The Forbes India magazine recently put out a list of the 25 greatest acting performances in Indian cinema, 8 of which are performances in Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Tamil films. Now, here at TCRC, we are always a little wary of lists such as these, fully aware that it’s incredibly hard to pick just 8 or 10 performances from over thousands of films made in the southern part of the country across the span of almost a century. But since this list is a part of their ‘100 Years of Indian Cinema’ set of features, we felt compelled to share this. Given below is an excerpt from the piece (click here to check out the entire list):
in Sankarabharanam (The Ornament of Shankara), 1980
JV Somayajulu, an IAS officer in his 50s, plays a Carnatic musician, misunderstood for supporting the daughter of a prostitute, ignored by a society where classical music is in decline, and is being overtaken by pop music. It was a surprise hit. It opened to empty seats, gathered speed and, today, enjoys a cult status. Somayajulu played his part with such dignity and intensity that you can’t listen to any of its hugely popular songs without imagining him performing them as his sadhana.
JV Somayajulu in “Sankarabharanam” (Telugu, 1980). Photo Courtesy: Forbes India.
“Sankarabharanam” turned out to be a cult film as far as Telugu cinema was concerned, after getting off to a slow start in the box office. Directed by K Vishwanath, the film is remembered for its music, scored by KV Mahadevan. The film was shot by cinematographer-turned-director Balu Mahendra, who later made “Moondram Pirai” with Kamal Hassan and Sridevi (“Sadma” in Hindi). The director of “Sankarabharanam,” K Vishwanath, went on to narrate yet another story revolving around an art form (classical dance) in “Saagara Sangamam” (“Salangai Oli” in Tamil). The film featured Kamal Hassan and Jayaprada in career-defining roles and like “Sankarabharanam,” it is said to be a musical success, with tunes composed by Ilaiyaraaja.
On 16th September 1977, Tamil film audiences watched their cinema change with the release of Bharathiraja’s debut feature film “16 Vayathinile” starring Kamal Hassan, Sridevi, Rajnikanth, Kanthimathi and Goundamani. The film is now considered to be a landmark venture in Tamil cinema, as it spurred numerous filmmakers to return to their roots and base their stories in the villages of Tamilnadu. At a time when films meant sets and studios, Bharathiraja is said to have shot all of “16 Vayathinile” outdoors. The movie also marked the debut of veteran comedian Goundamani and was Superstar Rajnikanth’s first colour film. It went on to win 4 Tamilnadu State Film Awards, 1 South Filmfare Award and 1 National Film Award, across various categories. Bharathiraja’s powerful depiction of village life was the highlight of his directorial debut, which is still remembered for Rajnikanth’s stylish portrayal of the character Parattai, Kamal’s heartwrenching potrayal of the character Chappani and Sridevi’s delicate performance as Mayil.
The film had a musical score composed by Ilaiyaraaja and singer S Janaki won a National Award for Best Female Playback Singer for her rendition of Ilaiyaraaja’s evergreen classic “Senthoora Poove.” Given below are the photographs of the original LP record of “16 Vayathinile.”
LP Record cover (front) of “16 Vayathinile” | Tamil | 1977
LP record cover (back) of “16 Vayathinile” | Tamil | 1977
In 1979, Bharathiraja remade the film in Hindi. The Hindi version was titled “Solva Sawan” and starred Sridevi, Amol Palekar and Kulbhushan Kharbanda.
We at TCRC have a large number of still photographs shot during the production of various films that have been made by Tamil filmmakers across the years. We are in the process of digitizing, sorting and cataloguing them. One of the films for which most of this work has been completed is C Rudhraiya’s “Aval Appadithan” starring Kamal Hassan, Rajnikanth, Sripriya and Saritha. In fact, the header image that you see at the top of this page is a production photograph from “Aval Appadithan,” which was released in 1978.
The movie, praised by many for being far ahead of its times in terms of both treatment and technique, had numerous English dialogues and frequently employed jump cuts (two or more shots taken from only slightly different angles being placed sequentially, so as to communicate the passing of time in an abrupt manner). Shot in black and white, “Aval Appadithan” had only three songs, all of which were composed by Ilaiyaraaja.
One of the songs, titled “Paneer Pushpangale,” was written by Gangai Amaren and was sung by Kamal Hassan himself. Now, we’re used to Kamal singing his own songs. But it’s quite refreshing to hear Kamal croon a ‘Raaja Sir’ (as Ilaiyaraaja is known in the Tamil film industry) number from that era. In fact, when we heard the song for first time, we couldn’t even identify Kamal’s voice. Check it for yourself. Here is “Paneer Pushpangale” from “Aval Appadithan”: