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
2007 : Raja Raja Cholan (King of Chola) staged at Victoria Theatre.
Presentation of the 1990 cultural awards. (1990). Singapore: Singapore Indian Artistes' Association.
(Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR)
Raja: Artists must create heroes to inspire S'poreans. (1991, September 22). The Straits Times. Retrieved February 14, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Reflections of four winners [Microfilm: NL14851]. (1984, November 11). The Straits Times, Section, 2, Leisure, p.7.
A stage too far [Microfilm: NL 13581]. (1982, October 8). The Straits Times, Section 3, p.4.
Selvanathan, G. (2005). Same essence, different element. Unpublished honours dissertation, Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia.
Tamil drama group disappoint [Microfilm: NL15143]. (1985, September 27). The Straits Times, Section 2, p. 10.
Vaidyanathan, S. (1989, October 13). Love, war and intrigue in tales of three kings. The Straits Times. Retrieved February 14, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Varathan appreciation ceremony speeches - for being awarded the Cultural Medallion Award by the Ministry of Culture, Republic of Singapore. (1984). Singapore: Youth Wing, Tamil Representative Council.
(Call no: RSING 700.95957 VAR)
Varathan, S. (2003). [Oral history interviews] (Cassette Recording No.1-8). Singapore: National Archives of Singapore.
(Call no.: RSING 792.092 VAR)
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.
Personalities>>Biographies>>Artists>>Cultural Medallion Recipients
Varathan S., 1934- --Biography
Language and literature>>Literatures>>Indic and Dravidian literatures>>Tamil literature