A fan of the movies will understand the excitement that comes with the prospect of visiting a famous film setting.The fact that this heritage house was just a half an hour’s drive away from Pollachi made it even more an irresistible a visit. The amazingly talented thespian of Tamil cinema Shivaji Ganesan along with other fine actors like Kamal Hassan,Revathy and Gowthami in the movie Thevar Magan which was a runaway hit of it’s time not only made the house famous but also brought alive the way of life in the South and thereby succeeded in endearing us to the charm of a traditional courtyard style house.
During the car journey each of us reminisced about various scenes that we considered unforgettable about that movie in particular.Another special advantage about visiting a place like this is that invariably one gets to also see quaint sights on the way which seemed untouched by time. As we approached the village of Nallur we passed by one of the prettiest railway crossings that I had ever seen. It was almost as if it were a protected space,with four majestic banyans rooted in the corners,offering the most picturesque setting for a weary traveller’s sore eyes.Even the people managing the post seemed enchanted with the space for they had taken the trouble to not only keep it as tidy as a pin but also beautify it further by planting peach lilies along the track.
Once the senses got attuned to the surroundings the thought process began a natural shift to the village and it’s tenants that witnessed the making of a movie filled with such grandeur in these quiet surroundings.We were joined by Mr.Ram Mohan who is the engineer largely responsible for maintaining and restoring the original structure to it’s current state of care without taking away from it’s past glory.
We were told that the ownership of the stately home has changed several hands since the making of the movie and is now owned by a Pollachi local who employs caretakers to handle the daily upkeep.
As we turned into the clean,narrow road,the towering terracotta tile roofed,white washed structure was hard to miss.The open gates offered a magnificient view of the imposing veranda with it’s rounded pillars and I have to admit that I got goosebumps while visualizing the scene in the movie where the patriarch of the family stood at the entrance giving orders and stroking his impressive moustache!
At that moment I wondered why it had taken me so long to visit such a place not just untainted but that still existed in such natural surroundings. It’s with regret I realise that very few of us take the trouble in seeking out the richness that is situated so close to home. While we traverse the globe looking at places made famous on celluloid ,we barely stop to admire the spaces that are within easy reach.
The two storeyed house constructed in a style in keeping with the community and it’s requirements initially comprised of two rooms inside,on either side of the front door,followed by a wide courtyard which then opened out to the back. A teak stairway leads to the upstairs space which back then was most likely meant for the head of the family.The original woodwork is intact right from the rafters beneath the tile roof,to the heavy doors ,window panes and pillars surrounding the courtyard.
As we climbed the solid staircase we were greeted by the unmistakable chirping of sparrows.At a time when they lament that technology is responsible for their near extinction, we found so many of them here happily flitting from one wooden beam to the other. In fact the modern constructional move away from adopting a roof of this kind has largely contributed to the diminishing population of these chittu kuruvis. We couldn’t help but feel cheerful with all the birdie chatter as we peeked in on the lone chamber that was the focus of a hit song in the same movie.
As we gazed at surrounding rooftops from the balcony,the small leanings towards urbanization became quite evident. Among the rows of tiled houses a not so attractive reinforced concrete structure poked through intermittently. A temple gopuram , a wide well obviously meant to be shared by the entire village complete with it’s stone bases for resting buckets ,clean pathways ,a solitary petty shop filled with colourful wares were some of the sights that delighted as well as gave off a calming vibe.
It was obvious from the way the village sort of settled around this grand structure that the owners who built this house contributed a great deal to the settlement. An old gate down the path,heavy rings embedded in the wall and the position of the compound wall were all suggestive of a grander lifestyle.
We spoke to a few inhabitants of Nallur about the history of the village. The positivity of the name in the colloquial tongue stems from the fact that this was a fertile land which not only saw the confluence of rivers but whose predecessors had even built one of the longest canals stretching to about 3 kms. It came to be referred to as Singanallur after the area was visited by big cats mostly tigers.The house is known as ‘shooting house’ amongst the present villagers because it is now largely uninhabited and the current owner rents it out mainly to the cine production companies.
The word on the street is that,any movie that is shot in this house has a definite chance of succeeding at the box office.How’s that for a bit of age old superstitions?!
While at first our head vision was filled with movie stars and memorable dialogues,an hour later the thoughts went through a total metamorphosis. It was more about the families that lived there, the lifestyle they led, the interests they cavorted, the food they ate and the people they influenced along the way. It was pointed to us that the house on the opposite side of the road belonged to a cousin of the original owner and we could see the remnants of an old horse drawn carriage lying in the front yard.
A house like this allows you the chance of appreciating the many marvels of our talented artisans.The handcut rough granite stone, the unique locking mechanism which consisted of wedging a large block of wood strategically in the centre of the opening,the inlaid brass work and openness of the plan which allowed the flow of energy unhindered from the entrance all the way to the rear of the house have become a rarity in modern times.These things were followed due to an age old wisdom of architecture which adhered to unspoken rules that conformed to a particular set of values and lifestyles.
I cannot deny that I did feel a tinge of sadness that a house of this stature was no longer somebody’s home.To dwell on that would be quite pointless. Instead it would be a much better way to bid adieu with thoughts of gratitude and appreciation to the many folk who are responsible for preserving this piece of history in a way that allows us to not only dream but weave our own tales of yesteryear, play out our fantasies,to be inspired and go back in time for a bit to an era which no matter what deserves our utmost respect !