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)

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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.

Kala Megham

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).

Pachai Vilakku(1).jpg

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.

Thillana Moganambal

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Filmy Ripples: Train spotting in cinema (Part 2)

By P.V.Gopalakrishnan

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

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

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

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

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

nilagiri-express

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

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

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

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

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

kizhakke-pogum-rail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RARE: Original LP record of Sivaji Ganesan’s “Thiruvarutselvar” (Tamil, 1967)

"Thiruvarutselvar"  |  LP Record - Front  |  Tamil  |  1967

“Thiruvarutselvar” | LP Record – Front | Tamil | 1967

"Thiruvarutselvar"  |  LP Record - Back  |  Tamil  |  1967

“Thiruvarutselvar” | LP Record – Back | Tamil | 1967

In our archives here at TCRC, we have the original LP records of numerous Indian films, right from the 50s to the 80s. Today, we share with you the photos of the LP record of “Thiruvarutselvar”, a Tamil film starring Sivaji Ganesan, Savitri, Muthuraman, KR Vijaya and others. It was released in 1967 and was directed by AP Nagarajan, the veteran filmmaker whose other hits include “Thiruvilayadal,” “Saraswathi Sabatham,” and “Thillana Mohanambal.” The music for “Thiruvarutselvar” was scored by KV Mahadevan and the lyrics were written by Kannadasan. Even today, one remembers P Susheela’s mellifluous rendition of “Mannavan Vanthanadi,” one of the most popular songs of the album.

In an interview with Mohan V Raman for The Hindu in April 2012, CN Paramasivan, the son of director AP Nagarajan had said that the overwhelming response to the re-release of “Karnan” was encouraging him to look into the restoration of some of his father’s films (click here to read that story). We at TCRC hope to see that happen.

Also, it must be mentioned here that the same team, i.e., actor Sivaji Ganesan, director AP Nagarajan and music director KV Mahadevan, came together for “Kandan Karunai,” which won KV Mahadevan the National Award for Best Music Direction in 1967, the same year in which “Thiruvarutselvar” was released. This was the first time that a National Award was constituted for the category of Music Direction. Since then, the most number of National Awards for Best Music Direction have been won by Ilaiyaraja and AR Rahman, i.e., 4 each.