The Star: Cinematic gems

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The Star: Cinematic gems

PostMon Jul 14, 2008 10:37 am

Cinematic gems
Story and photos by GRACE CHEN

An exams secretary may well be sitting on a fortune with his massive collection of rare movie memorabilia.

KATHIRGAMU Selvaraja could well be an important showbiz personality though he has never set foot on a stage or appeared on the silver screen.

And, for that matter, it might not even be wise to reveal where he is residing either.

You see, the 63-year-old father-of-three may well be sitting on a fortune with his collection of movie memorabilia which is numbered at 50,000 items.

Standing proud: Kathirgamu Selvaraja with part of his collection of movie memorabilia.

Posters, soundtracks, campaign books, souvenir programmes, merchandise, CDs – you name it, he’s got it.

“I doubt it that there is a collector like me in Malaysia,” commented Selvaraja proudly.

Of course, this exams secretary from Wesley Methodist School in Sentul, Kuala Lumpur, has all the right to gloat.

Showing off his collection of souvenir movie programmes, he brings out some rare gems like the one for Ben-Hur, an 80-page programme with illustrations depicting scenes of the stage play which debuted on Broadway in 1899.

The programme, which was released in 1900, is the oldest theatre programme in his collection.

As for the equivalent in the movie category, Selvaraja brings out a 24-page programme of The Birth of a Nation, a silent movie with a run time of 3½ hours released in 1915.

From the good old days: Movie souvenir programmes from Selvaraja’s collection dating from 1900s.
Needless to say, he was also very keen too to show off his proudest acquisition for 2008, the 50th anniversary release of Godzilla: The Final Wars, which was released in Japan in November 2004, or the 1949 edition of Samson and Delilah featuring a young Yul Brynner (with hair, mind you) and Italian-born actress Gina Lollobrigida.

“Remember, there are no reprints or reissues especially when it comes to movie programmes, so they are really hard to get,” reminded Selvaraja as a way of stressing how hard it had been for his collection to reach its present level.

Really, if you’d let him, Selvaraja would no doubt go on and on. But let’s leave the details to the hard-nosed collectors.

One point of concern here is how sure was he that all his stuff were genuine?

“I am not in the field of buying and selling,” was Selvaraja’s surprising reply.

Herein, this mild-mannered gentleman would claim to being in league with some of the most important collectors in the world, namely Collin Adamson, the vice-president of the Southern Movie Goers Association of New Zealand, and John Stevens, the founder director of the Ben-Hur Society of Australia. He also included Herb Norenberg, whom he claims has the world’s largest collection of material of Roman Empire themed epics.

This was the very same guy who sent him the Quo Vadis programme which is dated from 1951.

In detailing how he obtained his treasured pieces, Selvaraja said that these collectors had willingly exchanged the movie materials with him for souvenirs and collectibles from South-East Asia.

“I’d sent them things like sarongs, Asian souvenirs and handicrafts. You’d be surprised that they even like our ‘lidi’ brooms and I’ve sent more than seven of those by mail to the United States and Europe for my movie materials,” laughed Selvaraja.

He also reminded that he has been in the area of collecting movie memorabilia for 44 years, so he would definitely know his way around. For Selvaraja, it had all started at the age of 19, at a time when having pen pals was very much in vogue.

These were the pen friends who would send him all sorts of goodies, movie materials being one of them, via snail mail.

“Some I have lost touch with, like my pen pal from Mexico who sent me the movie programme for Ben-Hur, which was released to commemorate the sound and colour version of its remake in 1959. We were corresponding for 10 to 15 years and I still remember his name. Rosito De Sequeira,” recalled Selvaraja who obviously harbours hopes for a reunion.

Another point of concern, a point which would also be of interest potential local collectors, would be the plans that Selvaraja has for this massive collection. Does he plan to open shop and offer his collection to the highest bidder?

“I don’t know,” was this man’s simple reply.

Truth be known, he is having too much fun right now to consider parting with any of his hard-sought treasures.

“It is a highly intellectual hobby, you know. You learn to develop a high degree of appreciation for the artwork as you study the printing and design technology evolving through time.

“You upgrade yourself in the cultural sense as you follow the technological developments in the movie world. It makes you think of the changing times when there was more dialogue instead of violence in movies,” stressed Selvaraja.

And, of course, looking at movie memorabilia always brings on the fondest memories. Selvaraja’s first date with his then future wife, Nirmala Devi, now 52, was at the movies (understandably, in the excitement, they have forgotten what was playing then ...).

Another thing that comes to mind was the celebrity gossip surrounding some of the biggest names at that time e.g. about Elizabeth Taylor beginning an affair with Richard Burton during the filming of Cleopatra in 1963.

So, it is very likely that Selvaraja will hold on to his collection for as long as he can.

One indication of this was when we pulled Selvaraja’s leg and asked if we could take home something of his as a personal memento.

After all, what was one item missing out of 50,000?

“Certainly not!” was his curt reply.

For enquiries, Selvaraja can be contacted at benhurselva(at)yahoo(dot)co(dot)uk.
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Re: The Star: Cinematic gems

PostMon Jul 14, 2008 11:19 am

silentfilm wrote:One indication of this was when we pulled Selvaraja’s leg and asked if we could take home something of his as a personal memento.

After all, what was one item missing out of 50,000?

“Certainly not!” was his curt reply.

Yup, he's a collector. "Mine!"


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