Filmy Ripples – Rise & fall of vamps (Part 2)

By P.V. Gopalakrishnan

Then the villis transformed into what were known as ‘vamps’. The dictionary definition of a vamp is “a woman who is conscious of and makes use of being attractive to men in order to get what she wants”, akin to a honey trap. In films, vamps somewhat resembled this description.

The vicious vamps curated by Hindi cinema were all repulsively seductive, and in short vamps were vain, symbolizing everything an ideal Indian woman was not. Instead, they profiled what dangerous women were like, in a country where women of virtue were revered equated to Almighty.

In Hindi we had vamps played by Bindu, Helen, Vaishali, Padma Khanna, Jaishree.T, Aruna Irani & Kalpana Iyer, wearing coloured wigs, contact lenses & skimpy dresses.

Talking of Helen who was a pioneer in this tribe, she was born in Burma to an Anglo Indian father & a Burmese mother, but migrated to India 1n 1942 on the invasion of Japanese army of Burma. She became a hit in Hindi screen with her item number “mera naam chin chin choo’ in ‘Howrah Bridge’ (1958). Immediately, the same year, the Tamil movie ‘Uthama Puthiran’ imported her into Kodambakkam, as she danced in the famed hit number ‘Yaradi nee mohini’, along with Sivaji Ganesan. She has since appeared in nearly seven hundred films with her item numbers in vamp roles. Her song & dance sequence in ‘Piya thu ab tho aaja’ song in Caravan (1971) is evergreen.

Here is a ‘club dance’ number from “Deiva Piravi” (1960).

The film ‘Karuppu Panam’ (1964) produced by Kannadasan had an ‘club dance’ sequence in the song ‘Aada varalaam’ filmed on Sheela, in tight (and perhaps even ill fitting) western outfits, though she already was a busy main heroine then in Malayalam. This song, set in western genre became an immortal hit.

Here is another instance of ‘club dance’ in the song ‘Uravinil fifty fifty’ where Rajeswari lays a honey trap for AVM Rajan in the film ‘Galatta Kalyanam’ (1968).

In our own Tamil screen we had an array of vamps, to name the prominent ones Jothilakshmy, Vijayalalitha, Jayamalini, Anuradha, CID Sakunthala, Disco Santhi, Silk Smitha.

Pattanathu Rajakkal

A still from the Film Pattanathu Rajakkal of SILK SMITH with Vijayakanth.
PC: From the Archives of TCRC

The vamps started donning wigs & minis as they danced, seducing the Hero in our films too, a departure from the run-of-the-mill villis with their rolling eyes & a vicious tongues, as seen in this video from the film “Sorgam” (1970) with Vijayalalitha & Sivaji Ganesan.

These vamps were either ‘one dance’ item number girls or some parallel running characters in the storyline.

Then Silk Smitha, introduced to Tamil screen by Vinu Chakravarthi, became the perennial item number girl and never came out of her image as femme fatale. Disco Shanti, Smitha’s contemporary also settled for the “item girl” tag. Here is a visual of the song ‘Nethu rathiri yamma’ song featuring the most popular vamp character playing Silk Smitha with Kamal Hassan in ‘Sakalakala Vallavan’ (1982).

But in due course, these specialist dancers meant for such vamp roles were slowly losing their relevance, partly owing to the subjects as well as the way films were made, as even new generation of actors took the center stage.

And a stage came when the heroines themselves started doing such dance numbers, sending home the breed of club dancing actors homeward, in retirement.

There was this slow acceptance that lewd lyrics & suggestive movements were no more in the exclusive realm of those who were once labeled as vamps and that the respected heroine could do it all.

This mindset of cine goers perhaps stemmed from the overall changes the current generation has witnessed & accepted arising out of education, liberated mindset, globalization etc.

As such the vamp has died a natural death in our cinemas, as the perception of them as a hugely negative clan and holding them in a water tight genre has changed along with the emergence of realizing a ‘vamp’ character is generally engrained in every ordinary living individual. That is why we see, in the soap operas on TV, normal woman characters being over dramatized as mega ‘villi’s with their ever scheming negative plans. This has becoming the major sell out of today’s TV serials!

Filmy Ripples – Rise & fall of vamps (Part 1)

By P.V. Gopalakrishnan

The early Tamil cinema was either associated with period of pre-independence or the post republic decades that succeeded. Then, the life in India, was relatively simple, with down to earth values and without much complications. There was less room for negative vibrations, cynicism or self doubt. This was replicated on the silver screen in its social subject movies. As such, the social movies were largely family subjects with love & romance, with only a loner villain who was usually a male character constantly raising his eye brows & gritting his teeth, in scheming an evil plan against the hero & his clan or against the society at large.

