Thaneer Thaneer – From Stage to Celluloid

By Karthik Bhatt

Komal Swaminathan was one of Tamil stage’s most powerful contemporary playwrights. Born in 1935, he came to Madras in 1957 and joined the Seva Stage Kalvi Nilayam, the drama school that had been established by S.V.Sahasranamam. It was here that he learnt the various aspects of drama. He had a particular interest in writing scripts, having already written a few skits during his intermediate course at the Madura College.

Having completed the drama course Swaminathan joined Seva Stage as an apprentice to S.V.Sahasranamam, learning the production aspects of staging plays. He wrote his first play, “Puthiya Paathai” in 1960, which was staged by the Gujarati Young Men Association. Thus began a journey that saw the scaling of many heights in the course of the next three decades.

Swaminathan forayed into movies in 1963. He worked as an assistant and script writer to noted director K.S.Gopalakrishnan for the next seven years. This period saw him being associated with successful movies such as Karpagam, Pesum Deivam and Kai Kodutha Deivam. He started Stage Friends in 1971, a troupe primarily comprising of members from his mentor S.V.Sahasranamam’s Seva Stage. The troupe’s first play was Sannadhi Theru, which dealt with the stigma attached to lady artistes and the neglect drama troupes faced. The Kalki magazine review of the play termed it a first rate production, with special mention to Surya Prabha, the actress who played the lead role. The success of Sannadhi Theru was followed by several other productions such as Nawab Naarkaali (which was also later made into a movie), Yuddha Kandam and Chekku Maadugal. His best known and most celebrated play however is the subject of this piece, Thaneer Thaneer.

Thaneer Thaneer dealt with a topic that remains very contemporary, that of water scarcity. The story was set in a drought hit village which suffers as much from official apathy as it does from the failure of rains. With powerful dialogues which were well aimed barbs at the establishment, it was inevitable that it would raise eyebrows at some level. Sure enough, the hurdle came in the form of getting the clearance from the Police before staging the play.

The Madras Dramatic Performances Act, 1954 required that the Police Commissioner had to approve a script before it could be staged. This law had been brought about as a means of censorship to ensure that the popularity of the medium was not misused to propagate ideas that had the potential to create law and order problems. It was under this law that objections were being raised to Thaneer Thaneer. That the play apart from highlighting official apathy was also viewed as being sympathetic to an ideological movement, which probably raised a red flag leading to the withholding of permission. Hectic parleying ensued, with Cho Ramaswamy coming out in support of Komal Swaminathan. The permission came through about an hour before the inauguration on the 10th of October 1980 at the Mylapore Fine Arts Club auditorium.

The play was a stupendous success. The legendary director K.Balachander who watched the play was immediately taken in by the idea and wanted to make it into a movie. Komal Swaminathan agreed, with a request that the stage artistes be used in the film too. Balachander acceded to the request and artistes such as Raj Madan, Vaadhyar Raman acted in the movie too. It was produced by Kalakendra Movies. Certain changes were made to suit the commercial medium. Saritha, Rajesh and Radha Ravi played important roles in the movie, which was both a commercial success and a critically acclaimed one. K.Balachander won the award for the best screenplay and the movie won the Best Tamil Feature Film award at the National Film Awards for 1981.

More recently in 2012, the play was staged in English as Water by the Madras Players. Thaneer Thaneer was revived in 2013 through Stage Friends which made a comeback to stage thanks to the efforts of Komal Swaminathan’s daughter Ms.Lalitha Dharini.

(This author gratefully acknowledges the inputs given by Ms.Lalitha Dharini for this piece).

 

 

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The Tamil connect at The Venice International Film Festival

The 72nd Venice International Film Festival, organized by La Biennale di Venezia has some interesting line up of films. But two films have caught our special attention.

