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Finger on people's pulse

From ``Alli Arjuna" to ``Paerazhagan," it has been six decades of hard work and exciting cinema for AVM. S. R. ASHOK KUMAR talks to Saravanan, son of the banner's illustrious founder.



"Raja Chinna Roja" is the first Indian film to use animated characters with actors.

AVM IS perhaps the only institution in India and fifth in the world, which is still having a studio and has been producing films for nearly six decades. AVM is associated with quality entertainment and grandeur. With ``Paerazhagan," its 166th film just released, M. Saravanan, head of the movie house, finds time to reminisce and talk of plans for the future. Excerpts.

After 59 years AVM is the only institution which is still producing films in India. Can you recall the beginning?

Yes. They were golden days. My father Av. Meiyappan started film production in 1934. Before that he was taking care of our shop Av & Sons, which my grand father opened in 1904, and it is celebrating its centenary this year. The shop is a supermarket of sorts, which offers a range of items, bicycle parts to wind-up phonographs, gramophone records, cosmetics and confectionery. My father started Saraswathi Stores on September 9, 1932, in Madras, in order to produce our own records. He broke away from tradition and released a few records of popular folk songs, which were a runaway success.

At that time the talkie arrived (1930). Av. Meiyappan was fascinated by the medium and encouraged by his success with the phonograph he launched Saraswati Sound Productions and made "Alli Arjuna." Not only the first film but also the second (Rathnavali) and third (Nanada Kumar) films were disasters. But he did not lose heart. He had immense faith in his efforts. His first directorial venture was "Sabapathy," which became a silver jubilee hit. But our company tasted our first success in our fourth production "Bhookailas".

When he came to know Mahatma Gandhi saw only one film in his life that was "Ram Rajya" he dubbed that into Tamil. But "Harischandra" was the first film to be dubbed from Kannada to Tamil.



M. Saravanan

After five films he decided to have his own studio and started one at Karaikudi. The first film produced there was "Nam Iruvar" and the main attraction was the songs of Mahakavi Bharathiyar. My father had bought the rights. Later when the Government wanted the rights, he gave it away free. The studio was shifted to Madras and the first film produced was "Vazhkkai" in which Vyjayanthimala made her debut. "Andha Naal" was the first talkie in India without song or dance and it got the Centre's Certificate of Merit. Our "Raja Chinna Roja" was the first Indian film to use animated characters with real life persons.

Do you recall your entry?

Of course. My first films were "Deivappiravi" and "Mamiyar Mechiya Marumagal" and I entered the film industry as a production executive. It was April 9, 1958. The late Vasu Menon who was then the production executive had left our studio. My father asked me to take over. Forty-six years have passed. I intend to write my experience in a book form, which will be released shortly.

What are the differences you notice between now and then?

From 1950 to 1980 it was a golden period for the film industry. We were producers who commanded respect but now we are proposal makers. We were able to do some good work at that time and we were widely appreciated. But the scene has changed now. The domination of the small screen has changed the fate of the film industry in a big way. No other entertainment media is taxed in our country except films. Our hands are tied. I pray for the golden era to return

The giants of the South Indian film industry have worked under your banner. Comment...

Their contribution has been immense. We are fortunate to have had five Chief Ministers associated with our banner — C. N. Annadurai ("Oar Iravu,"1950), M. Karunanidhi ("Parasakthi,"1952), N. T. Rama Rao ("Sangam," 1954), MGR ("Anbe Vaa," 1966) and J. Jayalalitha ("Major Chandrakanth, 1966). Some of the prominent artistes AVM had introduced are Vyjayanthimala ("Vazhkai"1949), Sivaji Ganesan ("Parasakthi" 1952), Raj Kumar ("Bidara Kannappa"1954), Padmini ("Shiv Bhaki" (Hindi) 1955), Director K. Shanker ("Doctor"(Sinhalese) 1956), Kamal Haasan ("Kalathur Kannamma"1960).

About memorable milestones ...

Each film produced by AVM is great for us and it is a milestone. However, I cannot forget the first film in which I worked as production executive, "Deiva Piravi." "Hum Panchi Ek Dal Ke" was the first film to win the Prime Minister's gold medal for the Best Children's Film. "Samsaram Athu Minsaram" won the first gold medal in Tamil for the Best Film providing popular and wholesome entertainment. "Naanum Oru Penn", "Kuzhandaiyum Deivamum" and "Ramu" are the three films, which received the President's silver medal. Eight films received the Government of India's Certificate of Merit. We have received a number of State awards and other awards sponsored by private parties. ``Paavamannippu" received the Jakarta International film festival award.

About your contribution to the field ...

It is not Saravanan alone. Filmmaking is a team effort. After my father it is my brother M. Kumaran. His son Shanmugam, my son Guhan, daughter Usha Saravanan and my younger brother Balasubramanaim along with his son Gurunath have worked hard. Usha Saravanan is now doing our ``Mangaiyar Choice" programme for Sun Television.

Is filmmaking more difficult now?

Yes. We are in a very difficult situation. All the major production companies must take a good look at their resources before taking the plunge.I will think about doing another film only after completing the one on hand.

What are the major changes you visualise?

Not one but a dozen. First, we must know where we commit a mistake and how to rectify it. We must also come up with innovative ideas so that the producer does not always regret. .

What do you think about your recent release "Paerazhagan"?

"Paerazhagan" is the 166th film of AVM. And it is a milestone not only for us but also for the lead pair, Surya and Jyotika. They both have given memorable performances. If one sees the film they will certainly understand it is a wholesome entertainer for the entire family.

Surya was a spontaneous choice. And Vivek has contributed in no small measure to the entertainment part. We planned it for summer so that children would be free to enjoy the film. I request the people of Tamil Nadu to kindly watch the film in the cinema hall and not on the CD or VCD. If you want the film industry to survive please come to the theatre.

AVM entered the small screen although it was doing quite well on the film front. Why?

Some years ago, with most directors preferring to shoot outdoor, studios had no takers. That was when my brothers and I felt the need to shoot 80 per cent of our work in studios. And for this, we decided, the small screen was the best medium.

We have set certain standards in quality and are keen on making wholesome family entertainers. One must be able to watch the serial with one's sister and mother without feeling embarrassed. I have made it a point to tell my directors about this and ensure that there is no vulgarity.

Small screen is a very effective medium when it comes to social messages. Our serials are all made with a positive mind frame.

But should they be so sentimental?

When we entered the scene way back in 1986, our audience was mainly from films. If the producer makes the women cry he will go laughing all the way to the bank, it was said. Films such as "Kalathur Kannamma" and "Naanum Oru Penn" proved this true.

So when we entered the small screen with "Oru Pennin Kathai" our audience also shifted their choice with us. We decided that each episode must end on an emotional note with suspense thrown in, in order to sustain the interest. We adhere to that even now but we have cut down on the sob scenes. Till date we have done 39 serials (6,327 episodes) and they have been shown in all the southern languages.

"Mangaiyar Choice" alone has now gone up to 860 episodes. AVM also has certain rules — drinking, smoking, scenes of suicide and modus operandi of criminals will not be shown. The serials will not have anything that will take the youth away from the right path.

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