Filmy Ripples – Rise & fall of vamps (Part 2)

By P.V. Gopalakrishnan

Then the villis transformed into what were known as ‘vamps’. The dictionary definition of a vamp is “a woman who is conscious of and makes use of being attractive to men in order to get what she wants”, akin to a honey trap. In films, vamps somewhat resembled this description.

The vicious vamps curated by Hindi cinema were all repulsively seductive, and in short vamps were vain, symbolizing everything an ideal Indian woman was not. Instead, they profiled what dangerous women were like, in a country where women of virtue were revered equated to Almighty.

In Hindi we had vamps played by Bindu, Helen, Vaishali, Padma Khanna, Jaishree.T, Aruna Irani & Kalpana Iyer, wearing coloured wigs, contact lenses & skimpy dresses.

Talking of Helen who was a pioneer in this tribe, she was born in Burma to an Anglo Indian father & a Burmese mother, but migrated to India 1n 1942 on the invasion of Japanese army of Burma. She became a hit in Hindi screen with her item number “mera naam chin chin choo’ in ‘Howrah Bridge’ (1958). Immediately, the same year, the Tamil movie ‘Uthama Puthiran’ imported her into Kodambakkam, as she danced in the famed hit number ‘Yaradi nee mohini’, along with Sivaji Ganesan. She has since appeared in nearly seven hundred films with her item numbers in vamp roles. Her song & dance sequence in ‘Piya thu ab tho aaja’ song in Caravan (1971) is evergreen.

Here is a ‘club dance’ number from “Deiva Piravi” (1960).

The film ‘Karuppu Panam’ (1964) produced by Kannadasan had an ‘club dance’ sequence in the song ‘Aada varalaam’ filmed on Sheela, in tight (and perhaps even ill fitting) western outfits, though she already was a busy main heroine then in Malayalam. This song, set in western genre became an immortal hit.

Here is another instance of ‘club dance’ in the song ‘Uravinil fifty fifty’ where Rajeswari lays a honey trap for AVM Rajan in the film ‘Galatta Kalyanam’ (1968).

In our own Tamil screen we had an array of vamps, to name the prominent ones Jothilakshmy, Vijayalalitha, Jayamalini, Anuradha, CID Sakunthala, Disco Santhi, Silk Smitha.

Pattanathu Rajakkal

A still from the Film Pattanathu Rajakkal of SILK SMITH with Vijayakanth.
PC: From the Archives of TCRC

The vamps started donning wigs & minis as they danced, seducing the Hero in our films too, a departure from the run-of-the-mill villis with their rolling eyes & a vicious tongues, as seen in this video from the film “Sorgam” (1970) with Vijayalalitha & Sivaji Ganesan.

These vamps were either ‘one dance’ item number girls or some parallel running characters in the storyline.

Then Silk Smitha, introduced to Tamil screen by Vinu Chakravarthi, became the perennial item number girl and never came out of her image as femme fatale. Disco Shanti, Smitha’s contemporary also settled for the “item girl” tag. Here is a visual of the song ‘Nethu rathiri yamma’ song featuring the most popular vamp character playing Silk Smitha with Kamal Hassan in ‘Sakalakala Vallavan’ (1982).

But in due course, these specialist dancers meant for such vamp roles were slowly losing their relevance, partly owing to the subjects as well as the way films were made, as even new generation of actors took the center stage.

And a stage came when the heroines themselves started doing such dance numbers, sending home the breed of club dancing actors homeward, in retirement.

There was this slow acceptance that lewd lyrics & suggestive movements were no more in the exclusive realm of those who were once labeled as vamps and that the respected heroine could do it all.

This mindset of cine goers perhaps stemmed from the overall changes the current generation has witnessed & accepted arising out of education, liberated mindset, globalization etc.

As such the vamp has died a natural death in our cinemas, as the perception of them as a hugely negative clan and holding them in a water tight genre has changed along with the emergence of realizing a ‘vamp’ character is generally engrained in every ordinary living individual. That is why we see, in the soap operas on TV, normal woman characters being over dramatized as mega ‘villi’s with their ever scheming negative plans. This has becoming the major sell out of today’s TV serials!

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Upcoming Shamiana short film screening with TCRC

Shamiana

TCRC is happy to collaborate with Shamiana, Mumbai for yet another evening of short film screenings @ Ashvita Bistro.

Save the date: Thursday 24th Sept 2014, 7.30pm – 9.30pm

Movies for the evening are:

1) BAGHDAD MESSI
A heart-wrenching story of a little boy, Hamoudi in war torn Iraq around 2009 and the little struggles he goes through just to play football with his friends. Until, one day when his TV breaks down and getting it repaired changes things forever… Simply brilliant!
* Oscar Nominee 2015!

Dir : Sahim Omar Kalifa
Dur: 15 mins
Country: United Arab Emirates

2) INT. CAFE – NIGHT
When the past catches up with the present over a coffee and a bread pudding at a quaint cafe, memories come rushing back. But will they be able to make up for the times they have lost?
A beautiful, multi-award winning short film!

