Of Rivers, a Poet and Music

It is Puja and the work place has quite a few Bengali colleagues. Gleaned from a conversation was that Baul sangeet is an integral part of the pujo pandals. Bauls were mystics who roamed Bengal and their music forms a corpus of Bengali folk and colloquial music, which among other things, deeply influenced intellectual giants like Rabindranath Tagore and the imprint of the style of Bauls is there in his poetry and Rabindra Sangeet, the music form for his poetry, composed by him – he was a prolific composer – with influences from Carnatic (Dikshitar’s Meenakshi Me Mudam for instance was adapted as Bashonti Hey Bhubonmohini), Hindustani, Scottish and Irish music (Go Where Glory Awaits Thee inspiring Aha aji e Basanti for example). The music he composed and one which he has left us was but a reflection of the man’s famed and inclusive, borderless worldview.

Which took me to playing one song of Ilaiyaraaja’s – a very popular number at that – to the colleague. Engeyo Thikku Desa from Mahanadi. The prelude has a bit in Bengali, an invocation to Matangi, from the prostitutes of Sona Gachi after that incredibly moving sequence leading to ‘Krishna’ taking his daughter ‘Kaveri’ across the real ‘Ganga’. A story of rivers reaching a flashpoint on the river, taking the hero back to his days from Cauvery, being realized in this song is a testament to Kamal’s talent at writing screenplays of undeniable depth. However, as the oarsman sets the boat going along Ganga, he sings a song. The colleague had no hesitation in letting me know this is typical of Baul sangeet.

The song the oarsman hums is Ebar Tor Mora Gange. I did some searching. It is a Baul song from Tagore! This is the tune he has composed

I learn from another friend that the sub-genre of this song is the kind where boatmen invoke Ganga and offer her prayers before setting off (Jay Maa Bole – say Jai to Ganga) and that SD Burman handled this deftly, hailing as he does from the Tripura royal family and its geographical and cultural proximity to Ganga in a complete Bengal in pre-partitioned India from his formative years leading him to start his journey in Bengali films.

The wonder is how does a man from Pannaiapuram get the cultural essence of this sub-genre in Baul sangeet which is the driver in this Rabindra Sangeet song, deliver an authentic Bengali song in that sub-genre, switch gears effortlessly to Tamil folk, already imprinted through the film as its running theme with a bridge to change scales and also deeply impact the sequence and serve as a pivot for the film at that point. It is probably like how Salil Chowdhury *got* Malayalam folk and delivered stunners in Chemmeen and Nellu. And the writer in Kamal presents a worthy platform for this burst of art.

Oh and the other friend also had this tidbit. The voice of the oarsman is C Ashwath, a Kannadiga composer and singer, an expert in Jaanapada, a sub-genre of Kannada folk! The tune and its rendition is as authentic as one may like it and it is this precision from the detailing of the music form to the emotional impact that makes Raaja the monster he is. Kamal and Raaja here; proving what they are. மஹாகலைஞர்கள்.


Filed under Filim, Ilayaraja, Kamal

Political Wave

I was watching a talk by economist Mark Blyth explaining Brexit and Trumpism (full speech is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWMmBG3Z4DI). It is very interesting. I recommend folks to watch it.

It leads us to the impending constitutional referendum in Italy, due on December 4. If this referendum fails for Italy’s PM Matteo Renzi (who is center of left in Italy’s politics to Silvio Berlusconi’s center right), i.e. if people vote NO (which is now leading slightly in the opinion polls), Renzi has vowed to resign. If he does, it could be a period of uncertainty and Italy may be out of EU, following UK’s vote in Brexit. That would in theory leave a vacuum which can be exploited by Berlusconi or someone to even his right (like Beppe Grillo, a comedian turned politician whose party is now leading the referendum).

Taken separately, it’s no big deal. But in France, Francois Hollande’s popularity is at 4%. Yes. FOUR percent. Let that sink in. Because there is a good chance that Marine Le Pen could succeed him to be France’s next President. She expelled her own dad from the National Front, a far right wing party whose policy is against immigration. They are on their own, mini versions of Trump. Again, this wouldn’t be a problem in itself because Merkel is stable in Germany. But in September, she lost her home state elections to the Social Democrats who are to her left. She can be considered centrist. But her party came third, behind the Alternative for Germany. AfG is an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim far right wing fascist party led by Frauke Petry whose party’s stand is to be able to shoot migrants in German borders. If they gain influence, think about the few million immigrants Germany has taken from Syria. Oops. Now, the direction in which France and Italy move could (not saying it will) influence the vote in Germany. If France and Italy swing right, Germany may (not saying it will) swing right too, in that curious phenomenon which can be called competitive nationalism. The last time that happened in the Western Europe was in the 1930s.

There are a few things to note here. AfG to power in Germany seems insane now. They are fringe. But so was Hitler in 1928. US went GOP for the White House, Senate and the House of Reps in 1928. They met with the Great Depression in 1929 (to be fair, a culmination of that decade’s policies). After that, it is only in 2016 that US has gone Republican in the White House, Senate and the House. Oops. If Trump bungles awfully, which he most certainly might, and US heads into a deep recession, it could impact world economics and it is here that the weakness of centrist parties could (not saying it will) crumble in Western Europe. Why?

Now Greece went proper left recently and shoved up the bailout referendum against EU asking them to bugger off. Brexit happened and UK (England more specifically) titled proper right. Canada has gone liberal left. But Trudeau is not anti-corporates (he could, not saying he would, but he could face a right wing backlash in the elections in 4 years). Obama, like Merkel and Matteo Renzi is largely centrist. Renzi unusually for his ideology (which is center left) but not unusually in the current climate, went right to pander to Berlusoni’s followers for their vote in the upcoming referendum promising to revive an infrastructure project of Berlusconi’s which he opposed in 2012.

And every influential EU member could tilt far right depending on how Italy and France tilt (and every possibility is there that they may tilt right/far right). Turkey and India are already on the right. Blaming all of this on racism/Islamophbia doesn’t make sense (that is one part). Rust Belt voted for Barrack Hussein Obama in 2008 and 2012. A black man with a Muslim name. It’s gone to Trump now. Now you can attribute it to sexism. That doesn’t however explain it fully. Like Michael Moore noted presciently, Rust Belt’s economics was at play. In what was the Manufacturing Hub of USA, Detroit, recession had corroded jobs and Detroit is literally in a state of decay. But if we look at the wage ratio of CEOs::workers in USA. It’s $475,000::$1. Boom. Trump simply went to Hillary’s left in economics, said no to TPP and NAFTA. And went ape shit right socially and courted all racists/bigots/Islamophobes/misogynists/homophobes. He won.

It is largely because the Democrats failed to stand up for the working class. And that is the trend across the globe. The centrists who are supposed to be center of left; Democrats, Labour Party, Indian National Congress, etc. were all sold to the corporates. And the middle class worker’s middle finger resonated/resonates. Now is it any surprise that INC got its ass handed to it by BJP in 2014? It’s just the larger trend. However, BJP is just as much in bed with the corporates like Ambani and Adani like the INC was, not withstanding their ‘fight against corruption’ which I deep down feel is snake oil they are selling to the voters. Which is exactly why in my opinion that Modi is still putting out rhetoric like he’s the opposition. He says ‘they’re coming after me’ like he’s still the anti-establishment opposition stud with the common man. As long as he’s able to sell his anti-establishment snake oil to the public, he’s safe despite the fact that he IS the establishment now. Which is why BJP was undone by the other charlatan, Kejriwal. Kejri just just went to his economic left, which Modi did to INC in 2014, and won with the resonating populist message in Delhi. But  Economic anxiety is the cause. Economic populism is the solution. Far right wing fascism is the vacuum created by corrupt centrists and exploited by fascists who co-opt economic populism.

Now this anti-establishment image Modi is trying to keep while simultaneously being the establishment is old snake oil sold by MGR in the 1980s when he’d bemoan that it was his ministers who were corrupt and that he’d fire them (he didn’t. ‘MGR: The Image Trap’ by MSS Pandian is a great reference book). And people bought that snake oil. It’s too early to say if people would buy Modi’s snake oil in 2019. Now Kejri would not have the wherewithal to take on the political machine of BJP on a pan-Indian scale. But unlike the real threat of right wing social fascism going unchecked unless the left regroups quickly in USA, Modi and BJP can be unseated faster in India (not saying they will be. They can be) by our multi-party democracy (a motley coalition so to say. We’ve been that road in the late 1990s. It wasn’t great. But that is one alternative (possibly the most viable one in the horizon with a feckless INC still yet to rise on it feet, getting nuked by BJP in every state where it is a straight contest). So you have to give it to Modi. He’s a clever man to still play the anti-establishment card.
But globally though, the last time Germany, France (Vichy France between 1940-42), Italy went right (oh and Japan has elections in 2018, 2 yrs into Trump and US is their biggest economic pillar now. Oh dear!), the Axis had more powerful antagonists in USA (under FDR, who was a Democratic Socialist. Now they’re under Donald Tiny Hands Trump. God save the free world). Soviet was under a megalomaniac totalitarian dictator (Stalin) and UK was a global power. Now it’s just the USA and they have more nukes than any nation with Tiny Hands having access to place his tiny hands on them. Oh and did I say Russia are pining for a Soviet era Russia and are seeing the kleptocratic authoritarianism of Putin attractive? (God save the free world).
I’m not saying it. But Edward Lutwak called it in 1994 about the effects of globalization, predatory capitalism and the centrist parties not standing up for the common man and selling out to corporates. He said Fascism is the wave of the future http://www.lrb.co.uk/v16/n07/edward-luttwak/why-fascism-is-the-wave-of-the-future
Now global politics is a complex maze and I’m an arm chair knucklehead who simply talks off his ass (notice how many may bes and coulds I’ve used). I’m too simple a guy to predict where every permutation and combination could take the world. But I just gave the worst case scenario (AND I DID NOT TOUCH UPON MAN MADE CLIMATE CHANGE AND ISLAMOFASCISM FROM ISIS ASSHOLES AND OMG THE INDUSTRIALIZED WORLD HADN’T FUCKED THE PLANET THIS MUCH 80 YEARS BACK AND MIDDLE EAST WAS UNDER FRENCH-ENGLISH CONTROL BACK THEN BUT NOW IT’S A CESSPOOL OF JIHADI TERROR).
And it isn’t just Italy, France and Germany that are tipping right. Norway, Serbia, Netherlands, Czech Republic and Austria may all end up on the insane right by the end of 2017.
(h/t @rayin for linking this image to me on Twitter.)
But there is a weak case for a best case scenario. Even if Renzi loses his referendum, he decides to stay for the time being, not creating a vacuum and even if Hollande loses, which is most certainly will, Le Pen does not rise to become President, Germany in response goes center leftist, giving time for the Democrats to regroup to take control of the Senate and White House by 2018 and 2020 and we’ll see what happens to India in 2019. Hey, that can (not saying it will *wink wink*) happen.
I’ll end with some food for the ears and thought, turning to art to provide an artistic mirror to the madness the globe could be staring into (I could share the climactic scene of Dr. Strangelove but I won’t) and as always, I shall plug in my most favorite artiste, Ilaiyaraaja. I am borrowing the words of a friend, @violinvicky, and what Victor Angel Ribero wrote on the album sleeve of Ilaiyaraaja’s private album Nothing But Wind (1989) for the title track.

Life can be defined biologically by those who understand its science. We call them the Doctors.

It can be (self) realized by those who walk the path. We call them the Philosophers.

But it can be expressed only as an art by those who interpret it. We call them Artists.

Ilaiyaraaja here powerfully expresses the conflict between
modern civilization and mankind. Inspired by the chirping of birds and crickets, and the rustling of the wind through bamboo thickets, man first cut himself a bamboo flute, and developed music. But those pastoral times passed as life became more complex and ever more industrialized; first the train, then the
plane, then the jet helped speed the process. Today, we hear the roar of rocket engines blasting off for the stars. On the one hand we seek relief from these pressures by reaching out to divinity through chants and mantras; on the other, we distract ourselves with disco music and earthly pleasures. Yet our society
will self-destruct; And after the inevitable
The musician will lay down his flute,
Unable any longer to play,
Convinced in spite of himself that
Music is, after all,
Nothing But Wind….”