The first is Visaranai (Interrogation) directed by Vetrimaran and produced by actor Danush’s company Wunderbar Films has been selected in the Orizzonti section which is an international competition dedicated to films that represent the latest aesthetic and expressive trends in international cinema. In the history of the festival Visaranai will be the first Tamil feature film to participate in the competitive category. The director of the film, Vetrimaran has earlier made critically acclaimed films like Polladhavan and Aadukalam and was the co producer of the internationally acclaimed Tamil film  Kaaka Muttai (Crow’s egg).

The second film that caught our attention is Rinku Kalsy’s documentary  “For the love of a man” which has been selected in the Venice classics section where a selection of restored classics and documentaries on cinema will be showcased. Rinku’s film explores the phenomenal fan for Superstar Rajnikanth.

Besides the Tamil connect between Visaranai and ” For the love of a man” there is another interesting connection. Danush, the producer for Visaranai is the son in law of Rajnikanth on whom ” For the love of man” is centered around.

Watch the trailer of the two films here:

 

Mellisai Mannar M. S. Viswanathan

Mellisai Mannar M. S. Viswanathan is known for having incorporated various genres of world music into Indian cinema music. To say he was just a composer is an understatement. His achievements also include appearances in numerous films and television series. M. S. Viswanathan went on to act in a couple of Tamil feature films. While we all know him as a great music director, let us celebrate him in his unforgettable rare appearance as an actor in the comedy film ‘Kadala Kadala’ .

And a wonderful song that he had sung for A R Rahman for the film Sangamam along with Hariharan

Thank you MSV sir, for your great contribution to the Indian film industry! We will miss you!

Thanga Padhakkam : From stage to celluloid

By Karthik Bhatt

Like all top artistes of his era, Sivaji Ganesan, inarguably the finest actor Tamil cinema has seen, came from a stage background. Bitten by the acting bug at an early age, Sivaji Ganesan joined Yadartham Ponnuswamy Pillai’s Madurai Sri Bala Gana Sabha, a well known Boys Company of the times. It marked the beginning of a long and cherished association with Tamil theatre, which he successfully managed to sustain even after he became a top star. That he continued to remain passionate about stage is illustrated by the fact that even at the height of his career, he continued to act in stage plays, with film shootings many a time scheduled to accommodate his stage commitments.

Starting off with the Streepart (Female role) at the Sri Bala Gana Sabha, Sivaji Ganesan’s repertoire expanded to a wide range of roles, all of which stood him in good stead when he made his foray into films. In his autobiography “Enathu Suyasarithai”, he poignantly recalls the struggles associated with life in a Boys Company, where they would often be confronted by poverty and other tough circumstances.

Parasakthi (1952) propelled him to stardom, after which there was no looking back for him as a film star. His passion for stage was however undiminished and he performed for troupes such as S.V.Sahasranamam’s Seva Stage. He started Sivaji Nataka Mandram in the mid-1950s to continue his passion for stage and also to provide opportunities to many actors who were trying to make it big in films and were languishing for roles. Managing the troupe was S.A.Kannan, a stage actor who was part of the Sakthi Nadaga Sabha that had just then wound up. Sivaji Nataka Manram over the course of the next couple of decades went on to produce several hits on stage which would also replicate the success on celluloid when they were remade. Famous plays included Veerapandiya Kattabomman, Vietnam Veedu, Needhiyin Nizhal, Pagal Nila, Kaalam Kanda Kavignan and Thanga Padhakkam, the subject of this piece. In his autobiography, Sivaji Ganesan says that the play, written by J.Mahendran (later of Mullum Malarum fame) was originally being staged by Senthamarai. He watched the play at the Raja Annamalai Mandram and highly impressed by it, asked Senthamarai for the rights to stage it under the Sivaji Nataka Mandram banner and also make it into a movie. Senthamarai agreed and Sivaji Nataka Mandram inaugurated the play in 1972.

