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 career1
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 – that Varathan later adopted as key ideals in his artistic career.2
When he was 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 activities3
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 the Tamil language, captivated him. He met the late T. Rajan who not only shared his passion for the language but also wanted to use drama to reflect the social ills that were surfacing in Singapore at that time. They wanted to reduce the duration of drama production where different stage techniques mainly in the area of drape setting were used. He introduced the rolling of canvas drapes instead of manual folding during scene changes. These were some of the reasons that acted as the impetus for starting the Rational Dramatic Society (Pagutharivu Nadaga mandram) in 1955.4 Varathan staged 14 productions under the banner of the Rational Dramatic Troupe. However, after staging a production in 1966 in Kuala Lumpur, the drama group suffered great monetary losses and had to be dissolved in 1968.5
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 the Indian artistes under one organisation to his friend, Ram Narayanasamy. They contacted other like-minded friends and formed the Singapore Indian Artistes’ Association (SIAA) in 1971. Under his purview, SIAA staged numerous plays from 1972 until the late 1980s.6
In 1989, Varathan started compiling his drama experiences and his encounters with other Indian artistes into 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 organising award ceremonies for Singapore Indian artistes to give them 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 the Ministry of Culture for Drama Festival in 1983, 1984 and 1985.7
Selected works staged8
1955 – 1956: Nachukoppai (Poisonous Cup) staged at New World Broadway Hall.
1957: Kaadhal Jothi (Love Light)9
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
1960: 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.
1983: Uyarntha Ullam (Nobel heart)
1990: Memories never fade – English and Tamil versions
1990: Suvadukal (Impression) – Biography
1991: Personalities of Tamil Drama in Singapore
2005: Kalaisolaiyil vada malargal – Biographies of actors
2008: Development of Tamil drama in Singapore – English and Tamil versions
1. Varathan, S. (1990). Memories never fade. Singapore: Singapore Indian Artistes’ Association, pp. 1–8. (Call no.: RSING 792.092 VAR)
2. Chew, D. (Interviewer). (1990, March 13). Oral history interview with Varathan S [Transcript of cassette recording no.001000/08/03, pp. 16–17]. Retrieved from National Archives Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
3. Chew, D. (Interviewer). (1990, March 13). Oral history interview with Varathan S [Transcript of cassette recording no. 001000/08/03, pp. 18–21]. Retrieved from National Archives Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
4. He’s still going strong after 30 years in drama. (1984, November 7). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. He’s still going strong after 30 years in drama. (1984, November 7). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chew, D. (Interviewer). (1990, March 13). Oral history interview with Varathan S [Transcript of cassette recording no. 001000/08/03, p. 20]. Retrieved from National Archives Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
6. Varathan, S. (1991). Personalities of Tamil drama in Singapore. Singapore: Singapore Indian Artistes’ Association, p. 76. (Call no.: RSING 792.092 VAR)
7. The Esplanade. (n.d.). S Varathan. Retrieved 2016, May 13 from The Esplanade website: https://www.esplanade.com/tributesg/performing-arts/s-varathan
8. Varathan, S. (1990). Memories never fade. Singapore: Singapore Indian Artistes’ Association, pp. 29, 61. (Call no.: RSING 792.092 VAR)
9. Varathan, S. (1990). Memories never fade. Singapore: Singapore Indian Artistes' Association, p. 12. (Call no.: RSING 792.092 VAR)
10. Puroshothaman, V. (Ed.). (2002). Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey. Singapore: National Arts Council, p. 158. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR)
The information in this article is valid as at 2016 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.
Cultural Medallion Recipients (Theatre)
Personalities>>Biographies>>Artists>>Cultural Medallion Recipients
Varathan S., 1934- --Biography
Language and literature>>Literatures>>Indic and Dravidian literatures>>Tamil literature