Leave a comment

Filed under Politic, Politik, Uncategorized

Thoughts on Virumandi

Virumandi was rewatched recently. As with all the great Kamal films (as director and/or script writer), this is a film that never ceases to grow. நண்பர் @dagalti often remarks that “Kamal rewards the re-watcher.” I second, third and fourth that opinion. Where do I even begin with Virumandi? A few of you may have read a twiltonger I posted on the film more than a year back and bits of this piece might evoke a thirumba thirumba pesare nee feeling in you at places. But do go on.

Veerapandiya Kattabomman

Kothaala Thevan hates Naickers, driven by the fact that his dad was killed by Nallamma Naicker. This is evident from the very first dialog he has in the film after Angela asks him to speak; “Thirumalai Naicker kAlathirukku munbAgavE, Sundara Pandiyan Atchi…” and Angela stops him there. Pertinent. Because Sundara Pandiyan was possibly the final Pandyan King in the early 1300s and the Pandya rule was followed by the Madurai Sultanate, which was followed by the Vijayanagara Kingdom whose Kings placed as chieftains certain Nayaks, who slowly grew into the Madurai Naicker Dynasty (Thirumalai Nayakkar, Rani Mangamma, etc.).

Also, Panchalankurichi was ruled by a chieftain (chieftains are not Kings. They rule provinces in Kingdoms, collect taxes and give a share to the Emperor, whether the Emperor is a Chola, Pandya, of Vijayanagara descent, a Madurai Naicker or a Nawab. சிற்றரசர்கள் aka குறுநில மன்னர்கள் in Tamil). This chieftain was one Jagaveera Pandiyan, who claimed descent from the Pandyas. He did not have any issues and let his minister succeed after him. That minister who hailed from Andhra, and was a warrior whose ancestors migrated during Vijayanagara Empire’s times (1400s and 1500s), was called Bommu. Being strong, he was called Gettibommu. That in Tamil became Kattabommu and eventually Kattabomman. In his lineage came Veerapandiya Kattabomman. His full name? Veeramaraja Jagaveera Pandiya Kattabomma Karuthaiyya Nayukkudu. He would have spoken a Telugu-Tamil, which, as an aside, makes Sivaji’s larger-than-life portrayal a pretty outstanding brave heart re-imagination. He had the name Jagaveera Pandiyan hidden in his name out of reverence for the chieftain who passed the throne to his lineage. Why I give all this dry context is because Kothaalan wants to claim descent for his lineage from the Pandyan Kings. He sees Nallamma Naicker’s lineage as usurpers. This nuance is brought out in a single dialog without being explicit!

Also, the film does have a Veerapandiya Kattabomman reference in the bull taming sequence, paying homage to the bull taming sequence in the old classic and also introducing one of the bulls as Veerapandiya Kattabomman. Quite explicit. Also, giving women in marriage was a tradition practiced with bull taming. The bull tamer Virumandi does get the bull’s owner Annalakshmi like how Gemini got Padmini in a direct play on Veerapandiya Kattabomman. However, what is not explicit is another legend behind Kattabomman’s adversary Ettappan. Ettappan happens to be the family name of the lineage that ruled Ettayapuram, giving the town its name. The title owes its origin to one of their ancestor chieftains, who with his brother, was challenged to a duel by one Mallan (wrestler). They kill him and realize he has 8 kid brothers, who the chieftain adopts and gives succor to, getting the name ‘Ettappan’ (ettu perukku appan). His real name? Nallamma Naicker! [1] Now consider this. Nallamma Naicker says in Panchayat that he went to arbitrate a fight between Kothaalan’s and Virumandi’s fathers, got provoked by Kothaalan’s dad and killed him. He says he vowed never to use a weapon again and eventually gives succor to Virumaandi. This is already outstanding and beyond the grasp of average filmmakers. But wait till I get to the end of the post.


The film is all about detailing, local nuances which never stick out but immensely add to the mann vaasanai, with the warts and moles of human lifestyle there. I doubt if there is a film rivaling this that gets so many local nuances right and yet none ever intrude into the story. For instance, Nallamma Naicker tells his mother okkatti ledhu when Kothaalan comes to investigate. The proper Telugu word for that is Emi ledhu. Okkatti ledhu is the direct Telugu translation of onnum illai. Like everyone from one culture integrated into another, he speaks his native tongue but thinks in Tamil. The film’s dubbed version in Telugu was named Potharaju, referring to a caste in Andhra whose members gain a livelihood by flagellating themselves. That defines Virumandi’s character in a nutshell! (if I remember right, these 2 details were mentioned by Plum in Bala (Karthik)’s blog. Hattip).

Again, Peikaaman asks Angela if she is proper Tanjore. She says Keezhvenmani. This is further underlined when she says Angela James’aa mArina nAn thirumba Angela Kathamuthu AyttEn. I find this nuanced because when I last read (correct me if the proposed legislation is now a law), till further legislation would ensure Dalits retain their Dalit status upon converting to Christianity (rightly so because conversion to another religion doesn’t automatically mean a change in socio-economic status), they’d be considered OBCs.[2] Now read the Keezhvenmani hyperlink, connect the dots to Peikaaman telling Kothaalan he prides their caste association more than him working in Nallamma Nayakkanur and Peikaaman’s visible contortion when Angela asks him to wait outside after getting to know her origin. How did Kamal get away (film is unimaginable in today’s scenario) with this? Virumandi, Annalakshmi, Virumandi’s appatha, Ganthimathi; pivotal and admirable characters all, are the same community as Kothaalan and Peikaaman.

When Peikaaman takes Angela around initially, he not-so-subtly takes a dig at the jailor when he says adhellAm IPS paritcha ezhudhi varravangaLukku varAdhu. ennaya mAri cadres lerndhu varravangalukku dhaan irukkum. Quintessentially everyone who thinks their higher-ups haven’t worked as hard as they have to get to a superior position professionally. In a single dialog. Also, when Virumandi bemoans his appatha’s loss while drunk, he invokes the 5 elements. So like Kamal (especially when Virumandi mentions sAmikki sonnA pOdhum’nu nenachen in the court when asked to prove his marriage). But while doing so, for kaathu, he swipes his hands behind his ass and for neruppu, he blows an imaginary beedi. Uncultured, but that is exactly how that character, when intoxicated, would behave. Again, how mainstream is this film! Hero gets a heroic introduction (subconsciously so, even while his story is being narrated by his adversary!), tames a bull and breaks into an intro song. But nothing is out of place.

Note when Peikaaman investigates Nallamma Naicker, and Virumandi escapes, there is an event and a dance which is a foil for the escape and the drama around it. I used to think it was Oyilaattam. Turns out, it is Devarattam, a preserve of the Naicker community, preserved by the descendants of Veerapandiya Kattabomman. The 2 dance forms do look similar but a key differentiator is Oyilaattam’s rhythm is provided by thavil [3] whereas Devarattam uses urumi and thappu [4]. The background score for that sequence uses urumi! This can be endless but again, note when the judge (who sentences Virumandi to death) is not too keen to hear details of the alleged rape (a subtle reflection of the general insular Indian mindset); Lawyer: “Matching accused Virumandi semmen…” Judge in an அத இப்ப சொல்லியே ஆகணுமா tone: “found in Annalakshmi’s body…aahn seri seri.” down to the வட்டார வழக்கு English, just like when Kondarasu speaks Telugu itself in a Kongu accent while Nallamma Naicker speaks it in a Madurai accent. Incredible. I also love how the poosari lies taking the ring granted by Annalakshmi in court. That’s how one places a knife inside the viewer.

Lesser details, but equally interesting; Annalakshmi is close to her pets, from the bovine to the avian variety. When she is assaulted by Kothaalan and left to rot, the first ones by her side are her pets. When Kothaalan’s tries breaking the door with his left arm, he flinches in pain and asks OAK Sundar to break it. He tried cutting his left shoulder to prove a point to Virumaandi long back in the film. It would hurt him, right? Now not showing all this does not lessen the film in any way. But showing them is what adds to the film and makes Kamal the writer/director who he is.

Folk Story

However, all of this aforementioned brilliance pales (with the exception of Nallamma Naicker story origin) in front of what Kamal and Raaja pulled off with 3 specific songs. All other songs are enjoyable, appreciable, aid narration (as Maada Vilakke does. Andha Kandamani is from Kothaalan’s perspective of a villain Virumandi who has soon gotten over his appatha’s death and drinks unrepentantly and Maada Vilakke from Virumandi’s perspective who is still mourning his appatha. Both are apt musically and mood wise for the exact same events. Stupendous). Eventually in the grander scheme of things, all songs except the 3 are red herrings. The 3 songs here are Karumathur Kaattukkulle, Andha Kaandamani and Garbageragam Vittu. Now there is a folk story revolving around village deities.

Vishnu is Mayandi, Shivan is Muniyandi, Parvathi is Pechiyamma and Brahma is Virumandi in Tamil village folklore around Madurai. The story goes like this. Pechiyamma, Shiva and Virumandi head down South from the abode beyond the Himalayas to search for a new haven. Virumandi, Pechi’s brother in local lore, makes his peace in Kerala and Pechiyamma settles down in Karumathur, a forest near Madurai. Peikaaman is a demon deity in the forest who harasses everyone around and does not like the poojai Pechiyamma does and approaches her with the offerings of a garland of liver and intestines of cow. Shiva is a vegetarian God and hence Pechiyamma turns those offerings into flowers but Peikaaman’s harassment persists, Shiva is powerless and so she searches down Virumandi from Kerala, requests him to help her out and after much deliberation, promises him a padayal (sheep offerings in this case) 6 times every day. He accepts her request and comes to fight Peikaaman. They battle. People around offer a solution; i.e. for Peikaaman and Virumaandi to go to a nearby peak and return and whoever does so first shall be the winners. Peikaaman, the demon lord of the jungle, offers Virumandi a horse whose leg is broken to win easily but Virumandi manages to eventually win. Now Pechi is bound by her promise but realizes an offering 6 times a day is not practical to sustain in the longer run and drops her ring into a well and requests Virumandi to take it out. He enters the well but Pechi locks it. He cries out against the injustice at what has happened to him after helping her out and she reasons with him and offers another deal. Every Aadi, the last Friday would be his when people offer 3 sheep with pongal as padayal and the tradition continues to this day.

This story is detailed in the Karumathur Kaattukkulle Oru Kaalathil song:

This song does not appear in the film completely. The first couple of lines make an appearance before Virumandi is hacked initially but it stops. Now consider this. Angela, new to the jail, is the Pechiyamma equivalent. Nasser is the powerless Shiva equivalent who is the new jailor. Virumandi belongs elsewhere but is brought to the jail with a false offering (false case in a subversion here). The jail is Peikaaman’s den. Narayanan, the death row inmate, initially complains Peikaaman tholla thaanga mudila.

Virumandi, it turns out, *IS* trapped in a well. Quite literally, it is the well in the land owned by his appatha. He bemoans to Annalakshmi en appatha kenathula vesatha kalakka vittutten. Why else would a well have to be a bone of contention? Of course, water, a resource, is a valid superficial plot point. But again, *these layers legitimately are what* Kamal is all about.

The song Andha Kandamani is all kinds of awesome now when we place the context and listen. It appears just after Virumandi (Kamal) is done burying his appatha in his well.

Pandi (Madurai), Malayalam (Kerala), Kasi (North as they hail), Rameswaram (South as they rule from Madurai) Adakki Alum Andiyappa…

…Peikaamana adakki vechcha Virumandi’ya Pechiyamma kooppudurA (justifying lore and also foreshadowing what would eventually happen).

The foreshadowing ain’t done yet. Virumandi and Peikaaman are shown in 2 frames as the prayer goes on.

AK 1

VK 2

Odhava karankodutha sAmiyE onnathAn adakki oduchadhu pAvam (justifying lore and foreshadowing Virumandi (Kamal) who would try mediating between Kondarasu and Kothaalan and would end up convicted for no fault of his).

SaNda prasandangAmen marubadi ezhundhA thanjamA nAnga enga pOvOm? (need I say anything?) All the songs except Unna Vida have been written by Raaja and Muthulingam.

Also, in Kamal’s love for mirrors, well archived here, truth and lie lies divided by a simple mirror. It places Virumandi and Peikaaman on the 2 sides. Not a coincidence from placing them in Andha Kandamani, says me.

Mirror Mirror On the Wall

Angela requests him to cooperate with her. He initially refuses. From the standpoint of stranger meeting stranger perspective, what Kamal pulled off is mind boggling (read this right away). Factor in the folklore, you are lost for words. Multiple layers, each with its own phenomenal depth exist side-by-side without affecting each other in the same sequence!

