An Epic is a high range poetic composition, on a noble or greatly cherished theme, involving a grand story background, with characters of exemplary and heroic stature, leading to a splendid show of events.An epic should sustain its momentum from the beginning till the end. On rare occasions, some films also reach this kind of grandiose position, arresting the attention of all sections of the audience, during their film watching spell besides making them recall that experience, even years after.This page will grind memories of seven such movies in Tamil, which I feel are known for their timeless thrill of enchantment and high quality entertainment .
The Gemini Studios takes the singular credit for producing and releasing two magnificent films with in a time span of a decade.These two movies were under production, during the crucial period of India's struggle for independence,followed by the concerted efforts of the midnight's children to set the house in order, after the horrendous Partition years. 'Chandralekha' produced during the years of the freedom movement,was released soon after the declaration of Independence.'Vanjikkottai Valiban', produced during the post Partition trauma period, was released ten years after 'Chandrlekha' .The film based on the novel 'The Count of Monte Cristo' written by the French writer Alexandre Dumos, created records of kinds, as a gorgeous presentation of events, characters and aesthetic components.
These two films based on the theme of a prolonged and dedicated struggle for restoring kingdoms from the usurpers to the royal heirs, beautifully reflected the epic qualities of the sustaining spirit of heroism and sacrifice without letting the tempo of the struggle sag at any point. Gorgeous settings, the visual impact of scenes of grandeur, the vast number of people involved, and the captivating climax were the common features of both the movies. If M.K.Radha,Ranjan and T.R.Rajakumari put up a brave show in 'Chandralekha' ,Gemini Ganesan P.S.Veerappa,Padmini and Vaijayanthimala contributed all their might for a stupendous show in 'Vanjikkottai Valiban'. The entertainment factor in both the movies was unimaginably of a very high order and with a balanced mix of action, music, dance and comedy the impact of these movies was of a lasting kind..
Then two other movies released in the sixties,genuinely deserved, in my opinion, the epic status, despite the fact that there were other eligible films in the list.The first one that could be called an epic film by merit was the Vijayalakshmi Pictures' Sivaji blockbuster 'Thillana Mohanambal' that portrayed vividly, a spirited competition between music and dance as two great forms of art. Human talent became the centre of display with an effectively integrated romantic element.This film beautifully dramatized on a grand scale, love,dignity of the self,respect for one's cherished artistic career, and a competitive zeal to excel in one's professed faith in their respective art form. The movie marvellously demonstrated the struggle between male and female pride, between music and dance and finally between man- woman relationship and their dedication to the art form they represented.
The story was not confined to one's talent of acting as in 'Navarathiri', or a regulated focus on mythology as in 'Karnan' and 'Thiruvilaiyadal' or a fabulous show of history like 'Veera Pandia Kattabomman' or finally,to individual emotions as in 'Paasamalar'. Thillana Mohanabal was a comprehensive show of human talent and human emotions of love,anger,infatuation [of the Nilambur King for the dancer] sacrifice and the interlinked, all pervading sense of humour. K.V.Mahadevan's tremendous musical support was an added credit for the movie, which was not only an award winner but an all round entertainer on a grand scale.
The next big release of the Sixties was the all embracing MGR movie 'Ayirathil Oruvan' of Padmini Pictures, that glorified ideals of nobility and forgiveness as the invaluable fundamentals of humanism. The other two contesting movies 'Enga Veetupillai',that coincided with the release of Ayirathil Oruvan and the 1970s release 'Ulagam Suttrum Valiban' lost the race in my perception because the first one,was just a family entertainer with a story line centering around the twin brothers of a zamindar family, separated in their childhood and their fight for their rights, with their greedy brother-in-law. The later decade's release became more of a travelogue type entertainer rather than getting into the other core aspects of an epic show.
'Ayirathil Oruvan' [One in a Thousand ]as the title implies carried an exalted theme personified by the hero, through his words and deeds of magnanimity and forgiveness.The rich script,the costume and settings sense,the scenic portrayal,the high level lyrics supported by felicitous music,the fine choreography and the overall involvement of every segment of the production unit made it an all time audio visual bonanza. The extraordinary thematic content of goodness conquering evil through generosity and forgiveness raised the film to the heights of epic glory.
Another movie that created a sense of the impossible in the Eighties, was the stunning ,mega hit movie'Aboorva Sagotharargal', depicting a justifiable theme of revenge to undo the brutal wrong committed by a gang of evil forces.It was Kamalahasan who did the impossible under the astute direction of Singeetham Srinivasa Rao,by boldly taking up three totally different roles as a formidable police officer,an innocent auto mechanic and a clumsy but shrewd dwarf, wreaking vengeance on the wrong doers, by a highly contrived scheme, for killing the killers of his father.With speed in every frame, holding up the tempo from the beginning till the end, and with an amazing entertainment tag binding all sections of audience, in a forgetful spell of watching a world of wonder on the screen, it was a clean sweep of victory,for this magnum opus of the decade .It was a visual ecstasy of song, action, dance and a mind blowing circus show reminding the elders of the spirit of 'Chandralekha'. .Kamal's 'Nayagan' which was a saga of heroic violence and vendetta against the baddies,did not provide this kind of variety.
Kavithalaya's 'Muthu' that hit the screens in the mid Nineties, had remarkable epic credentials in terms of theme and execution.The movie sent out a clear message that humility and the strength of sacrifice of riches are the cornerstones of human existence.Besides,the film contained the wide ranging ingredients required for an untiring entertainment kit. It was a remake of a popular Malayalam film ['Thein Mavin Kombathu' ] but got enriched in the escapist formula of film making that would suit the Tamil audience.What I mean here is, the addition of incredible visuals,speed in screen play,impressive costume designs,Rajini's beautiful blend of humour and sobriety, gripping choreography reverberating music and the controlled comedy element blended with a powerful story background made the audience escape from the world of reality to that of fantasy.The other fine films of Rajini, like 'Padayappa' 'Siavji' and 'Endhiran' might have been extraordinary entertainers but did not make an integrated evolution in terms of epic proportions.
The last in the list is another mass entertainer with a refreshing message that proved to be an innovation in the history of film making. This movie was a trend setter, carrying a positive title that appeared to be paradoxical to both the conception of the plot and the actions of the protagonist. However the theme base of the story became the most convincing argument for the title.Along with the movie,a most challenging director was also born. The film was 'Gentleman' produced by K.T.Kunjumon and the director of this epic genre movie was S.Shankar .In this first venture,Shankar took up the noble task of projecting the educational rights of the meritorious, among the economically underprivileged.The movie raised a clarion call, for the right to education To carry on this arduous struggle,the dynamic new face among directors,conceived a Robinhood type of hero who was himself a victim of denial of higher education by the corrupt and greedy political bigwigs.The movie was a clean course of adventure,the chase and run being the inevitable follow up of a high class action play,unheard of in Tamil film history.The social theme was intelligently handled through a demonstration of the growing scales of technology in Tamil Cinema. Action,emotions,stimulating story line,felicitous narration,music,dance and comedy all put together with logistic stipulations, made the movie serve its salient objectives of heroism and became a true epic film.
The seven films listed here, are purely my personal preferences, taking into account the moments of applause at the theatres and the rave reviews they received from various quarters.While there are chances for other movies being added to the list, I am sure dissent voices to this list will not be many. As a matter of fact,the entertainment sector does a tremendous service in driving people of mixed routine,out of their homes, for a short sojourn in a variety of wonder zones. The best wonder land, is each one's choice.