Obituary
What is remarkable about her rise to this throne is that she never had any godfathers in any of the industries she worked in.
  • Sunday, February 25, 2018 - 03:32

Fifty years ago, in a studio in Chennai (then Madras), a young girl faced the cameras for her debut as a child artiste.

Not many in the audience that watched this wisp of a girl would have wagered that this lass with luminous, bright eyes and a prominent nose would one day become the toast of not just South Indian cinema, but Bollywood as well.

Sridevi performed as a child artist in a number of films, but landed her first significant role in a Hindi remake of the Malayalam hit Chattakari. Titled Julie and directed by veteran director KS Sethumadhavan, the film saw Sridevi cast as the heroine Lakshmi’s nubile younger sister.

But, the biggest challenge of her fledgeling career came to her in the Tamil film Moondru Mudichu, directed by star maker and the man with the Midas touch – K Balachander. As a thirteen-year-old, she was saddled with the role of the wife of an aging widower (played by Calcutta Viswanathan) and the stepmother of Rajinikanth.

Kamal Haasan had a guest role in the film and the highlight of the film was the sequence of scenes between Sridevi and Rajinikanth. Balachander was later to cast her in another successful film Varumaiyin Niram Sivappu, which had Kamal in the lead, and Sridevi in the role of a young girl with a wayward father who falls for Kamal.

Another director who played a stellar role in turning Sridevi into a household name was Bharathiraaja. His debut film Pathinaru Vayadhinile, a pastoral drama, had Sridevi playing the central role of the village beauty, Mayil, with Kamal Haasan as a physically challenged Chappani and Rajinikanth as the scheming villain Parattai.

The film turned out to be a blockbuster hit. Sridevi, who had not yet established herself in the industry, threw caution to the winds, exhibiting the voluptuousness of her lithe frame, sending the front benchers into raptures of delight.

Bharathiraaja again cast her opposite Kamal in the suspense thriller Sigappu Rojakkal, where Kamal played a homicidal maniac hunting down the heroine only to perish in the climax. The Sridevi-Kamal Haasan pair was a rage in Kollywood for several years, and the duo worked together in over forty films, including comedies like Meendum Kokila and intense dramas like Moondram Pirai.

Moondram Pirai, helmed by cinematographer-turned-director Balu Mahendra, was a milestone in Sridevi’s film career. It tells the story of a professor (Kamal) who picks up an amnesia-struck waif, rendered senseless after a near-fatal accident. He takes her home and shelters her in the cocoon of his heart, but eventually loses her in a dramatic denouement when, after recovering her mental faculties, she is unable to recognize him as her saviour.

But for the climax, where Kamal goes overboard with his emotions, the entire film belonged to Sridevi. Glamour took a back seat in the film as the actor essayed her role with aplomb, touching a new height in her career, dwarfing even a seasoned performer like Kamal. Ironically, it was Kamal who won the National Award for his performance while Sridevi was overlooked in the Best Actress category.

Sridevi also worked with other Tamil heroes like Sivakumar in Kavi Kuyil and turned in a memorable performance in the Mahendran-directed Johnny opposite Rajinikanth, with whom she had also acted in the SP Muthuraman directed Priya.

Sridevi forayed into the Malayalam and Telugu industries too, and while Mollywood only cast her in lacklustre roles, well fleshed-out roles came to her in Telugu opposite veterans like Nageswara Rao (Premabishekam, a smash hit), NTR, Krishna, Shobhan Babu and so on. Sridevi was the heroines in such Telugu hits as Konda Veeti SinghamKshana KshanamVeeragadu, Sardar Pasparayudu and Bobbili Puli.

Sridevi’s first foray into Bollywood as a heroine was with Bharathiraaja’s 1978 remake of Pathinaru Vayadhinile titled Solva Salwan, which however turned out to be a damp squib. It was in Himmatwala released in 1983, where she was paired with Jeetendra, a favourite of producers down South, that she created a significant impact. Suddenly, Sridevi and her ‘thunder thighs’ came into sharp focus across the nation.

The Sridevi-Jeetendra pair was much like the Sridevi-Kamal combination down south, and films like Mawali and Tohfa clicked in a big way, while almost all their other films too did brisk business. Jeetendra, dubbed ‘Jumping Jack’ for his dancing prowess, was in awe of Sridevi. In a recent interview, he commented that he found it tough to match steps with her in the dance sequences as she was such a brilliant dancer.

