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 : Film Directors of nascent stages of Tamil Screen

By P.V. Gopalakrishnan

A film’s narration is in the hands of its Director, besides its Editor & Cinematographer. While a Director’s role in filmmaking is second to none, he has to have teamwork with other functionaries.  The Directors are the professionals who see every sequence shot through the eyes of the ultimate cine goer. They are like the captains  of a ship and pilots of an aircraft.

These days, there is so much talent in the industry that we often witness the avtar of a new talent in film direction.

But think of the times when Cinema itself was in nascent stage & the Directors had the risk of experimenting with a pristine audience. In such a stage there were some outstanding Film Directors in Tamil Cinema who contributed to Tamil Cinema from its silent era, about whom we will talk here. We have excluded here the legend Ellis.R.Dungan, as we had covered in details about him earlier.

Sunder Rao Nadkarni

Sundar Rao Nadkarni, a Konkani from Mangalore, was an actor from Silent Film Era & later became an all rounder as editor, cinematographer, director and producer. He lived his formative years in Bombay which enabled him to delve deep into Marathi theatre and cinema. Thereon, Nadkarni moved to Coimbatore and finally Madras, where he settled down permanently. Inspired by the success of Sabapathy when AVM wanted to launch another comedy, he noted Nadkarni who went on to direct the Tamil Mega Hit film of AVM, En Manaivi (1942).

Following this success, Nadkarni also made other successful Tamil films. But his greatest hit was M.K.Thyagaraja Bhagavathar starred Haridas (1944), which set a record by becoming the first Tamil film to run for 110 weeks at the Broadway theatre in Madras.

Haridas

An ad for Haridas in Kalki Deepavali Malar 1943 PC: From the archives of TCRC

He directed all the top Tamil actors too during his active years, such as T. R. Rajakumari in Haridas (1944), Narsimha Bharathi in Krishna Vijayam (1950), and MGR and Savitri in Mahadevi (1957). (Nadkarni was the co-producer of ‘Mahadevi’).

Raja Sandow

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Raja Sandow PC: Unknown

K. Raja ‘Sandow’ (original name: P.K.Nagalingam) was one of the legendary film-makers right from the silent movie era. Besides, he was also a successful actor, producer and director.

According to Randor Guy, it was a sports enthusiast millionaire from Bombay, Omar Sobhani who took P.K.Nagalingam, for his athletic abilities, to Bombay, where he later met Director Patankar who gave him a break in ‘Baktha Bhodhana’ (1922), purely owing to his physique & good looks. Thus he started his film career. In fact, ‘Sandow’ in his name was appended for his physique, after the Hollywood strongman Eugen Sandow.

Between 1922 & 1943 Raja Sandow ruled the roost in silent  (such as ‘Veer Bhemsen’ (1923) & ‘The Telephone Girl’ (1926)) as well as talkie films in Tamil & Hindi. Later he took to film direction and even had scripted for talkies. The ‘Reformist’ Sandow brought many reforms to Tamil cinema & spearheaded making social themed movies with messages. He was also initially handling the Directorial part of the celebrated MKT movie, “Sivakavi” but was replaced by Sriramulu Naidu. A pioneer in the first generation of Indian film making, he also used to act in Tamil & Hindi till his sudden demise at his 48 in1943.

Y.V.Rao

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Y.V Rao PC: Unknown

Yaragudipati Varada Rao (born 1903) aka Y.V.Rao was a man of many parts that he was a filmmaker, actor and a film director. He was a visionary in his professional thinking & was a pioneer in making films in various Southern languages besides Hindi, right from silent movie era, when he started as an actor in silent films. Then he shifted to Madras in the 1920s & was cast as hero in many silent films like “Garuda Garva Bhangam”, “Gajendra Moksham” , and “Rose of Rajasthan”. Moving on, Y.V. Rao started his directorial debut with silent films, such as ‘Pandava Nirvana’ (1930), ‘Pandava Agnathavaas’ (1930) and ‘Hari Maya’ (1932).

Rao was at the pinnacle when he directed Tamil film, ‘Chintamani’ (1937) with MKT as its hero. The film created box-office records and proved to be a turning point in the annals of Tamil cinema and also in the life and career of Thyagaraja Bhagavathar.

Y.V.Rao married Actress Kumari Rukmini, through which they had a daughter, who would later come to be recognized as Actress Lakshmi.

Acharya

G. Raghavachari was a successful Madras High Court lawyer who was also active in the early Tamil Cinema writing and directing, without identifying himself for his work, as in those times cinema was a taboo in many minds, leaving Raghavachari to be anonymous in the movies he worked, including the popular film ‘Rishyasringar’ directed by him.

It was in 1943 at the insistence of movie mogul S. S. Vasan his name appeared as “Acharya” in the credit titles in Gemini’s ‘Mangamma Sabatham’.

During his days he was the most knowledgeable in South Indian Cinema and was involved in productions such as ‘Chandralekha’ (1948) & ‘Apoorva Sahotharargal’ (1949). As per Randor Guy, it was Raghavachari who directed the famous drum dance sequence in Chandralekha, using multiple cameras to film the sequence, though he walked out of the film in mid way.

