1932- Born in Kerala
1949 - Completed high school.
1951- Arrived in Malaya
1988- retired from APMC after thirty five years of continuous service.
Mr P.T Varghese has made a significant contribution to Malaysian society through his long and impressive history with the Kairali Arts. He is well-known for his participation on several social, cultural and political levels,. These include the Selangor Kerala Samajam (now the Selangor and Federal Territory Malayalee Association), the Malaysian Indian Congress, of which he was Vice-President of (Rawang Branch 1964/65) and co-founder of Bharatha Kala Nilayam Rawang. In 2013, he remains the last surviving founding member of the Malaysian Kairali Arts Society. P. T Varghese continues to write in his eighties. In his own words, the ‘cultural stream” in me is still flowing, and I will not let it dry up as long as I have control over my intellectual functions’.
In 1952, he played a support role in (SFTMA). He was part of a group of “arts crazy” youngsters in the cultural wing of the Samajam and was initiated into drama in 1953. This same cultural wing later broke away from the main body of the Kerala Samajam to form an association, the Kairali Arts Club, which in June 1956, was dedicated solely to the pursuit of cultural activities.
From its inception in 1956 and for the next forty years, until 1995, his involvement with the Kairali Arts Club helped shape the direction of Malayalee theatre. His commitment to the club in a variety of capacities is remarkable. He occupied several chairs as President, Honorary Secretary, Honorary Treasurer and committee member. His theatre contributions as playwright, editor, director, actor and lyricist demonstrates his capacity and commitment to the Arts.
He lives in Kuala Lumpur with his wife, 2 daughters and 1 son. His family has since grown to include 1 daughter-in-law, 2 sons-in-law and 5 grandchildren.
The word ‘ Kairali ‘ is the adjective of the word ‘Kerala’; thus the name denotes : a club to promote the arts of Kerala.
When we look into the history of Kairali Arts Club of Kuala Lumpur we have to start with the history of Selangor Kerala Samajam (now SFTMA) as well .There was a group of youngsters among those who arrived from Kerala after the Second World War, looking for greener pastures, with vibrant artistic talents and cultural instincts. They attempted to put up cultural programmes on different occasions even before the inception of Kerala Samajam but not being well organized was a hindrance to their activities. Though they have managed to prepare and present a Malayalam drama titled ‘LADY DOCTOR ‘ in Hindustan Theatre in Campbell Road (now defunct) with much difficulty, it ended on an unsavory note due to some mishap on the stage. While they were desperately trying to organize a cultural group Mr. P N Pillai who was an accountant in private practice with his office in Ampang Street (now Leboh Ampang) took the initiative of registering an association for Malayalees residing in the state of Selangor. Kuala Lumpur was part of Selangor state at that point of time. This enthusiastic group of youngsters, whose interest was mainly focused on performing arts, immediately offered their full support and expressed their desire to function as the cultural wing of the samajam. Kerala Samajam,.the first ever Malayalee association in Selangor, was registered in November 1952. Immediately after the registration, the cultural wing swung in to action to present a drama under the banner of Kerala Samajam. A drama titled ‘VENNILAAV’ was selected and after three months of rehearsals and stage preparations it was staged under Kerala Samajam banner in March 1953.
Due to some disagreement between the cultural wing and the main committee of Kerala Samajam the cultural wing decided to cease their affiliation with the samajam and again started functioning independently. They grouped together to prepare and stage a drama titled “PINTHIRIPPAN PRASTHANAM “ in 1954 for some charity purpose on the request of the EASTERN ARTS SOCIETY a prominent Tamil Arts society of those days. This team used to come together occasionally to put up cultural programmes for some time during which period serious discussions were held among them to have an organization registered exclusively for the purpose of promoting and sustaining our arts and culture.
The inaugural meeting was held on 20th June 1956 in the upper floor of Lakshmi Vilas Restaurant in Ampang Street (now Leboh Ampang) in which it was agreed unanimously by those present to register an association under the name of “KAIRALI ARTS CLUB’ and a committee was elected to pursue the matter.
