From Book to Celluloid : Thaneer Thaneer

By Sugeeth Krishnamoorthy

The late 1800s saw a cultural renaissance in what is Tamil Nadu today. Several art forms, including traditional dances and performing arts  like Sathir, Poi Kaal Kuthirai, Thol Paavai Koothu, Bommalatam, and so on, saw a revival, that was not just culturally driven but also strongly driven by the nationalistic movement. Legends like U.V. Swaminatha Iyer discovered and published literature that sought to explain the culture, history and life of the ancient Tamils.

The origins of modern theatre began in the second half of the 19th century. Its success can largely be attributed to two doyens: Sankaradas Swamigal and Pammal Sammanda Mudaliar. These two dramatists strongly defined theatre, as it would be, in the years to come.

While most of early theatre was based on puranic themes, several of the plays Mudaliar was involved in writing had modern themes adapted or inspired from English plays or based on contemporary social commentary. Several of Mudaliar’s works like ‘Sabapathy’, ‘Manohara’, ‘NallaThangal’, ‘Yayati’ and ‘Dasi Penn’ were adapted to film formats. There were also nationalist’ plays attempted to be made into film, like Inbasagaran[1], based on Kovai Ayyamuthu’s stage play of the same name. The early actors of the Tamil talkies were also sourced from stage[2], as they had the ability to sing and thereby influence the audience through their melodious voice, although the initial acting during the first decade of Tamil cinema, was, at times, very rough and crude. The oldest surviving film today, is Pavalakkodi[3], which D.V.Balakrishnan, says was a filmed version of a stage drama.

‘Free India’ was reeling under immense poverty. This became a hot-bed for intellectuals and writers, who inspired by communist principles sought expression through literature and film. Subsequently, several films in the 60s, 70s and early 80s were made that were based on interlinking themes of unemployment, poverty and communist ideology.

Thanneer….. Thanneer is one such story. This story, penned by Komal Swaminathan,resulted from a discussion among a group of intellectuals in the late 70s, on what could possibly become a defining ‘Tamil stage drama’ in a global arena[4]. Interestingly, the writer rated this work as his best. The play, is based on the characters who live in a remote village, and their daily struggle to fetch water— a basic commodity, that eludes them.

It is their trials and tribulations that form the story. Using water as a metaphor, Swaminathan has woven a tale about the social injustices faced by marginalized sections of society. The writer challenges these inequities by asking, for instance, why villagers are allowed a ration of only 1kg of sugar, whereas urbanites are permitted 5kgs. More over, being denied the basic necessities of life existence like Water, The writer also, at various points in the story, points out how the ‘communist party’ targeted these groups, winning their allegiance through their overt challenges of authority using tools such as ‘unions’ and ‘boycotts’. The author also makes references, sarcastically at times, to the impending “River Integration” schemes’ and the presence of Seemai Karuvelam marams’ surrounding the village. For a state that has no natural river springs and that is dependent on three rivers from neighbouring states, these issues are only too relevant even today.

Another aspect that the writer brings in vote-bank politics. This divisive strategy used by politicians is as if not more relevant today as it was then. The writer speaks of the plight of these groups of people, exploited by politicians and left high and dry after they come to power.

When Vellaisamy, a nomad with a murky past, comes across this tiny village and its people reeling from  drought, he tells the villagers, “If the State and the Administration will not help you, then you must take things into your own hands.”   He leads the villagers and is yet one among them, helping them launch a campaign to regain their rightful claim to that vital fluid, water. And when all seems lost, he provides the villagers, hope and the courage, to do the unthinkable—build a canal; break the hills and divert the water towards the village[5]. When the villagers attempt to do this, the State opposes, puts an end to an undertaking that will alleviate the suffering of the villagers, instead declaring it unlawful. What follows is the climax of this play.

Although the play seems most obviously influenced communist ideals, it is easy to see past it objectively to the dominant and apolitical issue of human rights violation. It makes one wonder what crime the poor villages committed to be denied, even the most basic necessities? The author concludes, adopting a communist stance that if these things continued to happen, social revolution will be inevitable.

hqdefault

K.Balachander, made this play into a movie with the same name -— “Thanneer…Thanneer’. Keeping the basic structure of the play intact, Balachander has made a few changes that have added value to the film. In stark contrast to other Kollywood directors of his time, K. Balachander was known to give a lot of importance and ‘central’ roles to his female leads. In this story, there is only one female character, Sevanthi. Balachander has altered her role significantly, to make her the mother of a new born, who is spending her early motherhood at the place of her birth. This enables Sevanthi[6] to be in the village ‘Athipatti’, the place where the story takes place, and thereby play a central role in the film.

