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Theatre

S. S. Sarma

Tamil-language journalist, playwright and theatre director who played a key role in the development of Tamil-language theatre in Singapore.

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Published: 12 Oct 2016


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My main intention has always been to help develop and promote Indian culture and language for the benefit of the people of Singapore.

S. S. Sarma is a Tamil-language journalist, playwright and theatre director. He has played a key role in the development of Tamil-language theatre in Singapore, writing and presenting plays sited firmly in Singapore themes and issues where previously there existed only India-centric dramas. His popularly received plays have been presented on stage, radio and television. The founder of the Indian Arts Centre (now known as Tamil Cyber Society), Sarma modernised Tamil-language theatre in Singapore, and has received accolades for his significant contributions.

Sambasiva Sarma’s father migrated from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to Pahang, Malaysia where Sarma was born, growing up in a Brahmin community. Sarma would begin his early education in Pahang, but be forced to relocate to Kuala Lumpur with his family as the Japanese invasion began during World War II.

Living under Japanese Occupation in Kuala Lumpur, Sarma learnt some Japanese in school. Later, following the wishes of his father who was a temple priest, Sarma studied under a guru and became an assistant priest at the Shree Mariamman Temple. At the same time, he developed an interest in Tamil-language newspapers and plays that were staged during the time.

At the end of the war, Sarma continued his education in Seremban, Malaysia. By then, he had a strong interest in journalism and had begun to submit articles to Tamil newspapers and Madras magazines where they were published. He moved to Singapore in 1946, and pursuing his passion for journalism, joined the editorial staff of Tamil Murasu three years later as a proof reader. He would spend almost a decade working at the Tamil daily.

In 1952, the Shaw Brothers Studio started the Indian Movie News magazine, and Sarma was appointed as its editor. He soon became the senior editor of the widely read magazine, and also started writing a syndicated story for the magazine which was very popular as well.

During that period of time, Tamil-language plays that were staged in Singapore were based on traditional scripts that were written by Indian playwrights and that reflected Indian issues and themes played out against Indian settings. Seeing this, Sarma suggested to the drama practitioners that they change the script to suit the local setting but was met with reluctance. Seeing the need for this, and encouraged by the reception of his syndicated story in Indian Movie News, Sarma decided that he would try his hand at writing and producing Tamil-language plays.

This began Sarma’s instrumental involvement with Tamil-language theatre in Singapore. He began writing and presenting Tamil-language plays that were firmly rooted in the Singapore experience with Singaporean themes and issues that resounded especially well with Singapore audiences. A modern thinker and an innovative playwright, he also helped modernise Indian society by weaving progressive ideas in his productions through humour and introduced science fiction themes in his work when the norm was social and mythological plays.

Sarma also helped to modernise the technical aspects of Tamil theatre in Singapore. Then, Tamil plays were frequently presented in multi-purpose stages in New World and Great World that were shared by productions of all kinds. In order to raise the production standards of Tamil theatre, Sarma moved his productions into the Victoria Theatre, resulting in more polished and higher quality presentations, and also in higher skilled Tamil theatre practitioners who now had to learn how to work in a modern theatre environment. Putting up regular performances in Singapore at various cultural and drama festivals, his troupes also travelled to Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and the Seychelles.

Besides the stage, Sarma also wrote many plays that were broadcast on radio and television. Throughout his time as a playwright and director, Sarma also contributed his time towards the development of Indian culture and language in Singapore. In 1968, Sarma founded the Indian Arts Centre (now Tamil Cyber Society) and served as its president until 1979. He also served as honorary secretary of the Singapore Indian Fine Arts Society and the social and cultural secretary of the Singapore Indian Association. He also continued in his journalistic activities, spending time as editor and publisher of the popular magazines Vel, Alai Osai, and managing editor of Singai Chudar.

Sarma also became the author of over 20 books. Sarma’s Stage Experience (2004) is a collection of Sarma’s stage plays and dance dramas from the 1950s to the 1990s covering 40 years of experience in writing, and directing plays and cultural programmes. His non-fiction book Tamil Culture: Beyond the Horizon (2011) is a collection of essays originally published in various periodicals as well as research articles presented at seminars on ancient Tamil culture in Southeast Asia.

For his contributions to Tamil theatre and culture, Sarma has received recognition such as the Kala Ratna (Gem of the Arts) Award from the Tamil Nadu Parthasarathy Internaional Academy, Chennai, India. In 2011, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award for Tamil Literature from the Chennai Kalai Magal Foundation, India.

Sarma currently serves as the vice president of Tamil Cyber Society, which he founded as the Indian Arts Centre, and continues to contribute and write for Indian Movie News.

Timeline

1 Jul 1930

Born in Pahang, Malaysia.

1935 to 1941

Attended Clifford School, Pahang, Malaysia.

1942 to 1944

Assistant priest, Shree Mariamman Temple, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

1945 to 1946

Attended King George V School, Seremban, Negri Sembilan, Malaysia.

1946

Moved to Singapore.

1949 to 1957

Editorial staff, Tamil Murasu.

1951

Writer, director and producer, stage drama Bhavani.

1952 to 1992

Editor, Indian Movie News. Later became senior editor.

1961

Writer, director and producer, stage drama Edukkatha Padam.

1962

Writer, director and producer, stage drama Kabuka.

1962 to 1964

Honorary secretary, Singapore Indian Fine Arts Society.

1963

Editor and publisher, Malaysia Malar magazine.

1964

Writer, director and producer, stage drama Marma Maligai.

1965

Writer, director and producer, stage drama Nadanthavarai Sari.

Writer, director and producer, stage drama Panjali Sabatham.

