Filmy Ripples : Rainy Movies

By P V Gopalakrishnan

Movies are all about dramatic interpretations of incidents of ordinary life; in projecting the life’s stories on this Earth on to silver screen, Cinema gets to be larger than life. In its course, Cinema brings to the viewers added excitement, dramatization, surrealism and what not. This is what is being cinematic! Rain in films is one such element that builds up the excitement, whether the movie is about romance, family subjects, horror, thriller, musical or comedy. So you see a pair holding hands & singing as the down pour is on them, a villain musters his might on the noble as he drenches himself in rain and so on & so forth!

Kovil Yanai.jpg

The lead pair from the film Kovil Yanai (1986) seen drenched in Rain. PC: From the Archives of TCRC

No matter what sequence, Movies always have had cloud burst on their characters! Here we are going to look at some of them, starting with a famous rain sequence from the celebrated Hollywood movie  ‘Jurassic Park’. In this tense sequence, Director Steven Spielberg had heightened both the excitement & fright about the Dinosaurs from the Mesozoic Era by adding rain. However, the film was made on the onset of the Information Era when Technology had already benefited film- making.

But our own period films have used their extremely innovative ideas in the absence of advanced technology. The below clip from the film ‘Avvaiyar’ (1953), produced by S.S.Vasan of Gemini Studios, shows the sequence in which the new born, but abandoned, baby Avvaiyar is carried in a casket by the flash floods following incessant rains, with reasonably credible on-screen presentation!

There have been clever ‘rain’ scenes in some movies, without actually showing any rain at all, as was the case in the movie “Aada vantha deivam’ (1960). Here, in the song “Sottu sottunu peyyuthu paar inge”, the hero & heroine are enacting the effect of the rain inside their porous dwelling while the simulated rain pours outside! The actors were T.R.Mahalingam & E.V.Saroja and this super hit duet of its times was composed by K.V.Mahadevan on the lyrics of Maruthakasi.

In the same year as the above Tamil movie, the black & white Hindi film “Parakh” directed by Bimal Roy was released with its iconic song number, “Oh…Sajna Barkha Bahar Ayee”. Some song sequences become evergreen & this is one such, where Sadhana sedately strolls by the portico and retreats indoors as the rain pours down outside. Shots of rain dripped vegetation and puddles are interspersed with close-ups of Sadhana as she sings about her love. The sequence filmed by noted Cinematographer Kamal Bose simply became equivalent to poetry, due to Shailendra’s lyrics, the music composed in Raag Khamaj by Salil Chowdhary (also happens to be story-writer of the film)  & the vivid capture of the monsoon moods on camera.

Everyone loves rain. The fondness for getting wet in the rain is ingrained in all from our childhood  & the film makers have always utilized such universal love for rain in making scenes of rain in movies where the characters in the film are made to soak themselves, drenching to their skins in the studio rain. Often they burst into songs as a pair under the downpour.  Here is a famous rain song sequence filmed on Sivaji Ganesan & Malini, amidst thunderous rains, in ‘Sabash Meena’ (1958), in the voices of T.A.Mothi & P.Suseela (1958), the music score being by T.G.Lingappa. Here goes the very song ‘Kaana inbam kaninthatheno’.

As for the lovers encountering the downpour, here is another instance from the film ‘Thazhampoo”(1965) starring MGR & K.R.Vijaya.

Director Prakash Mehra included the famous rain song sequence, ‘aaj lapat jaiye toh’ in the Amitabh starred hit movie ‘Namak Halal’ (1982), purely as a matter of ‘attraction’ where the pair was through the song wet in the ‘rains’! Smita Patil, featured in the scene along with Amitabh, was an actress par excellent, graduated from FTII. She belonged to a genre of actors such as Shabana Azmi & belonged to he parallel cinema of seventies. Her stellar roles with leading directors such as Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihlani, Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen & G.Aravindan cannot be forgotten.The commercial cinema Moghul, Prakash Mehra has used such an acting material for a pedestrian item in this song!

Sometimes, a lovelorn Nayika is seen dreamingly solo-drenching in the rain as Saroja Devi does it in this sequence from the film “Kudumba Thalaivan’ (1962).

The Directors add rain to a scene to make it more dramatic. And it was not always ‘boy meets the girl under the down pour’ sequence. Here is an inspirational message through a song from the MGR starred film ’Chandrodayam’ (1966) which has been shot in rain.  T.M.Soundararajan rendered it in the music of MSV.

From Sridhar’s “Nenjil oar aalayam” (1962), shot in a matter of less than four weeks, the song “Engirunthalum vazhga” rendered by A.L.Raghavan in the music composition of MSV-TKR was a super hit. This sequence of pathos genre was shot in the ambience of a dark rainy night. Whereas the team of Director Sridhar and Cinematographer A. Vincent have taken indoor shots of the hero singing while showing in between the nightly rain outside, to bring in that touch, complete with frogs croaking from the rain puddles. The orchestration in the song suggest sound of tip-tap rain drops falling with the Hawaiian Guitar Notes & Bongo beats that sustain through the song.

Whenever the Director wanted to add that ‘extra’ to an already tense situation, nobody helps him like rain. There have been many such instances in movies. Here is one such song sequence (Voice: SPB, Music: Ilayaraja) filmed on Mohan in ‘Payanangal Mudivathillai’ (1982) where the hero is drenched to the skin in the rendering of this popular song.