At various points in the original play, one can observe a generational difference in thinking between the older men, who prefer being subservient to their boss and the younger rebellious group, lead by Goval. By introducing a female character, Sevulli, at the ‘cheri’, and creating a love interest for Goval, K.B has also tried to raise issues about caste-based geographical segregation, which was and is quite common in rural India. By making Sevulli, a victim of paralysis, Goval’s love interest ,K.B brings the issue of ‘poisoned flouride well’,  beside the cheri[7]into focus in a powerful way. Unlike in the movie, Swaminathan’s play does not dwell too much on this part of the story.

There are two other important characters in this film. Being the most educated person in the village, Vaidhyanathan, the school teacher represents the ‘experience of age’ and yet at the same time, has the power to command respect amongst the hasty youth. Originally a nomad, Vellaisamy, a run away convict, finds the village ‘Athipatti’ as his new home. He becomes one of the dynamic leaders of the village and offers solutions and plays a major role in the attempts of the villagers to bring water to them. His presence in the village grows to  a point where the villagers on coming to know of his past, offer to protect him rather than hand him to the police, inspite of a bounty on Vellaisamy’s head. Balachander has retained the essential elements of both these characters, right across the film.

Aligning with the theme of the film, K.B also introduces several dramatic elements that add more value to the story, as film is a visual medium. There are certain scenes—such as the one where the poosari tricks Sevanthi into fetching a pot of water, threatening to otherwise curse her; the man who opposes the village’s rules and enters the polling booth to drink as much water as he can; , the conversation between Sevanthi and the engineer who asks for water for his Jeep; and the one where the Nayakar in his thirst laps up the soda he brings with him in his vehicle—that are apt examples of the use of such elements to elevate the film.

Another invaluable aspect of this film is the music. Without wasting footage, several dialogues in the film, which were cut out at the editor’s table were, used in the title track, as audio fillers. There is also the clever use of silence to convey climactic emotion — such as when the rain clouds betray the expectant village-folk ( with the camera panning on Sevanthi), when the womenfolk with their mud pots block the passage of the politician, and when a battalion of police face-off against the shocked village-folk at the site where the mountain is to be broken. The film makes good use of natural sounds like baby-cries, breaking of wood and wooden pots, among others. The short folk songs, which were there in the original play itself, keep with the tone and mood of the film.

The end climax sees a couple of major changes. In the play, the teacher ‘Vaidhyanathan’ continues to take classes for the children in the evening, but in the film version, he volunteers to go to jail claiming he was responsible for hiding Vellaisamy. Another surprising element is that, in the climax, Sevanthi removes her thaali’ and throws it at her husband Alagiri, who threatens her. She tells him to put it around his neck, along with the several medals that he is going to receive after arresting Vellaisamy. This scene would have invariably added more value to the ‘characterization’ of Sevanthi. It would have added weight to K.B’s portrayal of ‘the independent woman’, but alas this scene was omitted.

The death of Vellaisamy is tragic, yet poetic. The man who started things with a ‘hiccup’ and went on to attempt to save the village, thanks to Sevvanthi’s act of kindness, did not get any water when he was chased by the police and died of thirst. Goval, who was shown to have a rebellious streak,joined similar groups. And in an unresolved pre-climax, several people leave the village while those that chose to live behind, lived in hope.

The film ends with a montage shots:government officials engaged in water conservation programmes’ and ‘River integration’ discussions;. Nayakar going to the village and pleading with his caste members (the same ones who boycotted him earlier) for votes and. Sevanthi laughing to his face; and finally a paddy field covered with flags of political parties.

The writer of the play must have had tremendous foresight and politico-social insight if the dominant themes of the film continue to be relevant 35 years later. The film “Thanneer…Thanneer” does the play justice by staying true to its content and spirit while adapting it to the medium and the ethos in an evocative and sensitive manner. The movie is sure to leave you with a lump in your throat!