T.R. Sundaram

T._R._Sundaram

T.R.Sundaram PC: Unknown

T.R.Sundaram (born 1907) was from a wealthy family & was a graduate from Leeds University. He was married to a Britisher, Gladys while in UK.
Sundaram entered Tamil films in the early 1930s & was involved in film production in partnership. Later he promoted his own company “Modern Theatres” in Salem. He became a successful studio owner & directed “Sati Ahalya’ (1937). Some of the films made by Modern Theatres included ‘Arundathi’ (1943), ‘ Sulochana’ (1947), ‘Utthama Puthiran’ (1940), Manonmani’ (1942), ‘Aayiram Thalaivangi Apoorva Chintamani’ (1947), ‘Adithan Kanavu’ (1948), ‘Digambara Samiyar’ (1950), ‘Manthiri Kumari’ (1950), ‘Ponmudi’ (1950), ‘Valayaapathi’ (1952), ‘Sarvadhikari’ (1951), ‘Alibabavum Narpathu Thirudargalum’ (1956), and ‘Pasa Valai’ (1956). T.R.Sundaram was a great & strict disciplinarian at work.

Manonmani

An ad of Manonmani in Ananda Vikatan Deepavali Malar 1942 PC: From the archives of TCRC

TRS gave breaks to many like M Karunanidhi & Kannadasan who became legends.Almost all the top stars have acted for Sundaram except the legend M. K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar. Even the American filmmaker Ellis R. Dungan worked for him, directing ‘Manthiri Kumari,’ and ‘Ponmudi.’

Modern Theatres, one of the most successful film entities, has produced nearly two hundred movies in various languages. Out of this studio came out the first Malayalam movie, ‘Balan’. Besides, the first Tamil film in Gevacolor, ‘Alibabavum Narpathu Thirudargalum’ was also from Modern Theatres.

T.R. Sundaram who passed away in 1963.

K.Subramanyam

Subrahmanyam, a lawyer by profession, decided to go into movie making and founded in 1937 the Motion Pictures Producer Combines Studio where later Gemini Studios stood. He was a founding veteran of Tamil Film Industry & one of the founders of Nadigar Sangam in 1952.

He started his film career working on silent films directed by Raja Sandow. He started Meenakshi Cinetone, debuting his Directorial career with film Pavalakkodi, in which M. K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar too debuted as an actor.

His remarkable movie was Balayogini, dealing with many social issues of the times. In 1938, he made Sevasadanam, advocating  woman’s empowerment, Bhakta Cheta, on the subject of untouchability and  “Mana Samrakshanam’, a war effort film. His best-known work was Kalki Krishnamurthy written nationalistic film Thyagaboomi, which got banned by the British government, for its explicit National flavor.

As to his personal life, he first married Meenakshi and later Actress S.D.Subbulakshmi. Through these two wed locks, he had children such as S. V. Ramanan, Dr Padma Subramanyam & Abaswaram Ramji, amongst others. His grandson S.Raghuram became a legendary dance choreographer in Indian film industry.

When Subramanyam’s studio was gutted in a major fire, the property came up for auction through a court order. At this juncture, Subrahmanyam persuaded S.S.Vasan to bid for it and enter film production. This is how Vasan’s Gemini Studios came into being.

Sriramulu Naidu

Sriramulu Naidu (born 1910 at Trichy) was another illustrious figure in the development of South Indian cinema. He was a great film personality who promoted as many as three motion picture studios in Coimbatore. In his younger days he was managing his railway retired father’s  bakery in Coimbatore. It was the early thirties when Tamil films were made only in far off Calcutta, Bombay or Kolhapur as till around 1934 the South did not have facilities for movie making. When Premier Cinetone Studio opened in Coimbatore, Sreeramulu Naidu joined the Studio & got trained in several aspects of film msking. Later he co founded the famed Central Studios in Coimbatore, where ‘Tukaram’ was made in Tamil 1938, in which the famous Carnatic Musician Musiri Subramanya Iyer debuted I Cinema. In 1941 Sreeramulu Naidu at Central Studios made ‘Aryamala’. In this movie, Naidu introduced M.S.Sarojini as the heroine. (Later he married her too). In this film Naidu learnt he Art of film making from the other capable co-technicians. When a Madras-based Narayana Iyengar promoted Pakshiraja Films at Coimbatore, Sreeramulu Naidu joined him as his agent and eventually became its Partner. But he quit that and founded the legendary Pakshiraja Studios at Coimbatore, where once Kandhan Studios stood.

Naidu’s second film ‘Sivakavi’ (1943) with MKT in the lead was also a grand success. Raja Sandow initially directed this film but since he fell out with Naidu, the latter took over its direction.

SIvakavi

Song book of Sivakavi. PC: From the archives of TCRC

The other noted films under his direction included Pavalakodi, Kalyaniyin kanavan, Kanchana, Malaikallan & Maragatham ‘Malaikallan’ (1954) was made in various languages including Hindi. In Tamil version the pair was MGR- Bhanumathi & in Hindi the pair was Dilip Kumar-Meena Kumari.

If there was a Hall of Fame for the Film Industry in India, like it is in Hollywood, all the above illustrious as well as industrious men would have surely found their coveted places therein. The current Tamil Film Industry owe a lot to these relentless pioneers.