In the autobiographical book of former chief minister and actor M G Ramachandran (known popularly as MGR), Naan Yean Piranthen (Part 1 and 2), only a few films from his storied career get a separate chapter.
One of them happens to be the 1953 movie Genova. Made bi-lingually — Tamil and Malayalam — almost simultaneously, the film has many firsts to its credit.
It marked the Malayalam debut of one of the greatest music directors of Tamil films, M S Viswanathan (he too was by birth a Malayali). It was also the first Malayalam film of MGR's brother M G Chakrapani.
Of course, it was the first ever Malayalam movie of MGR himself, who as everyone would know was a Malayali by birth.
One would think that a film in his mother tongue would have given great memories for its star. As it happened, the film and the experiences left him embittered and probably made him not venture back to Malayalam cinema ever again.
Before we get to that ticklish issue, the film, which was about the glory of Mother Mary, was said to be a big hit, especially in Malayalam.
It was the debut of the film's director F Nagoor in Malayalam. He helmed the film because one of his previous ventures (along with Joseph Thaliath Jr), Gnanasoundari, which was also based on Christian mythology, had been a big success.
So Nagoor chose the same subject for Genova, based on a popular musical drama of the same name in Malayalam. In Malayalam, the dialogues were written by Swami Brahmavruthan while the well-known poet Suratha, Elangovan and Nedumaran jointly wrote the lines in Tamil.
Can A Sleeping Person Shed Tears?
MGR, in fact, mentions an anecdote with Suratha who had come to see the shooting, which was carried out in the famous Newtone Studios in Kilpauk, Madras.
When Suratha had come, the shot involved the heroine B S Saroja, being in deep sleep and apparently dreaming. The events in the dream are supposed to have been so intense that tears were to flow from her eyes even as she was sleeping.
While the entire set clapped at the acting of Saroja, Suratha was unimpressed. He told MGR that while the acting was good, there is no way tears can emerge during a person's sleep. It comes only when eyes are open, he is said to have told MGR.
But it was another incident that left a bitter taste in MGR and also ensured that he would be wary and watchful with his producers.
In those days, MGR already had a written agreement with his producers. With the producers of Genova, his agreement was not to use a dupe or a body double without his knowledge for any scene in his movie.
And the most important agreement was, 'other than Tamil and Malayalam, this movie should not be dubbed in any other language, without my written consent.’
One day when MGR walked into Newtone, he was surprised, nay shocked, to see another person dubbing his lines in Malayalam.
An infuriated MGR shouted for Mathews, who was in charge of the production. He arrived with smiles and sociably started introducing the man who was doing the dubbing. He was Sebastian Kunjukunju Bhagavathar, who in the words of MGR, was a well-known and nice performer from the Malayalam film and drama circuit.
That man was also genial and extremely courteous. Despite being older to MGR, he greeted him in a way that cooled MGR's frayed nerves.
Kunju Bhagavathar apparently told MGR that he had acted very well in the scenes and it was impossible to match his emotions with words while dubbing. "I told the production guys to reshoot the scenes with Mr Ramachandran again in his own voice," Bhagavathar reportedly told MGR.
A Cornered MGR
This totally cooled MGR down and he stood there for some more time seeing him dub for a few more scenes.
But after coming out and heading to his car, MGR again shouted for Mathews and vented his anger on him. “Don't make me choose legal options,” MGR told Mathews without mincing words.
An unfazed Mathews, still retaining his smile, said that he had not done anything illegal. And also added: "Your Malayalam delivery sounded like one who speaks in Tamil. The Malayalam tone is missing. I am doing this only for your good."
Now, MGR was even more seething and increased his walking speed and told Mathews that he was going to his advocate immediately. Mathews, who could not match his speed, eventually caught up with him and just when was about to sit in his car, said: "please don't go to the lawyer. You will feel bad when he tells you that what I did was right."
MGR by then had lost it at the insolence of Mathews. But the latter was now angered. He, in a firm voice, said: "If I so desire, I can even change, as per our agreed terms, your voice in the Tamil version as well."
And he went on to explain what was in the agreed terms of contract. And it read that other than Tamil and Malayalam, the producers should get his consent to dub in any other language. Since the film was being made only in Tamil and Malayalam, so no permission from him was needed.
As Mathews went on, MGR, writes in his book, "I not only understood my vulnerable position, but also felt fear in my mind."
It struck him then what will happen to his (then) fledgling career if they go ahead and dubbed with someone else in Tamil too. A contract that was written with the explicit purpose of safeguarding his interest, was now threatening to harm his career itself.
MGR knew he was hoisted on his own petard. He walked out of the studios a changed man. Since then he is said to have been wary of acting in other languages, and in any case, never did another Malayalam film.
Also, this mortifying incident chastened him and made him harden his stance with certain types of producers.
An appeal from Swarajya
At Swarajya, we rely on our readers' support through subscriptions to sustain our media platform. Unlike larger conglomerates, we are unable to relentlessly chase advertising money — our model is largely built on your patronage.
Your support has never been more crucial. We work tirelessly to deliver 10-15 high-quality articles daily, ensuring you receive insightful content from 7 AM to 10 PM.
If you believe India's story has to be articulated in a way it has never been done before without shrugging it off, become a patron (or) subscribe now for ₹̶2̶4̶0̶0̶ ₹1999 and get 12 print issues, unlimited digital access for 1 year, a special India that is Bharat T-shirt (Offer ends soon).
We are counting on you!