But, the negative characters are part of human evolution and are handed down from times of Epic, such as Ravana in Ramayanam or Duryodhan/ Sakuni in Mahabharatham. So the ‘villains’ became integral part of story lines in films too. In carrying the legacy of negative characters, there was a battery of this genre in Tamil screen, to name a few like M.N.Nambiar, P.S.Veerappa, R.S.Manohar, M.R.Radha, S.Ramdas, O.A.K. Thevar, T.S.Baliah, T.K.Ramachandran, Kallapart Natarajan, playing dastardly villains with raucous laughs, each with their own individual hall mark. Of course, some of them became character or comedy actors later as they had the dexterity to emote in such roles too. Such instances repeated later too with villains like Nasser & Satyaraj even transcribing into hero roles. There was also the reverse, as a hero like Jayashankar later came to shine in villain roles. Occasionally a well-accepted frontline hero such as Sivaji Ganesan or Kamal Hassan too appeared in negative roles. What about Nagesh in a negative role in Thillana Mohanambal where he excelled with a tinge of comedy?

Sigappu Rojakkal

A working still from the Film Sigappu rojakkal in which Kamal Hassan Played a negative role. PC: From the Archives of TCRC

Kanavane Kankanda Deivam

A working still from the Film KANAVANE KANKANDA DEIVAM of M.N. Nambiyar.
PC: From the Archives of TCRC

Soon, the female equivalent of a villain, colloquially called ‘villi’, also started appearing in films. This could be construed as an organic transition in the anthology of Tamil Screen as it evolved & got rediscovered with times. If there could be a negative character why would it be restricted to one gender alone? The logic worked!

To slightly digress, talking of evolution of cinemas, internationally, it was in early thirties that larger than life legendary characters like Superman & Batman were conceptualized more as an ‘escape into fantasy’ when the world was reeling under the world war.

Likewise, it was time for Tamil Screen too to have ‘villi’s in their shopping list! After all, even in Epics we have had villi like ‘Manthara’ aka ‘Kooni’! And the Tamil Screen has had villi like Sundari Bai, M.S.S Pakkiyam, C.K.Saraswathi, and M.N.Rajam. Their equivalents in Hindi were Nadira, Lalitha Pawar, Shashikala Leela Mishra & the like.

CK Saraswathi

The picture above is of C.K.Saraswathi as she appeared in ‘Thillana Mohanambal’, in the ever-watchful ‘madam’ character of ‘Vadivambal’ with whom T.S.Baliah, in his Percussionist role, used to display amorous overtures in the film.

Soon, the ‘terminology’ (if I may call it so), “Item Number’ came to be coined by Bollywood, in reference to songs made up of lyrics, so sleazy. Whereas they were traditionally synonymous with what was known as ‘club dances’ in Tamil screen in the past. M.S.S.Pakkiyam, who had done several villi roles, besides others, had done an ‘item number’ as early as 1947 in the film ‘Rajakumari’, as seen in the video below.

 

 

 

 

A sequence featuring Kumari Kamala as an ‘item number’ girl was in the popular song “Oh Rasikkum seemane vaa” from the film ‘Parasakthi’ (1952).

 

 

M.N.Rajam was always ‘the other girl’ in movies with a tinge of villainy. But here she features as a vamp in “Ratha Kanneer” (1954) in the popular song and dance sequence “aalai aalai parkkiraar”.

 

 

 

The following video shows Rajamani in a vamp role in the film ‘Paasa valai’ (1956), music by MSV-TKR.

 

(to be continued)

Filmy Ripples – Cars that added glitter to movies

By P V Gopalakrishnan

Vintage & classic cars are the cherished dreams of car enthusiasts & collectors worldwide, but have been routinely dubbed as ‘ottai’ car in the average common man’s lingo, where the Tamil word ‘ottai’ refers to a ramshackle one. As such we have not given enough attention to those timeless beauties, which had featured in our own old films, though they roamed the streets of this planet with great name & fame, at some points in time.

In Hollywood, there are specialized companies that provide the rentals of cars from a collection of older vehicles or broker the rental of privately owned vehicles to production companies. A vintage car owner can list his car with one or more of these companies that provide classic cars to the Film industry in USA. They call the owner when a need for his car arises.

Who can forget those cute Mini Coopers that appeared in ‘The Italian Job’?

As for Indian films, there are no catalogued sources of supply of old cars to films as Props. Therefore, the supply sources must be from various sources that are often gray.

The following 1958 Model Chevrolet Impala Convertible featured in the film ‘Karagattakaran’ along with the team of Kaundamani & Ramarajan.

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The Dodge Kingsway which appeared in the Malayalam Movie ‘in Ghost House Inn” (2010).

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The following stills from Kamal Hassan’s ‘Hey Ram’ feature two of the exotic cars of yester years used in that period movie.

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A Ford Super Deluxe Model of the Forties featured in Tamil movie ‘Paiyya’.