The Award winning, intense Malayalam Feature Film, “Perumazhakalam” (2004) (meaning season of heavy rains) exploited the heavy monsoon of Kerala throughout the film, in narrating the heart wrenching emotional story of a young girl whose spouse is given death punishment in Saudi. Needless to say, the rains soaked movie had its dramatic effects heightened by the real rains.

Are our Indian films alone when it comes to singing in the rain? Nay, look at this song from the MGM produced Hollywood musical ‘Singing In the Rain” (1952), where Gene Kelly tap dances in the rain.

The song ‘ Evano Oruvan Vaasikiraan’ in the mystic voice of Swarnalatha in ‘Alai Payuthe’ vividly demonstrated Director Mani Ratnam’s perennial obsession with rains, in the combo of lyrics and music, to magically contrive emotions. Beautifully cinematographed by PC Sriram, the song emphatically conveyed the binding passion between the hero & heroine.

As we said above, not merely song sequences attracted rains, but even fierce fight scenes were composed in rains, as in Mani Ratnam’s Thalapathi, where Rajanikant encounters with goons, shows.

In our movies, special effects people use hoses, pipes and sprinklers to create rain effect. They can be freestanding for close ups shots or mounted on a crane for larger wider shots. They also hose down the water in the backdrop to make it look dark, wet and drippy. Most film production units use a device called rain curtains along with fans and low lighting to create the illusion that it is raining.

If we closely observe films featuring day time rains, mostly the shots are from above with tight close ups on the characters so the audience won’t notice the fact that it’s not raining more than a few yards away. Whereas shooting nightly rain is said to be easier as the depth of field is shortened by the low light conditions, making it, anyway, difficult to see much beyond the characters being filmed.

 Well, the mythical Lord Varuna, thus, had been donning a role in our cinemas past & present. And today we have 7-D theatres where the moviegoer even gets wet in a rain sequence.  Not withstanding such surge in technology, there are, today, even specialist companies, that create digital special effects to simulate rain, as GenArts, in Hollywood.

So, keep watching for more rains in your neighborhood cinemas!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Filmy Ripples: Moonlit Movies (Part 2)

By P.V.Gopalakrishnan

4) Moon in ‘Happy hour’: “Aaha inba nilavinile” from ‘Maya Bazaar’ (1957)

Maya Bazaar

Song book of Maya Bazaar PC: From the archives of TCRC

“Aaha inba nilavinile” was a lilting number from the Magnum Opus, ‘Maya Bazaar’ in the music of Ghantasala, filmed on Savitri as Vatsala & Gemini Ganesan as Abhimanyu, as they row their decorated boat in the serene waters of Ennore lake. This scene is highlighted by blissful music of Ghantasala (duet rendered by P.Leela & Ghantasala) & the raving cinematography of Marcus Bartley.

This evergreen song was actually shot by him at noon on Ennore lake and you can see, with the limited technology of those times, how they could create the illusion of pleasing moonlight!

The first mythological film produced by their studio, Maya bazaar marked a milestone for Nagi Reddy and Chakrapani. In addition to the technical crew, 400 studio workers – including light men, carpenters, and painters – participated in the development of the film. The film is considered a landmark cinema, with praise for its cast and technical aspects, despite the limitations of technology at the time.

5) Moon as an Arbitrator: ‘Varayo vennilave” from ‘Missiyamma’ (1955)

Another unique situation where both the hero & heroine address their complaints to the supreme Moon, thereby letting their thoughts known to each other without direct interaction has been picturised on the voices of A.M.Raja & P.Leela in Vijaya Productions’ “Missiyamma’.

The lead pair of this blockbuster constituted Savithri & Gemini Ganesh. Originally the female lead was to be done by Bhanumathi with whom some shoot was done. But owing to some misunderstanding the producers replaced her with Savithri. A trivia associated with this movie, as per Mr.Narasimham in his Article in The Hindu of October 2014, goes like this: “While watching the Missiyamma at Roxy theatre in Madras in 1955, a woman gave birth to a baby girl in the theatre. The mother and child were rushed to the hospital, where the baby was named Missiyamma by her parents.”

6) Moon as a spinster sees it:  ‘Amudhai pozhiyum nilave’ in ‘Thangamalai Ragasiyam’ (1957)

This beautiful solo, in the fresh & pristine voice of P.Suseela, was composed by T.G.Lingappa for the film ‘Thangamalai Ragasiyam’ & picturised on the pretty Jamuna as she wonders as to why the Moon could not descend & come proximate to her, as she sings by the studio pond.

This film had Sivaji Ganesan playing a Tarzan like role, growing up as a ferocious caveman till he meets the petite Jamuna, who turns him into civility.

7) Moon in separation times : “Idhaya vaanin udaya nilave” from “Vanjikottai Valiban’ (1958)

This is a pathos number, nevertheless very melodious, whereby both the separated heroine & hero sing to the Moon declaring their separation vows. Amazing music composition by Vedha who has deployed Vibrafone, Piano, Violins & Flute to touching effect on the listeners’ soul.

The lyrics of the subject song were of Vindhan.

8) Moon in times of ecstasy: “Aghaya veethiyil azhagana vennila” from ‘Manjal Magimai’ (1959)

This is a joyous situation where both the Hero & Heroine are together & are enjoying the beauty of a full moon . The voices were P.Suseela & Ghantasala & the music score was by Master Venu. The song features Pipofone & Univox organ which is the forefather of the modern synthesizers.

