Imagine rubbing shoulders with Bollywood stars like Amitab Bachan or Kollywood stars like Sivaji Ganesan or MGR. This was part and parcel of life of SS Sarma as an editor of the bilingual magazine - Indian Movie News.

He helmed the popular magazine for almost forty years. He went to work in many other magazines, periodicals like Alai Osai, Vel, Malaysia Malar and Singai Chudar. While magazines like Kumudam and Ananda Vigadan from India were very popular, SS Sarma slowly won over the readers to his magazine by getting writers here to pen stories with local content.

SS Sarma the writer and magazine editor was already a well known figure in the printing circles, but he was not satisfied with just this work. He was hankering to show his creativity in the artistic circle through his passion for dramas. His foray into Tamil theatre started in 1957. Sarma who turns 85 in 2015, passionately recalls his life in the Tamil Arts & Cultural scene in Singapore.

“Bavani was my first drama...I could say it was a great achievement.”

The drama scene in Singapore was already vibrant at that point. Many drama troupes especially from India used to come to Malaysia and Singapore to put up dramas. It was a time when the new Indian immigrants were looking back home for entertainment and much of the work was still centered around themes based on India. The young Sarma was following the scene very closely. He felt something was amiss. He felt even back then the need to forge a local drama culture. He was not happy to be just a bystander and decided to do something about it. 

“No one came forward to make these changes. Hence, we started this new venture.”

SS Sarma helped to change the landscape of Tamil theatre in Singapore. His drama themes which broke away from serious issues and focused on entertainment were well received. Slowly the audience base grew and this encouraged him to put up more dramas of varying genres and subject matter. He has over the years had a hand in 73 dramas - producing, directing, acting, stage managing among others. He broke ground with dramas like Kabuka - a thriller and Vinveli Veeran - a futuristic story. His dramas were also the first to travel abroad to Malaysia and even Indonesia.

“Our dramas were greatly appreciated by the audience.”

To be able to pull together the resources to stage these many dramas in an era without handphones or internet is something difficult to imagine. Not to mention, the lack of funding, space for rehearsals, transportation among others. But the determined Sarma, found ways and means to overcome these barriers. To start with, his passion was shared by the artists who sacrificed their time generously while still holding down full time jobs. He also found support not only from his own family but also the family members of the cast as well. 

“We had to balance our careers and our involvement in dramas too.”

SS Sarma has also made it a point to give back to society in his personal capacity as well as the artistic works he produced. He has staged dramas in aid of charitable organisations like the Blind Association. He has also been in many social and cultural organisations like Narpani Peravai and other community clubs. He found time to publish research papers and present at international conferences. He is also still keeping himself busy with research on spiritual topics, writing books and presenting papers. However Sarma feels his biggest contribution is the mark he has left  on the Tamil theatre scene in Singapore. He hopes the youth will now step in to build on this foundation. 

“It is our responsibility to develop our arts and culture.”


A dedication to the pioneers in the Indian community.

50Faces brings your stories of ordinary Singaporeans who have contributed to our community and nation building.