And when, in the climax, before the fight, as Peikaaman, in a subversion, offers a broken promise (broken horse to ride) in giving Kothaalan to Virumandi in return to receiving Angela for himself (going as far as to literally say “onakku naan pali tharEn da en Virumandi chaami!”) when in reality, he aligns with Kothaalan. As a weakened Virumandi (stabbed in the back by Kothaalan) heads out with forces, knowing not how to hold a gun, as against forces of Peikaaman, fully armed to the teeth, we get the denouement with Garbageragam Vittu Saami Veliyerudhu. The film’s narrative merges with the folklore in an awesomesauce (words don’t do justice) new age realization of the old as the Lord breaks out of his ‘jail’ to battle the dark forces.

As an important aside, how awesome is Raaja with his voice made gruff in both versions? Climax’s impact without music is 0. The primal rage, retribution, அறச்சீற்றம் (I love this word) is magnified several fold with the music. Never more than here have 2 versions to one song made more sense. Never more than here has divine justice and Karma been realized *this* viscerally on screen.

Again, how effective is the theme music itself? The darkness and tragedy around Virumandi (both the deity and the mortal) is reflected in the theme. Themes as abstract as they come find a phenomenally precise vent in the theme music. Even in the epilogue, the tragedy of the character holds. Like the deity, the mortal, even if he is physically freed, is likely to be jailed in a pointlessly unhappy future. The theme plays.

PS: The folklore to be honest is not Kamal’s knowledge. It is the knowledge of our கிராமிய மரபு. But it takes a Kamal to bring it to life in a modern art medium like cinema and place a commentary around the death penalty, flaws in a justice system in how the truth itself is perceived by it. That (commentary) is the most important takeaway on a superficial plane. But what Kamal has hidden in layer after layer in a way to say புரிஞ்சா புரிஞ்சுக்கோ இல்லாட்டி சொரிஞ்சுக்கோ (phrase hattip @dagalti) is beyond the scope of whatever that is which passes as mainstream Tamil cinema. Now I am a fanboi of Kamal and Raaja (as if that needed any saying) and what I say may come across as clouded by bias. But to me, they are the greatest filmmaker-composer collaboration that I have seen from what I understand as mainstream Indian cinema.

PPS: I hope all the details I have provided are accurate. If anyone spots any error, do let me know. I shall edit it.

Edit (On Aug 28, 2015): A few more pointers from Twitter and conversations. A mayyam post (original poster untraceable. If recognized, kindly mention, shall credit him) argued a couple more village deity based things here: http://goo.gl/Mw4o2r

For those who don’t read Tamil, the summary is here. There was this book by one Tho Pa which was the basis for the folklore in this film (acknowledged by Haasar himself in an interview). The author of that book also speaks of a couple more stories. One is the famous Annamalaiyaar story which had Shiva burst out as an unending flame and Vishnu and Brahma search the respective end and origin. Both fail but Brahma lies and gets cursed to never be worshiped. In the film, Virumandi lies in the court of law and gets asks by Nallamma Naicker inime nee nimmadhiyA thoonguvayA? Also, there is the folklore about Vellore’s Jalakandeswarar Temple to Shiva where the lingam was found from a well and there is also the tale of Pazhayanoor Neeli who is supposed be a guardian Angel from inside a well. Virumandi cries out that it is his appatha‘s blood and not water. His appatha‘s well to him is a நிரந்தர ஊத்து. The unnamed person argues Virumandi sees his appatha as his Pazhayanoor Neeli. The well, apart from literally and metaphorically trapping Virumandi in the film, is also the meeting point for him and Annalakshmi several times; to romance, confide, repent.

Also, Virumandi twirls his mustache after crying in front of the camera in the TV station. Might seem like an over-analysis, but what the hell. It is a subconscious reference to a நீ ஆம்பள. அழக்கூடாது. மீசைய முறுக்கு sentiment methinks.

Something that strikes me now. Pechi in the folklore drops her ring and traps Virumandi. Here, Annalakshmi offers her ring to the poosari who takes it out (apart from being a brilliant moment), hides it and lies and traps Virumandi. Virumandi trapped in the well guards over Karumathur is the belief. Virumandi in the film is trapped in a jail (the ‘ring’ connecting both the deity and mortal being trapped) and hence, Virumandi is a sort of Guardian Angel for the jail. Garbageram Vittu Saami Veliyerudhu is now not only very apt, the final climax cries for the battle and the song! And how does Raaja deliver. The song with Pandi Malayalam begins as they break the outer wall and the prelude of running to the gate goes with Viru Virumandi refrain. Raaja begins his Garbageragam Vittu exactly as the outer gate (Garbageram) is broken and Virumandi steps out. The timing, flow, control over medium, how Raaja and Kamal merge is nothing short of phenomenal. A friend was telling me yesterday that the film without Raaja is still a Giant. True, for cinema is a director’s medium. But with Raaja, it becomes a demon. Is this the greatest Tamil film ever? Yeah, the level of internalization and usage is insane here. Along with Hey Ram, yes, there is a convincing case to consider this right up there.


  1. http://tamil.chennaionline.com/tamilcolumn/newsitem.aspx?NEWSID=5f5906ee-866b-4455-9429-66ba1a17afd3&CATEGORYNAME=Seeta
  2. http://www.legalservicesindia.com/article/article/conversion-and-reservation-christian-dalits-and-the-obstacles-to-social-mobility-1385-1.html
  3. http://beautyspotsofindia.com/oyilattam/
  4. http://www.india9.com/i9show/Devarattam-26478.htm


Filed under Uncategorized

Thoughts on Guna

Warning: Potentially lengthy read. May end up boring you to death, putting you to sleep or maybe if your stars are aligned with mine, rivet you. Anyway, jump along.

I happened to re-watch Guna recently and as is the wont with any film of intelligence involving Kamal in the ‘90s, it sent me on a trip. On the surface, this is a film about a person with obsessional psychoneurosis who kidnaps a woman who comes under the influence of Stockholm syndrome, likes him but the plot contrives them to death. But there is more to it than this in my considered opinion. I just feel like archiving my thoughts on the film here. So here goes.

I feel it is up there with other Kamal works like Hey Ram and Virumandi as a master-class in Indian film history. The story and screenplay are credited to one Sab John and the dialogues to Balakumaran, while the direction is by Santhanabharathi. Superficially, there is no Kamal other than the lead actor and occasional singer. But peer closely and there are enough filmmaking signatures which tell me subtly that there is quite a lot of Kamal all over the place (for a broader discussion on the same across many films, hattip: Dagalti). Let me broadly focus on the screenplay, scene composition and the music (Ilaiyaraaja; genius bursting out everywhere) which in my opinion makes this film an insanely great achievement by Kamal and Raaja.

Prologue and its Poetry

The first sequence itself is richly conceived. The film’s first shot after the opening credits is a full moon with a man standing like Lord Shiva on a terrace top.

First Shot of Guna

We are then provided a tapestry into a North Hyderabadi settlement (vote for TDP, vote for BJP graffiti on the wall to go with Charminar shown with the opening credits) which houses a brothel. This is kind of evident when a woman, dressed like a courtesan of yore, dances to Inhin logon ne le liya dupatta mera (these folks have taken my Dupatta off) from Pakeezah, a 1972 film about a courtesan! It is even more evident when, as the song fades to the background, Kaka Radhakrishnan, a quack, assures a person he doesn’t have AIDS, followed by telling a girl, “ரெண்டு மாசம் தானே? கலச்சுரலாம்.” There is Ismail, a local dada, extorting from the folks and taking care of the Police. A corrupt yet thriving settlement is made clear in a single sequence of admirable detailing. The shot pans to Kamal, who is revealed to be the guy standing like Shiva, the longshot zooming to him reigning down on a wedding procession and he goes down to the bride and utters a verse from Abiraami Anthaadhi and gets kicked about. Pause.


Abiraami Anthaadhi was written by one Abiraami Battar. His legend is of interest in context with this film. He was someone who was obsessed with the Hindu female deity Parvathi aka Abiraami, so much so that he was branded a lunatic by the people around him. He was also known to see Abiraami in every woman he saw and went about praying to every girl. One fine day, the King Serfoji of Thanjavur, visits Battar’s hometown Thirukkadaiyur, learns about him and asks him what day it is. Battar answers it is the full moon day, when in reality, it was a new moon day. An argument is supposed to have ensued and the King declares that unless Battar proves that the day has a full moon, he’d be put to death. Battar places himself on a plank strung to a ceiling by 100 strings with boiling oil beneath. He goes on to sing an Anthaadhi, where every verse’s last word is the first word for the next verse and cuts of one string at the end of each verse. At the end of the 79th verse, it is said that Abiraami tossed her earring, moved by his devotion, and the earring manifested itself on the sky as a full moon, stirring the King and everyone around to be thrilled by Battar’s devotion. He went on to sing 21 more, with the 100th verse’s final word being the first verse’s first. Nice symmetry.

*End Tangent*

The full moon makes vague sense as Kamal gets beaten about, with some cruel irony in there with him uttering “சென்னியின் மேல் பத்ம பாதம் பதித்திடவே” (placing your lotus feet on my head) as he gets kicked around [1].

This supposed madman, with his doctor in the asylum as he rages, keeps circling with the camera moving with the circle and the doctor standing still on a tangent, in some superbly conceived scene geometry. The theme music, to dominate the film later, makes its first appearance, a leitmotif of the score that sounded with the opening credits, underpinning a troubled mind. Guna, as Kamal is revealed to be, hallucinates about a mountain which provides the chills. Abiraami is மலைமகள், after all and he ends up jamming on a door, opening the film up to full credits as Raaja sings a brilliantly written Sidhar paadal to cap what to me is among the most poetic prologues to any mainstream Indian film.

General Themes

The film touches upon quite a few themes, handled with varying degrees of finesse, all interesting and some eminently gratifying. To be sure, this is subjective, but with Kamal, it is alright to read in without inhibitions.

The film skirts briefly with effeminate men. Ganesa Iyer, a Guru of sorts to Guna who implants the idea of Abiraami in him and sends him off with a thaali to Kaka Radhakrishnan (Mangalyam Thanthunaane), wears a mark on his forehead and speaks and dances like a woman. The Chithappa, a very engaging Janakaraj, bets on his masculinity, only to immediately flip when confronted by Ismail and unabashedly exclaims he’s a woman. A more direct instance is when an iconic song has the lines, “சிவகாமியே சிவனில் நீயும் பாதியே…”, quite literally invoking the ultimate instance of the effeminate man in Ardhanareeshwara. But the film doesn’t really tell us more than this (edit: the song Unnai Ariven has a shot of Rosy lighting a lamp in front of a photo of Ardhanaareeshwara).

A more evident theme to me was the film dealing with religious patriarchy, which is evident among the characters. Guna is a man of conventional rights and wrongs (“தூங்கறதுக்கு இருட்டு வரலியே”). He can be capable of incredible heart (“அங்க ஒரு குருவிய கொன்னுட்டாங்க குயிலே”). But he also has his shades of grey. He justifies him stealing a car; comparing it with the quasi legitimacy Rosy and his mother receive, indulging in prostitution. To take it up a notch, he chains his woman in his house! This from a man who rages infinitum and even kills another man for a dead sparrow! Why, even his mother, technically Abiraami’s mother-in-law eventually, gags her and throws her into a dungeon initially. Mysskin and Pisaasu anyone? Also, as he lets her bath, he lets us know, “புகுந்த வீட்டுக்கு வந்து பொறந்த வீட்டு பெருமைய பேச கூடாது [2].” Heck, even the doctor, before the climax, to lure Guna, lets him know that “புருஷனுக்கு பாத்ததுக்கு அப்பறம் தான் பொண்டாட்டிக்கி.” However, quite curiously in a witty subversion, he eats from her plate after she finishes (the reason given is lack of plates. But read with these instances from the film, you know where I’d wager my bet on).

Immortality, Divinity and Music

However, the most obvious and gratifying themes were religious symbolism and immortality. The theme, we think is meant for love, also plays very briefly with a leitmotif registering the first few notes when he rushes to see his mother who he thinks is dead [3]. She says “நான் சாக மாட்டேன்”, assuring to him of her immortality. Janakaraj tells Guna before doping him that he is “பாதி சாமி.” This seems important to Guna, to be constantly reassured of his divinity. There is also a wee bit of make believe and a leap of faith necessary where he borders on possessing superhuman strength, to repeatedly recover after falling from a cliff to being shot, that it’s also plausible that the screenplay thrusts some divinity, outside the scope of his hallucinations, on him. Guna tells ‘Rohini’ “எதுக்கு சாவனும்? நமக்கு சாவில்ல” as she wants to kill herself. In fact, he simply walks away after introducing his name with some delight, oblivious of her perilous state [4], almost as if he is assured of her divinity that he doesn’t consider death as a possibility! In fact, he takes her to a mountain top, as is the residence of a மலைமகள், worthy of the name Abiraami.

