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Vol. XXV No. 24, April 1-15, 2016

Valè, the film news archivist

Film News Anandan – a magpie collector in Tamil Cinema

It was Randor Guy who first put me in touch with ‘Film News’ (PG) Anandan in 2001. I was then running a website – along with classical singer Sanjay Subrahmanyan. This was dedicated to Carnatic music and among its many features was a serial by Randor Guy titled Classical Musicians in Tamil Cinema. The stories arrived every fortnight from Randor with regularity and were fascinating but we felt that visuals would make the impact even better. Those were days when the world wide web had not yet become what it is today and we needed pictures desperately. Unfortunately, not many visuals of people like Musiri Subramania Iyer and Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer in films were in the public domain.

For a while we used the stock of the late TV Rangaswami (Ragami) but this was soon exhausted and it was then that Randor gave me Anandan’s number. He has all the photographs ever taken in Tamil cinema said Randor and would be a one-stop solution to our problems. It was a landline and it was next to impossible to get through to him as he was always busy. I finally discovered that he lived on Peters Road, just behind my office and so by the simple expedient of camping at his doorstep managed to meet up with him. He was among the pleasantest people I have ever met. Ever affable, with his trademark features – his red dot of kumkumam, his round necked shirt that was more like a kurta and his ever-present smile. He would be most happy to help with pictures he said. But his collection was then in the process of being acquired by the Government and so he was not certain as to which photographs still remained with him. However if I gave him a fortnight’s notice each time I wanted a picture, he would trace it for me.

anandan‘Film News’ (PG) Anandan.

It was only after I came away that I realised I had not discussed commercials with him. I sent him a note a week later giving details of the picture I wanted and in it asked him about what he would charge. Sangeetham was run on a very tight budget and I hoped that he would not be exorbitant. The reply came a week later. The picture was ready said Anandan and rang off before I could ask any questions. I sent my man to pick it up hoping that there would be an invoice along with it. There was none. I made one more journey to Peters Road and waited for an hour before he came. I asked him the all-important question only to be told that the picture was for free. Did I not know that he never charged magazines for his services he asked? He included Sangeetham in the same category. I was really moved. It was only much later that I came to know that Anandan gave much of his information and collection for free to whoever asked for it. He also published statistics of Tamil cinema each year and distributed them gratis to anyone who asked for it.

I lost touch with Anandan after Sangeetham wound up sometime in 2005. But I did hear that the Government acquired his collection of pictures for some figure and after much delay helped him in bringing out a compilation of his statistics and visuals. This was sadly, like any Government production – a maze of data brought forth with no care or concern for the way any interested reader could go through it. There was some talk of how an entire wing of the Film Chamber building would be dedicated to his collection but that never materialised. He however never lost hope. I wonder where the collection is and as to whether it is at all catalogued. Only Anandan would have known which picture was from which film or who were the people in it.

In today’s world of internet, digital archives available on the web and channels such as Youtube, a collection such as that of Anandan has diminished in value. But still, most of what is up on these sites is thanks to him and most of those uploading these pictures rarely acknowledge him. But we owe it to him to ensure that his collection is neatly catalogued and is made available on display and for use at some location in Chennai. He wanted it that way.

For the record, PG Anandan acquired the prefix of Film News as that was the publication for which he worked for long. Considered a walking encyclopaedia of Tamil Cinema he was much sought after by people associated with the film industry. He passed away on March 21, at the age of 89.

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