Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Some tales of the Underdog in Tamil Cinema.


     Underdog is a term used to refer to the underprivileged section of society that is put to exploitation in terms of both social and economic deprivations.The dividing factor between the rich and the poor has seen the greed for expansion of wealth at the cost of enforced poverty. Most often the brutal hands of wealth have twisted and turned down the rising hands of the poor.'The hungry sheep look up and are not fed"wrote the famous English poet John Milton. The starving poor will look up for help from the rich who as indifferent shepherds,will butcher the sheep rather than feeding them.One of the easiest ways for the rich landlords to plunder the landless,or those with a little piece of land as their holding,is to offer them some money in times of need and thereby make them their lifelong serfs by converting them into bonded labourers,in exchange for the pittance of money lent to them on exorbitant interest.Feudal ferocity has proved to be more horrid than racial hatred.
   India is one of the countries known for decades of suppression of the underdog.With the growth of education and its consequent impact on civilization,the weaker sections of the society have come to see the light of social and economic freedom to a considerable extent.But still the past is a ghost haunting our memories,as pages of history and in the form of the audio visual medium of cinema.Tamil cinema has recorded events of human abuse surrounding the routine of the socially and economically downtrodden strata of society,spread out  both as rural curse and urban menace.
  Most of MGR's films focused on the miseries of the poor and the depressed.His roles became the voice of the underdog,with its vigorous vibrations echoing the struggles,dreams and revolt of the wronged clan towards finding solutions to issues of exploitation.Most of his film songs exhibited a consistent cry for social justice and this particular element in his films,proved to be a big bid to project him as an incarnation of the Good Samaritan and indirectly helped him to emerge as the most popular political leader,reflecting the spirit of the Saviour.
   MGR was constantly shown as the celluloid shadow of the poor,being with them and accompanying their day to to day aspirations,as their alter ego. He would be seen lending a helping hand to the rickshaw pullers,fishermen and the landless/homeless poor.Films like Thozhilaali,Padahotti,Meenava Nanban,Rickshawkaaran and Oorukku Uzhaippavan are just a few screen samples of his hand-in-hand march with the underdog.But beyond MGR and beyond the conventional projection of heroism as a launchpad for social amelioration,there are more valid,focal pointers to Tamil Cinema's thematic and narrative thrust on the ordeals of the  underdog.This particular post in my blog would throw light on aspects of maltreatment of the poor,through a compact list of three films,two of them belonging to the past millennium and one that has recently hit the screens with a big bang.The three films are Sivaji Ganesan's Savaale Samaali directed by Malliam Rajagopal,Sivakumar's Puthuvellam from the hands of K.Vijayan,one of the most popular directors of many Sivaji Ganesan films and the latest Vetrimaaran hit Asuran.
   Both Savaale Samaali{1971} and Pudhuvellam{1975} travelled on a similar track of story line,narrating the plight of the underdogs in the hands of ruthless moneyed landlords.
In both the films,the landlords manoeuvred to usurp the meagre farm holdings of the poor, through opportunistic money lending,so as to make them bonded to their own routine,through suppression of human rights.In both the films,the landlords had arrogant daughters insulting the working class.Both the films had resilient heroes,raging a class war against the wealthy and brought down their arrogance of power and wealth.
  But there were differences too.In Savaale Samaali the village chieftain was tempted to play a game of gambling with the hero{naturally portrayed by Sivaji Ganesan}on terms and conditions,that if the landlord won the game,the hero would be entangled in life long bondage and if the hero won the gamble,he would be allowed to marry the landlord's termagant  daughter.The Landlord reluctantly agreed to the deal with the fond hope,that the hero could never win the gamble.But the results proved to be disastrous to the landlord and the hero who won the game,could not be denied the privilege of marrying the rich girl.What followed later in the story,determined the coming together of the two diagonally opposite classes of society.