It is impossible to talk about the screenplay without the music and vice-versa. The depth in this film’s music places it right up there among the top of the table in my experience with Indian films. The numerous leitmotifs to the theme come when ‘Rohini’ is seen as Abiraami by Guna and the ‘divinity’, such an abstract thing/emotion, finds vent in the music so aptly that this author is lost for words. I’d say the music is inseparable from the divinity and immortality in the film. In some breathtaking poetry of scene composition and music, it plays when Guna sees her in the halo of the Sun.



It plays when she is dead, in a gory way. It plays when he first spots her, in a temple. The theme gets fulfillment there. That entire stretch is screenwriting/music composing porn. Allow me to indulge. He is goaded by Janakaraj that Abiraami would come, “pippiripippiripee”, and there materializes a beautiful woman he sees as Abiraami. She spots him, casts a benign smile and walks away. He asks himself if she is Abiraami and follows her in the other direction. His head hits the bell, the signboard he hits points him to her, the screen dislodges a veil to shine the Sun on him and even the security Guard points his finger toward her. The stars, with the deities, animate and inanimate objects seem to align to tell him She is his Abiraami. The theme, playing in raga Sarangatharangini, changes scales to Paavani, as verses from Abiraami Anthaadhi begin. At ஆயகியாதி உடையாள், the camera pans to her feet. The line literally means Abiraami’s feet is the origin of everything and presents Battar there. Ilaiyaraaja and Kamal are firmly in fifth gear now.

The song begins. Stunning melody. Paavani, the raga, literally means remover of sins (interesting, because Guna helps steal from the temple the next day and is immediately repentant. Seeing ‘Abiraami’, he follows her, seemingly wanting her to show him the way out of his sins). The rhythm pattern (thaaLam) operated by Ilaiyaraaja is Kandam (beat of 5, tha ka tha ki ta). Kandam is the beat used for Shiva thaandavam. The interlude is a brief reentry to another verse of the Anthaadhi which praises the jewels that stay firm on Abiraami’s breasts (முத்துவடம் கொண்ட கொங்கை – muthuvadam meaning pearl necklance and kongai meaning breasts) and her vagina that is beautiful like a cobra (நல்லரவின் படம் கொண்ட அல்குல் பனிமொழி வேத பரிபுரையே – nalaravam – nallapaambu – cobra; algul – vagina), she being of speech that cools us (paNimozhi), with all the Vedas present at her feet; and Raaja takes a brief detour to a pleasant Kalyani raga exactly as the film rolls to the filmy Abiraami’s breasts at முத்துவடம் கொண்ட கொங்கை, almost asking to take pleasure, and reverts back to Paavani from நல்லரவின், as Guna goes on a hallucination trip into a Shiva thaaNdavam with this Abiraami, ending with the cheNdai pouring its rhythm; a subversion of a devotion bordering on the erotic in the Anthaadhi to divine love here. Outstanding.

Addendum: A crystallization after a twitter convo with @athreyaa. The beauty in the changing of scales from Sarangatharangini (ST) to Paavani is the difference is 1 note and a variation in another. SaRiGaMaPaDhaNi are the 7 swaras. But for Sa and Pa (which don’t have variants), RiGaMaDhaNi have 2 or more variants each. That way, Paavani has Ri1 and ST has Ri2. Not a big difference but the addition of Ga1 to Paavani (which ST does not possess) makes it a vivadi raga. Now vivadi ragas, especially those with with Ri1, are considered divine (in feel, mood, etc.). Now consider this. A mundane yet attractive Rohini (underlined by a melodious ST) becomes Abiraami to the lover/seeker and that is underlined by a divine Paavani as the song segues to Abiraami Anthaadhi. Insane genius. To opine further, I’d like to quote the man himself to say: http://www.tubechop.com/watch/5611673

Unnai Naan Ariven is a great song too; a picturization of great symmetry, beginning in the brothel where Guna is put to sleep, travelling across the brothel/settlement to ghazal, Telugu folk and back to Guna with his mother putting him to sleep. But before she gets to her son (hattip: the Dagalti post linked above), there is a rich sequence where she peeps over to monitor business between a client and a prostitute working under her, all the while praying to the Gods, seemingly indifferent to the irony! Also, note how Rosy suddenly looks at the rickety table fan as the song segues to ghazal mode because of the change in the Tabla rhythm, this at the back of Guna telling her “இதுல சத்தம் தான் வரும்”! What detailing man! All round brilliance.

Kanmani Anbodu Kaadhalan is set to Shankarabharanam. The raga quite literally means an ornament on Lord Shiva. Was this deliberate too? Maybe not. But will it stop me from reading in? No. After all, this is Raaja and Kamal we are talking about.

Coming back to the divinity minus music briefly, the crooks who assist Guna and his uncle before they are eventually killed are curiously named as Kaasi and Anumanthu (Guna in fact calls him Anumaar!!), names associated with Shiva and Rudra. To make this more evident, Anumaar is killed by a trident which was part of the loot!


As a side note, the police officer after Guna is called Moovendar (meaning Lord of the 3 worlds and Shiva having 3 eyes and a trident and all that. You get the drift). There is also a wickedly ironic moment where the villain SK, the only character with trite and clichéd dialogues (more of a nitpick this), gives permission for Ismail to rape Abiraami inside a dilapidated Church! But then, Ismail refers to her as a देवता as he sees her for the first time in the dungeon.


Above all, there is the presence of Abiraami Battar, his Anthaadhi and legend all over the film. He wants to tie the thaali to Abiraami on Pournami. He is derided as a lunatic. He ends up tying the thaali a day before Pournami, because Abiraami tells him this IS Pournami, a subversion of Abiraami making a full moon when it was not for Battar’s sake.

The end happens when, despite his unshakable belief in their immortality, she dies. Guna’s nemesis is eventually Abiraami’s and his mortality. Not humans, who he disdainfully tosses away. His penultimate statement before dying is stating he is a சாமி, holding Abiraami like the Shiva of lore held Sati.

Naan Saami

The final shot of the film is the full moon that eventually arrives that night.

Final Snap of Full Moon

The first shot of the film was a full moon. So was the last shot. The second shot of the film was Guna standing on a terrace top like Shiva. The penultimate shot of the motion picture is Guna standing in a similar pose with Abiraami. Talk of symmetry! Especially when Abiraami Anthaadhi’s final word is the same as its first word.

What do you do when presented with such high art? Kamal and Raaja are great creators. Together, they are just something else. Every film of theirs where Kamal has been involved in significant degrees as a creator has been absolute magic on screen. This simply stands head and shoulders above even among their best.


[1]: http://www.tubechop.com/watch/5575149

[2]: http://t.co/Cc86i2EPWW

[3]: http://www.tubechop.com/watch/5575185

[4]: http://www.tubechop.com/watch/5575198

PPS: Bouquets and brickbats welcome.


Filed under Ilayaraja, Kamal

Musings on an Actor

Acting is an art that keeps transforming in the eyes of the connoisseur with time. What is great acting today might seem out of place a few decades from now. So while judging actors, it would be fair in my opinion to take into account the era they acted in. So when I talk about Sivaji Ganesan, an actor who makes me make time to watch him whenever I think of him, I will take into account the era he serviced in. It would be fair to say that the particular era in Tamil films I’m talking about emphasized on actors to hyperdramatize their characters on screen. I shall use this word for Nadigar Thilagam because while he was made to overact terribly in a lot of films from the late 70s onward, his early films, the first 150 odd at least, are predominantly hyperdramatized portrayals co-existing with some incredibly underplayed roles. So if you are wondering what my point is, it’s that it is possible to appreciate what depth and range the actor has been able to convey within the confines of what his era appreciated. What an era appreciated may not last. Taste keeps changing. But the depth and range of the artiste will stay. It does with Nadigar Thilagam (NT) in my opinion.

A couple of examples of his range and depth here. And I mean range not over decades or years or between films or even in the same film. I’m talking of range in a single sequence.

Exhibit 1: Paartha Nyaabagam Illayo, Pudhiya Paravai.

The song starts with NT lighting a cigar and puffing into space. He is an audience awaiting a performance and he is relaxing (absolutely no emotion). His tuxedo, cigar and the high end club he is in, tells us that he is rather affluent. Dancers begin their dance. He awaits. Just his screen presence there conveys that he is waiting. The performer enters (Sowcar) and begins singing. NT just tilts his head up (to have a look at the performer. The tilt suggests that he wants to see who it is). Is she singing to him, kindling an old story? We might never know, and considering his affluence and her “vampish” demeanor, it’s possible. Or she could just be singing to the audience and the guy could just be taking it straight from her to him. So as she sings, he begins to settle into the ambiance, smokes and is soaking the atmosphere in and gauging her. At around 1:10, he isn’t looking at her, but from him looking at the table and puffing smoke into the air, it is evident he is chewing her lines and ruminating on them, a light titillation on his face being evident. As she proceeds into her song, at Neela Nadhi karai Oram and Naan Paadi Vandhen Oru Raagam, he is impressed. He is sucked into her performance now. His eyes don’t waver or blink. His hands take the cigar to his mouth and the wine to his lips. But no, even his eyebrows are on her. She has him in her zone with her performance now. At around 2 minutes as she finishes her stanza, he smiles. A kid-like smile, biting his finger. This is a kid that has seen a toy it is smitten by and wants it. What a terrific transition from wanting to see to wanting. With just the eyes and body language. Restrained all the while. At 2:16, she moves to her right. On cue, NT ever so lightly tilts to his left. His eyes follow her! How did he bring it on screen with such a perfect stitch! Terrific direction and editing by Dada Mirasi by N.M. Shankar respectively? Maybe. Or just a moment made possible by NT? Take you guess. But to be able to see where the shot is cut for another actor and to take over from where the other person left off at ‘take’ with this amount of precision is excellence. At 3:00, as she sings Un manadhai Kel adhu sollum, he is rubbing his fingers on his lips, his eyes not moving from her. He is infatuated. His carnal cravings have apparently been kindled. He tastes his cigar and licks his finger awaiting the next shot from her. He raises a toast from him to her. Finally, he smokes the cigar and it’s clear that he wants her.

No emotion to waiting for something catching the eye to being impressed by it to be drawn by it to being smitten and infatuated by it to utterly being obsessed by it and wanting it. He has all of 30 seconds’ screen time in this 4 minute song (interspersed over the song). He has about 7 shots on him. He is sitting. He has only his hands and face to emote and act. He has no dialogues to tell us his changing emotions. He is constrained literally and restrained artistically. Yet he traverses the above mentioned emotions in one go and translates it to us. In Sir Viv’s parlance, he’s asking us to go fetch it.

Exhibit 2: The treachery of Ettappan. Veerapandiya Kattabomman.

Kattabomman is meditating with his eyes closed.

A Karunanidhi: *rants desperately* on to “Ettappan uLavu koorinAn.”

Kattabomman glances sideways with only a lift of the right eyebrow to convey he’s been brought back to the material world. Shot zooms in. He was praying to the Lord when this unexpected news reached him. He is coming out of his worship with a “Muruga” and goes on contemplatively philosophizing about the yins and the yangs of life. Obviously the meditative calm is wearing off due to Ettappan’s treachery. He contemplates till he speaks about Ettappan after which an understated but disappointed “pch” escapes him at Ettappan’s betrayal. The man is naturally gutted. But he prepares himself for what is to happen and braving the betrayal, he screams instructions to A. Karunanidhi and inspires everyone around. The camera zooms out as though afraid of his wrath (such is the screen presence). The screams of “VetrivEl VeeravEl” even rouses me in my chair as he inspires his Maravar koottam (He himself was a Naicker but Kallar, Maravar and Agamudaiyaar of the Mukkulam, precisely coming in Thevar Magan as NT, Periya Thevar, talks a couple of hundred years on about what happened a century and a half later from Kattabomman’s time as this “KaattumiraaNdi paya koottam took the vElkambs and aruvaas and went VetrivEl VeeravEl as Subas Chandra Bose called”. Essentially the same actor. But what a transition from Kattabomma Naickudu (yes he was of Telugu descent and may have only spoken a Tamil smattered with Telugu but Sivaji’s hyperdramatization of a brave heart was just spot on) to Periya Thevar!) What is more is, he is able to convey a meditative calm which transforms itself to a calm disappointment which leads to disappointed anger which morphs itself to the necessary righteous rage. All genuine. All inside 1 minute. No wonder he blew the jury of the Afro-Asian festival in Cairo away in 1959.

