S. Varathan

Singapore Infopedia


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 Tamil Nadu, India, where he showed great interest and enthusiasm in Tamil language and literature.1

During his teenage years, Varathan was greatly affected by the social imbalance in the Indian community. He was inspired by the Dravidan Munaitra Kalagam, a political party in India that advocates social reforms through duty, dignity and discipline, which Varathan later adopted as key ideals in his artistic career.

After completing his high school education at age 18, 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.3

Drama productions and activities
In Singapore, Varathan watched drama performances by theatre groups from India. He was captivated by the plays, which expressed social messages such as patriotism, nationalistic fervour and the importance of the Tamil language. 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 then. To bring their passion to life, the Rational Dramatic Society (Pagutharivu Nadaga mandram) was started in 1955.4 Together, they introduced new ways of improving the quality of their productions and also minimising manual work, like using rolling canvas drapes during scene changes, which is faster than manually folding. Varathan staged 14 productions under 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.6

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. He was the secretary and later became vice president and subsequently president of the society. Under his purview, SIAA staged numerous plays from 1972 until the late 1980s.7

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.8

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 translated into English by the Singapore Indian Artistes' Association.9

For his contribution to Tamil drama, Varathan has been bestowed several awards, including the Cultural Medallion by the Ministry of Culture in 1984, and Best Director by the Ministry of Culture for Drama Festival in 1983, 1984 and 1985.10

Selected works staged11
1955–56Nachukoppai (Poisonous Cup) staged at New World Broadway Hall.
1957: Kaadhal Jothi (Love Light).12
1957Kasantha Karumbu (Bitter Sugarcane) staged at the New World Broadway Hall.
1958Kosuvarthi (Mosquito Coil) staged at the Happy World Stadium.
1959Ore Mutham (One Kiss) staged at Gan Eng Seng School Hall and restaged at Great World Canton Hall.
1960Engumay Ethirppu (Against Everywhere) staged at Great World Canton Hall.
1961Dr Sundar staged at Great World Theatre and restaged at Gan Eng Seng School Hall, Sembawang Narayana Mission and New World, New Star Hall.
1962Kannai Paritha Kathal (The Love that Blinds) staged at Victoria Theatre.
1963: Romeo and Juliet staged at the New World, New Star Hall.
1966Udainthe Valaiyal (Broken Bangle) staged at the New World, New Star Hall, Queensway Damien Hall, and Scouts Hall in Kuala Lumpur.
1972Kalyanamaam Kalyanam (Marriage) staged in Toa Payoh.
1975Kannaikkal Irumborai (Name of a legendary king) staged at Victoria Theatre.
1976Alaiyum Athma (Roaming Soul) staged at Victoria Theatre.
1978Uyarndha Ullam (Noble Heart) staged at Victoria Theatre.
1981China Sirusigal (Tiny Tots) staged at Victoria Theatre.
1982Neeril Pootha Neruppu (The Flower that Bloomed in the Fire) staged at Victoria Theatre.
1983Kudumbathil Kuzhappam (Problems in the Family) .
1984Kovil Kopuram (Temple Light) staged as part of Drama Festival 1984. 
1985Singapoor Mapillai (The Singapore Groom) staged at Victoria Theatre.
1986Nenjil Aadum Nizhalgal (Impressions) staged at 1986 Drama Festival.
1987Muthukkuviyal (Pearls Paradise).
1988Pagaivendra Cholan (The Victorious Cholan King) staged at Victoria Theatre.
1989Thalaiyaalangaanath Thalaivan (Leader) staged at Victoria Theatre.
1992Engay Pogirom (Where are we going?) staged at World Trade Centre Auditorium.
1994Kaadi Puthusu, Road Palasu (New Car, Old Road) staged at Thomson Community Centre.
2007Raja Raja Cholan (King of Chola) staged at Victoria Theatre.

1983Uyarntha Ullam (Nobel heart)
1990Memories never fade – English and Tamil versions
1990Suvadukal (Impression) – Biography
1991Personalities of Tamil Drama in Singapore
2005Kalaisolaiyil vada malargal – Biographies of actors
2008Development of Tamil drama in Singapore – English version
2008: Development of Tamil drama in SingaporeTamil version

1. S. Varathan, Memories Never Fade, trans. Singapore Indian Artistes’ Association (Singapore: Singapore Indian Artistes’ Association, 1990), 1–8. (Call no. RSING 792.092 VAR)
2. S. Varathan, oral history interview by Daniel Chew, 13 March 1990, transcript and MP3 audio, 00:31:22, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 001000/08/03), 16–17.
3. Varathan, Memories Never Fade, 1–8.
4. Varathan, oral history interview, 18–21; “He’s Still Going Strong after 30 Years in Drama,” Straits Times, 7 November 1984, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
5. Varathan, oral history interview, 18–21.
6. “He’s Still Going Strong after 30 Years in Drama”; Varathan, oral history interview, 20.
7. S. Varathan, Personalities of Tamil Drama in Singapore, trans. Singapore Indian Artistes’ Association (Singapore: Singapore Indian Artistes’ Association, 1991), 76. (Call no. RSING 792.092 VAR)
8. “S Varathan,” The Esplanade, published 12 October 2016, https://www.esplanade.com/tributesg/performing-arts/s-varathan.
9. The Esplanade, “S Varathan.”
10. The Esplanade, “S Varathan.”
11. Varathan, Memories Never Fade, 29, 61.
12. Varathan, Memories Never Fade, 12.
13. Venka Puroshothaman, ed., Narratives: Notes on a Cultural Journey (Singapore: National Arts Council, 2002), 158. (Call no. RSING 700.95957 NAR)

The information in this article is valid as of October 2021 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.

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