Lost Opportunities

‘Killing the golden goose’ can be interpreted as short-sighted action that destroys the profitability of an asset. This case highlights this proverb to the hilt. Read on…

This is a story of the renowned Tamil actor and politician, S S Rajendran, popularly known by his screen name, SSR. He was a famed film actor, director, producer and politician who passed away in 2014, at the age of 86. On the silver screen, he was in the top-notch bracket along with MGR, Shivaji Ganesan and Gemini Ganesan. SSR was noted for his charismatic personality and command over Tamil diction. In politics, he has the glorious distinction of being the first actor in India to become an MLA. His leader was the late CN Annadurai, stalwart founder of the then fledgling DMK party. He was more active than legendary MGR, in the party.

SSR, however, also has the dubious distinction of having scuttled the passing of the Privy Purse Bill way back in 1969.The Motion to abolish Privy Purses and the official recognition of the titles of princely states was brought before the Parliament in 1969 by the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, but was defeated by one vote in the Rajya Sabha. This singular vote was not cast by SSR, though DMK was with Indira Gandhi and thus he was attributed to be the cause of the failure of passing of the Privy Purse Bill. Indira Gandhi, cornered by powerful senior leaders like K Kamaraj, Nijalingappa, Atulya Ghosh, Biju Patnaik and so on dissolved the Parliament and ordered a national election. SSR is said to have been offered money to oppose the Bill, which brought disrepute to his political image. Thereafter, his political career started to decline. The Bill, meanwhile, was re-introduced in 1971, and was successfully passed as the 26th Amendment to the Constitution of India.

This apart, SSR was the pillar of DMK’s political movement. He was a star campaigner during elections and generously donated money for the young political party which came to power within a short span of its existence. On the 51st birthday of CN Annadurai, the founder-leader of the DMK, SSR invited him for a feast and offered him 50 tolas of gold. An overwhelmed Annadurai invested this generous gift to buy a house for himself in Chennai.

In 1967, SSR steered the fundraising campaign of DMK, as the target set by Anna for election fund collection was a whopping ₹10 lakh. At that time, Karunanidhi was the treasurer of the party. An iconic public figure, he is a great orator and a prolific writer, besides being a film scriptwriter, film producer and poet. However, it was the charismatic SSR who provided the glamour for the DMK. In those days, to attend their public lectures which had a lineup of top-notch leaders of the DMK, you had to buy tickets for entry, costing between one and five rupees. That is how the fund was collected by the DMK. As a school going boy, I used to attend all such meetings, held in various villages.

Traditionally, Tamil films portray contemporary politics. SSR was under the scanner of the then ruling Congress government as he happened to show the flag of DMK in his film, Thangarathinam–(thanga means ‘gold’, rathinam means ‘pearl’). Thus, SSR was arrested many times. That was in the 1960s.

SSR was perhaps the first ever film producer in world’s cinema history to use a political flag as logo. The legendary MGR too followed his footsteps and used DMK flag as the logo. Then, party flags were not acceptable to Censor Boards, which were rigid. SSR also showed DMK’s National Convention for a good half an hour as part of the movie. When he was at the peak of his career, he also held an anti-Hindi agitation in his house, by hoisting a black flag. The police threatened to shoot him. He, in turn, pulled out his pistol, aiming at them. He was instantly arrested.

Despite toiling hard and giving his heart and soul for his party, Karunanidhi only ‘used’ SSR and never allowed him to grow. So, subsequently, when MGR left the party, SSR joined him, with the hope that he would be given better treatment. However, he could not shine there too and so he went into oblivion. He was a dedicated party worker but lacked leadership qualities. For his fans and followers, SSR became the proverbial case of ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ He remained unsung.

Being his most ardent fan, I always remembered him very warmly and used to watch his films, which I do even today. In the meantime, I carved a niche for myself in the society, with my educational entrepreneurship. I knew one Erukooran, a noted writer. He was the former assistant editor of a weekly called Muththaram. I used to write prolifically for this magazine. After retirement from the weekly, Erukooran began penning a series of biographies of prominent people in Tamil Nadu and publishing them in the form of books. Poverty was his best friend; suffering was his main companion. Whenever I travelled to Chennai, I used to make it a point to meet him at his residence. His real name was IM Sultan and his pen name, Erukooran. I remember that his wife used to make very good biryani and I used to enjoy eating it.

About two decades back, he showed his desire to pen my biography and publish it. I told him I was not interested as I didn’t have time for it, and besides, I didn’t consider myself to be such a big guy. But since he persisted, I told him he could come and stay with me in Pune. Whenever I could spare some time, we could have a dialogue. He took this invitation seriously and stayed with me for a few days. He was very sincere in his assignment and used to take down copious notes. He did extensive research on me by visiting my village and meeting my friends. Only one-fourth of his research was left to be completed, for which I was supposed to give him four to five days’ time. That did not happen. So, the matter rested there.

In the meantime, I was staying in a hotel in Chennai and happened to see an old film on the TV in which SSR had acted. During those days, the other heroes, besides SSR who ruled the Tamil Nadu film industry were MGR, Shivaji Ganesan and Gemini Ganesan. All except SSR had passed away and all of their biographies have been written and published. How about a biography on SSR, I thought? Since he did not possess any market value, no one bothered to pen one. Tragically, the world belongs to those who are in power. If you are out of power, you are out of sight, out of mind.