PS: A tribute:

From 1:27 to 1:31 (momentarily saw some Rajnikanth rage there; I mean Rajni is obviously gotten inspired) and from 2:08 to 2:12. That is real arrogance and rage translating for you through a mere film still through the actor’s eyes. He is what I call a பிறவி கலைஞன்.


Filed under Nadigar Thilagam

Kolaiyum Seivaal Patthini – Andha Naal (1954)

@_tharkuri and I had a chat where we thought it might be a fine idea to write about what we think are Tamil films that must be watched. I made a quick list and I suggested we start with “Andha Naal” mainly because I would like start something on Tamil Films from a historical perspective with Nadigar Thilagam first.




<Before we begin, if you haven’t seen the film and can’t be bothered to (Grrr..), here’s a storyboard. It doesn’t give away the ending, but anyway>

I was talking to this friend this other day and she over ‘romantically’ said, “If I could go back to the 20s just like he does in Midnight in Paris, I really would. That’s what I think is good life”. Of course she’s never lived in the 20s and what she loves is the idea of it from books and ‘movies’.

Looking back at a film from the past, for me, is an activity of looking at what times were like then. That’s what I’m going to do with this piece on the 1954 film (about the 1940s).

Most literature you’ll find about early cinema is about the use of films by the Dravidian movement as a propaganda tool. The 1950s to the 70s is often labeled the Dravidian era, for justifiable reasons of course.


What’s to be noted here is that Dravidianism isn’t simply the call to vote for the DMK or the ADMK but a set of belief systems that the Dravidian movement nailed in the Tamil psyche – the superiority of Tamilness, divinity of the Tamil thaai, self-respect (anti-Brahmin sentiments), anti-Hindi sentiments to only name a few.

Several films that did not directly align itself with the movement also reflected Dravidian sentiments is my contention. Andha Naal is especially important because it is neither the mythological nor the Dravidian melodrama, both of which dominated the time. It was historical crime mystery film that a generous Wikipedian even calls “arguably the first film-noir in Tamil cinema”.



Of course, it reflects the time it was made in – half-trouser police man, CID officers with hats, Constables called 402 and 504, Old Tamil text, verbose almost thooya Tamil dialogues are just the beginning. What I would like to draw from the film is perhaps the popular opinion of the time, the accepted behavior for people and a slice of the 1940-50s lives.

Aanmai/ Penmai

Even when social-messages films began to be made (beyond the mythological/ historical stories that started off Tamil cinema), references to history and mythology played a major role in what was intended as ‘reviving the ‘glorious Tamil past’. Sanga Tamil, pandai Tamizhar, Kannagi, Thiruvalluvar kept showing up in films as a way to tell people how to bring back the great Tamil nation it once was.

But going back to a glorious past, brought with it the belief systems of the time gone by. A good part of this is the clear demarcation of aanmai and penmai – addressing women as thaaimaargal, insisting on purity and karpu, the Kannagi/ vasugi-motifs, the madhavi archetype who is almost always a dancer, the evil ‘modern dress clad’ urban woman are the recurring ideas we see in most films of the Dravidian era.

While many of them are explicit, a film like Andha Naal is often argued as one that does not fall into this mold. It is rather interesting how Andha Naal does exactly that. I’ll look at each female character (and their relationship with aanmai) here.


Raajan’s (Sivaji) sister-in-law Hema: she is introduced as a rude mother, who her own husband rather dislikes and suspects of murder. You’ll notice how throughout the film she is seen as one who fights for her husband’s rights but is seen perpetually in negative light. In fact, Pattabhi (Hema’s husband) goes on to state on record that Hema may have committed the murder, but only in her manic state/ hysteria (she even breaks a glass to prove her hysteria).

Raajan: pombalai aa nee? (which was perhaps the classic like to put a woman in her place in those days, oh wait, may be even now)

Hema: pombalai, aanaal aanmai ullaval

This is especially interesting because this implies two things. One – that a woman is allowed to have aanmai. Two – that it can perhaps be used when the man doesn’t have aanmai. While in the end, she gets nothing of it and is seen as evil anyway, the blatant idea of aanmai still gets discussed.

Raajan: “…akkarai irundhaa? purushana aattu kuttiyaa va aakuradhu?” (implying if a woman has ‘aanmai’ in a family, the man is most likely to become ‘aattukutti’)


Ambujam is the ‘dancer’. While in most Dravidian films, the dancer is the vamp and is all out to destroy the man and by extension the society, Ambujam is treated with more sympathy in this film. However, the implied position of hers as deviant (and troublesome) is not to be missed. The scene that Munk narrates later (the park scene) is interesting for its use of silhouettes as the beginning of placing Raajan’s relationship with Ambujam on the ‘dark side’: a subtle way to display having a mistress as ‘wrong’.

In the scene where Ambujam narrates her defense and explains her who-could-have-done-it story,

Ambujam to CID Sivanandam: “modhalla enna Pillai dhaan aadharichuttu vandhaaru”

CID Sivanandam: “Oh”

Blame me if you will for reading too much into this, but the sense of contempt in that ‘oh’ is palpable.

In the entire film, Raajan is seen smoking only when in contact with Ambujam – he doesn’t smoke any time else, not even while plotting to bomb Chennai. It may be worth noting here that smoking, drinking and engaging a ‘dancer’ went together in several films of this era. Also, here, Ambujam is the only woman who talks of ‘free will’ in the film. She talks repeatedly of ‘enakku ishtam’ while informing Chinnaiah of her wish to move on with Raajan.

Ambujam to Chinnaiah: Enga rendu perukkum oruttharai oruttharukku pidichirukku. Ungalaalai engalai pirikka mudiyaadhu

Chinnaiah: Chumma iru, Pombalai


The film begins with introducing Usha as a ‘desa bakthai’. She is college educated, thoughtful, pro-justice, well-informed and activist-types. She is also the karpukkarasi, patthini who puts ‘thaai naadu’ ahead of the ‘thaali’ (but will die right after her husband anyway).


At the backdrop of a crucial time in Indian history, the film is bound to reflect the independence fervor of the time. While that is natural and nothing to croon about, the way the references are made is what makes it interesting. While the entire film has extremely intriguing conversations, I’ll just look at the climax sequence to make my point:

When Usha finds out that Raajan is working with the Japanese to bomb Chennai and is planning to run away once the bomb is dropped, they enter into a verbose dialogue. Some key things that I find intriguing.

While talking of Indian history and the fall of the (glorious) empire, Usha quotes from her knowledge of history, which she claims is ‘balanced’:

“Ibrahim Lodi-kkum avanai saarndha Muslim sagotharargalukkum erpatta porattathin kaaranamaaga Afganistan-ilirundha Babar-ai India-virku azhaitthu, Mughal-aaya saamraajjiyatthai India’vil erpaduttinaargal.”

“Arcot Nawab-ugalukkul erpatta thagaraarai thangalukku saadhagam aakki konda British kaarargal indru varai India pooraavum aandu varugiraargal.”

As proof that any foreign intervention has only caused trouble to the Indian empire, trying to explain to Raajan that the interference of the Japanese would not be very different. Then, she goes on:

“..aandavanin vazhi, anbu vazhi, India-vin anaiyaa vilakku, vedhanthigalaal ettappattu, pinbu Gauthama Buddhanaal thoondappattu, Sangarar, Raamaanujar, Paramahamsar, Vivekanandar, ivargalaal paadhukaakkappattu vandha vilakkum adhu thaan. Indru irundu kidakkum ulagukke udhaya suriyan pol thondrum Gaandhi adigalil kaiyyil kozhundhu vitteriyum jothiyum adhuve”

You see the bias there?

From India, it moves to Tamizhnadu.

“Pandai Tamizhnaattil por kalathilirundhu pura mudhugu kaati odi varum magangalai kolla thunindhaargal Tamizhnaattu veera thaaimaargal”

“Than kanavanukku nerndha avamaanathai thudaikka oru nagaratthaiye erikka thayaaraga irundhaal indha mannil pirandha Kannagi”

After discussing for the sake of Tamizhnaadu, “naan ungalai kolla thayaar”, she says “aanal neengal irandha pin naan adhiga naal uyirodu irukka maatten”

While I insist these sort of messages are part reflective of popular opinion, one must also note that the inherent biases of Director S Balachander and dialogue writer Javer Seetharaman are perhaps what is seen here.

It’s a given that Andha Naal is an entertaining film able to hold audience attention even after half a century since its making. In its simplicity is its sophistication. Having been a commercial failure, leading AVM never again to make a film of this sort, Andha Naal was failed to intrigue the audience of its time. For a casual weekend afternoon film, Andha Naal is a pleasure. Takes you through several layers of meanings, knots of cleverness and seemingly simple story line. Munk would have you watch it for the genius that is Sivaji Ganesan, well, whatever rocks your boat, watch it anyway!

Me (@_Drunkenmunk):

Andha Naal is known as the film without songs. AVM did not bother to enter into such arena much after this film bombed. But this film deserves to be dissected for in my opinion this is one of its kind served by a fantastic actor just 2 years into his career.

First, the times in which it is set in intrigues. Second World War (WW) is where the plot bases its motive around a bombing which happened for real, and it piqued me since I have only read on Emden, the German submarine, bombing Madras in the First WW. This was news to me.

That said, the mystery in the plot seems to be an excuse to stage the film and study the characters, their shades and have some terrific debates. Back then, the mystery itself might have seemed relevant, with the detective cracking it and all that jazz. Today, it seems a straightforward case being cracked in a couple of days (by a simple fingerprint of Usha’s, obtained by Sivanandam). We can see through the mystery today. While that might be attributed to the film’s time, it will be harsh to blame the filmmaker today for having a rather simple mystery (from today’s ‘from-the-top-of-the-perch-retrospective’ standards). Having said that, what happens around this mystery is mighty interesting. The murder is used to study multiple points of view. Again, this might make it easy to dismiss this film today by saying this style was serviced from Rashomon (seen similar dismissals for Virumandi too in the online world. This piece) and that will be sad because it will miss the point.

Andha Naal uses the time and setting in Chennai (film calls it Chennai repeatedly, not Madras) to study multiple points of view (in retrospect, for film was released in 1954 and the pivotal event in the film happens in 1943, a kind of looking back at times gone by then) and Andha Naal also goes its own way to reflect the times through these multiple POVs. Hence, stripping the film off its ‘easy’ mystery and its inspiration from Rashomon, we still have a lot to take away from it.

What stands out even right in the beginning is the continuity in logic. Like when we mention 402 and 504, the Inspector gives instructions to 402, turns around, quickly chats with CID Sivanandam, and turns back to 402 and asks him not to forget the instruction. We are momentarily distracted by the chat that we also come to our senses with that instruction. What about a ‘short’ Chinnayya (who knows if this was a subtext for his character too, he comes across as a guy, not the only one admittedly, with his shades of grey) and where Rajan tells Ambujam in their conversation before his murder (from Hema’s version) “nee andha kuLLa kubEran’idamE pO” is a throwaway that it is Chinnayya. Of course, the plot reveals it to be Chinnayya soon enough. The belated “oh” of Sivanandam is also ours, if we did not notice Rajan’s “kuLLa kubEran” 🙂 (Remember earlier that Chinnayya did boast to Sivanandam and the inspector that all this wealth is his and so on).

Also, it is important to note that all these are from Hema’s mouth.

Here, I would like to look at every version for what happens in them during their depictions of the murder.

Hema’s version:

She obviously has not seen Ambujam kill Rajan (eventually turns out it was not Ambujam) and yet, we see her version of how-it-might-have-panned-out dialogues with Rajan and Ambujam interacting (a clever camouflage for Hema’s, and as it turns out every other character’s narration of how the murder would have panned out). Hema knows Chinnaya was Ambujam’s patron. We see that in the ‘kuLLa kubEran’ comment. Ambujam asking Rajan if he considers she was a vEsi and Rajan replying “illayA?” are also Hema’s judgments on Ambujam’s character, as is her “kuLLa kubEran” on Chinnayya from Rajan’s mouth. The film passes on so much silently.

