S. Varathan (b. 22 February 1934, Singapore-), recipient of the National Arts Council Cultural Medallion in 1984, has played an active role in the local Tamil drama scene as an artiste, director, founder, producer, writer and researcher.
Early Life and Career Varathan was born at the Singapore General Hospital on 22 February 1934. Two years later, in 1936, his family moved to South India. He completed his primary and secondary education in India where he showed great interest and enthusiasm in Tamil language and literature.
From his teenage years, Varathan was greatly affected by the social imbalance in the Indian community. He was motivated by the DMK (Dravidan Munaitra Kalagam), a political party in India whose mission was to advocate social reforms through three codes of conduct - duty, dignity and discipline - which Varathan later adopted as key ideals in his artistic career.
At the age of 18, after completing his high school education, Varathan returned to Singapore in search of a job. From 1953 to 1971 he worked as an administrative clerk in a foreign-based shipping firm, Islay Kerr.
Drama Productions and Activities After his return to Singapore, Varathan had many opportunities to watch drama performances by theatre groups from India. The plays, which showcased social messages such as patriotism, nationalistic fervour and the importance of Tamil language, captivated him. Furthermore, he met a friend, the late T. Rajan, who also shared his passion for language and wanted to use drama to reflect the social ills that were surfacing in Singapore then. Moreover, both of them wanted to reduce the duration of drama production using different stage techniques mainly in the area of drape setting where he introduced rolling of canvas drapes instead of manual folding during scene changes. These were some of the reasons that acted as the impetus for starting Rational Drama Troupe in 1955. Varathan staged 14 productions under the banner of Rational Drama Troupe. However, after staging a production in 1966 in Kuala Lumpur, the drama group suffered great monetary loss and had to be dissolved.
Nevertheless, Varathan continued to pursue his passion for drama. He started writing and acting in radio plays which continued till 1971.
In 1970, he proposed the idea of getting all Indian artistes under one organization to his friend, Ram Narayanasamy. They contacted other likeminded friends and formed the Singapore Indian Artistes' Association (SIAA) in 1971. Under his purview, SIAA staged numerous plays from 1972 until the late 1980s.
In 1989, Varathan started compiling his drama experiences and his encounters with other Indian artistes in the form of a book. During the same period, he started research on the development of Tamil theatre in Singapore from the 1930s. From 1990 to 1993, Varathan was actively involved in publishing his books to serve as a documentation of Tamil theatre in Singapore.
From the early 1990s, Varathan took on the role as an advisor guiding the younger generation of SIAA. He played a monumental role in organizing award ceremonies for Singapore Indian artistes to gain their due recognition. His passion for drama lives on in all SIAA events where he occasionally stages one-act plays while continuing his research on Singapore Tamil theatre. He has also written a number of works including Memories never fade and Personalities of Tamil drama in Singapore which were translations into English by the Singapore Indian Artistes' Association.
For his contributions to Tamil drama, Varathan has been bestowed several awards, including the Cultural Medallion Award by the Ministry of Culture in 1984, and Best Director by Ministry of Culture for Drama Festival in 1983, 1984 and 1985.
Selected Works Staged
1955 - 1956 : Nachukoppai (Poisonous Cup) staged at New World Broadway Hall.
1957 : Kasantha Karumbu (Bitter Sugarcane) staged at the New World Broadway Hall
1958 : Kosuvarthi (Mosquito Coil) staged at the Happy World Stadium
1959 : Ore Mutham (One Kiss) staged at Gan Eng Seng School Hall and restaged at Great World Canton Hall
1860 : Engumay Ethirppu (Against Everywhere) staged at Great World Canton Hall
1961 : Dr Sundar staged at Great World Theatre and restaged at Gan Eng Seng School Hall, Sembawang Narayana Mission and New World, New Star Hall.
1962 : Kannai Paritha Kathal (The Love that Blinds) staged at Victoria Theatre
1963 : Romeo and Juliet staged at the New World, New Star Hall
1966 : Udainthe Valaiyal (Broken Bangle) staged at the New World, New Star Hall, Queensway Damien Hall, and Scouts Hall in Kuala Lumpur.
1972 : Kalyanamaam Kalyanam (Marriage) staged in Toa Payoh
1975 : Kannaikkal Irumborai (Name of a legendary king) staged at Victoria Theatre.
1976 : Alaiyum Athma (Roaming Soul) staged at Victoria Theatre
1978 : Uyarndha Ullam (Noble Heart) staged at Victoria Theatre.
1981 : China Sirusigal (Tiny Tots) staged at Victoria Theatre
1982 : Neeril Pootha Neruppu (The Flower that bloomed in the Fire) staged at Victoria Theatre
1983 : Kudumbathil Kuzhappam (Problems in the Family)
1984 : Kovil Kopuram (Temple Light) staged as part of Drama Festival 1984.
1985 : Singapoor Mapillai (The Singapore Groom) staged at Victoria Theatre.
1986 : Nenjil Aadum Nizhalgal (Impressions) staged at 1986 Drama Festival.
1987 : Muthukkuviyal (Pearls Paradise).
1988 : Pagaivendra Cholan (The Victorious Cholan King) staged at Victoria Theatre.
1989 : Thalaiyaalangaanath Thalaivan (Leader) staged at Victoria Theatre.
1992 : Engay Pogirom (Where are we going?) staged at World Trade Centre Auditorium.
1994 : Kaadi Puthusu, Road Palasu (New Car, Old Road) staged at Thomson Community Centre.
2007 : Raja Raja Cholan (King of Chola) staged at Victoria Theatre.
Varathan, S., & Hamid, S. (2008). Development of Tamil drama in Singapore [Abdul Majeed & S. Hamid Trans.]. Singapore: Singapore Indian Artistes' Association, c2008. (Call no.: RSING 792.095957 VAR)
The information in this article is valid as at 2008 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.