As a fan of SSR, I intensely felt that someone should write his biography. So I called up Erukooran and asked him to meet me at the hotel. I told him, “Forget my biography; write the biography of SSR. It is not just a story of a single individual called SSR but it will cover the political history of Tamil Nadu of the ’50s and ’60s.” Erukooran was initially reluctant. He asked, “Sir, who will buy this book?” So to push him to do this book, I gave him a proposal—I would pay him ₹25,000 per week, out of which he had to employ a typist or any other staff he would need. Once he completed the biography, I would pay him ₹1 lakh. His job was to meet SSR, record the interviews and write the biography quickly. I told him, I would get it published at my cost, and get the book released at the hands of the then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, M Karunanidhi at the Nadigar Sangam (South Indian Film Artistes’  Association), which would be attended by superstar Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan, and the like. Erukooran agreed.

When he met SSR, the latter was delighted. He wanted to speak to me immediately. I could make out that he was overwhelmed with emotion. He asked me, “Friend, who are you? Why do you think of writing about me? I have always been used, misused and abused. Those who got a lot from me are running away from me.”

I told him, “Sir, I am your fan. I know your credentials. You were in the limelight once, maybe you are nowhere now. There is nothing unusual about this phenomenon. What is important is your colossal contribution to Tamil Nadu through politics and through Tamil films, as producer, actor, director and what not.”  So he agreed and Erukooran completed writing the biography within the scheduled time. During the course of his writing, I too visited SSR and asked a lot of critical questions. Due to his old age, he had become forgetful; hence it was necessary to provoke him to revive his memories.

I signed a cheque for the final payment of ₹1 lakh. But I suggested to Erukooran that since SSR was alive and since this was a biography, why not ask him to initialise the pages, in order to make it more authentic. He agreed and handed over the manuscript to SSR.

While SSR was going through the manuscript, which took several weeks, I kept visiting Chennai for work. Whenever I go to Chennai, I have the habit of going to a bookstall and buying all the magazines and newspapers. For, books and magazines have always been my thickest friends. Give me magazines and newspapers and I need nothing else. One of the magazines I bought was Devi. There, to my utter shock, I saw that the biography I had got written by Erukooran was being serialised under the heading ‘Nan Nadanthu Vantha Padhai”.

I was angry and shocked that the writer had played the Brutus. I immediately went to the modest house of Erukooran and showed him the magazine and questioned him, “What is this?” I asked.

“I am also surprised,” he replied, but I did not trust him.

I had gone out of my way to ensure that Erukooran, who was in dire financial straits, would financially benefit from writing this biography and it would make his retirement life comfortable. For, besides paying him for writing the book, I had told him to keep the royalty money, which would have amounted to a good income, enough for a comfortable pension. The book would have been bought by all the libraries, besides good sales would be assured through bookshops, considering the personality on whom it was written. So in front of me, he made a call to SSR. SSR pleaded with him to get me to him for a dialogue.

We went to his house. He extended all the courtesies and then started abusing his wife in front of me. This was his third wife and one of the reasons for SSR’s problems was marital conflicts. He said, “It is this lady who has given away this script. I am extremely sorry for it. It was you who took the initiative. I don’t know how to show my face to you now.”

I asked him to ask the respective publication to stop publishing the serialised content further. He said that withdrawing this would not be easy since the publication had put up big advertisements all over Tamil Nadu. And then he had the audacity to console me by saying that I need not worry as he had many more interesting things to tell about his life which could be included in the book. His two children also joined us. I told one of his sons, “Your father doesn’t know what he has lost. I wanted to recreate his glory by releasing the book at the hands of the chief minister at a big, star-studded function. Since he was the president of the South Indian Film Artistes’ Association, all the stars would have made a beeline to the function. And had I met Chief Minister Karunanidhi even, he would not have rejected the request. With all the stars and the CM present, the media would have given maximum coverage and publicity to this biography of SSR. I was to get nothing out of it. I wanted the new generation to know about your illustrious father. Now that it is being serialised by a magazine, there is no point in having a release function. That’s it, thank you.” And I walked off.

Now, time has flown by and SSR is no more. He passed away in 2014. On his first death anniversary, people from his community called me up and told me very enthusiastically that during this function, the biography of SSR under the title of Nan Nadanthu Vandha Pathai (On the footsteps of my past) was to be released. To this, I asked them if they knew the name of the author who had serialised the biography in the magazine, Devi. They said it had been written anonymously. I told them that I was happy that the biography was published, not wanting to rake up the ugliness that had gone into it, as I had already forgotten it as a bad joke.

Whoever was the culprit in this game—perhaps SSR’s wife—was immaterial. The fact is, for both the actor and the writer, it had been akin to killing a golden goose. SSR lost out on an authentic and comprehensive book on him, for posterity. Erukooran lost out on his handsome pension which he would have earned from the sales of the book. In his last days, he suffered a financial crisis and I stretched myself once again to pay his hospital bill. Erukooran too is now no more. He died in penury. Recently, I got a call from his wife, seeking financial help. I have decided to meet her and present her the ₹1 lakh which I had promised to her. As for me, the ardent fan of SSR, the turn of events was so disheartening.

 

Dr (Col) A. Balasubramanian

editor-in-chief

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Dr. (Col.) A. Balasubramanian is a classic example of courage, commitment and intimate relationship with the corporate world. His love for Knowledge and perfection is unimaginable he has created more than 30000 successful MBA's all throughout this Lifetime.
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