Watch the screening of this film at Ashvita Bistro on the 17th April at 7.30pm

Notes:

[1] Inbasagaran’ was made into a film, as well. Unfortunately, it met with a tragic fire accident just before release. The reels were lost and the film was never released. The film was produced by Mahalakshmi Studios, a film production company.

[2] Successful actors like M.K.Thiyagaraja Bhagavathar, S.D.Subbulakshmi, N.S.Krishnan, S.V.Sahasranamam all came from the stage.

[3] Pavalakkodi (1934) and Sathi Sulochana(1934) are the oldest surviving Tamil Films. Both of them have been preserved at the N.F.A.I

[4] Komal Swaminathan’s own words : ‘Thaneer.. Thaneer’ – Vanathi Pathipagam.

[5]Such an event has happened for real in our History. The Mulla Periyar dam was built to divert water from Upper Kerala to Lower South Tamilnadu, a century ago. Less than a tenth of the water has been diverted, yet this water which reaches Tamilnadu takes care of the drinking and irrigation needs of 6 districts in Tamilnadu. The Dam was built by a British man, John Penny Cuik, who is revered in Theni District.

[6]In the original play, Sevanthi is married off to a policeman, Alagiri and leaves the village after marriage. She returns for Aadi, and plays a prominent role in the climax. She does not have any children in the play.

[7]The play tells us that the people of Athipatti did not use the water of the cheri, because the well was poisoned. Alternatively, we may speculate that they refused to do so, also because of caste- based differences. However, there is a scene in which Goval and his friend, drink water from this ‘fluoride well’ due to unbearable thirst, as no water sources existed in the vicinity.

 

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: Moonlit Movies (Part 1)

By P.V.Gopalakrishnan

The poets, from as early as Sangam literature times, have been obsessed with Moon. Due to the attributes such as soft glow, grace, cool & calmness that Moon affords, poets always compared a moon to a women and the gender of the Moon itself was considered Female. So the natural association of a woman & moon came to be in place in literature. As a corollary the ‘nayika’ always considered the moon as her beloved friend to whom she could confide her emotions from the deep fathom of her mind! In fact, she considered Moon as her friend & emissary.

The song writers in cinema, known as lyricists, inherited such literary legacy and endowed the Moon in many a film song, There have been so many memorable songs in films with Moon as a subject of reference, either in the lyrics or visual form. Of course, the trend prevailed till such time in cinema till a generation changed along with the changed world they lived in. Now, you hardly have any reference to a moon in film songs, as the song writers too are from a different generation and any such references would perhaps become incongruent today, as subtleties & niceties of life & their associated charm are often not taken cognizance of in the current fast world! Technology, lifestyle & mindset of people too have so much changed that such moon sequences are thing of the past, as they were relevant only to the period of largely the Baby Boomers & to an extent Generation X.

The old talkie movies from the Black & White era, often had sets depicting a glowing moon in a scene that portrayed peace, tranquility & romance. Often, there were water bodies in the scene, reflecting the studio moon, to add to the magic of the frame. Sometimes, a row-boat is added too to the water-body, trusting the physical prowess of the rowing actor. The studio hands did their best to imitate a real moon by propping up dome lights in the backdrops, as the artificial creepers slowly swayed on the sets denoting mild nightly breeze, thanks to the giant fans! And whenever the heroine was in her solitary space or with her hero, it was time for a melodious song, with the Moon invariable featuring in the frame.

The soul stirring “Chanda oh Chanda” by KishoreDa from ‘Lakhon mein ek’ in the music of R.D.Burman and  the immortal “Chaudvin ka chand ho” by Rafi in the composition of Ravi too are remembered to this date.

Such numbers demanded situations, which the present day films do not simply have or can relevantly have, as sentimentalism in romance has become a thing of the past. So to say, the moon has retired, sort of, in our films!