9) Moon in lighter moments: “Nilavum malarum paduthu” from “Then Nilavu’ (1960)

A boat ride by Gemini Ganesan & Vyjayanthimala in the serene waters of Dal lake in Kashmir, lip-syncing to a duet voiced by A.M Raja & P.Suseela, features in this visual. The song refers to the Moon & the Flower in concert to describe the pair’s romantic overture, as the serene tune by the Music Director A.M.Raja is soothing with Hawaiian-Guitar notes & serenading violins.

10) Moon’s dilemma: “Athi kaay kaay..kaay” from ‘Bale Pandiya’ (1962)

This Moon scene features two pairs of lovers appealing individually to the Moon whereby each pair urges that the Moon shines on the other person. This is another unique situation with a tinge of Lucknowi tradition of “pehle aap”!  Again, a studio moon but this time meeting the pairs involved, as they plead her to shine on the other. Quite a quandary for the Moon as to whereupon to shine, indeed!

The lyrics of this song is a great master piece by the legend Kannadasan, as the names of fruits & vegetables have cleverly been used in the lyrics to convey different interpretations through the song.

11) Moon as witness to pathos:  “Nilave ennidam nerungathe” from ‘Ramu’ (1966)

A beautiful composition in the Raga Bagheshri, this song has become an iconic one. Filmed in a sequence where the hero warns the Moon not to near him as he was in a dilapidated state of mind. This situation is in complete contrary to what the heroine of ‘Thangamalai Rahasiyam’ desired, where she invited the Moon to come proximate to her! This shows that the Moon was omnipresent in every unique situation like love, courtship, separation, dispute resolution, frustration and what not, in various movies.

This song, from the film ‘Ramu’ music scored by MSV, is a cult song, liked by all owing to its classical base as well as impeccable rendering by P.B.Srinivas in his sonorous voice timbre.  Incidentally, this was also the song that SPB sang before MSV when he was first auditioned him! By the by, this writer came across an Article, ”The song and its sweep”,  by Rangnath Nandyal in The Hindu dated 20.6.13 that this song was composed by Telugu Composer Pendyala for the Telugu version of the film.

12) Moon listening to a decree: “Paal polave vaan meedhile” from ‘Uyarntha manithan’ (1968)

In this song song “Paal Polave”, the picturisation is about a Nayika who is suffering solitude due to her Nayaka being away & thereby ordaining the Moon to vacate seat & return the next day, when she would be united with her love.  This sequence has been borrowed from early Tamil literature. Another unique occasion for a Moon song, indeed!

The filming of this song sequence, originally scheduled to be shot at Kodaikanal, had to be called off due to weather conditions. However, Art Director, A. K. Sekhar, constructed a special set at AVM studios, that mimicked the misty ambience of Kodaikanal, and the song was picturised in this set.

This was an award winning song as it won the National Film Award for Best Female Playback Singer for P. Susheela, making it the first Tamil film to win a National Award under that category.

‘Uyarndha manithan’ was produced by A. V. Meiyappan under AVM Productions and had the legend Sivaji Ganesan (his 125th movie) and Sowcar Janaki in the lead roles. The film was written by Javar Seetharaman, based on Bengali fim ‘Uttar Purush’ and directed by the noted duo Krishnan–Panju, who had directed over fifty films in South Indian languages and Hindi.

We have seen, as detailed above, as to how the Tamil screen was obsessed with Moon in various emotive scenes. And they had their magic effect with alluring songs that accompanied them on screen. But times have changed & the Moon has disappeared from the silver screens, only to occasionally show itself up in movies, in rarity!

Filmy Ripples: Train spotting in cinema (Part 2)

By P.V.Gopalakrishnan

A major, gory train accident happened in November 1956, in real life, involving Tuticorin Express at Ariyalur near Trichy. This left 142 passengers dead and 110 injured, with many more missing, their bodies never to be recovered. Torrential rains had swollen the river Maruthaiyar to a level where the waters almost touched the rails on the railway bridge near Ariyalur, causing flash floods.

In fact, Sri. Lal Bahadur Sastri, who was then the Railway Minister even resigned on moral grounds.

The filmmaker T. Prakasa Rao rushed his crew to the scene of Ariyalur train accident and shot much footage, which he included into his Tamil movie, ‘Madhar Kula Manickam’ (meaning ‘Gem among women’) starring Gemini Ganesan & Savithri in the lead, released the same year. This movie was based on Rabindranath Tagore’s story ‘The Wreck’. Later, S. S. Vasan remade this film in Hindi as ‘Gharana’ which turned out to be a big hit.

(Watch the real footage of the train wreck after the 39th minute in the below video from the film Madhar Kula Manickam)

‘Neelagiri Express’ (1968) was a successful thriller movie involving a train journey, whose screenplay was written by Cho. Jayashankar, Asokan, Vijaya Laltha were among the prominent actors besides Cho. The movie was a remake of Malayalam movie ‘Cochin Express’, which was also remade in Telugu & Kannada. The Hindi version ‘The Train’ had Rajesh Khanna as its hero.

nilagiri-express

A song book of Neelgiri Express. PC: From the archives of TCRC

The scene in ‘Thillana Mohanambal’, where Sikkal Shanmugasundaram  & Danseuse Mohanambal travel with their parties aboard a train cannot be forgotten. The old wooden coaches of Indian Railways featured in the sequence were fitting to the film, set to some early period in time.

The movie ‘Raman ethanai Ramanadi’ (1970) too had a song ‘Chithirai madham pournami neram’ by P.Suseela, filmed aboard a train by Director P.Madhavan. Penned by Kannadasan, the music for this song was set by MSV to the chugging of a steam train, complete with its long whistles.

