Filmy Ripples – The ‘spirited’ Screen Characters

By P.V. Gopalakrishnan

The human society has inherited drinking from time immemorial. But when a person drinks considerably over a long time period & has difficulty cutting down, such condition could result in shirking from responsibilities, social problems, health issues & risky situations. Alcoholism, in short, implies alcohol abuse having to do with mental or physical health problems. Therefore, the society is by and large shy of acknowledging drinking, even as people go unabated in taking to drinks. This is in real life.

Our films too routinely deal with story subjects involving alcohol, with a message in some. Thus Tamil cinemas have had their heroes drinking like a fish – owing to the character’s trouble ridden life – in typical situations such as love failure, encountering bad economic situations and so on. Most of our cine heroes have had to grab a bottle on screen before the whirring camera, on some pretext or other, dependent upon the script and the director.

But in earlier films such characters were far too few when compared to the intoxicated characters in later movies.

‘Devadas’ (1953) had a subject of the Hero taking heavily to drinking alcohol after his ex-love deserts him owing to certain circumstances. This was one of the early Tamil films where alcoholic hero was perhaps prominently featured.

‘Kalathur Kannamma’ (1959), produced by AVM, had a song ‘Arugil vanthaal’ in the voice of A.M.Raja as Gemini Ganesan, enacted as a drunken man post his skirmishes with her lady love.

Modern Theater’s Vanna Kili (1959) had a very popular song sequence ‘Adikkira kai thaan anaikkum’ (voices: Tiruchi Loganathan & P.Susheela), excellently picturised by Director T.R.Ragunath. It featured ‘Poochie’, a habitual wife beating drunkard village toughie played by R.S.Manohar & his screen wife played by B.S.Saroja. Of course, the song had some deep meaning lines.

Vannakili

Song book of Vannakili with the page containing the song ADIKKIRA KAI THAAN ANAIKKUM PC: From the archives of TCRC

In Pana Thottam (1963), starred by MGR & Saroja Devi too there was a scene where the hero & heroine mimic as drunk in a popular duet song sequence ‘Javvadu medai ittu’. However, MGR never played any screen character with vices in his meticulously orchestrated path of portraying himself as ‘Unga veettu pillai’ which went a long way in his carefully projected image as people’s Hero.

Panathottam

Song book of Pana Thottam with the page containing the song JAVVADU MEDAI ITTU PC: From the archives of TCRC

The movie ‘Vasantha Maligai’ (1972), which was later remade as ‘Prem Nagar’ (1974) with Rajesh Khanna, also had its hero Anand a rich, alcoholic playboy character donned by the late legend Sivaji Ganesan.

In Salangai Oli (1983), Kamal Hassan played a classical dancer cum critic who becomes an alcoholic owing to a broken love affair. In Kaakki Sattai (1985), the song “Namma Singaari sarakku nalla sarakku, summa gummunu erudhu kick­u enakku” was too picturised on Kamal Hassan. Another alcoholic hero was featured in Uyarntha Ullam (1985), by Kamal Hassan, as a spoilt young man with a huge inheritance, boozing away his awake hours and gambling with his peers. The ‘club’ songs such as ‘Elamai idho idho’ (Sakalakala Vallavan, 1982); & ‘Aasai nooru vagai’ (Adyta Varese, 1983) became instant hits.

Sakalakala Vallavan

Working Still from the Film SAKALAKALA VALLAVAN for the song ELAMAI IDHO IDHO PC: From the archives of TCRC

In contrast to all the above characters,  he advocated prohibition in Unnal Mudiyum Thambi (1988).

Sivakumar, in the role of an upright classical musician turned alcoholic in the cult movie Sindhu Bhairavi (1985) had this song, ‘Thanni thotti thedi vantha’ rendered by Yesudas, depicting how a person degenerates as an addict.

‘Padikkathavan’ (1985) too had the character played by Rajnikant often visiting liquor shop, reeling out empathy seeking songs like ‘Oorai therinju kitten’

In earlier cinemas, the drunk hero was afforded ample opportunities in displaying various emotions and were designed to draw audience empathy to him, despite his drinking habit, as the script embedded logic in the story, to justify their intoxication. The hero visiting a ‘club’ or the sinister looking villains in his den with his female sidekicks – took to drinks. Almost all the heroes had played such roles in our films.

But as the society outgrew the old morals & gradually shed its taboo against drinking & smoking, such urbane ideas slowly seeped into films too. And soon, the acceptance levels of a drinking and smoking hero drastically went up. They did not bother whether the script overtly needed such scenes or not!  It just started looking okay to drink on screen. So this trend clearly established less demarcation between good and bad screen characters. Thus, every leading hero was shown with the booze bottle or a cigarette in some sequences, even as heroes.