The committee elected was as follows:
PresidentMr. William D’Cruz
Hon. SecretaryMr. George Chandy
Hon. TreasurerMr. P V Thomas
Mr. V K Bhaskaran Nair
Mr. A A Thomas
Mr. A Ravindra
Mr. A E Pereira
The inaugural meeting was chaired by Mr. A A Thomas who was a practicing lawyer. All these were made possible by the untiring and selfless efforts of a few individuals; two of them to be specially remembered here are (1) George Chandy who has dedicated his whole life for his mother tongue and culture (2) Mr. William D’cruz who was the captain if George Chandy was the navigator. Thus
Kairali Arts Club started its sail. This event was reported in the main media, ‘Straits Times’, on 22nd June 1956 as a news item.
Immediately after the inaugural meeting, the whole force vigorously started preparations for staging a drama under Kairali banner. A humorous play entitled “VIKADAYOGI “written by Mr. N P Chellappan Nair, a famous playwright in Kerala , was meticulously prepared and staged in Kuala Lumpur Town hall in November 1956. It is to be mentioned here that the club had the cooperation and support of Mrs Indra B Nair the daughter of the playwright and her husband Mr. Bhaskaran Nair who was in the committee as well. Mrs Indira Nair used to take part in Reddifusion dramas produced by Kairali Arts Club along with Mrs P V Thomas and Mrs George D’Silva This was followed by another drama entitled ‘PREMA VYCHITHRYAM’ also written by the same author in 1957. In the beginning the club faced numerous difficulties. There was no place for conducting rehearsals, no ladies were available to act on the stage because it was considered to be a taboo in our society. Another big problem was to get enough people for a full house audience in K L Town hall which has a capacity of only 420 seats. Eventually the club earned the goodwill and support of many to overcome these problems. MIDLANDS SCHOOL in Lornie Road (now Jalan Syed Putra) owned and run by Mr.& Mrs. P K Nair was , I should say, the ‘cradle’ of Kairali Arts Club. They put the whole school premises at the disposal of the club unconditionally and that solved the problem of rehearsal venue Though the club was blessed with male artistes demonstrating extraordinary talents like A. Ravindra , P R Menon , P. Narayanan, R. Haridas and a few more in handling female characters on stage, the lack of female artistes was always a concern for the club. Mrs Santha Y B Menon helped the club to overcome this hurdle by taking a role in the drama ‘UMMINITHANKA’ thus earning the credit of being the ‘First lady on the stage’ in Kairali Arts Club’s history.
In 1958 the club committee selected a story which was specially written for a professional drama club KPAC ( Kerala People’s Arts Club) in Kerala and successfully staged all over India by them. After three months in preparation the drama titled MUDIYANAYA PUTHRAN (prodigal son in literal meaning but not in any way related to the bible story) was staged in K L Town hall on the 22nd of February 1958. It was an experiment for the club because Malaysian audience were not exposed to themes like this until then and the club officials were skeptical as to what the public reaction would be. But to the surprise of all, not only was it well received; the public acclaimed it as the best ever produced by Kairali Arts Club. The then president of Selangor Kerala Samajam Mr. N Raghavan AMN who was in the audience came up on to the stage immediately after the drama and congratulated the team saying that this is the best of all performance that Malaysian Malayalees have ever seen so far in this field. He further suggested that those who missed this drama should be given an opportunity to enjoy this beautiful piece of performing art and requested the team to repeat this drama at least once more in K L itself. He took the responsibility to bring in a full house in K L Town hall in two weeks time. As a result of his initiative and effort, a repeat performance of the play was held on 15th March 1958 in K L town hall to a full audience followed by a third performance in K L in aid of Ceylon Flood Relief Fund and one in Seremban on the request of Negri Sembilan Kerala Samajam. Thus the club created history in this field which was seen as a turning point in its direction because that was the first time a Malayalam drama has seen a repeat performance on popular request in Malaya.
