In the annals of Indian Cinema and Thamizh Cinema, Director K. Somu holds a unique pride of place. He is the only director to have worked under two American Directors, Ellis. R. Duncan and William Burke. This opportunity arose when he was working as an assistant director to the indomitable, the most influential "Boss" of South Indian Cinema, Director T.R. Sundaram,a Leeds graduate( U.K.) and the owner of Modern Theatres at Salem, Thamizhnadu. He produced nearly one hundred films in all the South Indian languages apart from English and Sinhalese without seeking any financial help from any source.

Later on director K.Somu was to reveal that he cherished most the five year stint he had as an assistant director from 1948 to 1953 as a very good beginning to his professional career. Most remarkable among them were the two films, MANTHIRI KUMARI directed by Ellis R. Dungan in Thamizh and JUNGLE in English, directed by William A. Berke.

K. Somu was the assistant director for both the films and his name also appeared in the films' title cards. They appreciated his interest, diligence, dedication, talent and sincerity in his work. Director Ellis R. Duncan invited Somu to go with him as his assistant to USA in 1950 and William Burke invited him to go with him to USA in 1952.

The overwhelmed assistant director was ever beholden to his mentors. Instead he asked for their signed photographs. Director Ellis R. Duncan autographed his photo with "best wishes to somu". Director William Burke autographed his photograph as “to the best assistant ever" and presented to their assistant director. These two photographs was cherished and preserved by Somu with great nostalgia.

In January 1994, after a gap of forty two years, Director Ellis R. Duncan came down to Chennai at the invitation of South Indian Film Technicians Association's function held at the Film Chambers of Commerce auditorium. The legendary Director of South Indian Cinema, remembered all his colleagues who had worked in Modern Theatres. He called them by their names and presented a memento to all of them.

Director K. Somu received the memento from his mentor on which was inscribed in his own hand writing. " Time Passes on but memories live". Ellis R. Duncan, with tears of joy.

Early Life

Born at the holy abode of Lord Muruga, Pazhani, Thamizhnadu on June 12, 1917 as the twelfth son to his parents K. Kandaswamy Pillai, a religious and devoted wealthy banker and Chandrapurnam Ammal, the daughter of Jail Superintendent at Tuticorin and one of her brothers was a customs officer at the Tuticorin Port. The pampered son Somasundaram lovingly called Somu was the joy and doting son of the family. He had a younger sister too. The whole family's happiness came to a standstill with the death of Kandaswamy Pillai in 1927. He breathed his last at the outer corridor (prakaram) in the family temple (kuladeivam) Periyaudaiyar Sivan Temple situated on the banks of the Shanmugam River, in a praying and prostrating posture.

Director K. Somu's elder brother K. Sivalingam Pillai graduated as a Lawyer in 1920. In 1922, he settled down at Udumalaipet to start his legal practice after his marriage. He married the second daughter of the famous local advocate Minatchisundaram Pillai. Sivalingam Pillai retired as the Government Pleader. He wanted his youngest brother to continue the family tradition of lawyers. But Somu was more influenced by his older cousin brother Nataraja Pillai, who was a great lover of theatre. He had a melodious voice and used to sing the songs of Chellappa Iyer, Ananthanarayanaiyer, S.G. Kittappa and K.B. Sundarambal who were very popular at that time. He engaged himself in the company of drama artistes and musicians. He imparted his passion for music and drama to Somu also.

