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Friday, November 1, 2019

animals in films ~ M A Chinnappa Thevar and Eugene Sandow


Elephants are not new to tinseldom. In  ‘Nalla Neram’, a MGR starrer  released in 1972, the storyline was around choice between love (his wife) and friendship (his loyal and devoted pet elephants). .. .. one of those elephants was Rathi, who lived a long live till 77.    She had shared tinseldom with MGR, Rajnikanth and Rajesh Khanna.  She was reportedly the oldest of the camp at Mudumalai Tiger Reserve (MTR) in the Nilgiris when she passed away on  23rd Jan 13.   Rathi starred alongside MGR and Chief minister Jayalalithaa in 1971 released film - Neerum Nerupum, directed by P Neelakandan, A year later, she was signed for Nalla Neram, directed by M A Thirumugam, starring MGR in the lead role and K R Vijaya as the heroine.  After a 6 year hiatus, Rathi starred in Rajnikant’s  ‘Annai Oru Alayam’ where Sripriya was the heroine. 

The World's Columbian Exposition also known as the Chicago World's Fair was held  in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the New World in 1492.  The centerpiece of the Fair, the large water pool, represented the long voyage Columbus took to the New World.  Among many other attractions was a body building show too !

The man who had made animals act so well was well respected in the cine circuit. He had risen from a much smaller level, playing small roles in films that were shot in Central Studios, Coimbatore, until he was roped in by Jupiter Pictures for villain role in the 1947 movie Rajakumari with then-a-relatively unknown lead actor M. G. Ramachandran with whom he formed a deep friendship. In the film Mohini (1948) there was a scene taken in forest, where MGR  rushes to rescue a family travelling in a bullock-cart from being robbed by a gang and the main robbers role was played by this man, as the main robber .. .. .. who ended up making films providing greater role for animals .. .. the man Chinnappa Devar.

Sandow is a series of three 1894 silent short actuality films by the Edison Studios featuring bodybuilder Eugen Sandow, directed by William K.L. Dickson. The series is considered a historically significant early film series. 

Eugen Sandow (born Friedrich Wilhelm Müller; 1867 – 1925] was a German bodybuilder and showman.  Born in Königsberg, Sandow became interested in bodybuilding at the age of ten during a visit to Italy. After a spell in the circus, Sandow studied under strongman Louis Durlacher in the late 1880s.  On Durlacher's recommendation, he began entering strongman competitions, performing in matches against leading figures in the sport.  He left Prussia in 1885 to avoid military service and travelled throughout Europe, becoming a circus athlete and adopting Eugen Sandow as his stage name, adapting and Germanizing his Russian mother's maiden name, Sandov. Florenz Ziegfeld wanted to display Sandow at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago,  but Ziegfeld knew that Maurice Grau had Sandow under a contract.   Ziegfeld found that the audience was more fascinated by Sandow's bulging muscles than by the amount of weight he was lifting, so Ziegfeld had Sandow move in poses which he dubbed "muscle display performances" ... and the legendary strongman added these displays in addition to performing his feats of strength with barbells.

In 1901, Sandow organized the world's first major bodybuilding competition in London's Royal Albert Hall. The venue was so full that people were turned away from the door. The three judges presiding over the contest were Sir Charles Lawes the sculptor, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle the author, and Sandow himself. In 1906, he was able to buy the lease of 161 Holland Park Avenue, thanks to a generous gift from an Indian businessman, Sir Dhunjibhoy Bomanji, whose health had improved dramatically after he had adopted Sandow's regime.  He was  designated special instructor in physical culture to King George V, who had followed his teachings, in 1911.  Sandow's resemblance to the physiques found on classical Greek and Roman sculpture was no accident, as he measured the statues in museums and helped to develop "The Grecian Ideal" as a formula for the "perfect physique".

Sandow married Blanche Brooks in 1896. Sandow was acclaimed on his 1905 visit to India, at which time he was already a "cultural hero" in the country at a time of strong nationalistic feeling.  However, when he died in 1925, he was   buried in an unmarked grave in Putney Vale Cemetery at the request of his wife, Blanche.

Now getting back to MMA Chinnappa Thevar, was born in Ramanathapuram locality in Coimbatore to Ayyavoo thevar and Ramakkal.  Chinnappa thevar studied only till 5th grade due to financial reasons. During his youth in the 1930s, he joined in Pankaja mill for a salary of Rs.9 and started his earnings. He later worked in Stanes motor company for few years. He also earned through milk production, rice shop and soda production. From a very young age he was interested in gymnasium. He started "Veera Maruthi Deha Payirchi saalai" with his friends in Ramanathapuram area. To join the film industry, he mastered various martial arts and improved his physique.

He and his brother first acted in the 1940 film Thilottama. It was a fight sequence where only their shadows were filmed. Devar earned the title ‘Sandow’ because of his physique and fighting skills.  From smaller rolls he rose to some prominence in acting.  Later went on to produce many films making a big mark in Tamil tinseldom.

Chinnapa thevar got married to Mari Muthammal at an early age.  Thevar   was an ardent devotee  of Lord Muruga. He was known for his bakthi to Muruga, having vibuthi in his forehead.  His movies were a big hit featuring animals, and hd  produced numerous movies with MGR  as lead actor, under the banner ‘Devar films’.   He and his banner Dhandayuthapani films attained national fame.  He was given the title ‘Sandow’ as a tribute to his impressive muscles.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
21st Oct 2019
PS : spl thanks to my friend Sridhar Joshi for that spark [the photo quiz on Sandwow inspiring me for this article]

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