  Whereas in Pudhuvellam,the landlord went to the extent of murdering a poor farmer for nonpayment of loans.Hiding this brutal fact,he also made one of the two sons of the victim as his bonded labourer while the other became a confirmed rebel{toughly played by Sivakumar}. Unlike the landlord in Savaale Samaale,the one in Pudhuvellam was a womanizer, despite the fact that he had a daughter of marriageable age.While in Savaale Samaali it was an enforced marriage between the hero and the landlord's daughter,in Pudhu Vellam the tamed and mellowed daughter of the landlord,developed a romantic enchantment for the hero.In Savaale Samaali there was a notorious son for the landlord,who went to the extent of physically shaming the hero's married sister.Apart from these differences,the two films released during the same decade,carried similarities in tone and tenor,because both the films reflected the sentiments and aspirations of the same generation.In demonstrating the power of the underdog, these two films were definite trend setters and were box office hits,on account of their catchy narration and dynamic presentation of events and characters.
   T.K.Bahavadhi and R.S Manohar,mightily exhibited their greed for power and plundering mindset,as the leeches living upon the blood of the poor,in their respective role play,in Savaale Samaali and Pudhuvellam.Nagesh and MRR Vasu were portrayed as sidekicks,Nagesh with a tinge of venom to pull down the landlord richer than him and MRR Vasu blackmailing R.S.Manohar as a witness to the act of murder,committed by the latter. Jeyalalitha and Kannada Manjula were captivating as the epitome of the superiority of wealth,over poverty.
Malliam Rajagopal and K.Vijayan made their films as historical reference points,to the prevalence of the feudalistic bullying of the underdogs,by the parasitic powers of wealth. 
   Among the recent films there has been a rising trend in highlighting the struggles of the depressed sections,to find a footing in the sporting arena.Films like,Maan Karaate,Irudhi Chutru and the latest film Bigil have attempted to break the class,caste, race and gender barriers so as to establish one's legitimate right to claim a place in the sporting field,with their talent and aspiration.A film like Kaakaa Muttai made a huge impact,by focusing on the street urchins' quest for a taste of Pizza.Even the latest Rajini films,like Kabaali and Petta were on the road to retrieve the rights of those,suppressed on the basis of colour and caste aspersions.
   Vetrimaran's latest film Asuran has depicted the uncouth realities encircling the dehumanized routine of the most helpless and ruthlessly let down underdog,in capsules of communal hatred and heart rending brutality.One has to doubt whether the film is about lust for a few pieces of land belonging to the already marginalized section,or a gruesome thirst for blood.What Asuran portrays is absolute class hatred,born of cumulative insult heaped on the underdog,by the barbarously power hungry higher echelons of the social ladder.Interestingly,Asuran also briefly discusses the impact of the vested group's controversial acquisition of the panjami lands,left by the British Raj,towards facilitating the welfare of the socially and economically abused  sections of mankind. The film based on Poomani's novel Vekkai,literally generates heat,with extremely boiling cauldrons,raised on ceaseless emotional fire.
   There are happenings in the film that simultaneously hurt the viewers'eyes and hearts, evoking pity and horror,as the salient dimensions of a gripping narration,without which,a tale of longstanding animosity and feud,can never be so effectively told.Here,actors disappear in characters,who in turn get dissolved in the churning out of sequential course of events,falling into the stabs of weapons of violence.The two final messages that Vetrimaran leaves for the underdog are that,enmity has to be bypassed and not aggravated and the socially downtrodden sections can climb the ladder to higher levels,only through the fruits of education,which would render them the identity that they desperately need. 
   Vetrimaran's Asuran could be called an exemplary treatise on the plight of the underdog, without infusing much of the cinematic ingredients,that would have made it just another film on the time and again talked about class wars.While Sivaji Ganesan and Sivakumar lent their respective roles a higher level of credibility,in portrayal of characters of the underdog brand, Danush, Pasupathi,Manju Warrier and Ken Karunas have become the heart and soul of the underdog by naturally reflecting the predicament of the powerless class, with a perfect grasp of the disgracing subsistence that they form part of. Asuran in all respects,is an agonizing prototype of the real under dog,surmounting the celluloid fetters of character formulation and thematic interpretation. 
