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 : When Film Stars are from the Fauna (Part 2)

By P.V Gopalakrishnan

Elephants have been used as attraction seekers in Tamil Cinema ever since a pachyderm called ‘Chandru’ played heroine, singing star Thavamani Devi’s (from Ceylon) accomplice in ‘Vana Mohini’ (1941). In this film, a rehash of a Hollywood ‘jungle’ movie , the story, screenplay and direction were by Hindi film actor and Director Bhagwan. The elephant virtually stole the hearts of all as he indulged in many tricks.

200px-Vanamohini1941

Vanamohini PC: unknown

‘Sri Valli’ (1945), produced by AVM featured the elephant named Krishnan Kutty, sourced specially from South Perinkulam in Kerala, which is, by the by, also the village of this writer.

According to the well-known writer & film historian Theodore Bhaskaran The Gemini Studios resembled an elephant camp in 1948 while the Magnum Opus ‘Chandralekha’ was in production, as many elephants were in residence in the studio premises. He goes on to say “Two well known circus companies, Kamala Circus and Parasuram Lion Circus, camped in the Gemini Studio compound for shooting a film. At least one of them changed its name into Gemini Circus after the shooting of the film Chandralekha (1948) that Vasan was then engaged in, and in which the circus elephants were featured.”

In Gemini’s Avvaiyar (1953), a large herd of elephants were needed for a battle scene in the film and Vasan’s search ended in an elephant camp near Vayanad at Manandhavadi, which featured in the spectacular scene in which stampeding elephants attack a Fortress.

In the MGR starred ‘Gulebakavali’ (1955), there was a much publicized scene of MGR fighting with a live Tiger. However, there is no mention of the tiger’s name in its credit titles.

Now, I want to dwell in detail about exotic animal specie that featured in a Chennai produced Hindi Movie as early of the fifties.

Mr. S. S. Vasan of Gemini Studios who had produced grand movies praised as Magnum Opus made a Hindi movie in the fifties, starring Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand & Bina Rai. After shooting quite a footage of the film, when Vasan reviewed the same he felt an immense need to introduce an animal character in the film, which he felt was otherwise dull. After all, Vasan has had the benefit of featuring a bunch of elephants in his immediately preceding grand Tamil film ‘Avvaiyar’, much to the movie’s box office advantage.

Someone in his team suggested a monkey, which sparked an idea in Vasan’s industrious mind.  In those times, Chimps were often featured in many movies & TV Shows with ample fan following in the USA. One of such Chimpanzees, called Zippy was a star of his own right there. He is believed to have earned about USD 55k per month through his busy engagements in TV Shows, Night Clubs & other special events.

Living up to his reputation as India’s ‘Cecil B. DeMille’, the movie mogul, this time, turned his sights West and struck a deal to fly in Zippy, the Chimp, at a phenomenal price. Before the month was over, the chimp from Hollywood was on his way to India. Zippy, from USA, landed on a hot day in 1955, with his Trainer (Ralph Quinlan) & Owner (Lee Ecuyer), within a month, first At Santa Cruz Airport & then on to Madras Meenambakkam.

No ordinary monkey and being a bonafide American star, he was welcomed with a garland in Indian Tradition by Mohana, one of the Artistes of the film ‘Insaniyat’. Film India magazine reported about Zippy: “On arrival at the Santa Cruz airport he kissed Mohana and stuck to her till he departed. That proves that Zippy believes in cushioned comforts. So do many but they are not as fortunate as Zippy…”

Movie Animals

Welcoming Zippy. PC: www.thebigindianpicture.com

The Hindu reported, “No star in recent times received such a tumultuous reception as was accorded to Zippy, the chimpanzee, at the Meenambakkam airport when he arrived with his trainer and owner”.