During his school days at Udumalaipet, Somu took part in all extra-curricular activities like singing, acting and fancy dress competitions and won many a prize. One incident he narrated still evokes laughter. In a fancy dress competition, he dressed himself like a dhobi and came to the school auditorium with a donkey asking for the used and dirty clothes of everyone on the stage including the chief guest. He was driven away only to be rewarded for his sense of humor. During his SSLC days, as a young and handsome student with curly hair, his teachers encouraged him to act in the school dramas. At that time he enacted RAJAJI's story entitled VIMOSANAM. It was the story depicting the evil of drinking. Somu was the hero and his friend Ramakrishnan, who later on became the Head of Thiruparaithurai Ramakrishna School, was the heroine. The drama highlights how the drunken husband tortures his wife and in the process losing the family's happiness and harmony. This drives the hero to commit suicide by hanging. While enacting this scene, the rope really got tight and Somu was strangled creating panic and much anxiety among the audience. Director Somu was a teetotaler and thanked Rajaji for inspiring his life style. The elder statesman Rajaji, later saw SAMPOORNA RAMAYANAM and praised the film directed K. Somu and the acting of Nadigar Thilagam Sivaji Ganesan as Barathan. He said: "Ramayanam Vazhga, Barathan Vazhga".(Long live Ramayanam, Long live Barathan.)

Searching for Jobs:

After his schooling in Udumalaipet, K. Somu spend his time in organizing drama companies, acting, writing and directing dramas with his friends without the support of his family as they feared his passion for music and drama as a distracting influence in his life.They wanted him to pursue his studies to become an advocate like his elder brother . His mother Chandrapurnam Ammal was the only support and believed that one day her son would become a great artiste. She did not see her doting son entering the portals of the great Modern Theatres at Salem and working as an assistant director and acting in small roles, that of a doctor in 'Devaki' and a group leader of soldiers in the company of MGR in the film 'Mandirikumari', and to see him blossom into a full fledged film director making his family happy and proud.

Chandrapurnam Ammal was a worried mother seeing his son engrossed in fine arts and not settling down in life. Hence in 1940, Somu joined the British Military Service which was then known as I.A.O.C., Indian Ordinance Army Corps as a Supervisor. It was here that his name was officially changed from Somasundaram to Somu. It was during this period he developed his interest for anything mechanical. He learnt to repair from small watches to big grandfather clocks and also radios. He had a great liking for dismantling and reassembling them once again. But he was not in his elements here as it did not give him any scope to pursue his passion in fine arts. He left the service and joined as the Acting Revenue Inspector in Udumalaipet Municipality in 1943. As a Revenue Inspector he married Veeraswamy Pillai's daughter Parvathi aka as pattu in Tiruchi. While working here, he kept on looking for an opportunity to make a foray into film industry at that time personified by the one and only Modern Theatres.

Assistant Director at Modern Theaters

After the death of his mother, Somu moved to Salem with his family, as it was his burning ambition to join Modern Theatres as an actor. After many an attempt, he made an entry into the very famous Modern Theatres and met the celebrated Director and owner" Mudalali"T.R. Sundaram in the famous Rehearsal Hall in 1947. T.R. Sundaram after knowing his interest in acting gave Somu a novel that he had read in England as a student titled EUNUCH and ordered him to come with its thamizh translation. When he came with his translation the next day, his boss T.R. Sundaram liked it. But he was interested in having Somu as his Assistant and not as an actor and his dream of becoming a great actor came to an end, even though his 'Mudalali" (Boss) gave him small roles to play in "Manthrikumari" and "Devaki".

The golden period in Somu's professional life in the thamizh film industry began with the five hear stint from 1948 to 1953 as an Assistnt Director in Modern Theatres. He was T.R. Sundaram's assistant for the film "Mayavathi" and Ellis R. Duncan's assistant in "Manthirikumari" and William Burke's English film Jungle, to name a few.

It was during the making of "Manthiri Kumari", Somu became very good friends with M.G. Ramachandran, Karunanidhi and Kannadasan. He developed a special relationship with all the three. MGR used to call his friend Somu as "Swami", Karunanidhi "Somu Saar" and Kanndasan as "Jani".