The play, which revolved around an upright police officer, Superintendent of Police (S.P) Chowdhry was directed by S.A.Kannan and had Sivaji Ganesan playing the main role. Others in the cast were Sivakami (who played his wife, the role played by K.R.Vijaya in the film) and Rajapandian, who donned the role of his son Jagannathan (Srikanth playing the role in the film). The Kalki magazine review of the play makes special mention of a sequence where Sivaji Ganesan sings and dances merrily in the birthday party of his son, hailing it as a novel attempt. Reviewing Sivaji Ganesan’s performance, it says that calling his acting a majestic portrayal would be akin to saying sugar is sweet!

The play was made into a movie in 1974. P.Madhavan, who directed many hits (including some with Sivaji Ganesan) directed this movie, which was produced by Sivaji Ganesan’s daughter Shanti Narayanswamy for Sivaji Productions. The movie was a great success. The characterisation of the Superintendent of Police became a sort of a benchmark, with many a later movie referring to Chowdhry when mentioning a honest and upright officer! Below are the images of the LP from this film pulled out from our archive.

Thangapadakkam-1 WATERMARK Thangapadakkam-1A WATERMARK

Sabapathy: From stage to celluloid

By Karthik Bhatt

The next in our series from ‘stage to celluloid’ we discuss one of Tamil cinema’s earliest full length comedies, Sabapathy.

The film, which was released in 1941 was produced by A.V.Meiyappa Chettiar and directed by A.T.Krishnaswamy. The plot was based on Pammal Sambandha Mudaliar’s play by the same name.

In his autobiography Naadaga Medai Ninaivugal, Sambandha Mudaliar says that Sabapathy was the first farce that he wrote. The story, which revolved around a young, rich (and not so intelligent) zamindar and his foolish servant (both named Sabapathy) was first written in 1906. Sambandha Mudaliar writes that the inspiration for the servant was derived from observing the man Fridays of a few friends. In particular, he credits Narasimhan, the personal assistant of his close friend V.V.Srinivasa Iyengar, the noted lawyer for having served as the base to building the character! He also acknowledges the influence of Handy Andy, the famous book written by Samuel Lover where the character could do nothing right.

The story was written in eight parts, each of which was capable of being staged as a separate stage play. Pammal Sambandha Mudaliar himself played the role of the zamindar, while many of his troupe members donned the role of the servant. So popular was the play that it continued to be staged even after the movie had released and had become a huge success. Pammal Sambandha Mudaliar writes of an interesting incident in 1944, where he, aged 71 years at that time had to appear in the role of zamindar for a scene during a staging to raise funds for the Thondaimandala Thuluva Vellalar School on Mint Street.

The movie had T.R.Ramachandran and Kali N.Ratnam (both of them from stage backgrounds) playing the roles of the zamindar and the servant respectively. Having zeroed in on the choice of T.R.Ramachandran to play the role of zamindar, A.V.Meiyappa Chettiar brought him to Sambandha Mudaliar for his approval, which was given after a brief test of his capability to do justice to the role. Kali N.Ratnam was a well-known actor and vaadhyar who served with the Madurai Original Boys Company, earning the prefix of Kali thanks to his portrayal of the Goddess in a play about Kannagi. Amongst those who trained under him were P.U.Chinnappa and M.G.Ramachandran. The female lead was played by R.Padma (a Lux soap model!) while C.T.Rajakantham was paired opposite Kali N.Ratnam. The Kali N.Ratnam-Rajakantham partnership was a successful one and featured in several movies. C.T.Rajakantham was alive until the 1990s and even acted in the popular Marmadesam (Vidaadha Karuppu) serial.

The movie is a delight to watch even a good seven decades after its release thanks to the simple comedy and great characterisation of the actors.

Randor Guy’s article on the movie can be accessed here

Here is a popular 9 minute segment from the film.