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The viewing of any old film that features cars gives us a peek of some of the lovely classic vintage beauties that the automobile world have had. Whether it is the Hero flaunting his car to his lady love or a group of spoiled brats roaming in a classic car or it is a hot chase scene or even a emotion filled scene with a car part of the scene, the Dodges, Desotos, Camaros, Plymouths, Pontiacs, Impalas, Studebakers, Oldsmobiles, Fords, Hillmans, Chevrolets, Morris Minors, Austins & Vauxhalls have had omnipresence on our silver screens.

Here is a scene from Sabapathy (1941), where T.R.Ramachandran rode a Morris 8 Cabriolet along with his consort, T.R.Padma, who was then the Brand Ambassador for Lux Beauty Soap, singing “Kadhal Vegam”.

Those days filming a moving car posed a lot of technical difficulties. As such, some long shots were used of the car in motion inter-cut with tight close ups of the artistes seated in the car. Some close ups of the car with the actors involved a stationery car being shaken manually as the actor in driver’s seat turned the steering wheel, while the back projection of trees moving in reverse direction added to reality.

Here is a song ‘Kada kada loda loda vandi’ from Samsaram (1951), music by Emani Sankara Sastry, filmed in a sequence where the automobile borne lady Vanaja & her sidekicks boo the bullock cart man Sriram.

Taking a romantic drive with a song, ‘Jagamathil inbam’ on their lips are T.R.Mahalingam & S.Varalakshmi in the movie ‘Mohana Sundaram’ (1951).

In the off screen song sequence from the movie ‘Yaar paiyan’ (1957), a emotion choked Gemini Ganesan transports the young Daisy Irani in his classic Fiat to abandon the child, despite his mind calling his action grossly unfair.

A break free Gemini Ganesan drives his classic vehicle around the town singing ‘Minor life romba jolly’ in the film ‘Illarame nallaram’ (1958).

The romance was in the air as Gemini Ganesan drove this beautiful Buick with his consort Savithri on the winding roads of a Hill Station in the film ‘Pasa malar’ (1961).

Now, let us Look at Sivaji Ganesan & friends expressing their ‘vagabondism’ in ‘Nichaya Thamboolam’ (1962) in the song ‘Andavan Padachan’ as they move about in their limousine.

In another boy meets girl episode, Muthuraman & Kanchana sing & dance in the then pristine Marina of the sixties from the iconic comedy film ‘Kathalikka naeramillai’ (1964). In this duet melody, ‘Enna parvai unthan parvai’, the pair drive off in a ship long luxury car, which once belonged to Padma Sri. Jothi Venkatachalam.

In the same movie, in a chivalrous situation in the song “Unga ponnana kaigal punnagalama’, Ravichandran teases the sisters Kanchana & Rajasree as he helps them inflate their the tyres of their Standard Herald car, before driving away in his Austin.

The Gemini produced ‘Motor Sundaram Pillai’ (1966)  featured Sivaji Ganesan driving what seems to be a real vintage & iconic T – Model Ford.

Motor Sundaram Pillai

An Ad for Motor Sundaram from Naradar dated 15.11.1965 PC: From the archives of TCRC

In the comedy film ‘Sadhu Mirandal’ (1966), Comedian Nagesh drove, as a Taxi Driver character, a 1947 Model Chevy Fleetmaster throughout the movie. Such cars were running in the streets of Madras till the sixties, as a left over legacy of British Raj. Those days, in the front parking bay of Madras Central Station you could witness a sea of such huge imported cars, bearing yellow & black colours.

Sathu Mirandal.jpg

An Ad for Sadhu Miranda from Naradar dated 01.12.1965 PC: from the archives of TCRC

The song ‘Azhagirukkuthu ulagile’ from the film ‘Anubhavi Raja Anubhavi’ (1967) has Muthuraman & Nagesh frolicking around in their car.

Sivaji Ganesan takes his wards on a city tour in his jalopy in the film ‘Enga Mama’  (1970)  with a song ‘Nan thannam thani kattu raja’.

Contrast to the old techniques of filming car sequences, today the technology of lighting & camera has so much become advanced that filming the interior of a moving vehicle is relatively a cake walk. The following still shows the filming of car scenes in ‘Pannaiyarum Padminiyum’

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The modern filming techniques of a car involve strapping the cinematographer in front of the moving vehicle as he operates his camera gliding on a railing back & forth from the bonnet side to side door windows.

In India, private owners parade classic cars in rallies conducted locally. Otherwise certain private collectors from the super rich and erstwhile royal families have them. However, the authentic supply of classic cars in India is not known by any documented & reliable source.

It is not as if we are in a country like Cuba where one could take a step back into automotive time, as Havana is rife with classic cars moving about its streets, literally, making Cuba a rolling car museum, thanks to the four-decade-long grudge the late Fidel Castro held against the United States, placing a ban on foreign vehicle imports.