It was during the making of the film "Manthiri Kumari" that one of the heros of the film M. G. Ramachandran became a good friend of Somu There developed a special relationship between the two that when Somu had financial difficulties in paying his house rent the good friend came to his rescue. (K. somu wrote aboput this in an article in the famous Thamizh weekly Ananda Vikatan). Makkal Thilagam M.G. Ramachandran was his real friend in need as he was very much impressed by Somu as his assistant director. Film Historian, Film News Anandan wrote in the Friday Suppliment in the Thamizh Daily DINAKARAN that MGR offered him the opportunity to direct his maiden home production"Nadodi Mannan", and another film "Malai Kallan". Somu had to decline the offers with great feeking, as he did not want to separate himself from the film unit which had been formed under M.A.V. Productions.

Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi, the story and dialogue writer and lyricist Kaviarasu Kannadasan also became close friends. The bonding factor of the three was their love for cinema, both Indian and International, and thamizh language - drama, music and literature. When Somu's second son was born, they took joy in naming him together.

Kaviarasu Kanndasan has recorded in his Autobiography that on the advice of his friend 'Jani' he resigned from Modern Theatres due to a problem and left Salem only to be recalled, as predicted by his friend .

Kalaignar Mu. Karunanidhi presented many of his books during this time to his friend Somu. He invited his friend to contribute a article for a souvenir to be brought out to celebrate his 40th birthday. In the article his friend Somu recalled Kalaignar's great sense of humor. Once his car broke down. Somu who happened to pass that side offered him a lift. His famous friend said that his car will run one mile for one whole month. (Maadhamellam sellum kaada dhooram en car).

K. Somu never took advantage of their friendship in later years to their dismay. He was happy and contended to see them become great personalities in cinema and politics.

Film Career

M.A. Venu was the production Manager at Modern Theatres during 1948-53. He was very much impressed by Somu's untiring work and he being appreciated by his boss called as Mudalali, by everyone working for Modern Theatres. He nurtured a personal ambition of having his own studio in Salem and producing films like his MUDALALI T.R. Sundaram. He moved to Coimbatore and started his film production company MAV Pictures and roped in K.Somu as the Director for his maiden film MANGALYAM. This is a unique venture in the history of Thamizh cinema. It was the first film for every one, starting from the producer M.A. Venu, Director K. Somu, Story and Dialogue writer A.P. Nagarajan, and Music Director K. V. Mahadevan. Producer M .A. Venu's first four films MANGALYAM, PENNARASI, TOWN BUS, and SAMPOORNA RAMAYANAM had the same director, music director and story and dialogue writer.

K. Somu then directed films produced by his friends V.K. Ramaswamy ,the great character actor and A P Nagarjan, master story and dialogue writer under Sri Lakshmi Pictures banner. The films produced were "Makkalai Petra Maharasi", with Sivaji Ganesan as Hero and Banumathi as Heroine. In this film, Nadigar Thilagam won over the hearts of all cine goers by his dialogue delivery of the coimbatore dialect. This film was a precursor to many thamizh films using the various district slangs of Thamizhnadu. The famous Thamizh weekly KUMUDUM appreciated the movie for its excellent direction. In "Nalla Idathu Sambandam" Nadigavel M.R. Radha was the Hero. After "Rathakanneer" he acted in this film at the Director's initiative and request after a gap of ten years. Sowcar Janaki was the Heroine and won the best actress award for this movie. In the Thaayai Pola Pillai Noola Pola Selai the great dramatist R.S. Manohar as the Hero and superb actress M.N. Rajam was the Heroine. Soothing musical melodies for all these films were composed by Thirai Isai Thilagam K.V. Mahadevan.

Director K. Somu's other films with Nadigar Thilagam Sivaji Ganesan as the Hero was Naan Petra Selvam with G. Varalakshmi as the Heroine and the music director being G. Ramanathan. It was produced by Paragon Pictures. Naan Vanagum Deivam, with Natya Peroli Padmini as the Heroine and K.V. Mahadevan's music, was produced by Shri Satyanarayanan Pictures. Paavai Vilakku, was story of the Sahitya Academy award winner Akilon,with M.N. Rajam, Sowcar Janaki, and the noted Classical Bharatha Batyam Dancer Kumari Kamala, were the three heroines of this film. K.V. Mahadevan was the music director. This was produced by Sri Vijaygopal Pictures.

