In deference to his father's wish, he graduated from Kumbakonam
College, which was known as the Oxford University of South
India. Later, he completed his Law course in Madras Law College
and became a lawyer like his father. But soon, he found that
the lawyer had to defend not only right deeds but also wrong
ones quite often.
ENTRY INTO FILM WORLD
His artistic core drew him into the infant film industry
in early thirties. He joined the well known Film Director
Raja Sandow as assistant director for a couple of silent movies.
Later, he blossomed as a pioneer Film Producer - Director
with nationalistic outlook and social consciousness. He brought
a host of technicians from Bengal (for Cinematography, Sound
Recording, Processing, Make - up etc., and started in Chennai:
1) Meenakshi Cinetone Studio ( later known as
Neptune Studio which later became M.G. Ramachandran 's Sathya
2) Motion Pictures Producers' (later known as Gemini Studio).
He thus became a father - figure for the growing
South Indian Cinema. Apart from scilent films, he made several
movies in Tamil and also a few in Malayalam, Telugu and Kannada.
He was the first South Indian to produce a film in Hindi "Prem
Sagar". He was also the first Indian to direct a Sinhalese
film. He was Known as a Star- maker and was instrumental in
bringing S.S. Vasan into the film industry by giving distribution
rights of his (Subrahmanyam's) films to the new Gemini Pictures
HIS PHILOSOPHY OF FILM MAKING
Subrahmanyam's Madras United Artistes' Corporation (MUAC),
Kalaivani Films and later Morak Pvt. Ltd., were fore - runners
in producing socially thought provoking films. He always had
a firm conviction that the film medium cannot function purely
as a mercenary commercial seller, without social values and
responsibility, particularly in a populous developing country
like India. He agreed that the film should be entertaining,
but it should also be ennobling, with decent family values
with social and national harmony and respect for the country.
He proved this by his films produced till 1957 after which
he decided to retire from production, as film finance became
more and more divorced from decency, straight - forwardness
and aesthetic excellence. He felt sad that the industry, which
he reared like his child, was going into wrong ways.
SOME OF HIS FILMS (TAMIL)
"Pavalakkodi" (Mythological) - brought out the
capability of women to manage affairs and even rule the country.
It features M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavatar and S.S. Subbulakshmi
( who later became Subrahmanyam's partner in life and business).
"Naveena Sarangadara" (Fiction) -
depicted the emotional problems of a young lady compelled
to marry an aged King. It featured M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavatar
and S.D. Subbulakshmi.
"Bala Yogini" (Social) - depicted
the complex of the foreign educated youth and the corrosive
influence of Western education and culture on Indian family
life. It featured Baby Saroja, the child artist who was described
as the South Indian Shirley Temple.
"Sava Sadan" (Social) - portrayed
the injustice of an old man marring a young girl and her getting
out of the shackles by taking to music as her profession.
It was in this film that M.S. Subbulakshmi(who later shot
up as the Nightingale of India and Bharat Ratna) was introduced.
"Thyaga Bhoomi"(Social) - depicts
false values in foreign education and ill treatment of a daughter
- in - law who later teaches a lesson to her husband. It was
the first film to run in more than one theatre in the city
and simultaneously. It was also the only Indian Film, which
was banned by the British for openly anticipating and advocating
the Quit India Movement. It featured S.D. Subbulakshmi, Papanasam
Sivan and Baby Saroja.
"Bhakta Cheta"(Mythological) - stressed
that there is no backward community in the eyes of god and
advocated Harijan entry into temples. It featured Papanasam
Sivan and G. Subbulakshmi. For making this film, Subrahmanyam
was excommunicated by a group of fanatic Brahmins in his home
"Bhakta Kuchela" (Mythological) -
depicted the strength of friendship irrespective of years
of seperation and difference in status. This film made history
by featuring the well-known star S.D. Subbulakshmi as lord
Krishna (the first lady where a lady was made to act as a
male and also do double role acting as BhaktaKuchela's wife
Susheela). It also featured Papanasam Sivan.
"Gokula Dasi" (Mythological) - alsi
potrayed Padmini as Lord Krishna.
"Kacha Devayani"( Mythological) -
saw the introduction of T.R.Rajakumari who rocketed to fame
in this very first film.
"Maana Samrakshanam" (Social) - was
supposed to be a war propoganda film in support of the British;
but its dialogues had a clear double meaning asking the foreigners
to quit India. It featured S.D. Subbulakshmi and a host of
child artists, many of whom became leading stars later.
"Ananthasayanam" - which traced the
origin of the Anantha Padmanabhaswami Temple at Thiruvanantapuram.