As such the films do appease the vintage auto lovers by featuring them now & then in their productions.

 

Filmy Ripples – Fifty Shades of Lullaby

By P V Gopalakrishnan

A Lullaby, as per Cambridge dictionary, is “a quiet song that is sung to children to help them go to sleep”. Indeed, a down-to-earth meaning, as we commonly perceive them to be. It is said that when babies are disturbed by sudden movements or noises, their blood pressure and heartbeats shoot up instantly when a Lullaby could draw the disturbed child back to normalcy by calming them, in a jiffy. So, it is music therapy that is engrained in lullaby.

Ancient literatures have lullabies in them. Sages and ascetics have sung what are known as ‘PiLLai Thamizh’ in Tamil literature on Celestial Entities. Bhakthi has found its apt expression in the lullaby composition, ‘Mannu pugazh Kosalai thum mani vayiru vaaythavane’ on Lord Rama, by Kula Sekara Azwar.

The poignant lullaby “Omanathingal Kidavo”, had been composed by the famous Malayalam poet Iravi Varman Thampi as lullaby for the young Swathi Thirunal, strikes a tender chord as its soothing notes have lulled generations of children asleep.

Rhythmic usage of words like ‘Aararo’ and ‘thalelo’ are used in ancient Tamil lullabies, typically. Grannies used to twirl their tongue making phonetics to sound like ‘loLa loLa loLa aayeee’ to calm the child.

Lullabies are a part of the cultural legacy of humanity and they have always found a place, rightfully, in films.

The filmy lullaby has had even the proud history of being nominated to Oscar, with the Tamil lullaby, composed and sung by the popular Carnatic vocalist Bombay Jayashri in the Hollywood film ‘Life of Pi’ going for Oscar nomination!

 

 

Traditionally, Raga Neelambari is associated with lullabies. However, movie lullabies follow a freelance pattern and do not restrict only to Neelambari. The movie lullabies are set to soft music using music instruments such as pipo-fone, piano, flutes, sitar, bells, vibrafone etc. that produce baby friendly sounds, attributable to sleep mode. Listen to this beautiful Hindi lullaby, based on a Bengali tune, from ‘Sujata’.

 

Our own cinemas have featured many a lullaby, with various underlying emotions of the character that renders the lullaby song on screen. But the situations in which these lullabies were included in films had their own unique connotations, some sorrowful, some wishful about posterity, some tickling funny bones, some inspirational and some comical.

There have been innumerable lullabies on our Tamil screen & this writer could enlist about thirty of them in this write up, discussing some of them.

It is commonplace for a mother to sing a lullaby to her offspring, which is full of positive things as the child grows. She packs her natural love & affection into it that it is a form of maternal blessing, so to say, to the child, as it tries to catch forty winks.

The memorable songs in this ‘love & affection’ category include ‘Anbil malarntha nal roja’ (Kanavane Kan Kanda Deivam), ‘Kanne vanna pasunkiliye’ (Yanai valartha vanampadi), ‘Kannin maniye vaa’ (Valliyin Selvan), ‘Poonchittu kannangal’ (Thulabaram), ‘Thenral vandhu veesadho’ (Sivagangai Seemai), ‘Velli nila mutrathile’ (Vettaikaran) featuring either of the parents of the child, in the filmed sequence as rendering the lullaby.

The below video is of a beautiful lullaby from ‘Kanavane Kan Kanda Deivam’ (1955), filmed on Anjali Devi, was in the music score of Hemant Kumar & the singer was P.Suseela. The music arrangement is simple with violins & guitar as main instruments.

 

 

Another beautiful lullaby of classical base, whose video is below, ‘Kannin maniye vaa’ rendered by M.L.Vasanthakumari in ‘Valliyin Kanavan’ (1955) in the music of P.S.Anantharaman, has been filmed on a lactating mother, enacted by M.S.Sundari Bai.

 

 

Another very melodious lullaby rendered by twin singers, S.Varalakshmi & T.S.Bhagavathy, is in the following video. The moving music, full of classical flute notes, was by MSV-TKR from the Kannadasan produced ‘Sivagangai Seemai’ (1959).

 

 

A fatherly lullaby can be heard in the following video, filmed MGR. T.M.Sounderrajan has rendered it very movingly in the melodious soft music of K.V.Mahadevan from the film ‘Vettaikaran’.

 

 

Sometimes, the lullaby incorporates situational advice to cajole a crying child as was in the famous film lullaby ‘Chinna pappa enga chella pappa’ (Vanna KiLi), where the mother tries to administer normalcy in an otherwise tense situation.

 

 

Often the lullabies also have an intense reflection of pathos & suffering, as are reflected in Blues genre of Western Music. We may cite such songs in the examples of ‘Konju mozhi sollum kiLiye’ (Parasakthi), ‘Malarnthum malaratha’ (Pasa Malar).