Other films of Director K. Somu include Alli Petra Pillai with Latschya Nadigar S.S. Rajendran as the Hero and M.N. Rajam as the heroine and the music was composed by K.V. Mahadevan. This film produced in 1959 has a first to its credit. For the first time Music Director G. Ramanathan sang a song for another Music Director K.V. Mahadevan. The film was produced by M.M. Productions. Pattinathar, the story of the 12th century, thamizh saint, was produced by the famous Music Director G. Ramanatha Iyer. This film released in 1962 has the celebrated singer T.M. Sounderajan donning the role of the Hero and Gemini Chandra as the Heroine. M.R. Radha played a negative cum comedy role with remarkable ease. The producer himself composed all the songs for this film. The Film Pen Manam had Nageswara Rao and Anjali Devi as the leading pair with M.R. Radha and the Veena maestro and genius S. Balachander. Music for this film was done by Veda who later on became famous as music director for films produced by Modern Theatres with Jaishankar as Hero.

Director K. Somu ventured into film production under the banner of Kandaswamy Productions and released a film in 1967 titled Sundramurthi Nayanar. Casting all new faces, this was the story of one of the sixty four Nayanmaars, Sundaramurthi Nayanar belonging to the 8th century. Hero was I.D. Pandarinath and Jothilakshmi was the heroine, both new comers. The music for the Devaram and Thirupugazh songs was composed by the great music director S.M. Subbaiya Naidu. That was the time when black and white films were slowly replaced by color films with huge sets. This being a black and white one and produced at the site of all the temples in Thamizhnadu and Kerala, were the saivaite saint Sundaramoorthi Nayanar had sung his Thevarams in praise Lord Shiva. This ultimately proved a set back and the film failed in the box office. But the songs are still broadcast in all the Radio Stations for their music and melody.

From 1967 to 1984, Director K.Somu was engaged in more than twenty films. All these films were under various stages of production. Due to financial reasons none of them saw the light of the day. They were not released. But notable among them, was a historical film based on the story of the famous historical Novelist Sandilyan, titled Jeevabhumi. It was Produced by actor Sriram under Sriram Productions. M.A. Venu produced a film titled Pattalathu Sippoy. Another film titled Aindhu Idayangal, was based on a story written by the famous Bollywood writer and Editor K.A. Abbas. In this film Kadal Mannan Gemini Ganesan and Venniraadai Nirmala were the leading pair and S.M.Subbaiya Naidu was entrusted with the musical credits. It was produced by Somasundaram Movies.

G.V the famous film producer wrote a series of articles in the weekly thamizh magazine "Idhayam Pesugirathu" with Manian as its editor. In that he recorded that K.Somu's was the first one in Thamizh industry to form a unit of technicians, and going to the sets with thorough rehearsals, and the director wearing a white and white dress with dark glasses. He wished the thamizh cinema followed the working style of yesteryear Director's like K. Somu.

The veteran Actor V.K. Ramaswami who was the coproducer of Sri Lakshmi Pictures wrote a series of articles in the popular Thamizh Magazine Kalki, He remembered the contribution made by K. Somu apart from directon in all the films produced under Sri Lakshmi Pictures banner.

The celebrated character and versatile actor Nagesh in his series of articles in the esteemed Thamizh weekly Kalki, recorded that Nan Vanangum Deivam was his first film with Nadigar Thilagam Sivaji Ganesan. He goes on to say the verbal duel he had with Sivaji Ganesan in the film, only to be cut short by director K. Somu.

A very good conversationalist, with a great sense of humor, and with a razor sharp memory till his last day, Director K. Somu gave a special Then Kinnam Programme in 1980 in the then famous Vividha Bharathi programme of All India Radio.

Film Photographs