Ambujam’s version:

To elaborate further, Ambujam’s version on Chinnayya being the murderer passes on Rajan telling Chinnayya in a sardonic tone, “idhellaam en kitta kEkka unakkE vekkamaa illa?”, and Chinnayya’s pleas bring us to nearly feel sorry for Chinnayya but again, this is how Ambujam holds Chinnayya, a desperate and lonely old man. She has a sarcastic contempt for the old man. We aren’t shown anything on Chinnayya’s family, are we? A man of his age and wealth ought to have a happy family, no?

Chinnayya’s version:

Similarly, Chinnayya passing on comments from Pattabhi about Rajan being a kaliyuga Raman in his version on what would have happened between Pattabhi and Rajan is worth noting. Notice that Rajan cheats on his wife, with Chinnayya’s guilty pleasure, Ambujam. What depth there in that dialog there, mocking him to be a Raman via Pattabhi, while we get to unravel the truth later on with the Chinnayya-Ambujam-Rajan’s triangle! Again, Pattabhi saying “yaarukku vENum indha kaasu? yEn baagatha kudu’na…” in Chinnayya’s version can easily be Chinnayya himself asking his share (Ambujam). Chinnayya’s frustrations and anger at Rajan finds vent with such subtle brilliance in the film. Understated excellence!

Pattabhi’s version:

Again, in Pattabhi’s version, Rajan tells Hema “…akkarai irundhaa? purushana aattu kuttiyaa va aakuradhu?”and “onakku budhi seri illa”. Again, it is Rajan who is a camouflage for Pattabhi here for what Pattabhi, a presumably meek man from his conversation in the shed with Rajan (a breaking point of sorts for Pattabhi who also get poked for being a ‘poNdAtti dAsan’). It is a smart film, not for the mystery, but for what the film does around it.

Also, Ambujam tells Rajan in the park for real, “naan irukkara nelama theriyaama pEsareengaLE” twice before letting him know she is pregnant. Once while they begin to speak that we might miss this out and again, when she finally reveals what is truth. Sivaji is mind blowing here. His வாஞ்சை is entirely genuine till then and full of love. But the moment he learns she is pregnant, his face turns pale which is evident to us even in that half dark evening and his tone suddenly changes to an artificial one.

Sivaji in lou

Sivaji in love

Artificial Sivaji

Sivaji being artificial

Similarly, when talking to Pattabhi on kaliyuga Raman and Bharathan in Chinnayya’s version much before we get to know his adultery, he lets loose a single eyed, PS Veerappa-eque glare at Pattabhi upon hearing the word “Raman” (even in Chinnayya’s imagination, this is plausible, because that is how Chinnaya would expect Rajan, an adulterous husband, to react). Sivaji is servicing Chinnayya’s imagination here. What subtle genius!

Sivaji Pattabhi

Again, in Ambujam’s version, when she is out to get water for Chinnayya in their picnic spot, we must note Rajan’s roving eyes which cast glances at Ambujam (not in the screen) with desire. Again, with Ambujam not being present there but narrating this, Sivaji servicing Ambujam’s imagination of her own complacency in her beauty (which makes her think Rajan looked at her) is all the more striking. She sees Rajan only after the interaction between Chinnayya and Rajan is done (during which time Rajan looks at her).

Sivaji looks

Rajan apparently looking at Ambujam as he chats with Chinnayya (not in frame)

The way Rajan’s character unravels; from a tough brother in a domestic trouble with his sibling (can’t judge who is right here) on to facing the brunt of his hysteric sister-in-law’s rage (we just might feel for him here) down to discovering him cheating on his wife and finally devolving into a traitor; is a delight. It is my pet peeve that most of Sivaji’s genius goes unnoticed because they are incredibly subtle and what stands out is his so called ‘overacting’.

The film also has a number of interesting moments like Ambujam letting Rajan know over a game of chess (with a ‘Ram Studio’ shining in the dark in the background, a cruel joke it looks like on an adulterous husband), “unga Raani close”. It does seem like she is referring to his wife, though Rajan immediately tells her “adhaan yen Raani nee irukkiyE”. But I refuse to take it lying there. The film does have enough ironic moments like this (Rajan telling Chinnayya for instance that he heard of Ambujam through a newspaper called ‘NambAdhE’. You blink and these moments are gone). Right there, and this is Ambujam’s version, we do feel sorry for Chinnayya who pleads to a young turk in Rajan, and Ambujam. So Ambujam offering Chinnayya his wealth back is open to interpretation (coming from Ambujam this to the CID and the inspector in her version).

Ram Studio

‘Ram Studio’ in the background as Rajan cheats on his wife with Ambujam

Usha and Rajan’s debate is a class apart. It has the necessary sparks and some admirable balance that we, like the audience in the film, want both of them to carry on during their respective speeches. While I was beginning to get disappointed at the writing when Veerappan stokes passions, Jaavar Seetharaman and S Balachander were laughing all over me by making Rajan speak and following it up with Usha. Veerappan serves as a brilliant foil here. The balance in the debate is noteworthy because even in modern, acclaimed and rather well made films like ‘Anbe Sivam’, such a balance is absent (communism vs capitalism). Also, while the murder takes place in 1943, Rajan’s apparent anti-national rhetoric in college was several years earlier and at a time when Subhas Chandra Bose had not yet gone to Hitler. Released in 1954, this was the retrospective view the film takes. It doesn’t judge either point of view, for Usha herself feels for an anti-national Rajan (பச்சாதாபம் as she calls it) amid the ஆட்டு மந்தை which first laughed, then applauded (as Rajan predicted) and again laughed at Rajan. Rajan’s ஞானச் செருக்கு later on, is also clearly identifiable with because we have seen the full வீரியம் of his brilliance. Just the fact that he goes anti-national and doesn’t mind killing millions and destroying Tamil Nadu turns us against him. Again, how much of this would a person like SC Bose have envisioned before joining and seeking help from the Axis, is open to guesses.

The film, by placing itself in its times of historical importance and structuring its plot around those events (Rajan aids the real-life bombing in the film) closely, asks itself and us relevant questions through debates and dialogues and also offers a smattering of the culture then (Usha, the legally wedded wife, empathizing with Ambujam than feel indignant) at least in films, the view points and prejudices of every character coming camouflaged expertly (that S Balachander internalized Rashomon so well to an Indian set up is laudable) and hence places itself as a very important film, whose setting, cultural and political debates can be extrapolated even today.

Related links

Five years ago, film historian Randor Guy wrote about Andha Naal: He talks of the performances, techniques and inspirations of the film here.

While writing about Sivaji Ganesan’s filmography, Randor Guy remarks that he was the third choice for the role in the film. In fact, he goes on to say several nice things about the actor. Here.

S Balachander’s nephew writes a long piece on the Director. Well, there is the entire portfolio of SB there. But for a look into SB’s background and the cultural/ political influences he may have brought into his films, this is an interesting account.


Filed under Filim, Nadigar Thilagam

Aboorva Sagodharargal

Aboorva Sagodharargal was re-watched yesterday and as always it led to a discussion where I promised to pen down why I thought this truly is the greatest Tamil film made for the pleasure of mankind. So here goes.

It is interesting to note that this film was the second script after the first one was discarded by Kamal and this itself was majorly toned down for violence because Ilayaraaja and Panchu Arunachalam did not approve of the amount of violence there initially was. Now this in itself seems like an ode to Sam Peckinpah. One wonders how the unadulterated violence would be in the original.  This film is the biggest ode to Tamil cinema itself. I say this because this film was conceived in April 1987 (as detailed in this blog by a Bollywood filmmaker). In a conversation recently on twitter, @dagalti mentioned how Kamal and Rajni following on Sivaji and MGR respectively is a misnomer and went on to make a case that Kamal’s films are replete with hat tips to MGR (Sakalavallavan being a rehash of Periya Idathu Penn, references to Vaathiyar in Kaakkichattai and in the song Singari Sarakku Nalla Sarakku, Kamal and MGR being trained fighters, whereas we see Rajni experiment with roles early on and do a clutch of films with Sivaji too, Justice Gopinath, Naan Vazha Vaippen, Padikkadhavan and later Padayappa, both Rajni and Sivaji being rather limited fighters) and we associate Rajni with MGR today because of certain mannerisms only they can pull off and Kamal with Sivaji because he did experiment with characters after MGR’s demise. I find it eminently worthwhile a thought for we have MGR’s debut film called Sadhi Leelavathi, MGR acting in a 1939 film, Maya Machindra, a 1951 film of his called Marmayogi (Kamal planned but shelved a film of the same name) and Vettaiyadu Vilaiyadu being an MGR song. The title Aboorva Sagodharargal itself is rehashed from the 1949 MK Radha starrer which MGR remade in 1971 as Neerum Neruppum. The case is most definitely made.

In that context, I would place Aboorva Sagodharargal as Kamal’s ultimate ode to the legacy of MGR, written immediately before and after MGR’s demise in 1987. The basic story is about the villain(s) killing the heroes’ father, twins separated at birth, as Manorama exclaims “innA da idhu, tentu kottAiyila VaathiyAru padam pAkkura mAri double actu!” (they are suggested to have been born in 1960 when Appu asks for papers later on in the library), the kids growing up to be the respective heroes, Appu telling Kaveri, his mother, that he is an “Ulagam Sutrum Valiban” on top of the globe in the circus, the heroine being the daughter of (one of) the villain(s), Appu twirling his fingers on his nose a la MGR in Nadodi Mannan in Pudhu Mapillaikki, Raja and Janaki singing a duet (Vaazhavaikkum Kadhalukku Jai) around a sationary car; a la Pesuvadhu Kiliya in Panathottam and the heroes eventually extracting revenge on the villain(s). It’s a template; formula driven Tamil masala film with MGR peppered everywhere. But what mastery within this genre that overflows with originality in every frame!

The film brims with irony everywhere. Right from deliciously naming the villains Dharmaraj, Anbarasu, Sathyamoorthy (the lawyer!!) and Nallasivam, Kamal the writer seems to be sardonically peering over every scene. Right from Raja and Janaki dancing, singing and romancing with a dead body on a truck, Raja nearly making love with Janaki as her father is murdered, policemen setting off the burglar alarm (Janakaraj’s bumbling Pink Panther-esque ways eventually nabbing the culprit (can’t help see Kamal the writer as a pale shadow in a poor Dasavatharam where a bumbling Balram Naidu eventually nabs Fletcher) adds to the already brilliance-bursting-at-the-seams film), Raja wanting to remain in the jail but the policemen driving him out of jail (!) and the extraordinary murder of Francis Anbarasu by Appu in KuLLanchavadi, dark irony (black humor?) explodes throughout the film beneath the surface but once you notice it, it is extremely hard to miss out. With Kamal, it is eminently admissible to read into every frame. You often come away feeling rewarded. One such moment that had me gob smacked was when Raja is on the run from the police, he is on the road and there is graffiti on the wall which reads ADMK Janaki (this right after MGR’s death mind you) and points to a direction where Raja runs to. What understated humor, playing on Crazy Mohan’s fad and the heroine’s name! I am justified in saying this film is original awesomeness in every frame here (and you GET this only if you are Tamil).


The film uses animals to great effect and that is apparent on its surface when we see animals used for killing the antagonists, playfully and also in macabre ways.  Peering beneath the surface also we can see more references. The first frame of the film is a duck. When the villains try to kill Sethupathi and poison Kaveri, Sethupathi tries to save her and while doing so, almost covers her and their child(ren) in a near motherly animal embrace, applicable to every single animal mother in duress, including humans. Dharmaraj as to impress on what would follow, exclaims, “kiLi koovudhu” to refer to Srividhya and “Saadhu meraNdA, veedu koLLAdhu” to refer to Sathyamoorthy instead of the conventional kaadu koLLAdhu. It most definitely makes a case for Kamal the writer subverting habitats intentionally.


Appu uses animals to kill 3 of the 4 antagonists and while using the tiger to kill Nallasivam, he oddly reminds one of Ayyappan as he sits on top of the tiger which carries him giving an appearance of tiger-man. Just when the irony of an Ayyappan reference while killing a character named Sivam sinks in, Janaki rubs it into Raja asking if he is a “Deiva Piravi” when he is in prison as a tiger-man denying he has ever seen his dad. Well, make your conclusions. As Appu kills Dharmaraj, one can quite easily imagine Kamal murmuring, “Feed him to the lions” 🙂 The attention to details. Flies flying over Nallasivam’s corpse. David’s pant stained with blood above his buttocks as Sethupathy drags him out of the car breaking the glass as he drags David on to the field outside in the initial scene. Muniamma telling Kaveri “un puLLa kolagAran illa” suggesting an anxiety of letting the true mother know that she has not been a bad foster mother. The sequence comes across beautifully.

