Beginning his career as a government servant, moving on to amateur theatre, turning executive producer, graduating to full-fledged production and proving his skills as an actor … ‘Pyramid' Natarajan has done it all! As a businessman, his sojourns in cinema threw open a plethora of experiences, some sweet, some sour, but through it all the man has never lost his smile! Is it stoicism? “It's more a never-say-die attitude,” guffaws the sexagenarian. “The fire simmering within me goaded me on.”
Even as a boy in his hamlet near Thanjavur, Natarajan thrived on attention and popularity however miniscule it may seem now. The urge to achieve continued when Madras city flung open its gates for the teenager. His love for theatre that had blossomed earlier, was fuelled further when K. Balachander, who belonged to the same village, established himself as a force to reckon with, on the theatre scene. “KB's troupe, Ragini Recreations, was creating waves, and I would religiously stand in the wings every evening after office, hoping to get a chance to meet the young achiever,” recalls Natarajan.
Soon he started his own troupe and staged a play. “It was a fiasco but I was thrilled to come down from the proscenium before the play began, and talk to the invitees, with my make-up on! I played hero and was quite smug about my performance. (The play was, called ‘Wait for Death'! It dawned on me later that the sinister title could have frightened people off.) But my wife pricked the bubble when she quietly told me, ‘I'll support you in all your efforts. But promise me you won't try acting ever again,' he grins. Thankfully, she didn't insist. Or how would we have witnessed masterly performances from Natarajan, in films such as ‘Alaipaayudhae' and ‘Solla Marandha Kadhai'?
Foray into the big screen
After the feeble attempt at drama production, Natarajan set his eyes on the big screen. “My first project was ‘Penn Ondru Kandaen.' A well-made film, but sadly it bombed.” Didn't the failures make him forget such experiments? “On the other hand, it made me resilient,” he says. “Whatever the obstacle, I remained unfazed. And I never spoke about my losses to others.”
Always scouting for an opening that would take him to the next rung, Natarajan followed S.S. Balan of Gemini Studios, to his farm in Padappai, with a business proposal and the meeting culminated in Natarajan taking over as executive producer of Gemini films. “It was a magical moment,” he says. “And I learnt every thing about administration, right from preparing vouchers.”
The remarkable aspect of Natarajan's progress was his ability to create opportunities, utilise them, envisage the next step, and realise his goals. “Our experiences should help youngsters. No point in saying that our children don't heed advice. We have to share our highs and lows with them, in a manner that they accept them as words of genuine concern and not as sermons,” says Natarajan. The way young talents are put down by some of the judges in our reality shows irks him no end. “Don't hurt young minds just because you are in a position to,” he says.
When KB understood Natarajan's potential, he suggested the two of them float their production company and Kavithalaya was born. “I can never forget the vital role Balachander has played in my career,” he observes. Kavithalaya went on to churn out one hit after another, including seven films with Rajinikanth and an almost equal number with Kamal Haasan.
Another very prestigious project from Kavithalaya was ‘Roja.' When Natarajan called up Mani Ratnam, the maker came up with two lines – one, a kidnap saga involving Kashmiri militants and the other, a story of two petty thieves. “I plumped for the former. ‘It could be challenging,' Mani said. “I like challenges, we'll go ahead,” I told him. For the hero's role, Mani suggested a new face, who had done some modelling assignments. After quite a search we chose him. And with ‘Roja' Arvind Swami's popularity soared.
“I also have a fresh composer in mind, actually two,” suggested Mani – “L. Subramaniam and a young man called Dileep.” “I'll meet Dileep first,” Natarajan said. “Generally music directors came with a tabla, harmonium and so on. But Dileep entered with just an organ. ‘Can you give me a tune,' I asked. He played a couple of lines and I knew he was our man,” laughs Natarajan. The composer became A.R. Rahman and the tune, ‘Chinna Chinna Aasai' from ‘Roja,' topped the charts.
Years later, when Natarajan was in London, Rahman, who was also there for his ‘Bombay Dreams,' introduced him to Andrew Lloyd Webber as his first producer. “It was a memorable moment,” smiles Natarajan.
After nearly a decade and a half with Kavithalaya, Natarajan came out to form, Pyramid Films International and made around 10 films under the banner.
Today, he's an advisor to an entertainment firm, his three sons are well settled and Natarajan is a contented man. He pulls out a picture of his wife from his wallet. “She looks beautiful,” I tell him “Yes, she is! She's always been very supportive. I was 20 and she was 18 when we got married. Ours was a love marriage. Something very rare in those days,” he laughs.
But as he says, many have helped him scale heights in film production.
Failures made me resilient. Whatever the obstacle, I remained unfazed.