Pioneer filmmaker Tan Sri Lakshmanan Krishnan, widely regarded as the father of the Malay film industry, is a prolific director who is recognised for his instrumental role in developing early acting talents including Malaysian film icon, the late Tan Sri P Ramlee, and laying the foundation for the modern film industry in the country.
Tan Sri L Krishnan was born in Madras, India, in 1922, but was raised in Penang and attended the Bukit Mertajam High School where he obtained his Senior Cambridge in 1941.
During the Japanese Occupation of Malaya, he was briefly employed as a translator. In 1946, he was sent back to Madras by the British army and a year later, he found work as an assistant film director at Kalairani Film in Madras. In 1949, Tan Sri L Krishnan moved to Singapore where he became a film director at the Shaw Studios.
Tan Sri L Krishnan first met the late Tan Sri P Ramlee in 1941 in Singapore. P Ramlee’s phenomenal success at Shaw Brother’s Jalan Ampas studios in Singapore, was the apparent result of the studio’s incredible milieu of experienced film crew, choreographers and directors which the Shaw Brothers had assembled from India, Hong Kong and Indonesia, and chief among them was Tan Sri L Krishnan.
In his long-established vocation as a film maker and cultural advocate, Tan Sri L Krishnan has directed more than 30 films and worked with Malaysian movie luminaries such as Datuk Maria Menado, the late Kasma Booty and the late Datuk Mustapha Maarof.
Among his directed films starring P Ramlee are Bakti (1950), Takdir Ilahi (1950), Penghidupan (1951), and Antara Senyum dan Tangis (1952).
Tan Sri L Krishnan’s cinematography talents in Shaw Brothers, Cathay Keris Studio and Studio Merdeka are widely recognised with him receiving the Anugerah P Ramlee in the 12th Malaysia Festival in 1995 and Galeri Sinema Melayu Award (Pioneer in the Malay Film Industry) in 1996.
He began his work in film in 1949 when he was in Singapore and took up the appointment of Film Director at Shaw Studios. In 1960, he came to Kuala Lumpur to work for the late Mr Ho Ah Loke at Merdeka Studio. In between these years, he directed many films that captured the early romanticism and idealism of Malaysia and its people.
His first film was Bakti, the movie that launched P Ramlee as a romantic hero of the silver screen. Kasma Booty was the heroine, Siput Sarawak the femme fatale and Roomai Noor the villain. “The plot was borrowed from Wuthering Heights and Les Misérables but scripted on the well-tested formula of song-dance-and-drama, and the local audience loved it,” he says.
Tan Sri L Krishnan also broke new ground in film in the early days when he ventured into the genre of horror films through ‘Orang Lichin’ (1957); ‘Orang Minyak’ (1958); and ‘Serangan Orang Minyak’ (1959) - some of the first such movies in Malaysia and Singapore.
Regarded as a trendsetter, the long-standing impact of the films by Tan Sri L Krishnan through the Merdeka Studio carved the path for FINAS, or the National Film Development Corporation of Malaysia, to be the beacon of the Malay film industry in Malaysia. FINAS has retained the original Merdeka Studio complex and built its administrative centre around the site which bears a tribute to Tan Sri L Krishnan’s contribution in giving rise to an ethnic, home-spun film industry.
As a director, apart from P Ramlee, Tan Sri L Krishnan was also responsible for launching the film careers of Datuk Maria Menado, Roomai Noor, Mustapha Maarof, Abdullah Chik, M Amin, Nordin Ahmad, Wahid Satay, Hussein Hassan, Omar Rojik, and Muhammad Jun, all of whom have become household names and venerated for their contribution to Malaysian film.
In 1970, Tan Sri L Krishnan formed Gaya Filem Berhad. He convinced the Government of the need for protective tariffs in favour of Malaysian produced films. The slap down of the 50 percent surcharge and subsequently a complete ban on all foreign-produced commercials, boosted the commercial film industry in Malaysia. Gaya Filem Berhad became a truly local and fully integrated production house that specialised in TV commercials and jingles.
In 1980, Tan Sri L Krishnan once again made headlines when he established the first 16-track Gaya Music Studio to enhance the music industry which was fast becoming popular in the country.
Two years later, Tan Sri L Krishnan once again led the pack by establishing the first motion picture Colour Laboratory and was invited by Datuk Harris Salleh, then Chief Minister of Sabah, to be the Chairman of Borneo Film Organisation Sabah, and subsequently in 1984 he was made Chairman of Cathay Organisation Malaysia.
Apart from his many film accolades, Tan Sri L Krishnan is well-known as a philanthropist who has provided service to the community through several organisations including the Rotary Club of Kuala Lumpur (Past President); Discharged Prisoners Aid Society; Malaysian Association for the Blind; Medic Alert Foundation of Malaysia; Netaji Welfare Foundation; Persatuan Kebajikan NASARRE; Chinese Maternity Hospital; and the Tun Hussein Onn National Eye Hospital. On a personal level, for 33 years (1979 – 2012 during the Deepavali celebrations, Tan Sri L Krishnan brought joy and had played host to about 1000 underprivileged members of society including special children.
For his outstanding contribution for developing the Malaysian film industry, Tan Sri L Krishnan was honoured with many other awards including the Setia Mahkota Selangor (1976); Dato’ Seri Nilam DiRaja (1978); Kesatri Mangku Negara (1990); Panglima Jasa Negara (2003); Panglima Setia Mahkota (2011); Associated of Accredited Advertising Agent Annual Award (pioneer in the Advertising Industry (1986); Malaysian Video Award (MVA Millennium Award for contribution made to the Advertising Industry) (1999); Rotary International Service Above Self Award for exemplary Service in Rotary(1999); International Tamil Film Awards (2003) - Lifetime Achievement Award (2003); 50th Asia-Pacific Film Festival (2005); Seniman-Lifetime Achievement Award (2006); Anugerah Seri Temasek (2011); Anugerah Tokoh Perfileman Malaysia (2013); 1Malaysian of the Year – National Press Club Malaysia (2014); and South India Cinematography Award (2015).
In 2013, Tan Sri L Krishnan received the Gandhi Memorial Trust award for public service and “will be remembered as the man who discovered the talent and groomed the late legendary Tan Sri P Ramlee to stardom.”
Over six decades, Tan Sri L Krishnan has made immense contributions in film, advertising and music. At the age of 94, Tan Sri still pursues a healthy schedule and has not lost his sense of humour, passion and charm.
Today, together with his wife Puan Sri Rukmanee, Tan Sri L Krishnan continues to touch lives with his philanthropy and charity work in Thailand and in Malaysia.
Tan Sri L Krishnan’s pioneering and innovative work in nurturing the Malaysian film industry personifies the creative, adventurous and indomitable Spirit of Merdeka.