Dir: Adhiraj Bose
Dur: 12 mins
Country: India

3) LEELA
Lila is a dreamy girl who can’t resign to accept reality as flat as she perceives it, hence she uses her imagination and her skills to modify it.
* A Goya Awards nomination.

Dir: Carlos Lascano
Dur: 9 mins
Country: Spain

4) POSTMAN (Tamil)
In times of emails and SMSes, the Postman still forms a very important part of rural India. A touching story of the messenger…
*National Award Winning Film.
(We’ll have the filmmaker with us for discussions)

Dir : Manohar Bana Reddy
Dur : 15 mins
Country : India

Followed by a short discussion.

Entry Free:
RSVP: Sms ” short films” with you name and email to 9791088189 for a slot.

End of an era: K.Balachander (1930-2014)

Indian Cinema lost one of its greatest contributors on December 23rd 2014, K.Balanchander or KB sir as he is fondly known to many. The recipient of the Dada Saheb Phalke award, his career spanned for over 45 years. Besides directing over 100 films, he has also donned the role as writer, producer and even an actor. Each of his films were ahead of its times with radical offbeat themes and with strong women characters. The same was true with the many serials that he had directed and produced for the small screen. He is known for launching and mentoring several top actors and technicians in Indian Cinema including Kamal Hassan, Rajnikanth and Sri Devi.

Here is what the national newspaper The Hindu  has to say about this great man.

http://http://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/he-took-tamil-cinema-beyond-herocentric-creations/article6719996.ece?homepage=true&theme=true

As our small tribute to KB sir we would like to share a lobby card from our collection. It is from the film Manadhil Uridhi Vendum (1987). The film revolves around the strong willed female protagonist Nandhini (played by Suhasini) who over comes many hurdles  and finally dedicates her life to her profession as a nurse.

The lobby card in itself is unique with the working still from the shoot as its image. We get to see the crew and the man himself directing the female lead Suhasini in this picture.

manadhi-urudhi-vendumTCRC

 

Happy Birthday Superstar

 

On this special day we would like to release a special image from our collection, a lobby card from the iconic film Baasha (1995) (Tamil)

Baasha-4
Suresh Krishna’s Baasha is an action thriller starring Rajnikanth, Nagma, and Raghuvaran. A loose adaptation of Amitabh Bahchan’s Hum, Baasha is the story of a man who becomes a mafia don and later tries to escape that life by adopting the identity of an autorickshaw driver. Needless to say, his past catches up with him. The film enjoyed a positive box office response and is considered one of Rajnikanth’s most commercially successful films. This movie won him multiple acting awards. 20 years on, Baasha’s autodriver character has been elevated to patron saint status by auto drivers in Chennai and elsewhere in Tamilnadu.

 

RARE: Original LP cover of Kamal Hassan’s “Aboorva Sagodharargal” (Tamil, 1989)

In May 1989, Kamal Hassan’s “Aboorva Sagodharargal,” which featured the actor in the roles of a police officer, a mechanic and a dwarf clown, was released amidst much fanfare. Directed by Singeetham Srinivasa Rao and produced by Kamal Hassan himself, the film’s cast included Gouthami, Srividya, Delhi Ganesh, Jaishankar, Nassar, Nagesh, Janakaraj and many others. The film was a blockbuster hit and is said to have completed a 200-day run at the box office, a record run in Tamil cinema then (the record was broken six years later by superstar Rajnikanth’s “Baasha”). The film’s screenplay was penned by Kamal Hassan and the dialogues were written by Crazy Mohan. “Aboorva Sagodharargal” was Crazy Mohan’s debut film as dialogue writer.

The musical score of “Aboorva Sagodharargal” was composed by Ilaiyaraaja and its songs went on to become cult classics, with tracks such as “Raaja Kaiya Vecha” receiving airplay on radio and TV channels even today. And today, we bring to you from the TCRC archives the cover of the original LP record of the film:

"Aboorva Sagodharargal" | LP record cover (front) | Tamil | 1989

“Aboorva Sagodharargal” | LP record cover (front) | Tamil | 1989

"Aboorva Sagodharargal" | LP record cover (back) | Tamil | 1989

“Aboorva Sagodharargal” | LP record cover (back) | Tamil | 1989

The film was dubbed into Telugu as “Vichithra Sodarulu” and into Hindi as “Appu Raja,” a year later. Both the dubbed versions enjoyed a successful run at the box office, with Kamal receiving unanimous praise for his portrayal of the dwarf clown Appu. In the movie, the episode where Appu falls in love with the daughter of the circus owner (the daughter played by Rupini and the father played by Mouli) is said to be a tribute to Charlie Chaplin’s “The Circus,” which was a silent film released in 1928. In “Aboorva Sagodharargal,” Appu goes through a Chaplinesque heartbreak in romance that is very similar to what transpires in “The Circus.”