 

 

There are also lullabies incorporating tinges of inspirational messages, as was in ‘Kaala magaL kaN thirappaL’ (Ananda Jothi), as the character played by Devika sang to the then child star Kamal Hassan.

 

 

Even in comedy situations films have featured a lullaby genre of songs, an example of which could be the parody number, ‘Appappa naan appan allada’ (Galatta Kalyanam), where the situation demands Sivaji Ganesan to bring home & tend a baby! The way he dances about the baby, it must have given colic pain to the bay! Then in the same comedy flavor was another lullaby ‘Budhi sigamani petha pullai (Iruvar Ullam), unusually filmed on M.R.Radha.

 

In stark contrast, there could be situations of utter frustration & sadness triggering a lullaby as in the famous  ‘Ean piranthay magane’ (Baga Pirivinai), where the handicapped hero laments about a son being born to him in the unfortunate ambience and ’Poo maalai puzhuthi maN mele’ (Parasakthi).

 

 

 

Of course, utter proudness & exuberance do not deter a parent from singing a lullaby, instances of which are too many in our films. ‘Athai madi methaiyadi’ from Karpagam, ‘Chella Kiligalam’ (Enga Mama) (it was a mass lullaby for a group of children under the hero’s mentorship), ‘Min miniyai kanmaniyay’ (Kannan en kadhalan), ‘Naan petra selvam from the movie of same title, ‘Nee sirithal naan sirippen’ (Pavai ViLakku), ‘Pachai maram onru’ (Ramu) are all classic instances.

 

 

When you listen to ‘Chellakiliye mella pesu’ (Petralthaan pillaiya), off screen, it is a perfect lullaby of melancholic strains. But when you see the visuals MGR has enacted the song totally in a happy situation.

 

 

The other reflectively rendered slow paced Tamil film lullabies are ‘Neela vanna kanna vada’ (Mangayar Thilakam), ‘Chinnanchiru kanmalar’ (Pathi Bakthi), ‘Araaro nee yararo’ (Rajamukthi), ‘Eazhu malai andavane’ (Kalyanam panni paar), ‘Ellorum unnai nallavan enre’ (Bagyavathi), ‘Kalamithu kalamithu kannunurangu’ (Chithi), ‘Kanne Kamala poo’ (Periya Koil), ‘Kannan Varuvan’ (Panchavarnakili), ‘Kanne Raja kavalai vendam’ (Bagyalakshmi), ‘Mannukku maram barama’ (Thai piranthal vazhi pirakkum), ‘Ore oru oorile’ (Padikkatha medhai) & ‘Pillaikku thanthai oruvan’ (Parthal pasi theerum).

 

 

 

The opportunity of watching a lullaby sequence in a film has greatly diminished these days & it could even become extinct some day, as the trend of movies have departed from the film subjects of the bygone days..

But the music directors of different times have gifted us with beautiful lullaby songs that enhance our listening pleasures, even today. We will cherish them forever, for sure!

 

 

Filmy Ripples – ‘Titled’ Film Artistes

By P.V.Gopalakrishnan

It is distinctive practice of Tamil Cinema and perhaps to an extent even Malayalam Cinema, to add adjectives to the nouns of its Artistes as ‘titles’, since times immemorial. I do not know about the other regional film Industries of the South. It seems not as widely prevalent in Bollywood either, though there are sporadic references to specific artistes such as “King Khan” or “Big B”, while they are not used as prefixes to the relevant names.

Some of the “titles” that the film industry had given its actors are either in recognition of their fine talents or out of sheer fanciful love & affection to them.

MGR got the ‘title’ of ‘Puratchi Nadigar’ from Karunanidhi in 1952 when the latter presided over a Stage Play of MGR. This title later became ‘Puratchi Thalaivar’, when MGR founded his own party.

MGR

A picture of MGR from the 1959 Deepavali Malar of the magazine Kalai. The write up next to the photo mentions him as ”Puratchi Nadigar”

V.C.Ganesan became ‘Sivaji’ Ganesan when he shot into fame for his role as the Maratha Warrior King Sivaji in a Play penned by C.N.Annadurai. Later, Sivaji Ganesan was given the title “Nadigar Thilakam” in 1957, by the reputed ‘Pesum Padam’ film magazine & it was in the credit titles of ‘Ambikapathi’ film, released the same year, that his new title was first ever featured.

Shivaji

Sivaji Ganesan mentioned as Nadigar Thilagam in the 1959 Deepavali Malar of the magazine Kalai.

The prefixes such as ‘Sivaji’ (Ganesan) or ‘Bharath’ (Mamooty) to certain leading stars were rather ‘earned’ titles bestowed upon them by respectable institutions or the Government.