He himself acted as Divakara Muni who came down from Gujarath
to Kerala as a Krishna Bhakta. The Heroines included S.D.
Subbulakshmi, M.V.Rajamma and V.N.Janaki( who later married
Bharat Ratna Dr.M.G. Ramachandran, Former Chief Minister of
"Ammanji" - (featuring G Pattu Iyer),"Vichitra
Vanitha" ( featuring B.S. Saroja) and "Vikata Yogi"
( featuring P.U.Chinnappa & T.R. Rajakumari) were his
hilarious comedy films and healthy entertainers.
"Geeta Gandhi"(Social) - stressed
the importance of joint family system and also frankly warned
selfish politicians that people cannot be taken for granted.
It featured B.S. Saroja, Lalitha, Padmini, M. Palaniyandi(
who later became President of Tamilnadu Congress Committee
and also Member of Parliament) and his own youngest daughter
Padma(presently the well known dancer and research scholar
Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam) as a child artist.
"Pandithevan" (Social - was against
the anti - national rich and vested interests against national
projects. It featured B.S. Saroja, Rajasulochana, Ragini,
Chandrababu, M.G. Chakrapani, S.V. Sahasranamam, T.K.Bhagavathi,
T.K. Balachandran and others.
HIS FILMS IN OTHER LANGUAGES
" Prem Sagar" ( Hindi).
"Bhakta Prahalada" (Malayalam) - In
this film Subrahmanyam introduced Kathakali Guru Gopinath
and his wife Thangamani, who later shot to international fame
in the dance field.
"Stree Ratna" (Kannada) - featured
Ashwath as hero and Sandhya (mother of Dr. J. Jayalalitha,
Hon'ble Chief Minister of Tamilnadu) as heroine and also the
vetran comedians of the Tamil screen Kalaivanar N.S.Krishnan,
T.A. Madhuram and Kuladeivam Rajagopal.
"Krishna Sudhama" ( Kannada) - featured
Jayamma, the great actress, singer and Harikatha artiste and
wife of Gubbi Veeranna.
"Kacha Devayani" (reshot in Kannada)
- saw the introduction of B. Saroja Devi to the film world.
THE STAR - MAKER
The several stars introduced to the screen by Subrahmanyam
included M.K.Thyagaraja Bhagavatar, S.D. Subbulakshmi, M.S.
Subbulakshmi, T.R.Rajakumari, Lalitha, Padmini, Ragini, Baby
Saroja, B.S. Saroja, M.V.Rajamma, V.N.Janaki, G.Subbulakshmi,
Papanasam Sivan, K.J.Mahadevan, T.K. Balachandran and B. Saroja
HIS SOCIAL COMMITMENT
Apart from his role in the film industry, subrahmanyam
had a solid social commitment in life. He was masterly in
orginisational work, whether it was the mammoth Mahamagam
Exhibition at Kumbakonam (1933), or the INA Relief Exhibition
at Chennai (1946) where he was able to collect and donate
a sum of Rs 40,000/=(quite sizeable at that time) for the
INA. To rehabilitate1000 Jawans of the INA (Indian National
Army of Subash Chandra Bose), Subrahmanyam cleaned up a large
area in erstwhile Mount Road in Madras (now called Congress
Grounds) and organized the first ever exhibition and erected
a stage to conduct dramas and Dances daily for a month. The
entire physical labour was that of the INA refugees and the
proceeds of the performances went to them. The programmes
included those of prominent dancers and also dramas by Nawab
Rajamanickam Pillai, TKS Brothers, Kalaivanar N.S.Krishnan,
Sivaji Ganesan, M.N.Nambiar, S.V.Sahasranamam and others.
It was a fusion of the work of artists for the welfare of
army men. He subsequently managed to get employment to all
the 1000 refugees. He even hosted a group of refugees from
Poland for a month in Madras during the time of World War
II. Any individual or organisation who sought his help did
not go back empty handed. Subrahmanyam was the first link
between social and aesthetic consciousness.
HIS NATIONAL CONSCIOUSNESS
Even as a student he was in the national movement and
a member of the Indian National Congress. But he resigned
his membership of the Congress after Independence. He was
an active unofficial adviser to the Ministries of Information
and Broadcasting, Education and Culture. The Prime Minister
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had such great personal regard for
Subrahmanyam, that he even offered him the position of I&B
Minister in his Cabinet, which he respectfully and gratefully
declined; he told Punditji that he could serve the country
better by remaining out of politics.
STARTING OF INSTITUTIONS
* Subrahmanyam was the Founder - Member and later President
of the South Indian Film Chambers of Commerce.