Coming back, to later films you may recall the flash dance performed by Kamal Hasan and troupe in the Tirumayilai Rapid Transit Station in the film ‘Avvai Shanmukhi’ or the dramatic interactions in ‘Anbe Sivam’ between Kamal & Madhavan at Pollachi Junction? Who could forget those intense dramatic scenes shot in Railway Stations or Rail crossing gates (Moonram Pirai, Puthiya Paravai)?

Bharathiraja’s ‘KIzahkke pogum rayil ‘, which debuted Radhika, is still remembered for its hero and heroine communicating through their graffiti on the rear of the last van.

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Song book of Kizhake Pogum Rail. PC: From the archives of TCRC

In the film Thalapathi the train played mother to none other than Superstar Rajinikanth, as Srividya abandoned her baby in a goods train, as the haunting melody ‘Chinna thaay aval, thanga raasa’ played off screen. The wailing whistle of the train in the opening of the song, indeed, added much dramatics to the pathos.

In another Mani Ratnam film ‘Alai Pauyuthe’, suburban trains and railway stations figure as major locations, as the hero waits at a railway station every morning to catch a glimpse of the heroine. In ‘Gentleman’, the song chikku bukku raile is dedicated to trains.

The ever popular ‘thaiya thaiya’ song & dance sequence filmed atop a moving Nilgiri Mountain Rail is ever remembered from the film ‘Uyire’.

In Gautam Menon’s ‘Vinnai thandi varuvaya’ the leading pair is shown to share their first moment of intimacy in a train journey.  Even in the recent ‘Kakka Muttai’ the child workers are shown collecting coal pieces strewn around the Basin Bridge yard for a living.

The recent movie ‘Thodari’ featured Dhanush as a Railway pantry worker.

The list is endless, as many more instances of bondage of trains to Tamil films.

The Train related sequences dominated many Hindi films too, to name a few, in random order: Dil Se, Ajnabee (old), Chennai Express, Aashirwad, Dost, Kaala Bazaar, DIl tho Pagal Hain, Dilwale dulhaniya le jayenge, Kuch kuch hota hain, Bunty aur Babli, Julie, Sholay, Burning Train, Kitaab, Mera Naam Joker, Pakeeza, Professor, Waqt, Railway Platform, Toofan Mail (1934), Aap ki kasam, Coolie etc.

Some of the memorable songs that featured in old Hindi films were shot on trains, to name a few: ‘Uparwala jaan hain’ (Kaala Bazaar),  ‘Main chali main chali’ (Professor), ‘Gaadi bulaa rahi hain’ (Dost), ‘Hum dono hain premi’ (Ajnabee). Whereas the immortal song ‘Chalte chalte’ rendered by Lata & filmed on late Meena Kumari (her last movie) in the cult classic film Pakeeza (1972), which was in production for sixteen years, had the hallmark wailing whistle call of a passing steam engine at the end of the song, bringing great emotions to the fore, as set in the storyline.

The Hollywood had its share of romance with trains & locomotives as the following long list of films would suggest: Skyfall, From Russia with Love, French Connection, Spiderman 2, Strangers on a Train, A Passage to India, Bowani Junction, Gandhi, Murder on the Orient Express, The lady vanishes, Arizona Express, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Cassandra Crossing, Murder she said, 39 steps, North by North West, Von Ryan Express, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Bridge on the River Kwai.

The modern film making even permits the real bogey visuals being replicated by CGI (computer-generated imagery) capabilities. But that’s a different story.

There is an exclusive overseas company by name ‘train chartering’ which provides total solutions to film shoots, whether movie, TV or Ad. Films. They provide train and rail locations & offer consultancy for filming on a Train or Railway Station anywhere in UK, Europe & America, their services spanning Locations, Sourcing trains, carriages, delivering Train carriages to non-railway sites such as studios etc. They claim to have Trains and carriages from 19th century onwards.

The Indian Railways seem undeterred in encashing its popularity among filmmakers, as they recently hiked the hire charges on special trains (of four coaches and one Semi luggage van with a distance cap of 200 km) for film shooting purposes to a whopping      Rs. 4.74 lakhs per day.

The obsession of film makers to trains will only continue to grow and, may be, in times to come, there may even be films shot on the ensuing Bullet Train in India!

Filmy Ripples: Train spotting in cinema (Part 1)

By: P.V Gopalakrishnan

The enduring allure of Trains is obvious to all, both young and old, as one can hear them much before actually seeing them. The romance and glamour of railways fascinate train enthusiasts everywhere. And when it is a steam engine, all the more its great hum pierces the stillness of the serene landscape, wheels screeching under the load of the grand locomotive.

The film makers always loved to use the drama associated with a train’s motion & sound, to express various emotions in film sequences, right from the silent film era. It is said that a train’s idea of an extremely compact space has appealed to filmmakers in generating dramatic tension, particularly when it is in motion.

A French short documentary film of silent film era, “L’ Arrivee d’un train a la Ciotat” (1895) (the title translates as ‘Arrival of a train at Ciotat’) is arguably the first movie to feature a train in a film, though for less than a minute duration. From that moment to date, as of writing this, even the latest released movies such as “Lion” & “Rangoon” have scenes involving trains!

Coming to Indian cinema’s connect with Railways, it has been very formidable from the age of steam locomotive to the era of electric hauled trains.