Gemini Ganesan acquired the prefix ‘Gemini’ in his name, owing to his earlier career as a Casting Director in Gemini Studios. He was later referred as ‘Kadhal Mannan’, a fond title given by his fans for his impeccable romantic roles.

Similarly, titles such as ‘Ulaga Nayakan’ (Kamal), ‘thala’ (Ajit), ‘ILaya thaLapathi’ (Vijay),  were conferred by their passionate fans, in decorating them affectionately.

Though such decorating titles were not as common for female actors, there were, of course, ‘Punnagai arasi’ (K.R.Vijaya), ‘Abhinaya Saraswathi’ (Saroja Devi), “Nadigaiyar thilakam” (Savithri), “Nattiya PerolI” (Padmini) and the like for a chosen few, based on certain USPs.

Ayiram Rubai

An ad for the film Ayiram Rubai from the December1964 issue of Naradar. Here Savithiti is mentioned as Nadigar Thilakam.

In 1963, the duo MSV-TKR was conferred the title ‘Mellisai Mannargal’, suggested by Kannadasan & conferred by Sivaji Ganesan at a star-studded function organized by Triplicane Cultural Academy at NKT Kala Mandapam, Triplicane. ‘Chithralaya’ Gopu, who a close pal of MSV, was instrumental in organizing the event, which was majorly supported by ’The Hindu’ newspaper.

Sometimes, adding a prefix (aka ‘title’) to an actor’s name was necessary in avoiding comedy of errors. In the bygone era of Tamil films, we had “Friend” Ramasami, “PuLimoottai” Ramasami,  “K.R” Ramasami, “V.K” Ramasami each ‘title’ making them distinct with their own ‘brand equity’ and avoiding the potential confusion as to which ‘Ramasami’ one is talking about. If two Gopus were there, one had to carry the ‘title’ of ‘typist’ while the other carried the prefix of ‘Chthralaya’. If Ganesans had to be distinct, one had to be ‘Gemini’ & the other had to be ‘Sivaji’. When two Balachanders were there, not withstanding their different time frames, their names were always referred with their initials & one was S.Balachandar & the other K.Balachander. The Varalakshmis were distinguished whether she was ‘S’ or ‘G’!

Some ‘titles’ of actors were linked to a character they had earlier played or the film in which they were debuted. Some of the actors who went by the names of movies that brought them to fore are ‘Vennira Aadai Murthy, ‘Nizhalgal’ Ravi, “Pasi” Narayanan, ‘Jayam’ Ravi & ‘Vietnam Veedu’ Sundaram. ‘Chiyaan’ Vikram was named so after the character he had played in the film ‘Sethu’ that made him a star.

Such practice extended to even stage artistes, as in, ‘Nawab’ Rajamanickam, ‘Cho’ Ramaswamy, ‘Kathadi’ Ramamurthy, ‘Typist’ Gopu etc. referring to their memorable characters in some play.

Then we had ‘Ennethe Kannaiah,’Gundu’ Kalyanam, ‘Oru viral’ Krishna Rao, ‘Thayir Vadai’ Desikan, ‘Omakuchi’ Narasimhan, ‘Major’ Sundarrajan,  ‘Galla Petti’ Singaram, ‘Loose’ Mohan, ‘Chattampillai’ Venkatraman, ‘Usilai’ Mani,  ‘Kakka’ Radhakrishnan, ‘Naradar’ Mahadevan, ‘Silk’ Smitha and the big names like ‘Danal’ Thangavelu, ‘Thai’ Nagesh & ‘Thengai’ Srinivasan. Of course, in Malayalam too you had/ have the likes of ‘IdaveLa’ Babu, ‘Oduvil’ Unnikrishnan, ‘Nedumudi’ Venu, ‘Kuthiravattam’ Pappu & ‘Jagathi’ Srikumar.

Many film artistes never shed their organic ‘initials’, without the inclusion of which we would never ever refer or even recognize them. In this regard, ‘T.M’ Soundarrajan, ‘U.R.’ Jeevarathnam, ‘S’Janaki, ‘P” Suseela, “S” Varalakshmi, ‘P.U’ Chinnappa, “M.S’ Viswnathan, ‘T.S’ Baliah, ‘M.R’ Radha, ‘M.K’ Radha, ‘M.G’ Ramachandran, “N.S’ Krishnan, ‘T.R’ Rajakumari, ‘SPL’ Jayalakshmi, ‘S.V’ Ranga Rao, ‘A.P’ Komala, “T.V’ Rthinam are few instances. However, the long list goes on!

Some became eternally iconic abbreviations like ‘MGR’, ‘MKT’ or ‘MSV’, which were Brands by themselves.

Some, preferred to be identified with the names of their native place such as “Pattukottai” Kalyanasundaram, “Kothamangalam” Subbu, “Kovai’ Chezhiyan.

