SUGUNA VILASA SABHA
Founded on July 1, 1891, SVS had certain tenets – its members had to be men and University graduates at that! The stage curtains featured the Senate House to indicate the educational status of the members. Men enacted all the female roles. Among the leading lights of the SVS was Rao Bahadur Pammal Sambanda Mudaliar, one of the original seven signatories to its founding..
Under its auspices he was to emerge as a playwright, better known today in this capacity than as a lawyer, which he was by profession. He wrote 94 plays during his long association with the SVS besides translating several from other languages. Many members were from the legal fraternity and at one time, it was said that if anyone wanted to become a Judge, he needed to be an SVS member. Pammal Sambanda Mudaliar became Judge of the Small Causes Court. At the VP Hall, which became its venue and later its home, the SVS presented new ideas and innovations, many of them attempted for the first time in Madras. The first Tamil tragedy, the introduction of an intermission in Tamil plays and the first hosting of a fancy dress competition for Indians… the list is seemingly endless.
VP Hall became home to the SVS in 1902 when the latter began renting a small room on the Western side of the Hall. By this time, the SVS was also blossoming as a social club, providing cards and reading room facilities. Gradually, the SVS expanded its occupation of the VP Hall. By 1915, the SVS had begun to outgrow the VP Hall. Funds had been systematically set aside since 1900 for the purchase of a suitable plot of land which, in Sambanda Mudaliar’s words, “would accommodate an auditorium at least six times the size of VP Hall.” The Government agreed to lease the Napier Park (present May Day Park) for this purpose and on January 31, 1925, the foundation stone was laid for this by T.V. Seshagiri Iyer. Within three years, the stone was back in VP Hall, Napier Park being found unsuitable for the purpose. Money continued to accumulate, with performances in the mofussil, Colombo and Bangalore being particularly remunerative. Ten years later, Pitty Tyagaraya Buildings on Mount Road, which belonged to the Justice Party and which was keen on selling following its decline, were negotiated and purchased for Rs. 95,000.
The SVS finally had a new home but its theatre days ended soon thereafter. The space earmarked at the front for a theatre became Plaza, a cinema house that was later demolished. Today, the organization is a Sabha in name and in reality, a social club. Its office-bearers however still retain designations such as Tamil/Telugu Conductor, a throwback to the days when the Sabha was active in theatre.