Having experienced some measure of success the artistes and officials being confident in their ability to handle even more difficult type of stories, took courage to venture into a story considered to be most difficult for an amateur club to handle, which they have put aside for some time, due to lack of confidence. The play in question was (Kalvariyile Kalpa padapam) CROSS OF CALVARY a classic drama depicting the last few days in the life of Jesus Christ written in 1934 by Kainikkara Padmanabha Pillai, one of the great playwrights of those days. This was a gamble to the recently earned popularity of the club because the obstacles were numerous.
There are about two dozen characters acting on the stage with more than a dozen technicians involved; yet there was no turning back for the club.
After four months of rehearsals the drama was staged for four consecutive days to full capacity in K L Town hall. That was another feather in the cap of the club.. Incidentally, it was the then president of Kerala Samajam, Mr. N Rghavan who was selected to play the leading role of JESUS CHRIST in the drama and he has done it with all its seriousness and presented a splendid performance to the admiration of all who have seen the drama. The club was then invited by the Catholic church in Silibin Road, Ipoh to perform the drama in aid of their church building fund. The club accepted and put up two performances for them in Ipoh. The news spread all over Malaya and as a result the club received requests from various sources to play the drama in other languages. After serious discussions the club made arrangements to translate the script in Tamil and after elaborate rehearsals with the help of a Tamil language director for months, the drama was staged in K L Town hall with the same cast for a few days consecutively.
The success story did not stop there; it was translated into English by popular request and played in K L Town hall for a few days with the same cast to a cosmopolitan audience. Then came the request from Northern Malaya Kerala Samajam for the drama to be played in all the three languages consecutively for two days in Sungei Petani and Penang presenting two shows at each place. Knowing that it would be a Herculean task, the club took it up as a challenge.
The drama was performed in Sungei Petani on the first day putting up the first show in English at 4.00 p.m. followed by the second show in Malayalam at 8.00 p.m. with only a 15 minutes break in between shows Immediately after the shows the artistes and technicians moved to Penang with the complete settings, props and costumes crossing the ferry heading strait to the hall and started assembling the settings on the stage for the following day’s show. Everything was ready on time and the first show in Penang started as scheduled exactly at 4.00 p.m. in English followed by the second show at 8.00 pm in Tamil all with the same cast. That was Kairali Arts Club’s greatest feat achieved within eight years of its inception made possible with immense sacrifices by its members. This could be considered as the highlight in the history of Kairali Arts Club. The dedication, commitment and punctuality among members were so strong that no obstacle could stop them once they put their mind on a club assignment.
This was followed by the staging of a number of professional dramas which was specially written for and staged by the renowned theatre groups in Kerala like KALA NILAYAM , K P A C etc. Some of them are UMMINI THANGA & KAYAMKULAM KOCHUNNI (historical) written by Jagathy and ASHWA MEDHAM & SARA SAYYA (social) written by Thopil Bhasi and AKKALDAMA (social) written by P R Chandran. AKKALDAMA was such a popular hit among Malaysian Malayalees so much so it was repeated 12 times in various parts of Malaysia and in Singapore.
Kairali Arts Club have hosted programmes in honour of Cine artistes like Prem Nazir, Thikkurissi, Adoor Bhasi, and the famous playwright Jagathy N K Achari and many more celebrities who visited Malaysia from time to time and earned their praise.
KAC artistes staged performances in almost all main towns in Malaysia and in Singapore as well as in the United Kingdom. Though the beginning was an acid test for the pioneers, there was a time when they have rejoiced in the glory. 1958 to 1980 was the golden era in the history of the Club.
I believe the Malaysian Malayali diaspora will cherish the memory of Kairali Arts Club for at least to the end of the presently disappearing generation. The rest is left to everybody’s imagination.
Note: The above gist of the history of Kairali Arts Club is compiled from the recollections of the writer who is believed to be the only living person from among the founding members as at this day The facts given are true to the best of his knowledge based on personal involvement and experiences and are given without any prejudice whatsoever to anyone living or dead. Corrections and/or omissions with proof are welcome.
P T Varghese.
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