I recollect, I was in fifth standard, when Zippy took Madras City by storm. Gemini Studio was issuing special viewing sessions of Zippy to the public. VIPs & school children were accorded special ‘audience’ with the great chimp. Zippy was an instant hit with the Press as well as the crowds who had been awaiting his arrival. As a news report in The Hindu noted the next day, “the patience of the crowd was amply rewarded when they had the fun of seeing the chimp walk and do things like a boy, and shake hands with all those who wanted to do so. With close fitting dress and boots, Zippy delighted the people by his mannerisms”. For the short period of a month that Zippy stayed in Chennai, he received royal treatment. Lee Ecuyer, in a New York Times interview, recounted people “bowing at our feet as though he really was royalty”.

Zippy.jpg

Zippy with S.S Vasan PC: From the archives of TCRC

As Zippy was small in stature, scenes featuring the chimp were reportedly shot slightly lower than eye level, so cleverly that the audience never realized that the action on screen was physically impossible for such a small creature.

insaniyat_covers

The lovable diminutive young chimp Zippy, trained & adept at playing piano, roller‐skating and typewriting, besides several other feats, was featured in not just one but two song sequences — “Beta Bada Hoga’ and ‘Main Hoon Bandar Shaher Ka’ in the film ‘Insaniyat’.

 

 

When the movie was at last released, Zippy was the Star, not the Bombay’s biggest stars, to the curious crowds. Their verdict was unanimous: the chimp had stolen the Show. It is learnt that as Zippy grew old, its owner found it difficult to manage it & donated it to The Bronx Zoo, New York.

Some sections also conspired that since the owner Lee Ecuyer had multiple chimpanzees with him for featuring in TV shows, it was not clear whether the very ‘Zippy’ who landed in “Insaniyat’ was the same celebrity who had appeared on popular American shows ‘Howdy Doody’, “The Ed Sullivan Show’ or ‘Cheeta’ of  “Tarzan’s Hidden Jungle”.

There was another chimp called ‘Pedro’ who acted in Indian film produced by Homi Wadia of Bombay who specialized in making Tarzan kind of movies in Hindi. In fact he produced a series of such films, which were also dubbed & released in Tamil.

Jimbo

Song book of the Tamil dubbed Hindi Film Zimbo (1958) featuring Pedro the CHimp PC: From the archives of TCRC

In South Indian film industry there was Sandow Chinnappa Devar who regularly featured animals in his films. His delightful Hindi movie ‘Haathi Mere Saathi’, extolling the loyal instincts of elephants for their masters, starred Rajesh Khanna and Tanuja.

 

There have been innumerable films in which animal species have appeared and it would be difficult to enlist all. Here is some of the cross section of movies with animal actors. Devar also produced Shatrughan Sinha‐Jaya Bhaduri paired ‘Gaai Aur Gori’ featuring a cow. The same film was remade in Tamil as ‘Aattukara Alamelu” replacing the cow with a goat. Thangamalai Rakasiyam (1957) had Sivaji Ganesan in a Tarzan­like character talking to elephants, which were picturised in Anamalai woods. Chinnappa Devar, who used extensively animals in his films, made Yanaipagan (1960) & Nalla Neram (1972), the later with M.G. Ramachandran as hero, both these films featuring elephants. Yanai Valartha Vanambadi (1967) & its inevitable sequel, Yanai Valartha Vanambadiyin Magan (1972) too had pachyderms in stellar roles. Even in Kumki (2012) an elephant featured as a main character. Film ‘Saivam’ had a Rooster in it, whereas ‘Kumudam’ had a Cat in it in the song ‘Meow meow poonai kutty’. Server Sundaram had a parakeet in the beautiful song ‘Thathai nenjam’. However, it was nota talking parakeet, as was presented in the sequence. The parakeet’s voice in the song was lent by, mimicry artist who worked with MSV, named Saibaba (one of the sons of T.S.Baliah).

Going forward too, the animal kingdom is sure to continuously attract the attention of film-makers throughout the world, for the simple reason that the animals are ever irresistible to people. The child in us would demand to see animals in films. However, the filming of animals in India is subject to certain regulations by the Animal Welfare Board of India. We only pray that the animals are not ill treated in the course of filming, as has been reported in the past.