Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Sober Women of Tamil Cinema




       It is said mankind is made up of four humours called sanguine melancholy  choler and phlegm.The mixing of four humours in a person is not usually even.Each one seems to have one or two of the humours exceeding the others.It is this potential factor that determines the character of a person.That is why people who have an excess of sanguine are always cheerful, the predominance of melancholy makes people reflect a load of sorrow all the time, that of of choler makes people prone to irritation,and people with too much of phlegm,tend to be sluggish and laid back.However,when it comes to acting one has to demonstrate the power of all the four humours as and when necessary.That is how we have seen comedians like Charlie Chaplin with a galaxy of woes in their personal life,cheering the audience with immense humour,ruling the screen shot after shot.We know pretty well that a majority of actors can easily emote with a significant presence of all the four humours or any one of the humours depending upon the contextual requirement in acting.
    Among silver screen women in the Tamil tinsel world,sanguine and melancholy humours have been found to dominate followed by choler in exceptional cases where challenges are many and the need for winning the challenge becomes a driving force like fire.However there are a few women who have been singularly meant for projecting the sorrowful side of life.These women could never fit into cheerful roles because of their inherent cry for tears.In this respect this blog would like to recall from the pages of memory,actresses like P.Kannaambaa, M.V.Rajamma,Sriranjani Jr, Pandaribai,Sowcar Janaki, S.N.Lakshmi,Oorvasi Sharadha,  R.Vijayakumari and Sujatha.
   P.Kannaambaa was one of the most powerful mothers on the Tamil screen with her highly commanding voice keeping the audience spell bound by her sober and fiery dialogue deliveries, be it a family drama or a film based on royal themes and events.She was invincible in showing anger and sorrow with her tongue and tears competing with each other.She was the most passionate mother of MGR{Thaaikupin Thaaram,Thai Sollai Thattadhe and Needhikku pin Paasam}Sivaji Ganesan{Manohara,Vanagamudi,Nichaya Thamboolam,Uthama Puthiran,  Marudha Naattu Veeran,Padikkaadha Medhai as the hero's adopting mother and Padithaal Mattum Podhumaa} and as Gemini Ganesan's mother in Nalla Theerpu,Vaazha Vaitha Dheivam and Vanjikottai Vaaliban}.After acting in the roles of Kannagi and Gnaana Soundari {both sober characters} Kannaambaa portrayed her mother roles with impressive levels of sobriety.Tamil audience associated with the touring talkieses and theatres those days,would have cried along with Kannaamba when she poured out her emotions with utmost sobriety. Humour and comedy were hardly her forte and she simply excelled in demonstrating her strength as a sober woman.
   M.V. Rajamma was a close contemporary of P.Kannaamba but unlike the latter she was known for her meekness and ever mourning voice with a shivering tone never failing to govern the role she played and the scene that she was part of.She was a multi lingual actor.If Kannamba had acted in Sivaji ganesan's Uthama  Puthiran,M.V.Rajamma had acted in its earlier version starring P.U. Chinnappa. Besides she had also acted in Citadel Films' Gnanasoundari with T.R. Maha lingam in 1948 during which year the other Gnana Soundhari was released by Gemini Pictures with P. Kannaamba playing the titular role with M.K.Radha as hero.The former was directed by F. Nagoor and the latter by Murugadasa. Both these films were released a year before I was born.It is said that the first Gnanasoundhari was based on a street play and ran successfully. Whereas Vasan's film based on history became a flop and was withdrawn from the circuit.  
   Some of the distinctly notable films of M.V.Rajamma were Thangamalai Ragasiyam,Paava Mannippu Bhaaga Pirivinai,Karnan and Bhandhapaasam, all with Sivaji Ganesan as his mother.Of these the role of Kundhidevi that she played in Karnan made the epic Maha bharatha and the film proud,on account of her powerful performance.As MGR's mother she was a sober material in films like Kudumba Thalaivan and Thedivandha Maapillai.She had also made her roles effective in Gemini Ganesan's films like Vaazhkai Padaku and Aadiperukku.Her other most notable film was Thaayilla Pillai reflecting passionate mother sentiments with Kalyaan Kumar as hero. 