This writer made his own little research of some fifty popular Tamil film songs, referencing the Moon, from 1950 to 1973. Surprisingly, fifty percent of such songs were in the decade of fifties, summing up to twenty five. The sixties’ films had just seventeen songs on Moon. The early seventies had just about four only. This showed a diminishing trend of cinema, as far as moon was considered, based on the viewership expectation of the relevant times. Of course, even among later films there were romantic ‘moon’ melodies, by exception, such as in eighties, when infatuation about the ‘moon’ in cinemas had already become almost extinct. Who can forget “En iniya pon nilave” from ‘Moodupani’ (Lyrics:Gangai Amaran) & ‘Ilaiya nila pozhigirathu” (Lyrics:Vairamuthu) from “Payanangal Mudivathillai” (both Ilayaraja composed)? Then, there were “Nilave vaa” from Mouna Ragam (1986) “Vennilave Vennilave” from Minsara Kanavu (1997).

But, don’t you clearly think that Moon as the friend of heroine has slowly shied away from cinema?

The Moon appeared on earlier Movie screens in different contexts. When the single woman was in the clutches of Cupid, when she was with her new found love, when they disagreed on things, when they parted temporarily, when the parting was permanent, in times of sorrow and so on. There had to be some situation when the directors were too eager to film the Moon with a melody!

Some of the Music Directors, in the Pre- Ilaya Raja era, who had composed amazing songs on or about the Moon include, alphabetically:  A.M.Raja, A.Rama.Rao. Aswathama, C.Ramchandra, G.Ramanathan, Ghantasala, K.V.Mahadevan, MSV, MSV-TKR, S.M.Subbiah Naidu, S. Rajeswara Rao, T.G.Lingappa, T.R.Paapa, T.V.Raju & Vedha.

Here, we are going to talk about some twelve popular song sequences from Tamil movies of yester years, as representational of the various ‘Moon’ songs from 1943 to 1968, used in varied emotions & sequences. You will find, each of them was in different contextual situation, as we observed earlier!

1) Moon as compared to the facial features of Nayika: “Vadaname Chandra Bimbamo” from Sivakavi (1943)

SIvakavi

Song book of Sivakavi PC: From the archives of TCRC

Starting from the film ‘Sivakavi’  (pairing M.K.Thyagaraja Bhagavathar & S.Rajalakshmi) it had very beautiful song sequence where the hero compares his heroine’s face to a moon’s crescent, though the frame does not show any moon, per se. The musical score was by G.Ramanathan, the lyricist being Papanasam Sivan. By the by, the heroine of the sequence was S.Rajalakshmi, the elder sister of late Veena Maestro S. Balachandar. This song, “Vadaname Chandra Bimbamo”,  showing the romantic overture of hero & heroine, was a super hit song in the film.

There is an interesting anecdote on this duet by MKT & Jayalakshmi, set in Sindhubairavi Raga. Papanasam Sivan first wrote the opening line as “mugham athu Chandra bimbamo”. However, sequel to the recording when the Positive was projected every one was taken aback as it sounded like “Mohammed Chandra bimbamo”. Immediately Papanasam Sivan rewrote that line as “Vadaname Chandra bimbamo” still retaining the intended meaning. Those days, in the absence of tape recording, songs were first recorded on Sound Negative and later developed, to be projected. This was a tedious process to locate mistakes, if any.

 2) Moon & sky as a simile to inseparableness: ‘Neela vaanum nilavum ploey’ from “Pon Mudi” (1950)

The lovers (P.V.Narasimha Bharathi & Madhuri Devi) in Pon Mudi swear to live as inseparables in the simile of the Moon & the Blue sky, in this rather poetic song.

The story of ‘Pon Mudi’ was by Bharathidasan & was made into a movie by Movie Mogul T. R. Sundaram at Modern Theatres, Salem. For Direction, TRS engaged Ellis R. Dungan who delivered Pon Mudi full of glamour, though far ahead of its times. He gave Ponmudi excellent technical inputs, good cinematography and slick editing. As per Randor Guy, for the love scenes on the beach, Dungan brought the sand from Madras to the studio in Salem and shot the sequence, along with long shots of Madras’ Elliot’s Beach. G. Ramanathan was Ponmudi’s Music Director who himself has sung this song along with T. V. Rathnam.

3) Moon in times of loss of peace: “Amaithi illathen maname” from ‘Pathala Bhairavi’ (1951)

Filmed on N.T.Rama Rao & Malathi, the popular hit of those times, ‘Amaithi illathen maname’ rendered by P.Leela & Ghantasala was in a sequence where the love-lorn pair share their status of mental restlessness with the glossy Moon, up above the world, so high, as if an alibi to their romance.

