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- Exotic Instruments in Film music – Part 1

By P.V. Gopalakrishnan

If you have found yourself listening to old Tamil film music and felt like you attain absolute ecstasy from the mosaic of sounds that the blend of various musical instruments produced, pleasing your eardrums, we know exactly how you felt!

From traditional Indian instruments to the exotic instruments from various parts of the globe, the music composers of Tamil screen composed their lilting music. In fact, by virtue of music composers like A. R. Rahman having become a global player, such globalization in music has brought some very exotic musical instruments such as Balalaika, Cajon, Harpejji etc to our door step.

The track record of Tamil film music goes much beyond the music directors & playback artistes who literally lived them. The immaculate talents of extremely talented musicians, who never were known to the listeners at large, deserved the credit of the lively compositions we cherish even to-date. The fruits of their creativity is an ever lasting a gift to the current & future generations of music-lovers.

In order that we appreciate those highly talented music makers of the Tamil screen, we must know about the various musical instruments they used in their breezy compositions, under the direction of music directors.

Here in this Article, we will have a ringside view of the various musical cine-orchestral music instruments along with links to videos and songs wherein these were used, particularly in Tamil films till the early seventies. However, we will eschew Accordion since we have already devoted a special Article on that.

Univox organ:

In old Tamil films the organs used to produce musical notes similar to the mighty church organs. Since then the organs have gone through a long history of evolving & development resulting in today’s one-man orchestra provided by the modern electronic keyboards.

Listen to ‘Ennai alum Mary matha’ by P.Leela from Missiyamma (1955), in the composition of veteran S. Rajeswara Rao, where the beginning music is of the organ.

 Bagpipes:

These are wind instruments using enclosed reeds, fed from a ‘bag’, which acts as the reservoir of air. The player keeps pumping air orally into the ‘bag’ as he plays. So, the difference between any wind instrument & bagpipe is that unlike the other wind instruments which are blown into with air directly from the player’s lungs, bagpipes receive air first into its bag from where it goes to the pipes. Though Bagpipe is predominantly seen as a Scottish instrument, bagpipes have been played for over a millennium throughout other large parts of the West.

I have not come across a bagpipe being used in any Tamil film songs. Though someone said, it has been used by K.V.Mahadevan in the song ‘Thottu vida thottuvida thodarum’, on a careful listening, I find, the bits resembling Bagpipes are in fact produced by the Organ of those times known as Univox.

As far as my information goes, Bagpipes were used only in the Raj Kapoor film Sangam (Music by Shankar Jaikishen) in the song ‘Bol Radha Bol Sangam’.

Banjo:

A plucked stringed instrument, which originated in Africa & got adopted in the country music of USA.  Banjo had not been very widely used in Tamil film music but there are specific songs where this has been used. For instance, MSV-TKR had used Banjo in few of their compositions & the one we have here for citing is ‘Ennathan nadakkum nadakkattume’, from ‘Pana Thottam’ (1963), where the string instrument you hear is a Banjo.

Ennathan nadakkum(Panathottam)

Song book of Pana Thottam with the page containing the song ENNATHAN NADAKKUM NADAKATTUME    PC: From the archives of TCRC

Bongos:

These are Afro-Cuban percussion instruments consisting of a pair of small, open bottomed drums of different sizes & played by fingers & palm.

Indian films till the sixties used this percussion instrument very frequently in the compositions. In fact instruments such as Accordion, Bongos & Mandolin ruled the roost In Tamil film compositions prior to seventies but became slowly extinct as there was a paradigm shift to the music genre & compositions. MSV-TKR had used Bongos in very many memorable songs. Ganesh (of Shankar-Ganesh Duo) who was a formidable member of MSV’s orchestra played Bongos.

Some of the songs using Bongos for percussion that deeply rooted in my mind include ‘Ullam enbathu aamai’, ‘Pesuvathu kiliya’, ‘Poga poga theriyum’ & ‘Silai eduthan oru sinna ponnukku’.

Here is ‘Pesuvathu kiliya’ from Deiva Thai, composed by MSV-TKR with the Bongo beats.

In ‘Silai eduthan oru china pennukku’ (Server Sundaram) too you get to hear percussion beats of Bongos.