Short film screening by Indiearth in association with TCRC

short film screening

The next screening of short films by Indiearth in association with TCRC is happening at Ashvita Bistro,Chennai on the 28th of january 2015. Post screening, we will have a discussion on various styles and techniques involved in short film making with the filmmakers – Madhavan Palanisamy, Arun Mritunjay, Sanjeev Kumar, Madhan Kodees and Vydianathan Ramaswami who would be attending the screening.

ENTRY FREE!

SMS ” Short film ” with your name and email id to 9791088189.

The Short films to be screened are as follows:

1. FlashBack
Filmmaker: SNS Sastry
Duration: 21 min
Language: English
Year: 1974
Genre: Art

The film is a survey of the documentary film movement in India . We hear views of Films Division filmmakers S. Sukhdev and S N S Sastry before the Emergency and close to the end of their lives talking about documentary.

2. Gaarud The Spell
Filmmaker: Umesh Kulkarni
Duration: 13 min
Language: Marathi, Hindi (English Subtitles)
Year: 2008
Genre: Drama

The Spell gives us, in the form of a long tracking shot, a fascinating insight into what happens behind the doors of a block of tenements near the station in a small Indian town inhabited by people of differing backgrounds but all on the seamy side of life. Very briefly, we share their very personal lives. The camera takes us to the kitchens, the living rooms and even the toilets and the bedrooms of the inhabitants. The film won two national awards, one for best cinematography, and the other for best sound design. It received the best film award, the Golden Conch at MIFF, 2010.The film was also awarded the PATTON award for Best Indian Film at the 7th Kalpanirjhar International Short Fiction Film Festival, Kolkata.’Gaarud’ has been screened at more than 25 international film festivals, including the prestigious Rotterdam, and Vila de condo.

3. A Dream called……..America
Filmmaker: Anoop Sathyan
Duration: 26 min
Language: Hindi, English
Year: 2012
Genre: Short, Documentary

‘A Dream called America’ is a documentary made on Shahbaz, a 15 year old boy from Gujarat, India. He is the third among the five children of his father Aftab who makes a living by repairing cycles on a footpath. Shahbaz had studied in the US for a year on a scholarship, where he was hosted by an American couple. The one year he spent in US changed his attitude as he experienced a very comfortable and carefree life than his real home. After reaching India, he badly wants to go back and settle in US, leaving his parents in a dilemma.

Trailer & info: http://www.anoopsathyan.com/

Awards
– Best student film, Mumbai International Film Festival, India 2012
– Best documentary film, 4th International Children Film Festival – Lucknow, India 2012
– Silver award for Best student documentary, Indian Documentary Producers’ Association(IDPA) 2011
– Silver Owl for best documentary, CUT.IN Film Festival, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai 2011

Official Selection
– Jeevika: Asia Livelihood Documentary Festival 2011 – NewDelhi, India
– Open St. Petersburg Student Film Festival ‘Beginning’ 2011 – Russia
– CHAGRIN Documentary Film Fest 2011 – USA
– OAXACA International Film Fest 2011 – Mexico
– Mumbai International Film Festival 2012 – India
– Al Jazeera International Documentary Film Fest 2012 – Qatar
– Globians DOC FEST 2012 – Germany

4. Hangover
Filmmaker: Vydianathan Ramaswami
Duration: 4 min
Language: English, Tamil (English subtitles)
Year: 2005
Genre: Current Affairs

This short film deals with the flip side of college festivals in terms of excess inflow of sponsorship revenue leaving behind a trail of unwarranted usage of plastic and other environmentally hazardous waste.

5. Karma Vinai
Filmmaker: Madhan Kodees
Duration: 12 min
Language: Tamil (English subs)
Year: 2014
Genre: Social Message

Two drunk friends meet a couple while passing through a bus stop at mid night. they drop them at bus stand, driver doesn’t care who are they as he was busy drinking while driving. when he sees both when they get down he gets disturbed.

http://www.indiearth.com/ViewTrailer.aspx?TrailerID=b10fd7dc-3d4a-40a9-9dbf-e1f5fae447f9

6. At the End of 20th Week
Filmmaker: Sanjeev Kumar Choragudi
Duration: 3 min
Language: English
Year: 2014
Genre: Social Message

‘At the End of 20th Week’ is a short film aimed at social awareness about Abortions and Female Infanticide. It portrays the pain of unborn female children. Our intention was not to get applauded or acclaimed by critics. Our intention was to take the veil of discrimination off the faces of people those who prefer sons over a daughters and who doesn’t accept life as a gift but choose to end it because it took a female form.