In scenes featuring the moon in the background in this film, no hidden lights were used behind the painted moon, as a source for lighting. Instead, a drawn circle on a screen was lit to make it look like the moon. Cinematographer Marcus Bartley ensured that the actors in such scenes had their shadows away from the screen, which showed an illusion of a moon. Besides, he also used dissolve techniques.

Marcus Bartley, an Anglo Indian, served as a photographer with ‘Times of India’ in Bombay, in early years. While being there, he learnt cinematography and keenly studied the various methods and its applications & later became a ‘News Reel Camera Man’ for ‘British Movie Tone’ in India. He keenly observed the various lighting systems in photography in the films. He also experimented with these new techniques in photography.

marcus1

Marcus Bartley at a shoot. PC: unknown

Bartley debuted as the cinematographer for the Tamil movie “Tiruvalluvar” (1941) and worked for many notable films, including the Malayalam film “Chemmeen” for which he earned a Gold medal at Cannes Film Festival.

If you observe the set properties of this song sequence it would explain the attention to details that was involved by the Art Director. An entire ambience has been created by the Art Directors M.Gokhale and Kaladhar, as enhanced by the cinematography of Marcus Bartley and the lilting music of Ghantasala.

Pathala Bhairavi was the first big budget film produced by Vijaya Vauhini Studios. Major portions of the film were shot in lavish sets and many trick shots were deployed. On the centenary of Indian cinema in April 2013, CNN News 18 included Pathala Bhairavi in its list of “100 greatest Indian films of all time”.

                                                                                                                                                (to be continued)

Film Screening: Revelations

REVELATION POSTER 3-1(1)

The Cinema Resource Centre in association with Ashvita Events is having a special screening of the critically acclaimed film Revelations at Ashvita Bistro on 17th of March at 7:00PM.  There will be a discussion with the director and his team post the screening.

The film is about a young Tamil woman, grappling with unknown tensions in
her four year long marriage, develops a complex relationship with her new neighbor, a middle-aged man, who has a mysterious past of his own. This relationship soon begins to
unravel many secrets, which change their lives forever.Set in the fascinating city of Kolkata, the film tries to explore themes such as guilt, redemption and female sexuality in the context of an Indian marriage.

Filmy Ripples : Tamil Cinema’s evolution from Theatre (Part 1)

By P V Gopalakrishnan

Tamil cinema was literally born in 1910, with the release of the first silent ‘Tamil’ film ‘Keechaka Vadham’, produced, directed, shot and edited by R. Nataraja Mudaliar, known today as the father of Tamil cinema. The film was based on an episode from the epic Mahabharata & was received very well.

It is said that Nataraja Mudaliar met one Stewart Smith, a cinematographer from Britain who was then filming a documentary on Lord Curzon & learnt the basics of cinematography from him. Later, in 1915, Mudaliar also established South India’s first film studio at Purasawalkam, Madras. In this first silent Tamil movie, stage artistes of that time, Raju Mudaliar and Jeevarathnam played the roles of Keechaka and Draupadi respectively. The cost of this 600 feet length film is said to be Rs. 35,000, then considered expensive. The production was completed in just five weeks, with Pammal Sambandha Mudaliar writing the screenplay.

download.jpg

Nataraja Mudaliar PC: unknown

Some sixteen long years later, ‘Kalidas’ was the first Tamil Talkie film (shot at Bombay) to be released in October 1931 on Diwali Day, as produced by Ardeshir Irani & directed by H.M.Reddy.  P. G. Venkatesan and T. P. Rajalakshmi did the lead roles in the movie, which, though principally in Tamil, also contained additional dialogues in Telugu and Hindi.

When the film reels arrived by train at Madras Central Station from Bombay, thousands flocked there to follow the reel box, showering flowers all the way to Kinema Central, the theatre where it was screened (later known as Murugan Theatre).

However, according to Randor Guy, Kalidas was a “crude experiment” with poor lip sync. Despite the numerous technical flaws the film had, it received critical acclaim & became a major commercial success. I understand, no print of this landmark talkie film is available now.

raaga_13027_imagehtmlcontent_0

PC: unknown

It is a relevant point to ponder here, as to how, when the films took avatar as above, did the film ‘industry’ then get their actors! Well, the actors for cinema were sourced from stage plays. The evolution narrated below would explain the anthology in that regard.