   Quoting the famous English poet John Keats differently,on seeing Asuran,"one's heart would ache and a drowsy numbness would pain,as if hemlock one has consumed"This is because life's most tormenting moments of a section of humanity,are piercingly witnessed on the big screen, causing indescribable heaviness,that is rarely experienced through the celluloid mode,during these times of tabloid existence.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Two Specially Elegant films of MGR & Sivaji Ganesan

    Films are of different kinds.Some gain ground through fresh story lines based on exalting thematic content.Some excel in style of narration and actors' fresh vibes.Two films of MGR and Sivaji Ganesan stand out as clear revelations of the second category of films.They are Sivaji films' Pudhiya Paravai released in 1964 and the AVM Studio''s single entry of an MGR film titled Anbe Vaa released in 1966.
   Usually,unlike the movies of Sivaji Ganesan,those of MGR were always clearly branded as typical MGR films,because of their set pattern of themes,stories and scenic narrations.Mother sentiment respect for women, clean habits and an inspiring spirit of social justice by voicing the needs and aspirations of the down trodden,were the ever  preset objectives and goals of an MGR film.Whereas,Sivaji Ganesan would travel from the bottomless pit to the Himalayan peak, moving through straight tracks and zig zag courses,reflecting the role of destiny and that of man,in shaping the course of one's life.While MGR's was a single role model,that of Sivaji Ganesan was the sum total of the umpteen shades of all sections of humanity.
   However,these two colossal actors in each one's way,created celebrating moments for Tamil Cinema,for more than three decades.Interestingly,these two heroes had each in their kitty,their special film cited,to eternally delight their respective fans,on account of a commendable course of stylistic narration and a splendid throw in character delivery by them.
   Of the two films,Pudhiya Paravai{Sep 1964} was released fifteen months before the release of Anbevaa {Jan1966}.Apart from the stylish role play of the two heroes,the two films bore a few similarities in screen base and choice of actors.Both the films were narrated from hill stations, Anbeva from Shimla and Pudhiya Paravai from Ooty.In both,B.Sarojadevi was the female co star.Both the heroes were rich guys;one a big business magnate and the other an estate owner. Nagesh and Manorama were in charge of the pantry and kitchen in both the films.While almost each scene in Pudhiya Paravai showed Sivaji Ganesan with cigarette on hand,MGR was seen in rich costumes shot after shot in Anbe vaa. Both the films carried certain amount of Hollywood touch in narration.But the similarities end here.
   It was Viswanathan&Ramamurthy who composed music for Pudhiya Paravai and all the songs were mega hits.But by the time Anbe Vaa was under production,the musical super duo were split as M.S.Viswanathan and T.K.Ramamurthy and so it was the former alone who tuned the richly enchanting numbers of Anbe Vaa.Puthiya Paravai was a suspense thriller,letting the hero boil with emotions in every scene. Anbe Vaa was a breezy romantic comedy,depicting the revolutionary hero in his best sense of humour,doing an exotic character portrayal,frequently rubbing  his woman on the wrong shoulders,resulting in an unending conflict of emotions between the romantic partners.Those days,Anbe Vaa was said to reflect the story base of the famous Hollywood film Come September.Whereas Puthiya Paravai was stated to have been influenced by the British Suspense film,Chase a Crooked Shadow {1958},also called Sleep No more and it had also provided the story base for the Bengali film Sesh Anka {1963}  
   For Sivaji Ganesan,it was another challenging portrayal of the agonized soul and the Chevalier stunningly brought out his calibre through a casual shuffling of emotions and by naturally leading the plight of his character,singularly meant for travelling between the devil and the deep sea.The way he would try to move from pillar to post,to prove his predicament of hiding a past,ambushed in an act of partial guilt,was the most salient feature of the film.
