NSK – A living legend

NSK - Who brought a change in dialogues delivery, humour, so that they had to be meaningful and watchable with the family audience

NSK - Who brought a change in dialogues delivery, humour, so that they had to be meaningful and watchable with the family audience
NSK - Who brought a change in dialogues delivery, humour, so that they had to be meaningful and watchable with the family audience

Remembering Kalivanar N S Krishnan (NSK), Tamil comedian and political activist

N S Krishnan: Born on November 29, 1908, to Sudalaimuthu Pillai and Isaki Ammal, in an impoverished family, he had to support his family’s sustenance by pulling carts from a young age. His passion for acting and singing led him to sell soda at the local drama theatre so that he could watch the plays with avid and insatiable interest, unabated as he couldn’t afford tickets and he got to watch the plays for free. Before he entered the cinema arena he was a consummate “villu pattu” artist, where Nationalistic, Societal thoughts were sung with an instrument akin to a bow shape and hence got the name “bow song”.

Though he made his acting debut in the film Sathi Leelavathi, his first release was the film “Menaka”. He belonged to that era when the transition from silent movies to dialogue-speaking movies was emerging, they were thought to be the pioneer actors introduced to Tamil Talkies in the first decade of the 1930s. This created a huge impact on these comedians with an incalculable responsibility and they individually had to chart their paths for others to follow. They were thought to be the hangover from silent movies and slapstick comedy which was the principal focus in early talkies. Till then people tripping, stumbling, or animals charging at them, pot belly men trying to do acts, brought laughter relief.

NSK brought about the change in dialogue delivery, humour, so that they had to be meaningful and watchable with family audiences. His humour and comedy are still alive in the minds of his avid fans, which are and were always rib-tickling and thought-provoking.

In all his films there were always, messages of Nationalism, social evils like removal of superstitions, denial of caste barriers, campaigns against alcoholism, gambling, black-marketing, and untouchability, all laced with humour never hurting anyone’s feelings and sensitivity in the process. His daring anti-casteist dialogues in a movie impressed Anna so much that he was surprised that NSK spoke in favour of social transformation and that too without any party indoctrination. Anna led NSK to meet Periyar who was impressed with him and went on record and said “cinema was violence perpetuated on human thinking”. This paved him way than on, for the Dravidian movement to look at him as a publicist but he stayed away from actual politics. He was a Gandhian at heart but publicly a Dravidian sympathizer. True to himself he built a memorial for Gandhi in his hometown Nagercoil.

More movies, money, and fame unfazed him, and he, all through his life remained a philanthropist even if it meant losing his own hard-earned money. An incident for sample, he organized a function to honour his chauffeur, he printed an invitation and called the dignitaries of his time like Anna, Jeeva to honour him with a shawl. So, inspired by this act of NSK, Anna decided to organize and honour his own tailor. Such was the impact of his goodness.

While at the peak of his cinema career, (1944) a murder charge against him and the superhero of those times Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, to have killed a muckraker journalist C N Lakshmikanthan, who used to pry on the personal lives of the actors, wrote gossips, rumours, with sexual overtones about them in his journal called Cinema Thoothu. The actors effectively stopped the journal from being published by asking for a license cancellation. This didn’t deter Lakshmikanthan, after a gap he started Hindu Nesam and continued his writings. An ex-convict known for his connections with roughnecks those days he was stabbed by a group of men, succumbed to the injuries, and died.

In this case, both NSK and Thyagaraja Bhagavathar were accused, convicted, and sent to jail on counts of conspiracy to murder. The case was appealed in London with the privy council and reverted back to the Madras High Court, by the time the case had been heard and they were acquitted 30 months had passed by, and they were released in 1947. While in jail NSK, worked as a bookbinder and he had his co-prisoners in splits with this proverbial touch of sense of humour and comedy.

Randor guy a famous Tamil movie historian, recounts in his book (1997) “STARLIGHT STARBRIGHT” the populous opinion held that both the major actors implicated in the case were innocent and they had been framed, when he tried to investigate this in the 1970s he was politely warned, to stay off the story.

His co-artiste and then his life partner T A Madhuram, the couple duo was the first to introduce separate comedy tracks in so many films, often waited for the main film to be shot to write his role and produced comedy shorts which were shown with the main film. He was compared to then the world’s renowned comedian Charlie Chaplin on these counts, both had Dickensian childhood, and they got hooked on theatre at a young age, life’s philosophy taught them both sweetness of adversity, which ran through them in all the amusing humour and comedy. Both had either left or centre leniency in politics, had one of their wives sharing the silver screen with them, they have had entanglements with law enforcement. The difference would be Chaplin’s comedy was based on the distinction between silent and talkie movies while NSK’s would be talkies only. Chaplin’s specialty in comedy was visual, slapstick and pantomime while NSK’s comedy was oral. Chaplin died at the age of 88 while NSK (49) had a short life span. Chaplin never was patronage for folklore arts while NSK was a villu pattu artist.

After his release from jail Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, though the culprits were never to be found had lost all his fame and money fighting for his case and justice. Whereas NSK could resume acting in movies, he had also lost his immense wealth to fight the case and for justice.

In his lifetime NSK was conferred the following title “KALAIVANAR” in the year 1947 by the Nataraja Educational Society. “NAGASUVAI ARASU” by Vishwanatham, “PURATCHI VIKATA VENDAN” by Poet Bharathidasan.

NSK was undergoing treatment for Hepatitis since 12th August 1957, he died at the General Hospital, Madras on 30th August 1957, followed by complications. Kalaivanar as he was affectionately called was an active member of the Dravidian movement Kalaivanar Arangam was named after him and is one of the leading landmarks to date. As a mark of respect and remembrance the ruling Tamil Nadu government then in 1969, erected and unveiled the statue of NSK on G N Chetty Road, T Nagar another famous landmark to date.

HE is indeed a living legend…

1. Text in Blue points to additional data on the topic.
2. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.

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asically started my career as a part-time secretary with US commercial department 1984-86
1986-2001 had fifteen years of experience with erstwhile ANZ Grindlays Bank now Standard Chartered Bank
Then studied law got enrolled and practising as acounsellor
Writing articles for VSK
Currently anchoring for BHARATH TV a local English channel
Latest posts by Vijayshree Ramesh (see all)


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