'Baasha' to 'Sathi Leelavathi': Why 1995 is an unforgettable year for Tamil cinema fans

Several landmark films released in 1995, from comedies to hard-hitting dramas and action flicks.
Still from Baasha with Rajinikanth
Still from Baasha with Rajinikanth
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I am eternally grateful to Kollywood for making 1995 quite a delightful year. It was blockbuster time with Rajinikanth's Baasha leading at the box-office. Landmark films such as Bombay, Sathi Leelavathi, Kuruthipunal and Muthu added to the allure of the flickering image.

Gnana Rajasekaran’s Mogamul won him the Indira Gandhi Award for Best Debut Film for a Director. IV Sasi’s Kolangal and Nasser’s Avatharam, one of my favourites, won big at the Tamil Nadu State Awards and further cemented the place of the auteurs. The list of good films didn’t end here — Indira and Aasai made the cut too. All these films have seen 25 years since release.

I also remember unabashedly enjoying lesser films like Makkal Katchi, a rip-roaringly funny political comedy from film student turned director R K Selvamani, which had me in splits. So was the case with Murai Mamman from C Sundar, who could do no wrong during the 1990s. The scenes in which actors Jayaram and Goundamani riff off against each other was, indeed, special. Lucky Man may have flopped miserably, thus sounding the death knell for its eccentric director Prathap Pothan, but it was wildly entertaining anyway.

KS Ravikumar, who had already established a reputation of working really fast, made two movies other than Muthu in 1995. He may not be proud of them today, Periya Kudumbam with Prabhu in the lead and Muthukulikka Varaariyela with the little known Vignesh were released in his name. It was also the year of some other landmarks you may not have fully realised. The great SP Muthuraman made his last film until now —  Thottil Kuzhandhai (Cradle Child), which not many people watched. Malayalam actor Srinivasan made his Tamil cinema debut with Pullakuttikaran (Family Man) and BR Vijayalakshmi, director BR Panthulu’s daughter, known as Asia's first woman cinematographer, made her only movie, Pattu Padava (May I Sing A Song). Actor Sathyaraj turned director for the first and only time, making Villadhi Villain (First Among Villains) in which he played three roles with different makeups. The film may have been regressive, but that became the drug that hooked movie-goers.

Also, please take note of some totally inconsequential trivia. You would remember the song, ‘Thotta Betta Rottumela Mutta Parotta’, if you had switched on Sun TV for more than 10 minutes at that point. The song, with its nonsense verse, ensured that the movie Vishnu, a Vijay-starrer, had its 15 minutes of fame. Also, Neela Kuyil, a thinly veiled remake of Charlie Chaplin’s classic City Lights was released in 1995. But, anyone with any regard for Chaplin should stay away from his poorer Tamil version.

Raj Kiran made the sentimental Ellame En Rasathan (He Is All I Have) with a rural touch but struggled to take home the platitudes he had earned with his earlier film, En Rasavin Manasile (In His Heart). Actor Arjun starred in Karnaa in two roles, no less, including one of a lawyer with disabilities, and delivered a fairly successful movie, largely due to the antics of the comedy duo of Goundamani and Senthil.

Watch: A scene from Baasha

There were embarrassing failures too. Bharathiraja cast the real-life father-son duo in Pasumpon, only to realise he had messed it up. RV Udayakumar, a highly celebrated director, who had already worked with Rajinikanth and Vijayakanth, made Nandhavana Theru (The Chariot In The Garden), which also deservedly bombed. K Bhagyaraj, who was highly prolific during the decade, wrote and directed Oru Oorla Oru Rajakumari (In A Town There Was A Princess), which while was not among his best, nevertheless tickled one’s the funny bone. Singeetham Srinivasa Rao, to whom I am openly partial to, made the experimental sci-fi comedy, Chinna Vathiyar (Young Teacher) to considerable critical and commercial success.

I was in college in 1995 and my folks had given up on me and my movie-going habit. It was a wonderful time to be in college and films like Kuruthipunal were inspiring and thrilled me to bits. I must confess that I was disappointed with Baasha at first viewing and still maintain that it was Annamalai that started the Rajini wave in Tamil Nadu. But Baasha’s success was beyond anyone’s imagination. It became a phenomenon and when remastered and released in 2017, long after the death of Raghuvaran, who played the antagonist, Mark Anthony, the movie hadn’t aged at all.

Not much has been written about Kuruthipunal, which shocked me to the core at first viewing. It was a risky project for both director PC Sreeram and producer Kamal Haasan as the movie did not feature any songs and the hero was a cop who ultimately compromises himself for the success of his mission. It was widely expected that the film would bomb, but it didn’t stop me from watching it four times in the initial run itself. The film brought to fore the vulnerability of police officers involved in high profile secret missions and committed to depict a new kind of cop. At a time when police officers were superheroes in Tamil cinema, Kamal’s portrayal of Adhi Narayanan was much appreciated. The climactic sequence in which Adhi voluntarily gives up his life for a greater cause, and is tortured and killed, was hard to recover from.

At the other polar end was Sathi Leelavathi, a comedy in which the gags flew thick and fast especially when Kamal and ‘Kovai’ Sarala were on screen. Kalpana plays a wife who plays it rough to get back her husband from his “Chinna veedu”, a popular term indicating the other woman in an extramarital relationship. The film’s director, the late Balu Mahendra, was in peak form and did not make many movies with major stars after this one.

Watch: Comedy scenes from Sathi Leelavathi

Other films of note released in 1995 included films such as Kattumarakaran, Engiruntho Vanthan, Gangai Karai Pattu Thai Thangai Pasam, Coolie, Rajamuthirai and Paattu Padava. All these films were targeted at C centres and did modest business. We will do good not to forget 1995 at the movies. Happy watching.

Nandhu Sundaram is a film critic and freelance journalist who lives in a village situated in the back of beyond in Kanyakumari district. He loves cricket and is trying his hand at short stories. He has a seven-year-old daughter.

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