1966

Writer, director and producer, stage drama Vinveli Veeran.

1967

Received the Kalai Arasu award, Tamil Murasu.

1968

Writer, television dramas Vaazkai Padam and Pasa Thirai for Malaysian television.

1968

Founder, Indian Arts Centre (later known as Tamil Cyber Society).

1968 to 1979

President, Indian Arts Centre.

1969

Writer, director and producer, stage drama En Anbeh.

Writer, 13-episode radio drama Mohini, Radio Singapore.

1970

Editor and publisher, Vel magazine.

Writer, 13-episode radio drama Sathangkai Oli, Radio Singapore.

Writer, television drama Singapore Nite for Malaysian television.

1971

Writer, director and producer, stage drama Sulal.

1972

Writer, 13-episode radio drama Mariyathu Ullam, Radio Singapore.

1975

Writer, 13-episode radio drama Ushh… Pesathey!, Radio Singapore.

Writer, 13-episode radio drama En Anbeh, Radio Singapore.

1976

Writer, television drama Nizhal, TV Singapore.

1978

Scriptwriter, Ninaivellam Neeyae (All Thoughts of You).

Writer, 13-episode radio drama, Ennai Viddu Vidu.

Writer, television drama Nadukattil Oru Kural, TV Singapore.

Writer, television drama Ninaivellam Neeyeh, TV Singapore.

1979 to 2010

Member, Indian Arts Centre.

1979

Amali Tumali presented at the Singapore Drama Festival by the Indian Arts Centre.

1980

Published Tamil Nattil Eddu Nadkal (Eight Days in Tamil Nadu).

1980 to 1982

Social and Cultural Secretary, Singapore Indian Association.

1981

Aval Oru Menagai (The Virtuous Menagai) and Ninaivellam Neeyae (All Thoughts of You) presented at the Singapore Drama Festival by the Indian Arts Centre.

Published Ammali Thoomali.

1982

Member, Jurong Town Indian Cultural Society.

Mappillai Vantharu presented at the Singapore Drama Festival.

Published Fascinating Days in Sri Lanka.

1984

Anantham Intru Aarambam presented at the Singapore Drama Festival.

1985

Ellam Nanmaikkeh presented at the Singapore Drama Festival.

Published Sri Lanka Cultural Conference.

1986

Kalyanam Oru Kalkattu (Marriage is a Bond) presented at the Singapore Drama Festival by the Indian Arts Centre.

1987 to 1991

Editor and publisher, Alai Osai magazine.

1987

Received Kala Ratna (Gem of the Arts) Award, Tamil Nadu Parthasarathy International Academy, Chennai, India.

Conferred honorary Doctorate of Literature by Dianara University, Italy.

Kalyanam Oru Kalkattu (Marriage is a Bond) adapted into a television drama for Singapore Broadcasting Corporation.

Received the Nadaka Chemmal award, All India Tamil Writers Association, Chennai, India.

1990

Published novel Iniyavaleh.

Presented ten-day programme Singapore Nite throughout Malaysia.

1991

Named Southeast Asia’s Best Writer by the VGP Academy, Chennai, India.

Published Our Mission to Seychelles.

Published Sumatra - A Paradise!

1992

President, Hong Kah Zone 1 RC Indian Activities Group, Singapore.

Published Kalyanam Oru Kalkattu (Marriage is a Trial).

1993

Writer, television drama Pasa Valai.

Writer, television drama Ullasa Payanam.

Published Kumbakonam Festival.

1995

Published Glory of Kanchi.

1999

Published Wonderful Europe & the Glory of Egypt.

2003

Published Hi!...Hawaii!

2004

Published Sarma’s Stage Experience.

2004 to 2007

Managing editor, Singai Chudar magazine.

2005

Received Guardian of Arts award, Singapore Indian Artists Association.

2009

Received Kala Ratna Award, Singapore Indian Fine Arts Society.

2010

Received Best Cultural and Literary Achievement Award, Singapore Tamil Language and Cultural Society.

2011

Received Lifetime Achievement Award for Tamil Literature, Chennai Kalai Magal Foundation, Chennai, India.

Published Tamil Culture: Beyond Horizon.

2011 to Present

Vice President, Tamil Cyber Society.

2012

Received 1st Prize for the Best Published Book in Singapore, Association of Singapore Tamil Writers.

7 Apr 2012

Received the Thamizhavel Award by the Association of Singapore Tamil Writers for his work in Tamil theatre.


TributeSG

TributeSG celebrates the arts community’s most senior members, and those who have made a lifetime of contribution to the arts. These artists, administrators, educators, patrons, and champions include many Singapore arts pioneers who laid the foundations of the vibrant arts and cultural scene we enjoy today. The many profiles in TributeSG let us into the minds and worlds of these pioneers, and help us understand our shared arts heritage. When we revisit their works and rediscover their journeys, we learn where we came from and how we came to be. Collectively, their stories tell the tale of the making of a nation’s artistic identity.

In putting together this collection, the TributeSG team consulted an external advisory panel, consisting of Arun Mahiznan, Choo Thiam Siew, J. P. Nathan, K. K. Seet, Kwok Kian Chow, and Iskandar Ismail. Those selected to be profiled in TributeSG met one of the following criteria: they were at least 60 years of age as of 12 Oct 2016, or deceased, or had received national recognition in the form of the Cultural Medallion. This journey of arts archival officially came to a close on 12 Oct 2016, after four years of extensive research, interviews and collation of information graciously provided by the TributeSG pioneers, their families and peers. TributeSG also benefited from enthusiastic help from like-minded friends and organisations who supported Esplanade’s cause—to remember, honour and celebrate Singapore’s arts pioneers.

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