   Sriranjani Jr who played pathetic roles in Parasakthi,Ratha Kanneer,Ore Vazhi,Raji En Kanmani and Thilakam was a replica of grief.Melancholy seemed to be a part of her blood and brain.Her tears were spontaneous and she could be rightly called the ever weeping woman with a passion for glycerin while acting.Her facial fitness for pathos drove her to deliver pathetic roles both in Tamil and Telugu movies.She will be ever remembered as the most sober woman of Tamil cinema.
    However,Sowcar Janaki who had sharp eyes for profuse tears which she capitalized for her role play in films like Bhagyalakshmi, Kumudham, Iru Kodukal,Kaaviya Thalaivi,Padikkadha Medhai, Paar Magale Paar and Oli Vilakku was equally fit for doing ebullient humorous roles in films like Edhir Neechal, Bhama Vijayam and Thillu Mullu. Incidentally, all the three comedies were from the Midas touch of K. Balachander who significantly used the talent of this wonderful actor both for tears and comic banter.But truly speaking.the sober mindset of Janaki dominated her character in most of the movies and she will penetrate into the hearts of the viewers,more through her sobs and tears than with her sense of humour.
     Like Sowcar Janaki,S.N.Lakshmi who was a natural actor,travelled between subtle humour and profound sorrow.With her sharp but composed delivery of dialogues she could create a tremendous impact of her role play in films like Server Sundaram,Anubhavi Raja Anubhavi, Thamarai Nenjam { as the mother of Nagesh in all the three films} Raman Ethanai Ramanadi{as the mother of Sivaji Ganesan}Thaaiku Thalai Magan,Vivasayee,Maattukaara Velan,Annamitta Kai and Pattikkaattu Ponnaiah{as MGR's mother}.In all these films she was an adorable mother of her sons with a unique combination of love,concern and rigidity in her views.She brought out the sober side of motherhood with dignity,poise and pragmatism in many other films as the mother of other prominent heroes too.
    Most often down playing her character S.N.Lakshmi created a kind of reverence for her and this reverence was nothing but an acceptance of the seriousness she imbibed and reflected through her dynamic demonstration of assertive motherhood.But one would be surprised to find that the same sober woman,easily walked away with one or two assignments meant for robust delivery of comedy in Kamalahasan's rib tickling comedies like Michael Madhana Kaama Raajan and Kaadhalaa Kaadhalaa as a nonstop kleptomaniac in the former and as the Muslim Landlady Noorjahan in the latter.The most celebrating factor about this less celebrated actor was her excellence in blending subtle humour with surging sorrow in character delineation.Beyond all this,the fact remains that she was the truest sober face of Tamil Cinema. One could always witness stork realism in the performance of this great actor who successfully brought down the theatre screens and stepped into the homes of the audience as a member of each and every family.  
     Pandari Bhai was one of the earliest actresses to delve into the depth of grief at the turn of the switch.Though initially she was paired with Sivaji Ganesan,soon she was pushed to play mother roles for the same hero.Parasakthi,Thirumbi Paar and Andha Naal were some of the Sivaji Ganesan films in which she was the pair or co star of the hero.But the mother roles she played in the earliest film Annaiyin Aanai, and later in Raja,Irumbuthirai,Iru dhuruvam  Thavapudhalvan,Gowravam {as Sivaji Ganesan's wife and adopting mother},Uthaman and Avan Oru Sarithiram brought a poignant mother son equation between her and Sivaji Ganesan besides letting her travel through the zone of tears.The same way,she brought the essence of sorrow in MGR films like Dheivathaai,Thaayin Madiyil,Kaavalkaaran,Kudiyirundha Koil, Adimai Penn ,Oru Thaai Makkal and Pallaandu Vaazhka, as MGR's most adored mother.She also appeared as the brooding elder sister of MGR in the blockbuster film Enga Veettu Pillai. and as his elder brother's wife in Nam Nadu.Later she was seen as the partially paralyzed mother of Rajinikanth, in Sivaji Productions' Mannan. Misery and Pandaribai were both inseparable on the screen and this pious actor like the venerable V. Nagaiah  brilliantly demonstrated the intensity of pathos and grief. Pandaribai was a thoroughly sober actor who came from Karnataka to bring tears in the eyes of the Tamil audience,while she sobbed and wept in subdued grace.