The stage plays had their antecedent in street plays literally called ‘theru koothu’, which, as a form of entertainment, has its origins to the Sangam periods of Tamil Nadu & forms part of its ancient Tamil culture. The subjects of Koothu have been from religion or history. Even today ‘therukoothu’ happens in rural areas particularly on special days or during temple festivals. With Its informal dance structure, therukoothu depicted scenes with little dialogues but with abundant songs, often sung by Artists in their own voice. They were dressed in complex heavy costumes and bright elaborate makeup. Males often played even female characters.

Over the time, stage plays got evolved. In Tamil Nadu there were formidable stage play troupes some of which created artistes who became to be absorbed as cine actors, when cinema appeared. As such the early cine actors had the characteristic that profiled characteristic stage actors with stopping dialogue delivery, often loud. There seems to have been seamless supply of actors to cinema, this way, as there was no other institutionalized training places like Film Institutes!

In the bygone era, many renowned Drama Companies such as Madurai Bala Meena Rasika Ranjani Sabha, Sri Bala Shanmukananda Sabha, Kannaiyar Company, Madirai Sridevi Bala Vinodha Sabha, Tiruchi Rasika Ranjani Sabha kept the flag flying high in the field of Tamil Dramatics and produced great Artistes like S.G.Kittappa, K.B.Sundarambal, T.K.S.Brothers, N.S.Krishnan, KaLi.N.Rathnam, K.P.Kesavan, K.K.Perumal, K.P.Kamatchi, P.U.Chinnappa, M.G.Ramachandran, S.V.Sahasranamam, M.V.Mani, Thyagaraja Bhagavathar & many more.

There were personalities like Sankaradas Swamigal & Pammal Sambanda Mudaliar who brought dignity to stage plays, in which people from respectable backgrounds did not part take in the prior period. They gave grammar to the stage and in their own way institutionalized play stages with astute discipline.

playwrights-tks

Sankardas Swamigal PC: unknown

Sankaradas Swamigal, who is largely considered as the father of Tamil Theatre, started in 1910 his own drama company known as ‘Samarasa Sanmarga Nataka Sabha’. It was here that the legendary actor S.G.Kittappa learnt his ropes. Around this time, the concept of “Boys Company” – some sort of Gurukula System was slowly gaining popularity. In this system, boys stayed together residentially and learnt under masters of drama.

Sankaradas Swamigal was involved with Bala Meena Ranjani Sangeetha Sabha which had on its rolls several boys who would go on to become subsequently big names in the world of theatre and cinema, such as Nawab T.S.Rajamanickam, M.R.Radha, S.V.Venkatraman and K.Sarangapani. Swamigal thus had the privilege & distinction of having mentored several stalwarts.

In 1918, Swamigal with likeminded few started his own Boys Company, ‘Tattva Meenalochani Vidwat Bala Sabha’. It was here that the celebrated T.K.S. Brothers were brought under the tutelage of Swamigal. T.K.Shanmugam, who was later known as “Avvai Shanmugam’ (Lloyds Road was renamed after him as Avvai Shanmugam Road) was the favorite of Swamigal.

Swamigal maintained very strict discipline and kept vigil over his wards against any vices and any violators were reprimanded.

In short, Sankaradas Swamigal was a one man institution in those days, which, should we say, was unknowingly emulated by later institutionalized training formats such as Film Institute or other acting schools?

                                                                                                                                                            (to be continued)

 

 

 

 

Filmy Ripples: Ghost voices of bygone era (Part 2)

By P.V.Gopalakrishnan

The voices of M.K.Thyagaraja Bhagavathar & Dhandapani Desikar need special mention here. The former was a Super Star of his time, with innumerable renderings to his credit, since his debut in ‘Pavalakodi’ in 1934. Half of his fourteen films were run away hits. His 1944 movie ‘Haridas’ ran for three years at Broadway Theatre, Madras. His well known songs include  “Amba Manam Kanindhu”, “Soppana Vazhvil Makizhndu”, “Sathva Guna Bodhan”, “Krishna Mukunda Murari”, “Radhe Unaku Kobam Aagadadi”,  “Vasantha Ruthu” and more. Convicted in Lakshmikanthan murder case, he later died after his release when he was just forty nine.

mkt

A photo of a young M K Thyagaraja Bagavathar in the 1937 edition of Cine Art Review Magazine. PC: From the archives of TCRC

Here is the visual of the ever green song ‘Vasantha Ruthu’by MKT in the film Sivakavi (1942).