Appu’s character is the piece de resistance. A midget, suffering from an inferiority complex and ridicule from the world outside who doesn’t mind joking with his mother, “nee pAthu naa yEn vaLarala?” is completely shattered when his mother belittles him in front of the circus owner and the rest of the circus. What is more is she indirectly suggests that she herself would disapprove if Mano married Appu. And how easily the rest of the world treats him with Mano telling him that he and his friends would be the “entertainment” for her Reception night (to be fair to Mano, she only tells Appu “kalyaNam paNNikka pOrOm” while giving him the ring and not a word more), Vincent’s friend Kannan poking fun at Appu in the most obnoxious way and a learned magistrate also sharing a laugh at Appu’s real age. It would all sear the midget. His poignant dialog with his mother after he attempts suicide where he says “nee edhu sonnAlum enakkadhu pathu madangu ma” holds interesting parallels to the kid in Mumbai Xpress telling Manisha Koirala, “nee solradhu dhAne ma naa serious aa eduthuppEn” while attempting suicide (almost tempted to write down anga kozhandha, inga dwarf. Aana prechanai ellAm oNNu dhAn). When Kaveri tells her son it could be her fault that he is a dwarf because she consumed poison, he buys it. She only suggests “naa vesham kuduchadhunAla dhAn unakkippidi AyirukkumO?” and how could quickly he takes it lock stock and barrel, making a case for a scorned midget simply looking for a reason to let lose all the pent up frustrations and anger in a legitimate way than a conventional case of revenge. We however would never know. But the masterstroke is when Kamal makes us buy his anger as ours, that beautiful word called அறசீற்றம், as Kaveri looks on with Appu throwing Dharmaraj to the lions with Ilayaraaja’s adrenaline pumping background score lifting the rage in the scene several notches.

To conclude, I can speak on every scene forever but it just cannot praise this film enough. Mind you, this was a blockbuster across languages. It subverts the genre of masala in the most outrageously brilliant way and still entertains heartily without compromising on any masala element that I will go out on a limb and say that if this does not qualify as Tamil cinema’s ode to the Indian cinema tradition of entertainment, nothing will.


Filed under Filim, Ilayaraja, Kamal

Assorted thoughts on Navarathri, Naan Petra Selvam and Thillana Mohanambal

What follows are a collection of tweets involving a bunch of conversations over the last 2 weeks between @dagalti and me over Navarathri (which happened on the back of a silly Sivaji vs Nagesh debate on twitter) and my thoughts on Naan Petra Selvam and Thillana Mohanambal (the italicized portions are my thoughts in this post in addition to my tweets). Kindly forgive the Tamil written in English.



@dagalti Revisited Navarathri after a long time, possibly only the second time I’m watching the film fully. Thanks to the TL, intend to revisit all Sivaji films I can lay my hands on 🙂 And what a lovely film! The plot is done away with in the premise itself with Nalina’s dad approving of her marriage through serendipity. What follows are the different dimensions of emotions. And though it studies them through Sivaji, the film is driven by Savithri (wow Nadigaiyar Thilagam Thilagam dhaan. andha therukkoothu oNNu pOdhum).

Was reminded of your post (do check it out) on Virumandi. Each episode is about one character making the other talk. How expertly APN fleshes out every story from each character by making them talk through the other character! Arputharaj speaks through Nalina. Nalina speaks through Sollava kadhai sollava after she is overwhelmed by Arputharaj’s affection (very important to service the flow of the plot that it does not happen immediately and Kannadasan sketches the story till then in the song beautifully. “avarukkendrE naan irundhEn avarillai. ingE avaLukkendrE avar irundhum avaLillai” <O–<). The drunkard speaks when he is driven to a corner by Nalina. Lovely! When Nalina meets the murattu Sivaji who is killed, Sivaji’s voice modulation at “en thambi enna seivAn?” is EXACTLY the same as “nee paduchavan aachE?” in Thevar Magan. Again, those who credit Kamal and Bharathan ought to take notes here. Kamal indeed makes a case for Sivaji when he writes “EllAm pazhaya murukku thEn.”

The details. A clutch of mirrors in a room in a brothel. Whattay! Sivaji’s sense of timing with Nagesh when he modulates with only “Saami” to the different demands of Nagesh. Would dare say Sivaji wins the battle of subtlety in an unfortunately subtle way here 🙂 Savitri’s pleasant surprise before the leper Singaram realizes that the doctor is his beneficiary, indicating she has realized. Wow! Sivaji’s portrayal of the leper. Heard an anecdote that he had a schedule for Muradan Muthu in the morning and injured his leg in a fight. He used that to service the limping leper. idhai ellAm enna nu solradhu? deivAdheenamA illa genius aa? MR Radha’s leper in Ratha Kanneer is the crude, lecherous leper. Sivaji is the rich sophisticated guy who became a leper. And we can SEE that in his body language. Again, indha padathayE muzhukka okkAndhu study paNNalAm’ngrEn.

APN’s screenplays are darn impressive. The film has a premise set up which leads it to every episode and each episode has a premise, body and a mini climax leading to the final climax. And where Anandhan and Nalina meet. yeppA! kaNNAlayE reNdu pErum pEsi koNNuduvAnga. Subtlety max dhAn adhu.

APN’s other screenplays too. Thiruvilayadal for instance. Film has a premise which leads to each viLayAttu. And each sub-episode has a premise, body and its mini-climax. Admired him. ippo madham mAri kanvart to fanboi.


@_Drunkenmunk exactly!

It is not a movie that ‘happened’ to have 9 rasas-9 Sivajis.
The purpose of the movie is that – how many of the ‘realism-fundamentalists’ even grasp that?

Some of the characters/performances tease you – he is doing to giving fullest expression to the rasa- the actor is not servicing the character here at all. The character is a vehicle for the emotion, which the a super-actor can express. And yet, just when you thought he was in enjoyable gimmick mode- he hands it back to you:

Arputharaj with his shoulder jiggle, ‘nonsense’ and ‘Nalina’ – the way he says that is 😀 – creates the feeling of curiosity that the character is supposed to. After Savitri exits the scene – right before the sollavA song – he switches on the radio. The line ‘peNNendru boomidhanil piRandhu vittAl…’ is said. He pauses, chews on the line , repeats it ruefully. Film of tears in his eyes, his expression completely changed – he is on to something totally poignant. And at that precise moment he jiggles the shoulders and arms the same way and walks off. The hithero gimmicky gesture suddenly seems weighty.

It is like he makes you feel bad for noticing the gesture more than the man. Sivaji wasn’t caricaturing. He was showing a man with a quirk – but still a real man.

Another one:

The iravinil Attam guy has a long monologue where he tells his story – curious angle for that shot. He is chewing on an apple when talking. What he is narrating is painful. But the emotion of his narration is not. It’s like he is talking about past pains that he is trying to get the better of – that’s what that night is about for him. He is mimicking the lines spoken by his wife – in a tone which is desolate but also beyond the point of caring. Superhuman acting!

Has such a ‘moment’ been created before or since in Tamil cinema. Glad you thought of the VirumAndi re-intro scene. I did too 🙂

But you see how VirumANdi is still ‘simple’ – he travels along with the emotion (which is appropriate for the movie/character). But what Sivaji is doing is even more subtle – as what the character demands at that point. Phenomenon!


@_Drunkenmunk Camera angle for that shot- slightly low and tilted up. So he would have had to crouch a bit and maintain that to be in the center of the frame when delivering all those lines – whilst still slightly swaying like a drunk.

One line where he is quoting his wife. Something on the lines…”indha veettulayE…oru moolaila irundhukkurEn <pause> ‘nga appadinnu sonnA”

An apple chewing frikking pause that communicates his distance from the emotion of what he is saying.

He was clearly having fun packing so much into moments of the film.

Nagesh-aamle…enakku innum pongi pongi varudhu 🙂


@equanimus @dagalti And regarding Navarathri, forgot to mention one point in the first tweet. The leper, when being helped by Nalina, cringes and finally moved by her goodness, exclaims that his faith in truth and humanity have been restored by her. I couldn’t help but see, maybe an unrelated, but plausible parallel to Rashomon where the priest exclaims finally that his faith in humanity has been restored to the woodcutter. While the moment is enough to engulf us there, this is more of a simple melodrama as compared to the mastery of plot merging with the moment there. But I did feel my eyes moisten a wee bit here. Possibly because of the force of Sivaji’s performance. Or I am just a sucker for well made melodrama 🙂

Naan Petra Selvam:

Sivaji in Naan Petra Selvam loses his wife who delivers a child some 1.5 hrs into the film. What was a template, dated film till then gets life here with the acting of this artiste. He wants to follow his wife to death but is stopped upon seeing his child being born beside his dead wife. The actor is in his element, but that is not all. Just when we thought the pathos cannot be enacted any better, he slaps us for underestimating him. He leaps to his wife, grabs her hair and abuses her as though he’d abuse a vile villain (you must see the scene for the amount of disrespect he brings in) for leaving him with a responsibility. He brings the coward in the character (gets caught for theft a few mins back in the film) out with such nuance that you hang your head in shame for underestimating the genius. Voila!

The sequence: Do forward to 1:37:35 and watch till 1:39:53:

Post Script: He could do this routinely in every film. There would always be a moment where he would rise above the script. A true hallmark of a great actor. Also, the initial sequences of this film have a simplified version of Thiruvilayadal’s Nakkeerar-Siva Perumaan debate on clarifying Shenbaga Pandiyan’s doubt (Naan Petra Selvam was written by APN, who directed Thiruvilayadal almost a decade later). Just that, we have Sivaji playing both Nakkeerar and Siva Peruman on stage (while he plays only a single role in the film), the filmmakers winking their eyes at us. Enjoyable. We can see Sivaji giving more effort to Nakkeerar (early on in his career, this film coming in 1956, making it rather understandable, that in an oeuvre of an extraordinary artiste,  he always goes for the more challenging roles). It almost reminds us of his Socrates in Raja Rani.

Thillana Mohanambal:


@dagalti Wanted to get back yesterday itself on Thillana Mohanambal 🙂 Aside the fact that it’s a great film, it’s possible to see why.

The way the characters are etched to the way the scenes flow is one thing. But the songs are placed as a medium for the hero and heroine to communicate (even though, more importantly, they are supposed to be performing for an audience. Be it Maraindhirundhu (tuned by KVM in Shanmugapriya for Shanmugam or Nalamthaana. I loved that they could indulge with the lead pair forgetting the audiences while the song still remains on stage and is performed primarily for the audience).

Vaithy and Mohana are great characters but Shanmugam gets life only through Sivaji and it is unimaginable to see another actor do what he did, i.e. storm out of the tent kottAi in anger in Nagapattinam, come back, mumble in anger, leave again, come back again and mumble more in anger (it is enjoyable to see that he is still simmering in anger and is not finding the words and is coming back and simmering more. What an actor!), finally after slapping Mohana and realizing through the Maharaja that she is faultless and looking at his hands, first in surprise that it actually hit Mohana and immediately with disgust. Fab! Or that scene where he praises her after the “contest” in ThiruvaiyAru which you speak about. That “goppurAnE sathiyama” 😀 Or in Nalam thaana where a film of tears form upon hearing the lines “kaN pattdhAl undhan mEniyilE, puN pattadhO adhai nAn arivEn.” Wow! idhai ellaam overacting nu solra pasangala naan paathurukkEn. ennatha solla.

Sikkal’s character itself is a very beautifully etched one. Earlier, he tells Muthuraaku “enakku nalladhu kettadhu ellAm theriyum” outside Mohana’s house upon seeing Singapuram Minor. Later, he realizes what he truly knows through Mary and remarks, “naan nalladhu kettadhu edhuvumE theriyAdha oru keNathu thavaLaiyAvE irundhuttEn”. But he still doesn’t seem to learn and ends up showing his rage on Mohana in the end (even more evident when he signs the agreement not paying heed to his brother’s advice and regrets it later). A beautiful statement on the flawed human nature! Realizing your fault is one thing. But learning from it is a different kettle of fish and it takes an APN and Sivaji to bring it out with such nuance.

