Krishnan-Panju were that rarity in cinema — a director duo. Together, they created classics that remain unforgettable. It was Panju’s birth centenary this year last month. S. Panchapakesan was born in 1915 in Umayalpuram. His father, Subramania Iyer, died when Panju was barely three. His maternal grandfather, Ramaswamy Iyer, took him over to Papanasam where he grew up. In 1931, he joined the famous Pachaiyappa’s College, then in George Town. However, financial difficulties prevented him from completing college and he began to look for a job. He joined as a clerk in a soda and essences shop on Wall Tax Road, owned by Vajravelu Mudaliar, on a salary of Rs. 12 a month. Mudaliar was interested in movies and started to make a film in Sathuvachari near Vellore, where he set up a studio, but financial problems halted the film. Panju, however, marked his entry into movies.
Mudaliar introduced Panju to C.D. Kannabhiran, manager of Prabhat Talkies in Broadway who, in turn, introduced Panju to the American Tamil filmmaker Ellis R. Dungan. Dungan was then working on the historic Sathi Leelavathi, which introduced icons like M.K. Radha, T.S. Balaiah, N.S. Krishnan, MGR and S.S. Vasan to cinema.
Working with Dungan was a great learning experience for Panju, who showed a flair for editing. He moved to Coimbatore, then a centre of film production, and joined Premier Cinetone Studio as editor where he met pioneers of cinema like Raja Sandow.
It was in Coimbatore that Panju met Krishnan, a lab technician, a friendship further strengthened when Panju married Krishnan’s sister. Krishnan-Panju launched their career and went on to direct 64 movies in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi, many of them cult classics.
Poompaavai (1944), their debut film; the social satire Nallathambi, a rehash of Frank Capra’s classic, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town; Parasakthi (1952), which introduced the legendary Sivaji Ganesan; and the colourful box office hit Raththa Kanneer (1954), which relaunched M.R. Radha, to name just a few. Kula Deivam (1956), was based on a story by well-known Bengali writer Saraswathi Devi and was remade in Hindi as Bhabhi (1957), also directed by Krishnan-Panju. Kuzhandaiyum Deivamum (1965) was another big hit, and was based on the Walt Disney film The Parent Trap. It was remade in Telugu and Hindi with great success.
Kaliyuga Kannan made comedian 'Thengai' Srinivasan a star, while Server Sundaram did the same to comedian Nagesh. Server Sundaram was remade in Hindi as Mein Sundar Hoon. In Petralthan Pillayya (1966) MGR played the lead under Krishnan-Panju’s direction with B. Saroja Devi as the heroine. It was an adaptation of the Charlie Chaplin classic The Kid.
Deivapiravi (1960) and Annai were other big hits, with the latter remade in Telugu and in Hindi as Laadla with Nirupa Roy.
In Panju’s Uyarndha Manithan (1968), Sivaji is said to have delivered a performance which critics claim was his best ever. Anaadhai Anandan (1970) was another significant movie directed by the brilliant duo, an excellent adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. The film had Jayalalitha and AVM Rajan in the lead. Panju edited all his films under the pseudonym Panjabi. He passed away in 1984. Krishnan survived him for some years and died in 1997, but he did not make any movies after Panju’s demise.