In some of the old movies, they also erected dummy bogies in the studio sets where the characters swayed deliberately to mimic the motion of the train. Sometimes, the studio hands back-projected the images of telephone poles and trees moving in the reverse direction to give that extra make belief effect. They even shook the dummy compartment rhythmically so that you & me would believe it is a real bogey. But often, they went for the big real trains or engines, paying enormous fee to Railways.

Trains have been romantic in movies. They have facilitated boy meeting the girl, helped them to trigger a love story. You may recall David Lean’s great classic, ‘Brief Encounter’ (1945) where a pair fall in love in a train station, with the story unfolding in the backdrop of the whistle of the engines and the clanging sound of the bogies till the affair disappears in the smoke of the locomotives.

In earlier Black & White Tamil films, when a character moved to another town, they invariably included a stock shot of a speeding train, as a symbolic communication. Or whenever they wanted to convey that the story was happening in Madras City, they would simply include a stock shot of the majestic Madras Central building.

When Rajesh Khanna rode a jeep, lip syncing ‘Mere sapnon ki Rani kab ayegi thu’ with his eyeballs set on a petite Sharmila Tagore on a hill train, ‘the film Aradhana’ created flutter in Indian Cinemas. The rest was history!

As kids, we have all played a train, tailing behind one another in a single file, mimicking a moving train, in the sheer fascination of rail. Particularly those burly, black, boisterous steam engines have always kindled our amusement, curiosity & fear as well, as they puffed along, emitting black clouds of smoke! Here is an old song, which used to be played often on Radio Ceylon during my child hood, featuring a song on a train game! The song was from ‘Vallyin Selvan’ (1955). The lyrics were by Kothamangalam Subbu & the music was by P.S.Anantharaman.

In a similar sequence in the film ‘Ashirwad’, Dada Muni Ashok Kumar lent his voice & acted too in the famous song ‘rail gaadi’. In fact this very song was interpreted in a creative way in a promo for Indian Railways.

The old black & white movie ‘Porter Kandhan’ (1955) showed many scenes intimately connected with railways. In the wholesome comedy ‘Missiyamma’ the comedy of errors begin with both Savitri & Gemini alighting from their train. The soul stirring number ‘Annai enbaval neethaana’ from the AVM film ‘Annai’ (1962) was shot in a sequence involving a moving train that added dramatics.

The whole story line of ‘Pachai Vilakku’ (1964) was interwoven, through the film, with the life of Hero, Sivaji Ganesan, playing a loco driver of a Steam Engine. The song ‘OLi mayamana edhirkalam’, involving shots of these artistes were filmed inside a moving ‘black beauty’ WP Canadian Engine. The shoot for the film was all over the yards of Basin Bridge Junction, with tight close ups, Pan shots, trolley shots and what not, involving Sivaji & Nagesh. Who can forget the song ‘Kelvi piranthathu anru’ shot outdoors, showcasing the various railway facilities?

In Anbu Karangal Sivaji Ganesan also donned the role of a benevolent Railway Station Master with Nagesh as a Station hand.

anbu-karangal

The song book cover of “Anbu Karangal’. PC: From the archives of TCRC

‘Onna irukka kathukkanum’ number rendered by TMS was filmed on Sivaji on a railway platform, with a vintage rolling stock waiting to leave the station. It was fascinating to view at the type of antique railway rakes with their wide, open windows, in this sequence.

All train travellers encounter people who seek alms in exchange of a song. While some of them could be physically challenged, some just take up this practice out of sheer poverty. But a study had revealed that many of these beggars are also musically trained or belong to families that have been practicing music for generations together. The Hindi song from the film ‘Dus Lakh’ (1966), “Garibon ki suni who thumari sunega’  was a favorite song by people begging on trains. Here is a Train singer seeking alms from the Movie ‘Vaazhvu en pakkam’ in the voice of Music Director M.S.Viswanathan. The song “Tirupathi malaiyil eruginraay” is set to the chugging rhythm of a steam train.

                                                                                                                                                         (to be continued)

Filmy Ripples :Ghost voices of bygone era (Part 1)

By P.V.Gopalakrishnan

You cannot accept or even imagine Indian Films without songs. Whether it is a romantic duet or a parody number or song with some philosophy engrained in it or even an off screen rendering in the backdrop of a visual, songs have thrived,to the enchantment of the movie goer. There are instances where the songs have outlived the memory of a film in which they featured. In contrast, western films had limited number of musicals like My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof, South Pacific where songs featured, as they were based on Broadway Musicals.

In the bygone days, the music came from those fragile vinyl records as they revolved under that magical pin! The success of Indian Cinemas’ music was amplified by the music companies such as HMV, Odeon, Columbia that published music, then. Out of these HMV fascinated me the most as a child, with its dog peering into the phonograph player, with inscriptions “His Master’s Voice”. In later adult years, I learnt that this logo was based on a painting by Francis Barraud, a Liverpudlian painter, with the same caption. Francis painted his late brother’s pet dog Nipper, as Nipper would run over to the phonograph and listen intently to the voice of his late master. In India, HMV became RPG when bought out by RP.Goenka Group and later came to be known as ‘Sa Re Ga Ma’.

In my childhood in the village, around late forties, I used to sprint to one of the neighbouring houses where a ‘thatha’ lived, to see & listen to his gramophone, as he played ‘oridam thannile’ song. Here is the video of the very song from the 1949 fim ‘Velaikkari’, sung by P.Leela & V.N.Janaki (wife of MGR) in the music of C.R.Subburaman & S.M.Subbiah Naidu.