  The very theme of the story line was something new to Tamil Cinema and the narrative mode made the film,more elegant than everything.Dada Mirasi who had directed very few Tamil films like Iratha Thilakam,Annaavin Aasai,Moonru Dheivangal,Odum Nadhi and Poovum Pottum,took the major credit for an extraordinary narration of extraordinary events,comprising extraordinary characters played by extraordinary actors.
   Starting from the Chevalier,the line of dynamic action score revolved around brilliant actors like Sowcar Janaki,Sarojadevi,M.R.Radha,V.K Ramasamy, Nagesh,O.A.K.Devar,S.V.Ramadoss, Manorama and A.Karunanidhi.As far as costume design and scenic presentation were concerned, Pudhiya Paravai carried an exotic feel from the beginning till the end.The special treat of the film would be Sivaji's style of limb movements for the two songs,'Aahaa Mellanada Mellanada' and 'Enge Nimmadhi'. Besides his tucked in nylon shirt with folded sleeves,his manner of holding the cigarette and facial expressions of surprise, suspense, shock, pity and mood of annoyance pointedly against M.R.Radha,were all the hallmarks of winnable freshness 
    The climax of the film will show Sivaji Ganesan in a tight corner,being surrounded by falsehood hitting his face,to drive out the truth from him,that it was he who killed his wife{ Sowcar Janaki}.  He was sure that he only slapped his wife,because of her wayward drunken routine as a pop singer and she would have died only on account of her cardiac related issues. But the helpless fact was that his wife died only after he slapped her. 
   Sivaji's unique style of body language,and the unprecedented cathartic moment involving amazing dialogues and a stupendous forward gait of the Chevalier,with a sudden U turn,would have made a major section of the audience clean bowled.All this would culminate in a desperate tone of confession dramatically voiced by Sivaji,the born actor.Before getting arrested he would tell his new woman {Sarojadevi}that she being a CID officer, need not have used love as a tool,to extract the truth out of him.However,before the curtains dropped,the audience would have heard him pay,a glorifying tribute to the endearing warmth of womanhood in general,in his inimitable style.
   Watching Anbe Vaa,everybody would have wondered how MGR could look so young at the fag end of his forties.He carried the pranks of youth to the fullest extent,waging a romantic battle against his woman{Sarojadevi}in every other scene.He would also prove to be a perfect foil to the plans of Sarojadevi,Nagesh and his gang to chase him out of the huge bungalow,not knowing the fact that he was the owner of the entire property.Comedy came to MGR as naturally as fragrance to jasmine and the whole narration from the veteran hands of A.C Thirulokchander,carried absolute warmth,hilarity and the robust vigour of entertainment.
    Though a majority of MGR films would engage the audience with an action bonanza and beaming music,Anbe Vaa was an exclusive entertainer,not sagging in spirit during its entire course of narration.Alluring costumes and awesome picturing of the hillside locales,carried the audience on an excursion to a world of beauty,through the big screen.Music was upbeat through a timeless treasure house of tunes,with leading songs like 'Pudhiya Vaanam Pudhiya Bhoomi, 'Naan Paarthadhile Aval Oruthiyaithaan','Ullam Enroru Koyilile','Love birds Love' birds and 'Raajivin Paarvai Raaniyin Pakkam'.Unlike most other MGR films,there was no space for speculative villainy in Anbe Vaa.Even S.A.Asokan the most celebrated villain of MGR films,played a soft role and all was well in all respects.There was lot of fun in every aspect including the naming characters like Punnaakku Viyaabaari Punniyakodi.{played vibrantly by T.R.Ramachandran,as Sarojadevi's father.}
   Both Pughiya Paravai and Anbe vaa were really fantasy tales,one told in a mood of irredeemable desolation and the other in an environment of hilarious romance,surrounded by a bunch of devil may care and happy go lucky characters respectively.The history of Tamil cinema will remain incomplete without a reference to these two specially elegant films of MGR and Sivaji Ganesan.