For a chosen few only assumed names gave them recognition & reputation, like in ‘Kannadasan’ or ‘Vaali’.

We have stuntmen too with adjectives to their names, such as ‘Mafia’ Sasi, ‘Kanal’ Kannan, ‘Anal’ Arasu. ‘Super’ Subbarayan and what not!

After all, the individual actors or other film artistes are individually selling themselves as a product in a stiffly competitive industry called cinema. This makes a valid reason and absolute justification for such distinctive ‘titles’, as they constitute their market capitalization, in a way.

 

 

Filmy Ripples:Nadaswaram in old Tamil films

By P V Gopalakrishnan

Nadaswaram played significant roles in some limited Tamil Films.

The nadhaswaram legend T. N. Rajarathinam Pillai, a major icon of those times, played an interlude in the movie Rajamukthi (1948), (Hero MKT & Heroine N. Janaki, later MGR’s wife). MGR, then a small time actor himself, was in a support role in this film. The film, made after the prison term of MKT, was shot in Prabhat Studios, Pune as MKT wanted to be away from the film circuit of Madras, in the aftermath of his release from prison. As such most of the technicians were Maharashtrians for this film. However, Rajamukthi, which was come back attempt for his film career, terribly bombed, witnessing MKT’s slide. (By the by, this film was the debut movie for M.L.Vasanthakumari as a playback artiste.)

Talking of T.N.Rajarathinam Pillai, he himself acted as a Nadhaswaram player in a wedding sequence in the film Miss Malini (1936), paying Todi & rendering a song in Rithigaula. In “Kalamegham” (1940), written by Bharathi Dasan & directed by Ellis Dungan, he acted as a Nadhaswaram playing Hero, singing many songs.

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An ad of the film Kalamegham in Ananda Vikatan Deepavali Malar 1939 PC: From the archives of TCRC

Another leading Nadaswaram vidwan, Namagiripettai Krishnan played off screen, while the credit titles ran on the screen in the movie ‘Town Bus’ (1955) and not the usual film orchestra. It was in the beautiful Raga ‘Mohanam’.

Who can forget the iconic song, “Singara velane deva”, in the combo of S. Janaki’s voice & the Nadaswaram rendition of Karukurichi Arunachalam, another doyen of Nadaswaram world? It would be strange to learn that the full Nadaswaram tune, in AAbheri raga, by Karukuruchi Arunachalam was recorded at Madras for use in the film. On later thought the Director M.V.Raman decided to have also a song sequence using the already recorded Nadhaswaram tune. Then, the high-pitched S. Janaki was commissioned to sing by the Music Director S.M.Subbiah Naidu on the lyrics written to suit the tune. Janak’s vocals were recorded at Raman Studios, Bombay. In those days it was marvel that Sound Recordist Jeeva could manually inter-spread Janaki’s each line of singing to be succeeded by each line of the Nadhaswaram. Bravo on that!

Another song that copiously used Nadhaswaram in a film song was “ Vaaray en thozhi vaarayo” in the film “Pasamalar” by MSV-TKR, for a wedding sequence. It was an amazing blend of Nadaswaram with violins & mandolin in that number. Following this, wherever relevant the Music Directors have used Nadaswaram, such as ‘Oli mayamana ehtir kalam’ in ‘Pachai Vilakku’ (MSV-TKR) and ‘ Nadaswara osaiyile devan vandhu padugiran” in ‘Poovum Pottum’ (Govardhanam).

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Song Book of the film Pachai Vilakku PC: From the archives of TCRC

However, when we talk of Nadaswaram with reference to Tamil films, perhaps, the immediate recall reference could be the iconic movie “Thillana Mohanambal”, a romantic story of a Nadaswaram Maestro Sikkil Shanmukhasundaram with a danseuse Mohana, written by Kothamangalam Subbu. The film is full of Nadaswaram music played off screen by the popular Nadaswaram duo M. P. N. Sethuraman and M. P. N. Ponnusamy from Madurai. In this film Sivaji Ganesan has no songs requiring play back support, as all his musical renderings were on the Nadaswaram, played by the duo.

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The LP cover of Thillana Mohanambal PC: From the archives of TCRC

Director A.P.Nagarajan who had the opportunity of listening to MPN Bros, at a wedding in Karaikudi suggested them to Sivaji. Soon, the duo was in Chennai for their rehearsals at Music Director K.V.Mahadevan’s studio.

As per the MPN Bros, Sivaji Ganesan listened to them, as they rehearsed for the film, lying on Kannadasan’s lap and earned liberal appreciation from all before Director A.P.Nagarajan confirmed their selection for the film.