In the initial days of Talkie Cinemas, it was a prerequisite that the main artistes had singing ability. Personalities such as M.K.Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, S.G.Kittappa, P.U.Chinnappa, Honnappa Bhagavathar, K.B.Sundarambal, M.S.Subbulakshmi, G.N.B, T.R.Rajakumari , T.R.Mahalingam, N.C.Vasanthakokilam were all singing stars. Most of them could travel to high altitude octave levels with ease. They had to be mostly loud in rendering as was the need of the recording technology available.

Somewhere, the play back artistes, who lent the actors their ghost voices, took avtar as a professional tribe in cinemas. That has a background too.

When AVM was making ‘Nandakumar’ he found a song rendered by the actress playing Krishna’s mother, Devaki was far from satisfactory. So he got an innovative spark of replacing the sound track of the song recorded by the actress with an external voice and shooting the song with the actress lips ‘sync’ing.  And he got cracking with that idea which finally worked. AVM commissioned a then prominent Carnatic musician of Bombay, Lalitha Venkataraman, to render the song. It worked, as the song was re-shot with the actress moving her lips to Lalitha Venkatraman’s singing. This is the origin of the playback system in Tamil cinema. Necessity, sure, is the mother of invention! It was a major breakthrough in those times, which practice is continuing with great tradition & aplomb even into these days of state of the art sound engineering.

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A still from a scene in the film Nandakumar published in the 1937 issue of Cine Art Review Magazine. PC: From the archives of TCRC

The current generation or even the immediately preceding one might not have had the opportunity of listening to the old Tamil film songs of fifties & prior, leave alone knowing the names of playback singers of those times? This writer has catalogued nearly seventy Tamil Film play back singers (some of them actors too) of sixties and the prior period extending back to thirties. These names, alphabetically, are: A.G.Ratnamala, A.L.Raghavan, A.M.Raja, A.P.Komala, A.S.Mahadevan, Balamurali Krishna, C.R.Subbaraman, C.S.Jayaraman, Chandrababu, D.K.Pattammal, G.N.Balasubramanyam, Gajalakshmi, Ganasaraswathi, Ghantasala, Hemant Kumar, Honnappa Bhagavathar, Jamunarani, Jesudas, Jikki, K.A.Chokkalinga Bhagavathar, K.B.Sundarambal, K.R.Ramasami, K.Rani, K.V.Janaki, K.Vijaya, Kanaka, Kothamangalam Seenu, L.R.Easwari, M.H.Hussain, M.L.Vasanthakumari, M.M.Dandapani Desikar, M.R.Santhanalakshmi, M.S.Rajeswari, N.S.Krishnan, Nagerkoil Mahadevan,  P.A.Periyanayaki, P.B.Srinivas, P.Bhanumathi, P.Leela, P.Suseela, P.U.Chinnappa, Pazhani Baghirathi, R.Balasaraswathi Devi, Radha Jayalakshmi, Raghunath Panigrahi, S.C.Krishnan, S.M.Subbiah Naidu, S.Varalakshmi, Sarangapani, Sirkazhi Govindarajan, Srinivasan, Sulamangalam Jayalakshmi, Sulamangalam Rajalakshmi, Sundari Bhai,T.A.Madhuram, T.A.Mothi, T.M.Soundararajan, T.R.Mahalingam, T.R.Rajakumari, T.R.Ramachandran, T.S.Bagaavathi, T.V Ratnam, Thavamani Devi, Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, Tiruchi Loganathan, U.R.Jeevarathinam, Udutha Sarojini, V.J.Varma, Vasundara Devi, V.N.Sundaram, V.Nagaiah, V.T.Rajagopalan, V.V.Sadagopan. Huff….even reading this long enumeration of singers of yesteryears makes one pant!

Here is another  popular song, in the lighter vein, “Oosi pattase” from the film ‘Digambara Samiyar’. (1950), in the voices of Gajalakshmi & V.T.Rajagopalan. The tune of this duet, between a young girl and her grandfather,  was inspired by a popular Hindi tune ‘O…..dilwalo!’. The music directors G.Ramanathan & S.M.Subbiah Naidu.

From the early talkie Tamil films and up till the fifties the film songs followed the classical Carnatic genre and there are gems among such compositions. Those days many senior music directors were employees of big Studios which owned orchestras.

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Music Director MD Parthasarathi with his orchestra at Gemini Studios. PC: unknown

AVM’s orchestra was known as Saraswathi Stores Orchestra. Even though these orchestras had many Western instruments like Trumpets, Clarinets & French Horns, besides typical desi instruments like Jaltharangam, Veena, Morsing, Hormonium, they all played Carnatic tunes. To say it all, in those days even the Madras Corporation had a Band consisting of Western Instruments playing songs like Chakkani Raja or Nagumo! There was also a famous private Brass Band in the old Madras known as Nadhamuni Bros. Band, which was, out and out, a Carnatic music band. This shows how strong the classical music had influence on general public.

It was only at the advent of MSV-TKR in the early fifties the cine music assumed a light music genre, which is why they were called Mellisai Mannargal. In fact, MSV-TKR duo stepped into main stream music direction when C.R.Subburaman died abruptly leaving unfinished music assignments. The era of MSV-TKR heralded a new chapter in Tamil film music. It was also the induction of musical instruments like Accordion, Dilruba, Bongos, Grand Piano, Spanish Guitar, Mandolin and the like into orchestration. They experimented with numerous genre of music. You could spot jazz, blues, samba, rock, cha cha cha and what not in some of their compositions. Their music never drowned the lyrics. Together they created magic through the voices of living legends for decades well into seventies. You need a dedicated write up to discuss their music.