M.M.Dandapani Desikar was a great musicologist & composer. Songs such as ‘Jagat Janani’, ‘Inba kanavonru kanden, ”Thamarai pootha’ composed by him are hugely popular. His singing prowess was evident in ‘Nandanar’ (1942) produced by Gemini was a musical treatise, as he sang the compositions of Gopalakrishna Bharathi & Papanasam Sivan. Desikar also served as the HOD of Music Department of Annamalai University.

dandapani-desigar

A photo of Dandapani Desikar from 1942 Kalki Deepavali Malar. PC: From the archives of TCRC

The below video features Sivan’s Composition Pirava Varam (from the film Nandanar) set in the unusual Lathangi raga, which is now a concert regular. The singer was MM.Dandapani Desikar

There was another singing star in the forties by name V.V.Sadagopan. He was a man of many parts, by being a university rank-holder, ICS aspirant, film actor, music teacher, performer and composer.  He was a disciple of Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar & Professor of Music in Delhi University till 1975. However, he went missing since he got off a train at Gudur in 1980, on his way from Delhi to Chennai. Since that none has information about him.

“Premaiyil yaavum matandhene” was a haunting romantic duet, based on Raga Desh, composed by Music Director S.V.Venkatraman, in the voice mellifluous voices of M.S.Subbulakshmi & G.N.Balasubramaniam. The movie was Sakunthalai (1941) , directed by Ellis Dungan.

D.K. Pattammal was inducted into playback singing in Tamil screen by the lawyer-turned-filmmaker cum director, K. Subramaniam, for ‘Thyaga Bhoomi’ (1939), at the instance of Papanasam Sivan. She only accepted songs of devotional or patriotic flavour and declined offers to sing romantic songs. She sang in many super hit films of the yesteryears. But there was a song ‘Sri Saraswathi’ which she recorded for Gemini’s ‘Miss Malini’ (1947), which was not featured in the film, though she was paid a handsome remuneration for the same.

M.L.Vasanthakumari was in the top amongst playback artistes of those times. In ‘Krishna Bhakti’ she even appeared on screen, rendering ‘Enta Veduko’ in a concert scene. N.S. Krishnan produced ‘Manamagal’ gave her the all-time hits ‘Ellam Inba Mayam’ and ‘Chinnanchiru kiliye’, which are being sung even by the kids in Super Singer reality show. There were many other memorable numbers of MLV such as ‘Konjum Purave’.

J.P.Chandrababu was a versatile actor-singer of his own unique style.  He had an unique voice. In AVM’s ‘PeNN’ (1954) he even sang ‘Kalyanam..haha..kalyanam’ for S.Balachander, the actor-director-veena maestro. There are many memorable songs of Chandrababu to name a few: ‘Pambara kannale’, ‘Naan oru muttalunga’, ‘sollurathe sollipurren’, ‘Jolly life’, ‘Budhiyulla manithar ellam’. In fact his entry into the filmdom was very dramatic. While fishing for a film role, his life took through struggles leading to utter frustration that he attempted suicide in the premises of Gemini Studio in 1952, having failed to meet S.S.Vasan. Later, when Vasan came to know of this episode he gave him  a small role in the film Moonru Pillaigal. Chandrababu rose to become a sought after artiste that in the film, ‘Sabhash Meena’ he commanded a remuneration that brushed past that of his co star Sivaji Ganesan. But in his later days he was broke and died penniless! This writer has seen him walking the Dr.Rangachari Road in his lesser fortunate days.

There were many other formidable ghost voices of those times which deserve detailing here. But for want of space in this write up we are constrained in not dealing with them. This does not in any way undermine their mighty contribution to Indian Tamil film music.

The magic of pre sixties’ Tamil film music, till recently, were available only on those old vinyl records. Now that the technology has brought them to us through other music formats, there no stopping to patronise these classic gems.

 

 

 

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.

nandakumar

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.

music-director-md-parthasarathi

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)