Born in Ozhuginachery, Nagercoil, in the princely state of Travancore, India on 29 November 1908, his stage and cine-screen comedy performances were unique and always carried a message for the people. 'Kalaivanar' N. S. Krishnan died at the age of 49, on 30 August 1957.
N S Krishnan started his career as a Villu Paatu artist (the Tamil way of reciting stories while singing songs and playing a musical instrument in the form of a bow called 'Villu'), He later became involved in Tamil drama and stage shows, as were many film artistes. At one time he owned a touring drama company. When cinema gradually became popular in South India, he entered the Tamil film world to become one of the leading Tamil comedians ever, with a unique style. He generally wrote his own comedy dialogues and expressed them in his drama and films so that the message came across, but the subject was not offended.
He acted in nearly 150 Tamil films and the matinee-duo of N S Krishnan and T. A. Madhuram (later his wife) was very popular in his days; he also did roles along with leading stage and cine artists like T. S. Durairaj, Pulimootai Ramasamy, C.S. Pandian and writers like Udumalai Narayana Kavi and Subbu Armugham and gave a number of hits. He was a talented singer and his hits include Sivakavi, Raja Rani, and Manamagal.
Though he was more popular among the Tamil populace as a film comedian, Kalaivanar was instrumental in bringing a number of leading Tamil stage and film personalities to the fore. He was a Gandhian, patriot and philanthropist, yet a very controversial figure — with his name linked to a murder and marital controversies.
He was married to actress T. A. Madhuram. His grandson NSK Rajan has acted in a film Nagareega Komaali (2006). His granddaughters Anu Vardhan and Ramya NSK are working as costume designer and playback singer in film industry respectively.
During the mid-1940s he and M.K.Thyagaraja Bhagavathar were arrested for suspicion of murder famously known as Lakshmikanthan Kolai Vazhakku (Lakshmikanthan Murder Case). They were convicted and later released on appeal to the Privy Council.
When Bhagavathar and NSK were flying very high in fame in drama, cinema and concerts, fate interfered in the form of Lakshmikanthan. C. N. Lakshmikanthan or Lakshmikantham was a famous film journalist of Madras Presidency. His foray into journalism began in 1943 when he launched a film weekly called Cinema Thoothu which was extremely successful. He wrote extensive columns devoted to the personal lives of some of the top actors and actresses of the day. Many actors and actresses responded by paying large amounts of money to "buy" his silence. As a result, Lakshmikanthan set up a prosperous vocation..
Eventually, matters reached a standstill when film actors M. K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar and N. S. Krishnan and film director Sreeramulu Naidu submitted a memorandum to the Governor of Madras, Arthur Oswald James Hope, requesting him to revoke the license for the magazine. Hope obliged and the license for the magazine was cancelled. Lakshmikanthan tried to run the magazine with forged documents but, after a few months, he was forced to close shop.
Unfazed, Lakshmikanthan set up a new magazine called Hindu Nesan in which he continued his scandalous stories on Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, Krishnan and a few other top actors, actresses and movie people of the day. The tactics paid huge dividends and Lakshmikanthan purchased his own printing press.
On 8 November 1944, he was attacked by some people with a knife in Purasawalkam, in downtown Madras. He was admitted to the General Hospital, Madras as an outpatient: The wound was not serious enough. In his statement to the police he did not name anyone as the accused but only stated that someone had attacked him. He was found very jovial at the police station as he was in the hospital. During his treatment it was reported that he wanted to expose the murderers involved in the Boat Mail murder. (A train named Boat mail used to run between Madras and the then Dhanushkoti station.) A rich banker from Devakottai was murdered in thetrain between Chengalpet and Madras. A notable singer cum actress who traveled with the banker was missing/fled when the train reached Madras. The political backing this singer had kept the truth about the real killers under the carpet. The killers saw to it that the case should not come to the court for trial. There is another version which says that Lakshikanthan was murdered by this group and not by NSK/MKT.
But on 9 November 1944, Lakshmikanthan died mysteriously in the hospital. He was murdered. The police, based on the statement made by LakshmiKanthan's bodyguard, arrested eight persons as accused for the murder. Among them were Bhagavathar and N. S.Krishnan. This came as a rude shock to their fans and the cine world.
After usual committal proceedings before the Madras Presidency Magistrate, the case came up for hearing at the Madras High court before Justice Vera Mockett. A group of brilliant lawyers – V. T. Rangasamy Iyengar, Rajagopalachariar (Rajaji), Braddel, B.T.Sundararajan, Govind Swaminathan, Srinivasagopal and K. M. Munshi – argued the case for the accused. After prolonged trial, the jury found MKT and NSK guilty with four others.
Appeals were heard by a bench of the High Court consisting of Lionel Leach, Chief Justice of Madras, Justice K.P. Lakshmana Rao and Advocate General K. Rajah Iyer. The appeals were filed by the then leading members of the Bar, V.V. Srinivasa Iyengar and Sri V.C. Gopalarathnam. The appeals were dismissed.
MKT and NSK filed an appeal in the Privy Council, London which was the highest court of appeal. A British barrister, D. N. Pritt, appeared for them. Privy Council referred the case back to India for a fresh appraisal.
The appeal came up before a bench of two judges: Justice Happel and Justice Sahabuddin (who migrated to Pakistan in 1947 during partition of India and retired as Chief Justice of Pakistan Supreme Court). V. L. Ethiraj, a successful barrister appeared for MKT and NSK, He argued that the judges had not properly directed the jury and the evidences of doubtful nature have not been properly assessed. Ethiraj convinced the judges that all the witnesses produced against MKT and NSK were tutored and coached; there were many inconsistencies in their evidence and statements; and the case had many loopholes. The judges agreed and acquitted MKT and NSK. One of the judges who heard the remanded appeal remarked in the court that the knife produced as evidence cannot even kill a rat.
MKT, NSK and four others came out of prison after 30 months. Experts and laymen felt that the truth about the real killers of Lakshmikanthan has not come out and MKT, NSK and others were the unfortunate victims of the game of power politics.
The killers were never found. Bhagavathar never regained his lost fame.
Later NSK resumed acting in movies, but his jail term and fight for justice made him penurious. His wealth was lost in fighting the case and so was the case of co-accused Bagavathar. Haridas, which was released while he was in jail ran for three consecutive Deepavalies with packed houses. People crowded the theatre as they felt they would not have another chance to see their superstar on the silver screen.
N.S. Krishnan had been undergoing treatment for hepatitis since August 12, 1957. He died at the General Hospital, Madras on August 30, 1957 following complications of the disease.The leading Tamil Nadu politician and Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu 'Kalaignar' Karunanidhi, when asked once by a journalist (of the Tamil magazine Kumudham) about who the non-political hero in his life was, answered it was Kalaivanar. Karunanidhi knew him well and worked in some of his film projects.
Kalaivanar was an active member of the Dravidian Movement. The Tamil Nadu Government erected a memorial in 1979, called Kalaivanar Arangam (or Kalaivanar Arts Centre) in honour of Kalaivanar's contribution to the arts,. The building is one of the leading landmarks in the city of Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu.
Panam (1952) – Dialogues by M Karunanidhi
Manamagal (1951) – Dialogues by M Karunanidhi
Pelli Koothuru (1951)