The title “Aboorva Sagodharargal” itself is a hat tip to SS Vasan’s 1949-released feature film of the same name. That “Aboorva Sagodharargal” featured actors MK Radha and Bhanumathi in titular roles and was produced in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi simultaneously. Directed by Acharya and written by Kothamangalam Subbu, the old “Aboorva Sagodharargal” was an adaptation of the novella “The Corsican Brothers” by Alexander Dumas. The idea of brothers coming together to avenge the death of their father is the common thread running between both the old and the new “Aboorva Sagodharargal.”

The Extraordinary Adventures of Dadasaheb Phalke: The “Harishchandra” Story!

The ‘100 years of Indian cinema’ celebrations that are currently underway in various parts of India and also, the world, seem to be generating a lot of great content about the forerunners of Indian cinema. One such remarkable story is the Open magazine’s piece on Dadasaheb Phalke, in which Paresh Mokashi, the director of the award-winning Marathi film “Harishchandrachi Factory” based on the making of the first Indian film “Raja Harishchandra,” talks about the adventures of Phalke, the filmmaker, to Madhavankutty Pillai.

A still from "Raja Harishchandra" (1913). Photo Courtesy: Cineplot.com

A still from “Raja Harishchandra” (1913). Photo Courtesy: Cineplot.com

Phalke’s struggles, in many ways, seem to epitomize the hardships that are faced by anyone who is involved in a pioneering attempt. Check out this nugget narrated by Mokashi:

Phalke needed money to start the film and, as usual, he had nothing. To impress financiers he thought of novel tricks. He put a seed in a pot and filmed it for a couple of seconds every day over a period of 30-40 days. He made a film of that seed growing into a plant and showed it to people to impress on them the power of the new medium. There was no other way he could make people understand. Films, cinema—these are modern words. They were not at his disposal. Indians were only theatre-goers then.”

And apparently, Phalke was also a master at film promotion, much before the term was even coined:

After the movie released, the response to it was lukewarm for the first two or three days. Phalke then started introducing novel marketing techniques. He came out with funny descriptions of the film, announcing in crowded market places that it is a mile long strip of 58,000 little pictures put together. He offered prizes to ticket buyers. The audience started coming in and the movie went on to make money. He not only recovered the film’s costs, but made profits after paying his creditors. With the money, he made two more films, back to back. In one-and-a-half years, he completed three films—Raja Harishchandra (1913), Mohini Bhasmasur (1913) and Satyavan Savitri (1914).”

Mokashi also mentions the contribution of Saraswati Phalke, Dadasaheb’s wife, who shared his enthusiasm for cinema:

Even today, every first time filmmaker is a Phalke. He goes through the same difficulties—a shortage of funds, and making others believe in you to bring them on board. There is also the struggle within you, a creative struggle—will I be able to pull it off? What fascinates me most about the entire story is his wife’s contribution. We don’t know much about Saraswati Phalke, but she was a key element throughout the venture. In fact, Phalke even made a film on the making of Raja Harishchandra. I suspect that it was his wife who shot it, because in one frame of the making we can see the cameraman shooting the film. Saraswati was the only other person in the unit who knew how to wield a camera.”

He also talks about the difficulties faced by Phalke in finding woman actors and also, the bizarre issues that came along with experimenting with a new medium like cinema:

When he couldn’t convince his wife and no other woman was available, Phalke went scouting in red light areas to get a prostitute for the role. Most refused because they considered acting less reputable than their profession. One sex worker agreed and accompanied him home but a regular client of hers came and took her away. Finally, he had to go with a waiter after spotting him in a tea shop.

He asked the men who were playing women in the movie to clean, wash, cook and do all the things that a woman did. It was method acting much before the term was coined. The movie was shot between six to eight months. He built sets first and completed those portions. He then went outdoors to Wangni, on the outskirts of Mumbai, where there is a dense jungle and a river flowing—scenery important for the story. The cast, who had gone before Phalke, was arrested after the police mistook the actors for dacoits due to their costumes.”

We at TCRC salute the pioneering spirit of Dadasaheb Phalke, the man who is often referred to as the father of Indian cinema.

Also, if you haven’t watched Paresh Mokashi’s “Harishchandrachi Factory” (2009) yet, here’s a link to the trailer:

Sir Richard Attenborough on working with Satyajit Ray in “Shatranj Ke Khilari”: Old DD Bangla interview

Today is master filmmaker Satyajit Ray’s 92nd birthday and Google’s paid a lovely tribute through a doodle based on his film “Pather Panchali.” For those who missed it, here’s what the doodle is all about:

Google doodle on the occasion of Satyajit Ray’s 92nd birthday (2nd May 2013).

We at TCRC also chanced upon a YouTube video of an old show on DD Bangla where Sir Richard Attenborough, director of “Gandhi,” talks about the experience of working with Ray on “Shatranj Ke Khilari.” The film, released in 1977, was based on Munshi Premchand’s short story of the same name and was narrated by  Amitabh Bachchan. The cast included actors such as Sanjeev Kumar, Saeed Jaffrey, Shabana Azmi, Farida Jalal, Amjad Khan, Richard Attenborough, Victor Banerjee, Farooq Shaikh and Tom Alter. Do look out for Sir Attenborough’s views on cinema as an art form and Ray’s soundbites!