For filmmakers like me who are interested in the history of Indian cinema, one of the first names to contact when hunting for material on the Tamil industry was Film News Anandan, who has died in Chennai at the age of 88.
Anandan was a leading publicist in the Tamil film industry as well as a collector. He collected movie memorabilia, including stills, lobby cards and song booklets, as well as details of a movie’s entire cast and crew. Thanks to his efforts, film scholars, writers, and researchers are able to access material on Tamil film history that cannot be found on Wikipedia or Imdb.
Anandan was born Mani, and attached ‘Film News’ to his name in 1954. He developed his encyclopedic talent while working at the South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce. “I was asked to compile, every month, details about films releasing in all four south Indian languages. That is how everything began,” he said in an interview with The Hindu.
I consulted Anandan while researching my 2013 documentary An American in Madras, about the director Ellis R Dungan who lived in India from 1935 to 1950 and directed several Tamil films. While I got most of my material from the West Virginia State Archives in Charleston in the United States of America, Film News Anandan gave me key stills from Dungan’s films. These were particularly important as prints of some of the films did not exist anymore. Thus, these surviving stills gave us a record of film history.
I also interviewed Anandan for my film. He was full of facts. In the documentary, he speaks about Dungan’s Ambikapathy (1937), starring singing star MK Thyagaraja Bagavather. Anandan recalled that one of the romantic scenes featured a kiss, which drew repeat audiences even though it happens off camera. Dungan pans away from the couple just as their lips are about to meet.
Film News Anandan was an extremely helpful man who generously shared his knowledge and material. Though he barely knew me, he gifted me a copy of his Tamil-language compilation, in which each and every Tamil film produced year on year has been listed. There won’t be another like him.