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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Directing Sexy Durga – An Interview with Sanal Kumar Sasidharan

Sanal Kumar Sasidharan is back in India after his glorious win of The Hivos Tiger Award at the International Film Festival of Rotterdam 2017 for his latest film Sexy Durga. The director of Oraalppokkam and Ozhivudivasathe Kali takes time to interact with us at The Cinema Resource Centre (TCRC).

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PC: Sanal Kumar Sasidharan FB page

Firstly, congratulations on this wonderful win! Was this kind of international recognition something that you had expected for Sexy Durga?

Thank you. I never expect anything except a good movie, while making it. But once it is made in the way I want to make it, I don’t hesitate to dream about its success. For me, film is not a local art. It has universal readability, so I naturally dream of international success. A dream is an expectation too.

How important are film festivals and these recognitions for an independent film maker?

Independent film makers are really very fragile in many respects. We have no stars, no money, no market and no popularity gimmicks. We have only a few openings through which we hope to reach audiences. One of the most important openings is film festivals. Film festivals play a great roles in bringing art house movies and indie film makers to the limelight. They are also important as they serve as forums for serious discussions about such films.

Tell us more about Sexy Durga and the team behind it.

Sexy Durga is an art-house movie that has many layers to it. It is very simple, yet complex. There is no ‘story’ in it. But you can attribute one to it though your experience of the movie.

Prathap Joseph, the cameraman did a good job with the many difficult camera movements the movie demanded. Murukan was the Art director, Harikumar Madhavan Nair was the sound recordist, and music was by Basil CJ.  Editing was done by me. Murukan and Basil CJ have been working with me since my first film.

For the role of ‘Durga’  I wanted an actress who was fearless about using her body and was comfortable with her physicality. Rajshree Deshpande seemed the perfect fit for the part., and was sold on our idea of her character and thus, became part of the movie.

All other artistes are mostly new faces or non-established actors. The main artists are Kannan Nayar, Vedh, Bilas Nair, Arunsol, Sujeesh KS. Byju Neto and Nistar Ahammed, who acted in Ozhivudivasathe Kali, also essayed roles in the movie.

sexy-durga

PC: Sexy Durga FB page

How is Sexy Durga similar to and /or different from your earlier films?

Sexy Durga is totally different in approach and the making from my earlier films. But all the films are socially rooted in the Malayali psyche.

Sexy Durga had no storyline or script. Most of the portions of the film were shot in midnight, in available light. The tough decisions involved in the making of the film gives it a unique feel.

From a lawyer to a film maker. How did this journey and the discovery happen?

I really only wanted to become a film maker since my childhood. But my family had a problem with my dream of becoming a film maker. My father was dead against my desire to apply to a film institute. So I was thinking about ways to infiltrate the film industry through the back doors. I approached several directors to take me on as an assistant director. Nobody was willing because I had no one to recommend me. Then I thought that if I had a professional degree and the kind of dignity that comes from it, people may accept my passion. But I was wrong. After my Law degree, I was forced to remain a lawyer. But I dropped the profession and escaped. I formed a film society named Kazhcha Film Forum and started making short films. In between, I worked other jobs, some of which I don’t even remember properly. In 2013, I made my first feature Oraalppokkam, produced by Kazhcha Film Forum, and that was the turning point

What is your typical pre-production process for your films?

Actually my films are simple for me. I don’t like much production set-ups, technical extravaganza and too many big artists in my film. I always wanted to keep the freedom and possibility to evolve even at a later stage of making. I don’t even like a concrete scripting process. The main part of my pre-production is dreaming and meditation. I think about the making pattern a lot. I rethink and rethink and keep all the options open. It may have its own drawbacks but I love it. Identifying location is the most important thing for me. Once I find a comfortable location, I feel relaxed. Finding actors is the next important step for me. If both are properly and satisfactorily done, I am sure that my film is done.

How much do you depend on your actors to take a scene forward and to decide the pace of the film?

I depend upon my actors a lot. Actually, I love to play with them. I put them in the location and let them freely do something. I only casually explain to them, so they may not even get a clear idea of what I have told them. In fact, I don’t even ask if they understand properly. But I make sure that they clearly know the situation and the political emotion behind the scene they are about to enact. Then I retreat and become a spectator. I get ideas as I see them acting out the given situation. I just shape it with gentle suggestions. It is like watching the movie while making it. I have a feeling that without my actors actively and freely engaged in the making, I can’t make a film properly

What are the release plan for Sexy Durga, or is it too early to talk about it? You and your team behind Kazhcha Film Forum took independent cinema to the masses with the concept of Cinema Vandi. You think Sexy Durga will also soon travel in the Cinema Vandi?

Sexy Durga is travelling all around the world now. It has just started leaving its footprints. Let it travel and come back. We will talk about the Indian release only after the censor board approves it without much harm. I want to release ‘my’ film, not the censor board’s film.

cinema-vandi

Cinema Vandi at a venue at Kottayam, Kerala. PC: Kazhcha Film Forum FB page

What is your take on independent cinema in India?

Indian independent cinema is establishing its presence very fast. The world has started recognizing it. As more and more people started thinking about this alternative space, more and more films will start coming out  soon. I hope that we have a bright future.