Down the years, there have been too many such film characters that routinely consumed liquor on screen, either to drown their worries or to acquire enough courage to do things they would otherwise abstain from when sober! Audience took no serious objection to this.

Prabhu Deva and his cronies sang as to how it never mattered if they drank and then ate, in Ninaivirukkum Varai (1999). Simbu and associates had drinks on the roadside in Silambattam, 2008. Vikram as the stern cop drank even on duty as an undercover (Saamy, 2003). Surya in Vaaranam Aayiram (2008) pined for his dead lover (Sameera Reddy) by appearing before his father utterly intoxicated. The most controversial of them all was a song sequence ‘kadhal en kadhai’ by Dhanush in Mayakkam Enna (2011), as he sang about love and loss, amidst intoxication.

As such, songs that appeared to uphold drinks, as the ultimate solution to every hero’s problems, have been firmly in place for quite some time now.

As per Film historian Theodore Baskaran, “The traditional attitude in Tamil cinema is to consider liquor as an anti- depressant to life’s problems, which is misleading. Very few films like Dikkatra Parvathi [1974] espouse an anti-drinking message”.

Dikkatra Parvathi

Working Still from the Film DIKKATRA PARVATHI PC: From the archives of TCRC

While the earlier cinemas were very permissive in allowing men to take to drinking, as for a female character with their own issues, it depicted them on screen as simply settling for sulking or scurrying to their bed to sob eternally, but not resorting to bottle. The Hindi films started showing inebriated young women with their wine glasses or beer bottles while their counterparts in Tamil Cinema were largely depicted as refraining from liquor, as it is believed that women and ‘thanni’ simply did not go hand in hand.

But this trend too slowly changed and there were umpteen exceptions, to this belief.

Kanavane kan kanda Deivam (1955) had a popular song & dance sequence, ‘Unnai kaN theduthe’ sung by P. Suseela, where the character in the movie is shown in a inebriated state, complete with hiccups, while cleverly avoiding any other suggestive props such as bottles and bars. (P.Bhanumathi is said to have rendered & acted originally this song. Later, on her ceasing to be part of the film, the song was re-recorded in the voice of the then new comer P. Susheela. As per Randor Guy, the hiccup sounds made by Bhanumathi was, however, retained in the version by Susheela.)

 

Kanavane Kan Kanda Deivam

Working Still from the Film KANAVANE KAN KANDA DEIVAM for the song UNNAI KAN THEDUTHE PC: From the archives of TCRC

There were also other occasional women characters that were not chastised for on screen drinking. Of the few women’s drinking scenes, In Puthiya Paravai (1964), Sowcar Janaki was shown coming home drunk to her husband, along with her boyfriend.

There have been, since, more instances of women & drinks in Tamil movies, few of which are cited below.

Revathi’s character in Marupadiyum (1993), where she drinks at a party to drown her sorrow over the affair of her spouse; Then there was Sneha’s role in Pammal K. Sambandam (2002), where she informs her spouse that she is his “better half” and so could claim half share of his whisky; Reema Sen and Andrea Jeremiah getting kinky along with Karthi, as they explore to find out the missing Chola empire, in the movie Aayirathil Oruvan (2010); Vasundhara who downs plenty of beer in a pub purges on the hero, in Sonna Puriyathu (2013); In ‘Jeeva’ (2014) two school going girls are caught red handed by their neighbor boy for consuming drinks and confronts them with a dialogue ‘pombalaiya irunthuttu wine sapidalama?’ (SIC) and more recently, Nithya Menon, in Oh Kadhal Kanmani (2015), who consumes liberal vodka despite Dulquer warning her to go slow.

We are not trying to be judgmental here about the morality of such ‘spirited’ scenes in our films. Some times they are apt to screen play & its character but some times they are not. But then filmmakers always claim that they reflect the real life. On the other hand, it may also be that the society often draws reference from films.

I thought, the audience pays as little attention, to the statutory warning about these vices appearing briefly at the bottom of the screen, as they would to the Safety Demo on board a flight!

Ultimately, it is all about changes brought out by the new generation, as Vairamuthu wrote in the film Pudhu Kavithai, “Thalai muRaigalum maaRumpothu nadaimuRaigalum maaRume”!

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Filmy Ripples:Nadaswaram in old Tamil films

By P V Gopalakrishnan

Nadaswaram played significant roles in some limited Tamil Films.

The nadhaswaram legend T. N. Rajarathinam Pillai, a major icon of those times, played an interlude in the movie Rajamukthi (1948), (Hero MKT & Heroine N. Janaki, later MGR’s wife). MGR, then a small time actor himself, was in a support role in this film. The film, made after the prison term of MKT, was shot in Prabhat Studios, Pune as MKT wanted to be away from the film circuit of Madras, in the aftermath of his release from prison. As such most of the technicians were Maharashtrians for this film. However, Rajamukthi, which was come back attempt for his film career, terribly bombed, witnessing MKT’s slide. (By the by, this film was the debut movie for M.L.Vasanthakumari as a playback artiste.)