Asst.Music Director Pugazhenthi decorated the “Nagumomu” composition of Thyagaraja, a master piece in the film, with incredible sangathis. Impressed by their performance of Muthiah Bhagavathar composed English Notes at the 42nd birthday celebrations of Sivaji Ganesan, APN included that piece too in the film. The MPN Bros recalled that the scintillating ‘Nalandhana’ song took about nine takes.

The body language & acting of Sivaji Ganesan to the playing of Nadaswaram synced so well that nobody believed he was not playing it for real. In fact, when a Russian delegation met Sivaji Ganesan sequel to the film’s release, it was incredible for them to believe that he was only acting and not actually playing!

When the movie was released in 1968 in Madurai, the home town of MPN Bros, the brothers, the seventh generation players in their family, were literally lifted by the crowd for bringing immortal fame to the Temple City.

MPN Bros since played for major VIP functions & every invitation card used to specially feature their names as star attraction. Since Thillana Mohanambal the duo performed in only the film ‘Kovil Pura.’

After that M.P.N. Sethuraman passed away & in a gory accident. M.P.N.Ponnuswamy lost his jaw, besides his wife’s life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vietnam Veedu : From Stage to Celluloid

By Karthik  Bhatt

Monikers over a period of time become so deeply entrenched with one’s identity that it becomes impossible to identify the person without it. While Sundaram may not ring a bell readily, Vietnam Veedu Sundaram would immediately bring to mind the successful stage and cine writer from the 1960s and 1970s. This post on the film that gave him his identity.

Born in Trichy in 1940, Sundaram came to Chennai around 1955. His formal education had been cut short by poverty. Perhaps as an indicator of how his life would unfold, he found accommodation with and company of two others at the famed Club House in T Nagar (opposite the Siva Vishnu temple) who were already on their way to becoming well-known names in the tinsel world, Nagesh and Srikanth.  He joined the Dunlop Tyre Company as a machine operator even when their factory was under construction on a night shift.

It was around this time that the world of Tamil theatre was undergoing a transition of sorts.  A new order so to speak was developing, with the era of professional drama troupes (made up of members with acting as their chosen profession) slowly giving way to amateur troupes, where members juggled their day jobs with theatre. One of the earliest such troupes to be founded was the United Amateur Artistes (UAA) by YG Parthasarathy and N Padmanabhan (Pattu). It had its genesis in 1952, ironically in the tennis lawns of the Suguna Vilasa Sabha!

A chance encounter with YG Parthasarathy resulted in Sundaram becoming a part of UAA. He soon became an integral part of the support cast, taking care of costumes and set properties. His role included that of a copywriter for Pattu, who wrote the scripts for the troupe. Y.Gee.Mahendra in an interview recalls that Sundaram would unobtrusively add a few dialogues of his own, which would be retained as they were so good. Then came the script that would propel Sundaram to fame.

Vietnam Veedu was Sundaram’s first full length play. It dealt with the story that contrasted the pre and post retirement life of an honest company executive, Prestige Padmanabha Iyer and his family. Those were the days when retirement was looked upon as an event that brought about with it significant changes in lifestyle and was considered ominous, especially if there were family obligations still to be fulfilled by the householder. On completing the script, Sundaram took it to his mentor YG Parthasarathy in the hope that it could be staged by UAA. Much to his dismay, it did not find favour with him and it seemed that the script would remain on the shelves. Destiny would have other plans though.

The script caught the attention of Sivaji Ganesan, who by then had risen to great heights as one of Tamil cinema’s biggest stars. His passion for stage had remained undiminished though and he continued to be a busy drama artiste running his own troupe, the Sivaji Nataka Manram. Impressed by the script and its dialogues, he decided to stage the play. In his biography Enathu Suyasarithai he says that he was so impressed by the dialogues that he spoke them verbatim and did not improvise them, as he was prone to do at times. Yet another interesting incident he narrates in his biography is from the inauguration of the play. The first scene had Prestige Padmanabha Iyer paying tribute to the supreme sacrifice and love of his mother who had worked at a hotel, grinding batter and bringing him up with great difficulty. Sivaji Ganesan says that the moment he spoke the dialogue, he heard the sound of a person sobbing in the audience. It was SS Vasan, the boss of Gemini Studios, who was reminded of his mother who had brought him up under similar circumstances. At yet another staging, a visibly moved Vasan went up to Sivaji Ganesan’s father who was in the audience went up to him and hugged him.

The play was a resounding success and Ananda Vikatan published the entire play in a series of issues. Its success meant that it was not long before it was made into a movie. Produced by Sivaji Ganesan under his own banner Sivaji Productions, it was directed by P Madhavan and was released in 1970.

Vietnam Veedu Sundaram’s went on to write successful scripts for UAA such as Kannan Vandhaan (which was made into a movie as Gauravam) and Nalamdhaana.

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Song Book of Vietnam Veedu PC: Archives of TCRC

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A still from the film Vietnam Veedu PC: Archives of TCRC