* He played a vital role in the formation of:
Film Finance Corporation,
Childrens' Film Society,
National Film Development Corporation,
The Film Institute in Pune and Chennai
The National film Archives in Pune,
Film Federation of India,
Central and State Sangeet Natak Academies etc.,
* He was the founder of several important organisations including:
South Indian Artists' Association(Thennindia Nadigar Sangam),
Indo - Soviet Cultural association,
Nadaswara Vidwans'Association and
Nrithyodaya(School of Dance and Music).
*He was te first Vice - Chairman of the State Sangeeta Nataka
Sangam ( now Tamilnadu Eyal Isai Nataka Mandram)
*He was also the Chairman of the Tamilnadu Film Institute.
SERVICE TO THE FIELD OF THE PERFORMING ARTS
* Having learnt the traditional Bhagavata Mela Nataka and
Carnatic Music in his boyhood, he patronized traditional drama
and also folk theatre.
* Being the All India President of IPTA (Indian People's Theatre
Association), he organized All India Folk Dance & Music
Festival as early as 1952 on his own in Tamilnadu.
* The Inter-State cultural exchange programme of Govt. of
India was another brainchild of Subrahmanyam. He himself led
and received many such delegations and enabled not only mere
performances but also inter-mingling of artistes to appreciate
* He formulated the scheme for Railway Concession with one-way
fare and double journey for performing artistes to travel
and contribute towards National Integration. Pandit Jawaharlal
Nehru, Hon'ble Prime Minister of India, implemented this scheme.
In 1971, when Smt. IndiraGandhi, Hon'ble Prime Minister of
India, cancelled this scheme, Subrahmanyam gave a letter-telegram
from his deathbed requesting this to be revived soon after
* He patronized many dancers and musicians, recommending and
introducing to foreign dignitaries and impresarios.
* He organized a show involving top dancers including Vyjayanthimala,
Kumari Kamala and the Travancore Sisters (Lalitha, Padmini
and Ragini) on the same stage; Dr. S. Radhakrishnan (the then
Vice-President of India) presided over the function.
Subrahmanyam not only founded Nrithyodaya oin 1942, but also
financially and morally supported Dr. Rukmini Devi when she
founded Kalakshetra in1930s and continued to be her friend
to the last day of his life. The first two Russion students
were enrolled in Kalakshetra for learning Bharatanatyam as
early as mid 1950s through his efforts. In this manner, he
helped several such cultural organizations.
HIS JOURNEYS ABROAD
Even in the fifties and the sixties, he had widely traveled
to UK., USA., USSR., East and West Germany, Poland, Japan,
Mongolia and Srilanka. He visited Kodak factories in UK and
USA and even discussed possibilities of collaboration in the
manufacture of raw films in India. He was warmly received
at MGM Studios and the Universal Studios. He met stalwarts
like Walt Disney who showed him around the Disney Land, which
was under construction.
Subrahmanyam was the only Indian film director to be honored
by both Moscow Film Studio, USSR and the Hollywood Screen
Directors' Guild, USA. He was also the recipient of the Golden
Key to the Warner Brothers Company in USA.
He was nominated by the UNESCO as the Honorary Adviser
to its International Films and Television Council for India
and Far East. The Government of Tamilnadu nominated him as
Honorary State Liaison Officer for UNESCO in Tamilnadu in
which capacity, he was instrumental in getting a substantial
aid for the renovation of Srirangam Temple.
HIS CULTURAL FORESIGHT
In 1942, Subrahmanyam's interest in
fine arts inspired him to start "Nrithyodaya", a
school to provide free training in dance and music to deserving
poor students, as he realised that these arts had become costly
even then. It was the first such dance school to train students
on a pan - Indian level with Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kathakali,
Manipuri and folk dances. Teachers of repute in the respective
styles were attached to this institution, which has produced
leading artists, teachers and choreographers in the last sixty
years. Students included daughters of bus conducters, drivers,
postmen, masons and even from the tribal community. Nithyodaya
was also functioning as UESCO Information Center till 1972.
It is recognised by the department of Culture, Govt. of Idia,
ICCR, Sangeet Natak Academi, Govt. of Tamilnadu ad the Tamilnadu
Eyal Isai Natak Mandram. Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam is the Director
of Nrithyodaya since 1961 and V. Balakrishnan(eldest son of
Subrahmanyam a reputed Documentary Film Producer) is its President
since his father's demise in 1971. Nrithyodaya celebrated
its Diamond Jubilee (60years) in 2003, which coincided with
the Golden Jubilee (50years) of Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam's Dance