Manorama’s Karupaayee/Jil Jil Ramamani/Rosa Rani is also an equally fascinating character. We are given a hint that she could be close to Nagalingam in her first scene itself and when she has a tense monologue before going to save Mohana that she would not let Mohana’s life be spoiled by Nagalingam like hers, it is confirmed. She remarking to Shanmugam that the reason for her name change is because she is being hounded by Nagalingam for saving Mohana tells us that he has cut her off. But finally when she tells Mohana and Shanmugam during their wedding (after blaming Nagalingam and Shanmugam responding that he has got just desserts and is in prison), “avuga seyil lEndhu vandha piragAvudhu en kooda sagajamA irundhA seri thEn”, she suggests that she hasn’t cut him off despite all that he has subjected her to. A sorry situation to land up for an innocent character. APN-Manorama tell us pretty much Jil Jil’s life in those 4 scenes without actually showing what happened for us. That will truly stand out for me from this film. Master director!

Do read @dagalti’s blog on Thillana Mohanambal here.


Filed under Filim, Nadigar Thilagam

Sivaji and the art of Nine Rasas

How does one define who a true actor is on screen? For an admittedly cinema crazy society, I think I can pass that question to start this post without sounding odd. Yours truly happened to be tagged in a tweet yesterday saying Nagesh was a better actor than Sivaji by a good friend. Being a Sivaji fan, I had to register due disagreements. It soon turned into a conversation with one other friend and I promised to clarify why I thought “Sivaji is the greatest actor Tamil (arguably Indian) screen has seen is an objective truth” and not simply a fanboi-chest-beating-routine we associate with almost every actor under the sun these days.

Coming back to my question, knowledgeable people in cinema have defined acting to fall primarily in 2 categories. One is the Stanislovski School of method acting where the actor immerses in a character and reflects it by living as the character. Marlon Brando, Dustin Hoffman and Mammooty and Kamal Hassan in India are fine examples of method acting. The other school is studying a character from outside and acting its life spontaneously. There are instances of the 2 schools crossing paths when Laurence Olivier is said to have famously remarked to director John Schlesinger in the sets of Marathon Man, upon seeing a starving Hoffman trying to get into the shoes of a prisoner in a dungeon, “Hasn’t the boy ever heard of acting?” I approve. While the former school is appreciable, the latter seems to get to my undivided admiration. I would categorize Sivaji and Nagesh as falling in the latter school. There are tales of Nagesh studying a madcap outside the Kabali Temple (?) in Mylapore and reflecting it for Dharami’s அங்கலாய்ப்பு in Thiruvilayadal. A truly great actor. But greater than Sivaji? The points that get laid in favor of Nagesh are his subtle genius and the fact that he is far better at comedy and dancing compared to Sivaji. While I am duty bound to point out that a comedian is supposed to be better than others at comedy, I was also asked a rather pertinent question about how Sivaji has overdone the Navarasas while Nagesh can be said to have unquestionably aced most of them without any real effort. While the point about Nagesh being an effortless, versatile actor is true and I must confess to being a big admirer of Nagesh, the question prompted me to declare “I shall twitlong the Navarasas of Sivaji to emphatically prove my point.” That shall be the goal of this post. If you are not turned off yet after realizing I am yet to start my post, congratulations. Read on.

Speaking of Navarasas, I have decided to bravely stay away from Navarathri despite the fact that the film is essentially a study of emotions and the fact that Sivaji brilliantly aces a therukkoothu. A streetplay artiste is taught to shout to reach the audience, for streetplay does not allow a mic, and sing and present the play. Acting unfortunately does not figure high up in his priorities. He will have exaggerated body movements. If we take a look at the koothu in Navarathri, neither Sivaji nor Savithri express their eyes (Savithri’s haiyo at 2 and half minutes is ROFL). So much for being the respective Nadigar and Nadigayar Thilagams. As an aside, it does show that they have superbly understood the character within the character (for this is an episode from the film where the actors play actors).

I shall jog along to bring up the facet of romance/love, an essential rasa to express for any actor worth his salt. I was reminded of an excellent post by @complicateur where he takes up the case of Kannile Iruppadhenna from Ambikapathi where the hero is separated from his love and sings along, for he is a poet by birth, in sorrow. As he sings and starts describing his love, he is reminded of his lover and he becomes happy in her thoughts. In under a couple of minutes, the actor is able to transfer his face from sorrow to happiness and in doing so, reminds us of the fact that he is thinking of his lover. How many actors can reflect such a subtle emotion of actually being in love without spelling it out, I don’t know. So much for having an overacting label too.

While this is more of viraha thaabam than actually romancing the heroine, he has shown us he is capable of making us love even a portrait. Chithiram pesudhadi is a beautiful song. The actor does not see his lover but sings to her portrait he is drawing. The free strokes from Sivaji on her hair, தல முடிய கோதிவிடராப்போல, for the want of a better English word, with a body language that brings all the Sringaram, is a delight, especially where he fondles her lips. Subtle, underplayed and classy.

Moving on, rage, when portrayed by great actors can be rousing. Being an admirer of Godfather I and II, one feels immensely smug that Sivaji, 4 years before Coppola started making those classics, reflected a rather iconic scene of Al Pacino slapping Kay Adams in Uyarndha Manidhan in his own inimitable way. You might be turned off by “owner of seven mills, a hundred staffs and fifty thousand acres of fertile land”. But then, a guy slowly exploding has to burst somewhere and it happens there. Apart from questioning the larger point of their existence, brushing aside Sowcar Janaki with arrogance and finally morphing into a beast, the man lets it rip and makes Sowcar, a competent actor herself, look like a novice. He has also portrayed different aspects of rage with the instance above being domestic rage (?). As Samrat Ashoka in Annaiyin AaNai, you can see a sadistic rage in the eyes.


The man cannot be told to have made people laugh like Nagesh, for Nagesh was a class comedian. However, since I will only stick to Sivaji and his genius, I shall not compare him anywhere with Nagesh but just bring out a funny scene with the credits shared with Balayya. In ThiruviLayAdal, as the wood cutter/seller/Lord Shiva rolled into one, the conversation he has with Balayya after Paattum Naane is such a joy. His look of bewilderment and confusion as Balayya speaks chaste Tamil (supposedly faux for he is the Lord) is LOL. And he gets the Madurai accent topped with pEyureega and movaraiyula. Now who the heck knows how people spoke in Madurai 2000 years back? A classic case of an actor bringing his element of interpretation to a rustic character in a period film. Genius. (Unrelated, but the Kalyani that plays in the background as Balayya feels remorse is soul stirring. Also the scene itself is an understated Meta as Balayya falls at the woodcutter’s feet and is stopped by him. And he is the Lord!)

An actor is also marked by his versatility and needless to say, Sivaji excels. My most favorite portrayal of Sivaji’s is Andha Naal. A subdued, underplayed, villainous role. He had done such brilliant roles very early in his career after Parasakthi, Thirumbi Paar where he is a leach who buys a girl without knowing she is his sister and Andha Naal where he is a traitor, being the earliest. The look of horror on his face comes thrice in the climax. First on seeing the radio system broken, next on seeing Pandari Bai with the gun (with admiration and amazement, another rasa as a matter of fact), trying to speak his way through with opportunism in the eyes as she loses her grip, and finally back to horror due to pain upon being shot. Pure, underplayed class!

When we speak of Sivaji it is hard to not bring Thevar Magan into picture. That scene between Sivaji and Kamal in the rain is celebrated, not without reason. Be it Periya Thevar’s disgust (another of the rasas) at his son’s cowardice, asking Sakthi to do his duty or catching his shirt in anger and Sakthi’s subsequent shock and surprise indicating his soft upbringing of a guy never used to being yelled at, as Thevar follows with “thAyillAdha puLLanu ooti ooti vaLathEnE”, Sivaji is right up there. But in the beginning when Periya Thevar asks his son, “kOvil kumbudathAnnu pEsuneeyaLE, ippa indha oorOda nelama unguLukku purunjudhA?”, Sivaji’s distinct change in tone as he shifts on his couch as he speaks is unmistakable. I presume they only dubbed in the studios in the early 90s. That we often miss such finer nuances covering Sivaji with the mask of overacting is quite sad.

Talk of grace, i.e. KAruNyam, compassion and tragedy, Karnan springs to mind. Anyone one can try the role. But doing what he did requires him. The sardonic look at Krishna, hinting that he might after all know who the old Brahmin is as he gives away his Dharmam, ought to be preserved and shown for grace under tragedy. Talk of bravery and I will illustrate Kandhan Karunai where Sivaji, a star in 1967, played second fiddle to Sivakumar as Veerabahu and his scene with Asokan (Surapadman) is so brilliant that I wonder how we’ve let this pass under the radar. Dialogs are enjoyable, as they are meant to be, but the stance of the man as he ends the scene prophesizing as a giant and he confronts Surapadman is mindblowing genius. To prove I’m not dealing with only hyperboles, he creates his own throne in front of Surapadman and laughs. The next moment, he is seated on the throne and the laugh continues with Sivaji rocking to and fro on the throne to make the laugh seem seamless. Who taught this actor to do that? That is genius.

I am sucker for Kannadasan’s genius so I will leave with one example of Sivaji where he exhibits calmness (Shanta) under duress. Mahakavi Kalidas is the film and KAlathil azhiyAdha is the song, a personal all-time favorite. Sundarambal sings and watch how Sivaji gives many dimensions to calmness in this one song. At around 1 minute, he raises an eyebrow in contemplative calmness to KaLi’s (in the guise of an old woman persuading KaLidasa from going South to an imminent death) sandhanam sEr AgumA? and around 2 and half minutes, the calmness leaks a bit of scorn as though telling the old woman that he knows who she is when she goes deivathin mugam vAdumE to acknowledging calmness at 3 minutes when she touches adhil thAn sarithiram nigazhginradhu and ends with a calmness that admires the old woman’s persistence at aruginil iruppAyadA. Wahwah!

To conclude, I will not hold a candle for Sivaji’s every film for he has done terrible films and overacted terribly in films like Pattakathi Bairavan, Mridanga Chakravarthy and the likes. But to generalize him as a loud, overactor whose performances can be put in a single bucket is a tad harsh. Being subjective, I would say Thiruvilayadal and Veerapandiya Kattabomman are not crude overplays. There is finesse in bombast. The 100 odd classics he has acted in, no other actor can think of doing it with his flair. And there, I rest my case.

PS: Do watch the videos when free. It might help you agree with me.


April 13, 2013 · 5:20 am

Django Unchained

Django: The sun is shinin’ bright.

Calvin: As it does, on all of us.

There, in one of the many ironic moments in the film, Di Caprio’s character Calvin summarizes, in one sentence, the universality of this earth to all its inhabitants.  And there, it has a distant echo with Kannadasan’s “காற்று நம்மை அடிமை என்று விலகவில்லையே! கடல் நீரும் அடிமை என்று சுடுவதில்லையே! காலம் நம்மை விட்டு விட்டு நடப்பதில்லையே! காதல், பாசம், தாய்மை நம்மை மறப்பதில்லையே!” The ironies are further accentuated as a German Schultz (Christopher Waltz can convincingly play even Rajnikanth. Such is the majesty) is unable to take the German Beethoven’s music in a hostile environment and serves a French Calvin with a French Dumas.

The film bristles with such ironies and subtexts. Like a dentist Dr. Schultz having a golden molar tooth and speaking English better than Americans. Like Django shooting at a white showman. What a metaphor! What intrigued me was the relation between Schultz and Django. Did Tarantino ever subtly hint at a relation more than friendship? Schultz putting his straps on as Django eats in the mountains. Both of them on travel and Django takes a bath in a lake and sees his lost wife smiling at him. I could be stretching and my figment of imagination could well be Django’s.

The film also has scenes which no other director can make and get away with. Where Calvin cracks a skull and makes some pointed observations about how the part of the skull meant for creativity and imagination in a Newton or a Galileo points to servility in people of Django’s ilk, the observation readily agrees itself with Stephen (Samuel Jackson) who fits it to a T. Or the scene with KKK where one of the bird-brained members could well have been a Marshall from a previous scene who spits from under his hood in a sequence of bloody hilarity.

The most iconic moment for me is the one at Calvin’s mansion. The tension builds up. Tarantino promises a kill. There are guns. But things go on a rope walk without tripping. As everything seems sorted out, you see the scene fizzling out. Tarantino throws a googly. Calvin insists a handshake. Schultz refuses and eventually there is the bloodshed, over a refused hand shake, making for a fine study of the human ego.

Over and top of all of this, the film is a Sphagetti Western, entertains and, though not quite Tarantino’s best, is still bloody good.


Filed under Filim