Thank you for talking with TCRC. Before we sign off please let us know your opinion about the importance of preserving and archiving cinema heritage.

Cinema is history. It has importance not only in terms of art or commercial product. It has cultural importance also. It is very important to preserve our pathways to see how long we travelled and how difficult it was. It is very important that one look back to where  one came from. Thank you

Screening of Ozhivudivasathe Kali (An Off- Day Game)

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The Cinema Resource Centre in Association with Ashvita events is excited to release the critically acclaimed film Ozhivudivasathe Kali (with english subtitles) At Escape Cinemas, Chennai on July 8th, Friday.

The film revolves around a public holiday where five friends meet in a resort deep in the jungles to spend a day drinking and merrymaking. They come from different backgrounds and professions, but they have only one aim – to enjoy life for one day and forget the everyday hassles. But, during the course of the day, the animal instincts within them come to the fore. To resolve the crisis and to end the boredom,they decide to play a game – a game played when they were kids. What happens when an innocent game for children is played by drunk adults?

The film was made in an unconventional way. Says director Sanal Kumar Sasidharan :

“The movie “Ozhivudivasathe Kali” (An off-Day Game) is based on a short story. I have not developed the story into a written screenplay or shooting script. The film is not the story; but it is my reading experience of the story. Making of this film was very interesting
because of the total absence of a written screenplay. Almost all the artistes in the film are new faces. Almost all the dialogues which you hear in the film are spoken by the artistes themselves without any specific written instructions from my part. I was just telling them
the situation, the history of each character and the politics behind the scene. The moment
we switch on the camera, the artistes turned into characters and started uttering their own
dialogues. The decision to go without script helped me to attain a raw and real looking movie”

Don’t miss this film this weekend. Book your tickets here: http://bit.ly/29kAjci

Watch the trailer of the film:

 

 

 

25 Greatest Acting Performances in Indian Cinema: The Forbes List!

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):

JV Somayajulu 
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.

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.

Prem Nazir in MT Vasudevan Nair’s “Asuravithu” (Malayalam, 1968)

The Kochi edition of The Hindu recently carried an interesting piece on “Asuravithu”, a Malayalam film that was released in 1968, in their Blast From The Past column (click here to read that story). “Asuravithu” featured Prem Nazir and Sharada, and was directed by A Vincent. The film was scripted by the famous Malayalam author MT Vasudevan Nair, a Jnanapith awardee for his overall contribution to Malayalam literature. Interestingly, MT Vasudevan Nair has also won four National Awards for Best Screenplay, which continues to be the most by anyone for that category. The film “Asuravithu” is based on his novel of the same name.

“Asuravithu” is set in an Indian village in the 1960s and revolves around the life of Govindankutty, played by Prem Nazir, the youngest son of a proud Nair tharavadu (joint family). Prem Nazir is considered to be one of the all-time superstars of Malayalam cinema and the breadth of his filmography is astonishing. He is said to have played the lead protagonist in over 600 films. He has acted with over 80 heroines and acted in 107 movies with just one heroine (Sheela). He is a recipient of both Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri awards.

The film also had some lovely folk melodies tuned by K Raghavan, of which our favourite is the song “Kunnathoru Kaavundu.” Do check it out!

JC Daniel: Father of Malayalam Cinema

We at TCRC are always scouring the internet for interesting material on the origins of the regional cinemas of South India. And the internet never ceases to surprise us. Recently, we chanced upon CinemaofMalayalam.net, a website that had a separate page on JC Daniel, the man who wrote, directed and produced the first ever Malayalam feature film.

The movie, titled “Vigathakumaran,” was a silent film and was released in November 1928. In fact, the Kerala state government’s award for lifetime achievement in Malayalam cinema is called the JC Daniel Award, recognizing his efforts in starting up what is today one of India’s most interesting film industries. Interestingly, Daniel was a dentist who showed keen interest in martial arts. He is said to have been an expert at Kalarippayattu and is reported to have written a book about Indian martial arts in English before he ventured into cinema.

English: A short note on Vigathakumaran

A still from “Vigathakumaran,” the first ever Malayalam feature film (released in 1928). Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Given below is a Malayalam documentary on the life of the director JC Daniel.

There has also been quite a bit of controversy over when “Vigathakumaran” was released. While many acknowledge it to be 1928 (including those such as noted Malayalam film journalist Chelangatt Gopalakrishnan and Yves Thoraval, author of “The Cinemas of India”), a photocopied version of a handbill announcing the release of “Vigathakumaran” in 1930 by producers Travancore National Pictures has been circulating on the internet of late, an artifact whose source is yet to be confirmed. Blogger CineMatters has written a detailed post about the 1928 v/s 1930 controversy here for the blog Old Malayalam Cinema. However, there is no dispute over the fact that “Vigathakumaran” by JC Daniel was the first ever Malayalam feature film.

TCRC has, in its archives, memorabilia from various Malayalam films that have been released over the years. Seeing this page on JC Daniel compelled us to revisit some of the old material and we’re working on the digitization of the same. So, do revisit the TCRC blog for updates.