A beautiful young girl who is peacefully enjoying the warmth and love from an unknown person gets tortured by also another unknown person in different ways. The girl cannot escape the wrath and stays there suffering. The bed which she assumed as a safe place suddenly turns into an Inferno. The person who shared the love and warmth is no more protecting her. She dies in the end and then we identify that it’s not just another girl but she is the representation of a female fetus. And all the different methods are nothing but methods of Abortion. In the end the young girl being pulled out of the bed symbolizes the delivery method of taking a baby out of the womb. She is killed and then we see the statement “Hell begins for women in India ‘At the End of 20th Week’” It is at the end of 20th week one can identify the gender of the foetus. In most of the cases it can be easily identified at the end of 13th week which on the other hand depends on the position of the fetus. Hence the title was decided as 20th week because irrespective of the position of foetus.

7. River Drowning Horses
Filmmaker: Madhavan Palanisamy
Duration: 3 min
Language: English
Year: 2013
Genre: Art

This film blends elements of fashion and theatre to narrate a complex-relationship situation.


Indie Film Screenings by Indiearth in association with TCRC in Chennai

Indiearth

 

Indiearth and TCRC brings an Evening of Short Films:
A collection of freshly picked award winning films from the Films Division that speak of the various interesting nuances of short film making and documentary cinema; generating profound interest in captive audiences who are either new or seasoned non-mainstream film buffs.

Also included are 2 latest shorts by upcoming filmmakers of today. The screening will be followed up by a discussion led by IndiEarth on “Why short films and documentaries are important; to be made and screened to audiences”.

THROUGH A LENS STARKLY
Kuldeep Sinha
Genre: Arts, Cinema
Year: 1992
Duration: 33 minutes
Language: English

During the 100 years of cinema in India, the documentary films have acheived a tremendous growth and Film Division has played a major role in the movement of documentary films in India. The film details the systematic growth of documentary filmmaking.

YES WE MAKE THEM SHORT
Baba Mazgavkar
Genre: Mass Communication Media, Cinema
Year: 1990
Duration: 13 minutes
Language: English

A film emphasising the importance of short films which generallyare not seen by the general audience. Short films can also beinterestingly made. It is through short films that cinema has undergone various innovations and experiments.

INDIA THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS
Siddharth Kak
Genre: Arts, Cinema
Year: 1990
Duration: 33 minutes
Language: English

Here is a history of the Indian documentary film – from thecoming of cinema to India at the turn of the century to its present development. Excerpts of numerous documentaries areincluded. This is was the opening film at the Bombay International Film Festival

ALFIYA
Satyarth Shaurya Singh
Genre: Shorts, Social Awareness
Year: 2014
Duration: 15 minutes
Language: English, Hindi (English Subtitles)

This is a film that explores a single day in the life of it’s protagonist, Alfiya. The film follows an indefinite progression: an oscillation between the social world and the inner life. Alfiya, a young girl in her twenties, grapples with blurred lines of perception which as likely stem from a ‘ delusional disorder’, or a phobia, to an unshakable dream state.

SILENT NIGHT
Rajdip Ray
Genre: Short, Social Awareness
Year: 2014
Duration: 3 minutes
Language: English

Christmas is the season of joy and giving. But amidst all the happiness and brightly coloured lights are the hidden pangs faced by more than 11 million street children in the largest democracy of the world. Silent Night takes the viewer on a trip around the streets of Calcutta, with one such child, on Christmas eve.