Talking of T.N.Rajarathinam Pillai, he himself acted as a Nadhaswaram player in a wedding sequence in the film Miss Malini (1936), paying Todi & rendering a song in Rithigaula. In “Kalamegham” (1940), written by Bharathi Dasan & directed by Ellis Dungan, he acted as a Nadhaswaram playing Hero, singing many songs.

Kala Megham

An ad of the film Kalamegham in Ananda Vikatan Deepavali Malar 1939 PC: From the archives of TCRC

Another leading Nadaswaram vidwan, Namagiripettai Krishnan played off screen, while the credit titles ran on the screen in the movie ‘Town Bus’ (1955) and not the usual film orchestra. It was in the beautiful Raga ‘Mohanam’.

Who can forget the iconic song, “Singara velane deva”, in the combo of S. Janaki’s voice & the Nadaswaram rendition of Karukurichi Arunachalam, another doyen of Nadaswaram world? It would be strange to learn that the full Nadaswaram tune, in AAbheri raga, by Karukuruchi Arunachalam was recorded at Madras for use in the film. On later thought the Director M.V.Raman decided to have also a song sequence using the already recorded Nadhaswaram tune. Then, the high-pitched S. Janaki was commissioned to sing by the Music Director S.M.Subbiah Naidu on the lyrics written to suit the tune. Janak’s vocals were recorded at Raman Studios, Bombay. In those days it was marvel that Sound Recordist Jeeva could manually inter-spread Janaki’s each line of singing to be succeeded by each line of the Nadhaswaram. Bravo on that!

Another song that copiously used Nadhaswaram in a film song was “ Vaaray en thozhi vaarayo” in the film “Pasamalar” by MSV-TKR, for a wedding sequence. It was an amazing blend of Nadaswaram with violins & mandolin in that number. Following this, wherever relevant the Music Directors have used Nadaswaram, such as ‘Oli mayamana ehtir kalam’ in ‘Pachai Vilakku’ (MSV-TKR) and ‘ Nadaswara osaiyile devan vandhu padugiran” in ‘Poovum Pottum’ (Govardhanam).

Pachai Vilakku(1).jpg

Song Book of the film Pachai Vilakku PC: From the archives of TCRC

However, when we talk of Nadaswaram with reference to Tamil films, perhaps, the immediate recall reference could be the iconic movie “Thillana Mohanambal”, a romantic story of a Nadaswaram Maestro Sikkil Shanmukhasundaram with a danseuse Mohana, written by Kothamangalam Subbu. The film is full of Nadaswaram music played off screen by the popular Nadaswaram duo M. P. N. Sethuraman and M. P. N. Ponnusamy from Madurai. In this film Sivaji Ganesan has no songs requiring play back support, as all his musical renderings were on the Nadaswaram, played by the duo.

Thillana Moganambal

The LP cover of Thillana Mohanambal PC: From the archives of TCRC

Director A.P.Nagarajan who had the opportunity of listening to MPN Bros, at a wedding in Karaikudi suggested them to Sivaji. Soon, the duo was in Chennai for their rehearsals at Music Director K.V.Mahadevan’s studio.

As per the MPN Bros, Sivaji Ganesan listened to them, as they rehearsed for the film, lying on Kannadasan’s lap and earned liberal appreciation from all before Director A.P.Nagarajan confirmed their selection for the film.

Asst.Music Director Pugazhenthi decorated the “Nagumomu” composition of Thyagaraja, a master piece in the film, with incredible sangathis. Impressed by their performance of Muthiah Bhagavathar composed English Notes at the 42nd birthday celebrations of Sivaji Ganesan, APN included that piece too in the film. The MPN Bros recalled that the scintillating ‘Nalandhana’ song took about nine takes.

The body language & acting of Sivaji Ganesan to the playing of Nadaswaram synced so well that nobody believed he was not playing it for real. In fact, when a Russian delegation met Sivaji Ganesan sequel to the film’s release, it was incredible for them to believe that he was only acting and not actually playing!

When the movie was released in 1968 in Madurai, the home town of MPN Bros, the brothers, the seventh generation players in their family, were literally lifted by the crowd for bringing immortal fame to the Temple City.

MPN Bros since played for major VIP functions & every invitation card used to specially feature their names as star attraction. Since Thillana Mohanambal the duo performed in only the film ‘Kovil Pura.’

After that M.P.N. Sethuraman passed away & in a gory accident. M.P.N.Ponnuswamy lost his jaw, besides his wife’s life.