Director CV Sridhar, an acknowledged master of the light-hearted fare, produced in 1964 a comedy that he himself could never surpass. I have always enjoyed Kadhalikka Neramillai, more so with each viewing. I find the filmâs breezy romance and absurd hilarity quite endearing. The comic timing in each scene is impeccable, making the movie one of my favourite romantic comedies of all time.
Growing up, I was fortunate to have a tape of the dialogues from the flick, long before I ever saw it. My fatherâs favourite way of unwinding back then was to listen to the cassette (before the CD era) as we, the children, giggled along. No wonder, many dialogues remained etched in my mind.
The movie hinges on its love stories centred on a razor-thin plot. This style -- both frivolous and poignant at the same time-- was an open invite to the audience to watch the film again and again.
There are many funny sequences between two of the best comedians of that decade -- TS Balaiah and Nagesh, who play father and son here.
Why Sridhar matters
Sridhar is among my favourite directors of the 1960s. I favour his comedies like Ooty Varai Uravu(1967) as opposed to heavyweights such as Kalyana Parisu (1959) and Nenjil Or Aalayam (1962). All three pictures should be on the list of Tamil movies anyone should watch before they die.
Many view Sridharâs films as guilty pleasures because the director is all about entertainment. Unlike others who may have their own motifs, Sridharâs films are character-driven with just a hint of a messaging. In Kadhalikka Neramillai, Sridhar shows love transgressing class differences. The film also references the hectic lifestyle of the 1960s.
Kadhalikka Neramillai was shot extravagantly in Eastman Colour, the first film to have the honour in Tamil cinema. The movie was filmed in verdant outdoor locations in Ooty apart from some garish, colourful sets.
The film also proudly shows off a number of swanky, boat-like cars, including prominently a Plymouth. The costume design is also quite loud to take advantage of the Eastman technology, which had just crossed the shores. So, there are plenty of salwars and shirts in red.
The movie opens with a song, âEnna Paarvai Unthan Paarvaiâ, featuring the seasoned Muthuraman (Vasu) and the debutante Kanchana (she goes by the same name in the film). It was customary at the time for a picture to open with a song, allowing the audience to be seated in the theatre. This was a time when the âoutdoor songâ still had a measure of freshness.
When Vasu is first shown with Kanchana, he is a successful businessman, she is in college and they are already in love. There is an outrageous twist to the tale when, later in the film, the much-older Chidambaram, also played by Muthuraman (in full disguise), woos Kanchana in the titular song. Kanchana is the daughter of Vishwanathan (Balaiah).
Getting Sirkazhi Govindarajan to render the titular song is an inspired decision and the singer brings his own touch to the edgy enunciation.
To help out his friend Ashok (Ravichandran, making a first-rate debut), who is an assistant manager at Vishwanathanâs sprawling Chinnamalai Estate (where cardamom is grown), Vasu disguises himself as Chidambaram, Ashokâs father, to side-splitting results.
The movie is set in three places: Chennai, Coimbatore and Chinnamalai (the real town in Erode district is not a mountainous area). The many trunk calls (long distance calls that were a novelty back then) between these cities and towns take up many valuable moments in the picture, especially in the second half.
Nagesh plays Chellappa, an aspiring, but penniless filmmaker, who is the son of Vishwanathan. Chellappa expects his indifferent father to fund his pet project but is kept guessing even after finding a heroine in Meenalochini (performed by Sachu; in a hilarious play on words, Nagesh tells her,âYou might be Meenalochini, but you have no lotion, no brains.â). In Chellappa, Sridhar finds a way to mock the trendy films of the time. Can anybody make a movie? Sridhar thinks not.
Balaiah in superb form
This is a well-written comedy and the execution is near-perfect, with actors playing off each other. The winning combo of Sridhar-Gopu seems to have given its cast, especially Balaiah, a free hand in interpreting scenes.
Balaiah is in glorious form, especially when he calls Chidambaramâs son as âMaharâ (instead of âMahanâ), with extra respect. The role of Vishwanathan seems to have been made for Balaiahâs own brand of humour. When Vishwanathan falls backwards to accommodate Chidambaram so that his daughter marries the âexporterâsâ son, it is easy to spot the phoniness in high places.
Balaiahâs Vishwanathan is a man who keeps a keen eye on his money. Ever on the lookout for men from rich families to marry off his daughters, Vishwanathan is floored by the very rich Chidambaram.