Silai eduthan(Server Sundaram)

Song book of Server Sundaram with the page containing the song SILAI EDUTHAN ORU CHINNA PENNUKKU     PC: From the archives of TCRC

 Castanets:

 These are rhythmic percussion instrument comprising of a pair of concave shells joined on one edge by a string, originating from Turkey. O.P.Nayyar had used it often in his compositions. It is a hand held instrument used to produce clicks for rhythmic accents or a ripping or rattling sound consisting of a rapid series of clicks.

Here is a Tamil composition by MSV-TKR in the song ‘Pillaikku thanthai oruvan’ from ‘ Parthal Pasi Theerum’ (1962)., where you can hear the rhythmic wooden clap sounds produced by Castanets.

You can spot castanets in few other Tamil songs too such as ‘Kelvi piranthathu anru’ (Pachai Vilakku), the music director being MSV-TKR.

Kelvi Piranthathu(Pachai Vilakku)

Song book of Pachai vilakku with the page containing the song KELVI PIRANTHATHU ANDRU     PC: From the archives of TCRC

 Cello:

It is a four stringed bass instrument originated from Italy in 17th century, looking like a giant violin (held while playing against the seated cellist and traditionally played with a horsehair bow), has been used routinely in many Tamil Film Songs. However, due to its ‘Bass’ tone structure it has a low tonal registry & may not be heard separately unless played singly in the songs.

In ‘Silar sirippar silar azhuvar’ song from ‘Pava Mannippu’ (1960), composed ny MSV-TKR you can hear Cello.

In ‘Enge nimmadhi’ song  (‘Puthiya Paravai’ – 1963) too, one can distinctly hear Cello in the opening music just prior to the vocal of TMS.

Guitar:

A typically six stringed instrument with European roots with a multitude of incarnations from acoustic to electric, has featured commonly in many film songs.

Tamil Cinema has had amazing Guitarists such as Dhanraj Master, Philip, Ilayaraja, Chandrasekhar, Gangai Amaran & R.Visweswaran.  Of these, the last named late Visweswaran (husband of danseuse Chithra Visweswaran) was a close friend & college-mate of this writer. Visweswaran himself was an expert Guitarist who could play Flamenco genre music & had played for R.D.Burman.

Veteran Guitarist Philip debuted in the M.K.Radha starred Gemini produced film “Apoorva Sahodarargal’ (1949), introduced by the legendary Music Director S. Rajeswara Rao. Since that Philip had played for K.V. Mahadevan, Viswanathan – Ramamurthy, Sathyam and V. Kumar. Hindi music directors from Bombay such as Hemant Kumar, Madan Mohan, Chitragupta and Ravi wanted Philips to migrate to Mumbai. Philip, an autodidact, now in his eighties, was considered a genius. His guitar pieces were predominant in many Tamil film hits including  ‘Aha mella nada mella nada (Pudiya paravai), ‘Vannakili sonna mozhi’ (Deiva Thai), ‘Malar enra mugam onru’ (Kathalikka neramillai),  “Aval paranthu ponale’ (Paar magale paar), ‘Avalukkenna Azhagiya mugam’ (Server Sundaram), ‘Anubhavam pudumai’ (Kathalikka neramillai), ‘Aada varalaam’’ (Karuppu Panam).

In an Article by V. Balasubramanian titled “Harmony with strings” in The Hindu dated 27.4.2014, the author wrote “MSV during his heydays was a hard taskmaster who would leave no stone unturned till he gets what he wanted. During a particular recording, that started at 7 a.m, the work went on till next day morning. Philips pleaded with MSV to let him go but in vain. Finally, when it was pack up, Philips had to rush directly from the recording studio to the church where his wedding was to take place.“ This writer has had the opportunity of meeting this genius along with R.Visweswaran in early sixties.

“Ilaiya nila pozhigirathu” (Payanangal Mudivathillai) composed by Ilayaraja & rendered by SPB has ample guitar bits, played by Guitarist Chandrasekhar. As per an Interview by SPB, Ilayaraja had well over twenty retakes to get the Guitarist play those difficult Flamenco Notes to his full satisfaction. The results were obvious in the song!

We will continue discussing more of the exotic musical instruments used in our films in our next posting.