude the hands of the general public and cinephiles. While Thyagabhoomi is believed to be available in private hands, a very poor print quality of the film can be seen in the website ‘indiancine.ma’ – a website aiming to build an online infrastructure for out-of-copyright films, and foster, online-film research.
A two volume bound script of Pandithevan is available in the N.F.A.I
The first three films have been preserved in the N.F.A.I in film format and can only be physically accessed in the N.F.A.I premises in Pune, at a huge cost of Rs.2500+ approx to view the film, just once. If other costs like travel, accomodation and food are included into question, then it makes absolute no sense, when a film can be seen in a DVD for Rs.50 or watched online today, at even lesser costs. Not just K.Subrahmanyam’s films, but the N.F.A.I has other ‘sole surviving’ out-of-copyright prints such as Sati Sulochana(1934), Malli Pelli(1939) and Naveena Vikramathidan(1940), as well. It is our duty therefore to fight to bring out such prints to the public domain, and make the legacy of these films and filmmakers, reachable to the general public.
After all, what good is it, if someone asks Google about the oldest surviving Thamizh film today, and yet cannot see it?
Snapshot of Pandithevan(1959) – He Swam against the Colonial Current – Dr.S.Krishaswamy
Unlike the earlier mentioned films however, the film Pandithevan(1959) – the last film of K.Subrahmanyam, continues to be in copyright. This film is not mentioned in the N.F.A.I’s database, which typically mentions only ‘fully working’ films. But from the documentary film – ‘Fighting Against the Colonial Current’ by Dr.S.Krishnaswamy, we do understand that a print of Pandithevan has survived today, but without audio. It is unclear, if these prints are under the control of the N.F.A.I or under private hands.
The film made a decade, after India’s independence speaks about social issues seen in the aftermath of a new and independent India. Not much else is known about this film. Even if one did have access to viewing this film today, it makes little sense to watch it, as the audio is missing. Now, typically, film restoration is quite an expensive process. The films which have been restored are ‘legacy’ films, and they generate quite a buzz during the process – a recent example being the restoration of Uday Shankar’s Kalpana(1948) by the ‘Film Heritage Foundation’ run by Archivist, Shivendra Singh Dungarpur.
Pandithevan was K.Subrahmanyam’s last film, and it sank without a trace. Even if indeed this film was fully restored, it will definitely not gather the kind of attention, that would happen, if known lost films like ‘Balayogini’ or ‘Sevasadanam’ were to re-appear from somewhere. So, why think about restoring this film? As a film buff who is currently dedicating my focus to writing on K.Subrahmanyam’s works, it is a natural and selfish bias that I am obviously curious to see this film. Even without that, K.Subrahmanyam’s legacy is there, for anybody to see. Pandithevan will give us a strong perspective of K.Subrahmanyam and the writer Mugavai Rajamanickam’s social & critical analysis of a post independent India of the 1950’s. Even in the worst case scenario of such an abstract idea not even taking off, if someday, the script of the film is published online, for anybody to see, then this idea would have served its purpose.( Footage copyright will expire in 2020. Script’s copyright will expire in Mugavai Rajamanickam’s death + 60 years – K.Subrahmanyam’s screen play rights expire in 1971 + 60 years = 2031). As a person who has read a bit and knows about K.Subrahmanyam’s legacy, it is my instinctive opinion that Subrahmanyam himself would have desired the same. In any case, these films and allied material are no longer generating any form of commercial benefits which are truly being passed on to the heirs of the copyright holders of these films.
Although it is obvious that the ‘Original Dialogue Tone’ && ‘Original Background Score’ off the film, can never be reproduced, given that the songs of Pandithevan have survived ( Vambu Mozhi Maari , Vaa Vaa Sooriyane , Nee Aadinaal Oor Aadidum , Solluratha Solli putten ) , (a full bound text+dialogues available in 2 bound volumes available in N.F.A.I) , and ( with video footage sans audio ), it is possible atleast in theory now to restore and obtain some sort of a working version of the film through dubbing by using the bound script for assistance, if the challenges of ‘copyright’, ‘finance’, ‘priorities’ and ‘voice casting’ can be solved.
*Kapati Arakshakaya (without English Subtitles) can be viewed online by paying a reasonable charge at vod.lk