The actor, perhaps at the peak of his short-lived career, excels himself and bites into the role of the rich, but super naive Vishwanathan. He may be shrewd in making business decisions, but his greed renders him blind. His scenes with Muthuraman and Nagesh are among the best of comedy in Tamil cinema.
Amid all the banter, it is impossible to miss how rich some of the characters, led by Vishwanathan (Balaiah) really are. Money comes in the way of all three weddings that dot the end of the film: Vasu is in love with Kanchana, Ashok with Nirmala (Rajashree), and Chellappa with Meenalochini.
And, itâs Vishwanathan who simply wonât hear of any his children choosing their own lovers. Love might be in the air, but Vishwanathan is a total killjoy.
The editing by NM Shankar seems to be languid and leisurely. Scenes just flow one after the other and no attention is drawn to the craft of editing. Not for a second are you asked to ponder how great the editing is and this is rare and brilliant.
The lyrics are by Kannadasan, who is assisted by Panchu Arunachalam. The songs by Vishwanathan-Ramamoorthy are evergreen hits.
On the shoulder of giants
There are two people who stand head and shoulders above the rest: They are âChithralayaâ Gopu, who came up with the movieâs much-vaunted dialogues, and Nagesh who brought just the right amount of irony to the depiction of his character.
Nagesh wants his banner âOho Productionsâ (too funny to be translated) to revolutionise cinema and bring back people who âonly watch English picturesâ. He is intelligent but clueless, passionate but lacks focus. On seeing Meenalochini, he says: âKandein En Kadaiyin Kadhanayagiyaiâ, the way Tamilâs most renown poet Kamban would have phrased it. âI have found my actress,â is what Chellappa is saying.
One of the best and most famous of the songs is âVishwanathan Velai Vendumâ and it captures, quite aptly, the joblessness in socialist India. Some of us, who are accustomed to seeing Ravichandran as a villain in more than one Rajinikanth movie, will be astounded by his performance in this song. The tune includes lovely guitar riffs and trumpets.
âUngal ponnana kaigal punnagalamaâ caught the imagination of young men and became a hit on college campuses. Kannadasanâs lyrics are delightful and bring a smile to your face.
Even though the film is hampered by the ancient sound effects of the time, the songs more than compensate for this lacuna. Watching this movie, itâs easy to understand why the background scores of Ilaiyaraaja were welcomed with open arms. It continues to puzzle me why Vishwanathan-Ramamoorthy were content with second-rate background music scores.
Sticking to film grammar
Sridhar is acutely conscious of the language and grammar of filmmaking. Even then, some shots are long and pointless instead of being crisp.
For a movie celebrated for its humour, there isnât much of it going on in the first 45 minutes. Sridhar takes some time to set up the love story, giving Ashok ample time to woo Nirmala (called fondly as Nirmal by her sister). He teases her and soon they are love in their own sweet way. The first hour is packed with songs that you often hear on the radio even today. Only after Muthuraman starts wearing a fake moustache and a wig, does the movie kicks into high gear.
Midway through the show, Ashok runs down a slope, waving at Vasuâs car with a scarf in his hand. The sequence is superbly shot, signalling the beginning of a new, funnier chapter. The background score for this scene too promises a lot.
Quite a bit of the flick is also about the friendship between Vasu and Ashok despite their class differences: Vasu is filthy rich and Ashokâs father is a school teacher.
Nagesh is often spotted with a cigarette in hand, long before filmmakers were required to discourage the habit. The first words out of his mouth are: âSorry, ladiesâ. He says that to his sisters, who are curious about his production company. He is again outstanding in the scene in which he tries to rope in Ashok as the writer for his film.
No MGR or Sivaji
Sridhar moved away from casting any of the big actors in this movie. There is no MGR, Sivaji or Gemini. This was widely seen by audiences as a bold, risky move â and they totally dug it.
For a classic, Kadhalikka Neramillai sits remarkably easy on the shoulder of giants. There is just the right whiff of modernity to the film and everything is over all too soon, all too quickly. One minute you are watching the serenading on the Marina in the opening sequence and soon enough you are caught in the whirlwind of the 20-minute climax when the plot unravels.
Beyond the all-around team effort, one cannot set out to make a film like Kadhalikka Neramillai. The way the movie gels together cannot be made to happen, it just happens.