    Oorvasi Sharadha who hailed from the Telugu region was the most wanted woman of Malayalam and Tamil Cinema to do sorrow laden roles because her profile and pattern of acting naturally embraced tragic roles with a stamp of originality and agonizing display of the character's predicament.Who can forget her amazing performance in Thulaabaaram made in Malayalam and Tamil,with the same title.This immortal portrayal of a grief struck woman fittingly fetched her the Oorvasi award for her efficacy in presenting the gloomy side of life without any exaggeration in acting.Her characterization in films like Kungumam,Gnana Oli {as the younger sister of Sivaji Ganesan,in the sorrowful role of an unwed mother}Ninaithathai Mudippavan{ as the physically challenged younger sister of M.G.R}and finally in A.V.M's Mr.Bharat as a hapless construction worker betrayed by the site engineer{played by Satyaraj}, was a clear testimony to the fact that she was a special actor meant for playing any kind of tragic role with absolute sobriety.Her other films include Thulasi Maadam,Vaazhkai Vaazhvadharke,Sarithira Nayagan and Ennaipol Oruvan.Sharadha emphatically cast her indelible sober face, on the big screen.
     C.R. Vijayakumari who stood as the rare Tamil face of Tamil cinema,in her love for the Tamil language and the way she uttered Tamil dialogues,was both a symbol of courage and despair.As the successful pair and life partner of the famous Dravidian actor S.S.Rajendran,she could cry and shout simultaneously.Perhaps that is why Mekala pictures booked her for portraying the role of Kannagi in Poompuhar.She had reflected feminine courage and anger against injustice in several films.Besides Poompuhar films such as Kumudham,Kaakkum Karangal,Kaanchi Thalaivan,Saradha and Raja Raja Cholan exhibited her intrinsic flair for courage to fight for justice.However,she was primarily a sober actress fixing herself easily into tear shedding moments on the screen.Kalyana Parisu,Naanum Oru Penn,Policekaran Makal,Paadha Kaanikkai,Dheivathin Dheivam and Avan Pithana were some of her noteworthy films representing the untold sufferings of women,through her impressive performance. Vijayakumari's shivering voice was an added strength towards playing pitiable roles.She was certainly a sober face of Tamil cinema,despite the fact that she never failed to raise her voice for establishing truth.
      Sujatha who joined the Tamil film industry much later than all the aforesaid actors,began her career with her first appearance in K.Balachander's Aval Oru Thodarkadhai bearing the burden and brunt of a big family,suppressing all her personal desires and expectations in life.The character was loaded with pains and the great director very well understood that Sujatha was the fittest person to don such a wretched role,with a routine of anguish slapping her psyche.Following this,most of her characters in widely complimented films like Avarkal, Kadal Meengal,Oru Oothaappoo Kan Simittukiradhu,Mayangukiraal Oru Maadhu,Annakili, Unnai Naan Sandhithein,Dheepam,Andhamaan Kaadhali,Amaithi Padai,Vaazhndhu Kaattukirein, and Vidhi established her credibility for exhibiting gripping levels of performance.
    Sujatha was one of the softest actors but her softness was bound to firmness with an unflinching frame of mind never yielding to unethical pressures and oppressive control of her voice for reasoning and rightness of behaviour. Even in mother characters she was always seen with a kind of stiffness blended in pathos as seen in Vaathiyaar,Kodi Parakkuthu, Mangamma Sabadham,Theerpu,Uzhaippaali,Aval Varuvaalaa, Uyire Unakkaaga and several others.There was a hidden feminist voice never willing to be silenced my male chauvinism and the sober dimension of her character portrayal was a clear indication of feminine dignity bent upon fighting any trace of insult thrown upon womanhood. 
    To conclude,Tamil cinema has a galaxy of talented women capable of performing a variety of characters.But the women mentioned here are known for their grasp of the power of womanhood as wives and mothers.Their solemnity is a stamp of their commitment to the dignity of womanhood in a society mired in tendencies of gender discrimination and suppression of the rights of women towards independence and privacy.The sober stuff of the actors listed here would speak volumes of the grandeur of womanhood.


  1. Read every line with nostalgic enjoyment.

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