In the early days they used the lyrics of celebrated personalities like Bharathiyar , Gopalakrishna Bharathi, Thayumanavar et al. Then there were composers of the tall order of Papanasam Sivan, Bharathi Dasan, Kalki Krishnamurthy. There were other well known lyricists such as Udumalai Narayana Kavi, Aroordas, Maruthakasi, Kamatchi sundaram, Thanjai Ramaiahdas, Pattukottai Kalyanasundaram much before the later lyricists such as Kannadasan & Vaali.

Papanasam Sivan wrote many beautiful songs for films which are greatly remembered & revered. Mostly these were set to Carnatic tunes. Some of these, like ‘Maa Ramanan’ which was a cinema song, has come to be sung on Carnatic Stages even today. Papanasam Sivan’s Carnatic compositions were largely popularised by D.K.Pattammal & D.K.Jayaraman. Another interesting thing about Papanasam Sivan is, neither his name was Sivan nor was he from Papanasam. He was, in fact, born Polagam Ramaiah. His ‘mudra’ name in his compositions was ‘Ramadas’. He spent a lot of time in Papanasam, thereby adopting the “Papanasam” tag. Also, it was a tradition to address men of respect as Sivan in those days, this explains the suffix to his name. It is also said that there was lot of influence of Mahavaidyanatha Sivan, during his tenure at Trivandrum, on his compositions, thereby making Sivan as his second part of the name.

AVM used many songs of Mahakavi Subramanya Bharathi in their films such as Naam Iruvar, Vethala Ulagam, Ore Iravu, Vazhkai. The rights to Bharathiyar’s works were held by a gramaphone company owned by Surajmal & Sons which bought the rights for Six Hundred Rupees. Later AVM bought the rights from them for Ten Grand. It was at the instance of Omandur Ramasamy Reddy , who was the then Chief Minister of Madras Presidency between 1947 & 1949, AVM relinquished their rights.

Bharathidasan’s ‘Thunbam nergaiyil’ written by Bharathi Dasan as expression addressed to a child was used in AVM’s ‘Oar Iravu’ (1951) in the voices of M.S.Rajeswari & V.J.Varma and filmed in a situation of romance between lovers, played by Lalitha & Nageswara Rao

                                                                                                                                                              (to be continued)

Filmy Ripples : Movie Studios (Part 2)

By P.V.Gopalakrishnan

I have seen from the Kodambakkam High Road side, the mammoth sets put up within Gemini Studios, about the same place where today Park Hotel stands, for ‘Bhama Vijayam’. It was a two-story ‘building’ where the story unfolded. Similarly I have seen, from outside, a large Big Top of a Circus being put up in AVM for ‘Parakkum Paavai’.

All these studios were virtual dreamlands where the celluloid industry made its ware. There was an element of fascination & grandeur about them. The studios were products of necessity as films could be made only in controlled & capsuled spaces, where only production was technically possible. In the black-and-white era of those days when the film ran at slow speed requiring abundant light, the Director and Cinematographer had to exercise extraordinary judgment & vivid imagination.

A busy film studio was a beehive of activities as technicians, set property guys, lighting equipment handlers all moving about in feverish activity, even as the artistes applied grease to their face in preparation for their day’s shoot in humble green rooms, there being no private Caravans owned by any big star then.

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Image from Cine Art Review Magazine 1937. PC: From the archives of TCRC

In the humble recording theatres in these studios, dating back to pre-stereo era, many a musician huddled up in small recording rooms, amidst running power & audio cables, to produce the ever charming film music that we adore to date. Veteran Music Directors such as Emani Sankara Sastry, Parthasarathy, C.R.Subburaman, S.M.Subbiah Naidu, T.G.Lingappa, Sudarshanam, G.Ramanathan, T.R.Pappa, S.V.Venkataraman, S.Rajeswara Rao, Parur Sundaram Iyer,  K.V.Mahadevan, MSV-TKR, S.Dakshinamurthy & Pandurangan swayed their baton in these Studios in collaboration with legendary lyricists like Papanasam Sivan, Kothamangalam Subbu, Thanjai Ramaiahdas, and Ku.Ma.Balasubramanyam.

While recording ‘Engey Nimmathi’ song for Puthiya Paravai, MSV-TKR team had to accommodate the large number of spill over musicians on to the outside lawns. In this song the Music Directors used huge musical ensemble comprising instruments such as Harp, Violins, Cello, Bass, Vibrofone, Bongos, Kettle Drums, Flutes, Castanet, Trumpets, Tuba, Trombone, Clarinet & Mandolin.

The early films of Black & White era too had brief spells of outdoor shoots. But sets were more predominant as a rule owing to limitations.

Gradually the trend was increasingly towards outdoor shoots, away from the confines of the mighty studios, as evidenced by Kathalikka Neramillai (1964). Most of the outdoor locales of this iconic wholesome comedy were shot at Azhiyar Reservoir Dam, some sixty five kilo meters away from Coimbatore, located in the picturesque foothills of Valparai, in the Anamalai Hills of the Western Ghats.

Similarly, Karnan was notably the first Tamil film to be shot extensively in locales at Jaipur & Kurukshetra. The Art Director Ganga of Karnan got huge chariots made in Chennai and shipped them to Kurukshetra, where the war sequences were filmed in out door. With Central Government’s permission, real cavalry and infantry men from the Indian Army were deployed in the battles scenes at Kurukshetra.

Lobby Card of Karnan (1964) .Image courtesy The Cinema Resource Centre.

