In #WatchWithTNM, we revisit the critically acclaimed blockbuster that starred Balakrishna, Mohini, Silk Smitha and Amrish Puri.

Aditya 369
Flix Tollywood Saturday, September 19, 2020 - 15:47

It’s been nearly three decades since Aditya 369 — touted as the first Indian time travel film —  released. The science-fiction drama, written and directed by Singeetham Srinivasa Rao, was a huge success commercially and was also critically acclaimed. 

Aditya 369, released in 1991, was made around the same time that Hollywood was experimenting with the time travel concept with a series of Back to the Future films (released in 1985, 1989 and 1990), leading to the criticism that the film was a ‘copy’ of the franchise.

However, Singeetham has denied this in multiple interviews and has stated that as a student, he was fascinated by The Time Machine written by HG Wells, and that when he later got the opportunity to make films, he decided to make one inspired by the novel. To Singeetham’s credit, the similarities between his film and the Back to the Future franchise stop with the trouble that the protagonist faces in a different time zone.  Also, while Back to the Future uses space theories for time travel, in Aditya 369, they use just the theory of time to make it happen.

Poster of Aditya 369

The movie is about Prof Ramdas (Tinnu Anand), an eccentric scientist’s invention of a time-machine that enables one to go to the past as well as the future. The scientist is also the heroine Hema's (Mohini) father. While the machine doesn't work despite the tall claims made by Ramdas, it is set off accidentally when a bunch of kids make an attempt to go back in time to thwart a heist. While trying to save the kids, Krishna Kumar (Balakrishna), an acquaintance of one of the kids, and Hema get locked in the machine and go back to the time of Sri Krishnadevaraya’s (also Balakrishna) rule in 1526 AD, and what follows is an adventurous journey. 

In the past, they are given the royal treatment by Sri Krishnadevaraya as Krishna Kumar saves a royal court dancer, Simha Nandani, played by Silk Smitha, from armed thugs. Based on folklore and oral literature, Singeetham attempts to show how the Vijayanagara empire would have looked — pearls and diamonds sold on the streets, theft as a practice unheard of etc.

Actor Suthivelu, who also gets accidentally trapped in the time machine, provides comic relief as he is unaware about the time period in which he has arrived, and the conflict between the present and the past (ideas and systems) offers an interesting drama.

Despite showing the period of the Vijayanagara empire in good light and Krishnadevaraya as a noble king, the film stresses that the evolution to modernity and democracy have improved the world.

If the film had been made now, one wonders if it would have been as celebratory about modernity and democracy, considering what we know about how social media (a tool of modernity), has become one of the biggest perils to democracy, leading to extreme polarisation, riots and massacres.

While the film mostly stays true to history, it also introduces a mythical diamond possessing magical powers and the quest for it led by a modern dictator, Raja Varma, played by Amrish Puri.  The characterisation of Raja Varma as an eccentric man, a tyrant who stills wants to be a monarch, with a desire to possess artefacts and his methods of torture (using music) with a colour-coded private army, make for an interesting villain character.

Krishna Kumar, who doesn’t know how to operate the time machine, ends up zooming into the dystopian future in the year 2500 while trying to go back to his original era.

In 2500, the world has been nuked due to the Third World War and life is unsustainable without wearing anti-radiation gear. However, humans have adapted to the harsh conditions and technology has grown exponentially with gadgets like a machine which alerts one about hunger, a machine which spells out what one has been thinking etc. It is during this time in the future that Krishna Kumar discovers that the diamond was stolen by Raja Varma and that he attempts to steal the time machine, too.

When he arrives back in the present, he immediately rushes to rescue Prof Ramdas, who is being held captive by Raja Varma. However, it is unclear how Raja Varma learnt about the scientist possessing the time machine.

Another odd sequence in the film that doesn’t sit well is the feud between Simha Nandani and Krishna Kumar. When Krishna Kumar declines her sexual advances, Simha Nandani makes a false rape charge in the royal court against Krishna Kumar. Though he denies the charge vehemently, he cannot establish the truth, and agrees to a bizarre dance-off challenge between Simha Nandani and Hema which will determine who is guilty or not (??!). In the challenge, Simha Nandani loses to Hema and the court declares that the former's allegation was false (say what?).

The film, however, is considered to be a masterpiece because it perfectly blended the genre of sci-fi and drama with the mainstream template of songs and fight sequences to make it an entertaining watch. It also unlocked the imagination of scores of people to look beyond our realm by popularising Albert Einstein’s theories of time and relativity.

The music for the film was by the genius composer Ilaiyaraaja. He composed the timeless classic ‘Nerajanavule’, sung by Jikki. This song sequence takes place during the era of Krishnadevaraya in the film, and is sung by Simha Nandani to seduce Krishna Kumar, and there's an interesting story behind it. The director gave Ilaiyaraaja a reference that old lyrics would have sounds like ‘oho’ and ‘aha’ interspersed in it. The maestro employed these sounds in the semi-classical song to give the feeling that the song was set in the past.

Another interesting trivia is that the film had three camerapersons —  and  each shot a different period. However, this wasn’t a conscious decision. The camerapersons were PC Sreeram, Kabeer Lal and VSR Swamy. While PC Sreeram was originally signed for the film, after shooting the portions of the present day, he fell ill and two other camerapersons were hired to complete the rest of the project. And this worked to the advantage of the film, as each cameraperson had a different style and could help in showing the variations between the past, present and future.

Singer SP Balasubrahmanyam played a significant part in the film, as he not only presented the film, but also sang all the songs and dubbed for Tinnu Anand. 

 

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