A lobby card  from the film Karnan featuring the chariot PC: From the archives of TCRC

The cameras have since become smarter and often airborne on drones. The Information Era has changed the very way films are made. Today, most of these mighty shooting spots called Studios have disappeared one by one, as Technology has made a paradigm shift in film making, which tendered  those mammoth sized studios redundant. The sophisticated equipment and availability of alternative resources enable film makers to shoot at any place of their choice. Thus the brick ‘n’ mortar studios of huge sizes lost their popularity.

In contrast, today the films are made about everywhere, ranging from the rural hamlets to urban slums, from deserts to highways, from cricket pitches to Pizzeria.

Several film studios in Chennai have downed their shutters and their vast areas have turned over to real-estate development. Many got transformed into hospitals, hotels, multiplexes, colleges, wedding halls and the like.

Similarly, the Bombay’s landmark studios such as RK, Mehboob, Filmistan & Famous too have lost their sheen.

In fact, by 1970s that filmmakers slowly ventured out of the studios of Kodambakkam, to shoot in outdoors and actual locales, abandoning the sets. The bougainvillea creepers, the ceiling dropped pigeons, ornate fountains of the make-believe sets were gone, with ‘as-a-matter-of-fact’ outdoor shoots setting in. A huge tribe of set making carpenters, painters, decorators, prop suppliers were all gone with the sets. These were the very people who feasted cine-goers with the celebrated visuals of the black & white era with their enormous sets. They made us relish the clever make over to the mythology and historical subjects of films. Who could forget the sets of Chandralekha or Avvaiyar? Even much later, the sets of Veera Pandiya Kattabomman, Karnan and the like provided us the much of visual enchantment.

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A photograph from the film Avvaiyar. PC: From the archives of TCRC

The Gemini twins, in their ‘langoti’s, blowing the bugle at the corner entrance of erstwhile Gemini Studios still haunt us, by their sheer absence there anymore.

But change is unchangeable!

Thaneer Thaneer – From Stage to Celluloid

By Karthik Bhatt

Komal Swaminathan was one of Tamil stage’s most powerful contemporary playwrights. Born in 1935, he came to Madras in 1957 and joined the Seva Stage Kalvi Nilayam, the drama school that had been established by S.V.Sahasranamam. It was here that he learnt the various aspects of drama. He had a particular interest in writing scripts, having already written a few skits during his intermediate course at the Madura College.

Having completed the drama course Swaminathan joined Seva Stage as an apprentice to S.V.Sahasranamam, learning the production aspects of staging plays. He wrote his first play, “Puthiya Paathai” in 1960, which was staged by the Gujarati Young Men Association. Thus began a journey that saw the scaling of many heights in the course of the next three decades.

Swaminathan forayed into movies in 1963. He worked as an assistant and script writer to noted director K.S.Gopalakrishnan for the next seven years. This period saw him being associated with successful movies such as Karpagam, Pesum Deivam and Kai Kodutha Deivam. He started Stage Friends in 1971, a troupe primarily comprising of members from his mentor S.V.Sahasranamam’s Seva Stage. The troupe’s first play was Sannadhi Theru, which dealt with the stigma attached to lady artistes and the neglect drama troupes faced. The Kalki magazine review of the play termed it a first rate production, with special mention to Surya Prabha, the actress who played the lead role. The success of Sannadhi Theru was followed by several other productions such as Nawab Naarkaali (which was also later made into a movie), Yuddha Kandam and Chekku Maadugal. His best known and most celebrated play however is the subject of this piece, Thaneer Thaneer.

Thaneer Thaneer dealt with a topic that remains very contemporary, that of water scarcity. The story was set in a drought hit village which suffers as much from official apathy as it does from the failure of rains. With powerful dialogues which were well aimed barbs at the establishment, it was inevitable that it would raise eyebrows at some level. Sure enough, the hurdle came in the form of getting the clearance from the Police before staging the play.

The Madras Dramatic Performances Act, 1954 required that the Police Commissioner had to approve a script before it could be staged. This law had been brought about as a means of censorship to ensure that the popularity of the medium was not misused to propagate ideas that had the potential to create law and order problems. It was under this law that objections were being raised to Thaneer Thaneer. That the play apart from highlighting official apathy was also viewed as being sympathetic to an ideological movement, which probably raised a red flag leading to the withholding of permission. Hectic parleying ensued, with Cho Ramaswamy coming out in support of Komal Swaminathan. The permission came through about an hour before the inauguration on the 10th of October 1980 at the Mylapore Fine Arts Club auditorium.

The play was a stupendous success. The legendary director K.Balachander who watched the play was immediately taken in by the idea and wanted to make it into a movie. Komal Swaminathan agreed, with a request that the stage artistes be used in the film too. Balachander acceded to the request and artistes such as Raj Madan, Vaadhyar Raman acted in the movie too. It was produced by Kalakendra Movies. Certain changes were made to suit the commercial medium. Saritha, Rajesh and Radha Ravi played important roles in the movie, which was both a commercial success and a critically acclaimed one. K.Balachander won the award for the best screenplay and the movie won the Best Tamil Feature Film award at the National Film Awards for 1981.

More recently in 2012, the play was staged in English as Water by the Madras Players. Thaneer Thaneer was revived in 2013 through Stage Friends which made a comeback to stage thanks to the efforts of Komal Swaminathan’s daughter Ms.Lalitha Dharini.

(This author gratefully acknowledges the inputs given by Ms.Lalitha Dharini for this piece).