Not all her Hindi films did justice to her talent or versatility as they were mere potboilers focusing on entertainment. But there were notable exceptions like Sadma (the remake of Moondram Pirai), Mr India, ChandniChaalbaaz (in a dual role with Sunny Deol and Rajinikanth), Khuda Gawah (again, playing dual roles of an Afghani mother and daughter, opposite Amitabh Bachchan), Lamhe, and Gumrah.

Shekar Kapur’s Mr India (which critics felt should have been titled Miss India as Sridevi hogged the limelight) was a delightful comedy caper, where she acted opposite Anil Kapoor. The “Hawa Hawaii” song, where she danced with gay abandon, became a craze, as did her Chaplinesque act that brought the roof down.

Ace director Yash Chopra was so fascinated with her talent that he cast her in the dual role of a mother and daughter in his film Lamhe. Already, she had won hearts in his earlier film, Chandni, in a role tailor-made for her. Commercial hits like NaginaKarma, and Janbaaz kept coming, right down to her last project before bidding au revoir to the industry, Judaai.

Marriage to Boney Kapoor, Anil Kapoor's elder brother and a producer in his own right, turned the queen of the box office into a demure housewife. But when even her most die-hard fans thought she had hung up her boots for good, Sridevi sprang a surprise by returning to the silver screen after a fifteen-year hiatus.

In 2012, Sridevi made a powerful comeback with the English Vinglish, directed by Gauri Shinde. The film’s theme centred on Sridevi as a housewife, who after being taunted by her husband and daughters on her lack of proficiency in English, strives to match their expectations by opting for a crash course in the language.

The film was a runaway hit and the actor proved that she could still carry a film on her shoulders. Sridevi’s film Mom, produced by husband Boney Kapoor and directed by newcomer Ravi Udyavar featured her in the lead as the mother of two children played by Pakistani actors Sajid Ali and Adnan Siddique. The film also saw Nawazuddin Siddique and Akshay Khanna sharing frames with her.

There’s no dearth of admirers even within the industry for the woman recently chosen as India’s greatest actress in the last hundred years by a popular news channel. Salman Khan, for instance, had said that Sridevi is greater than all the Khans in the industry, while veteran actor Anupam Kher dubbed her the Queen of Hindi cinema.

What is remarkable about her rise to this throne is that she never had any godfathers in any of the industries she worked in. Instead, she made her rise to the top thanks to her versatility, her commitment to cinema and the hard work she put in over several decades.

Bollywood has always been a haven for actresses from the South, with the likes of Vyjayantimala, Waheeda Rahman, Padmini, Hema Malini and Rekha all carving niches for themselves. But Sridevi has always been in a different league altogether, which is saying a lot considering that these other stars had massive followings in their heydays.

Kollywood
The Tamil film industry has had several directors who've stepped in front of the camera and proved their mettle as actors.
  • Monday, February 12, 2018 - 14:43

The Tamil film Mayandi Kudumbathar directed by the late Rasu Madhuravan was released in the year 2009. What was unique about the movie was that for the first time in the history of Tamil cinema, the film’s cast comprised as many as eleven directors.

While some of them like Manivannan, Seeman, Tarun Gopi and Ponvannan were well-known faces in the industry, the others were still striving to find their feet and had helmed one or two films. The experiment was partially successful as the film with a rural backdrop had an average run at the box office and did not burn a hole in the producer’s pocket. Some of these directors have been pursuing an acting career and one of them, Singam Puli, is a much sought after comedian these days.

However, directors donning the greasepaint and stepping in front of the camera is not a recent phenomenon. One of the earliest directors who also acted in his films was the veena vidwan S Balachander who had a yen for horror films. He played stellar roles in whodunits like Bommai and Nadu Iravil which he also directed. This trend has caught on in a big way as far as Kollywood is concerned as more and more directors are announcing ‘pack up’ where their directorial careers are concerned and are evincing interest in acting.

Playwright turned directors like Visu and Mouli inevitably ended up reprising the roles they had enacted in their plays while directing the screen versions. However, an actor like Bhagyaraj, who was seen in small roles in his mentor Bharathiraaja’s films, suddenly found himself in the hero’s garb when Bharathiraaja cast him opposite Rati Agnihotri in the film Puthiya Varpugal, the director’s fourth venture.

Capitalising on the success of the film, Bhagyaraj went on to make several hit films like Antha Ezhu Natkal, Mundanai Mudichu and Darling Darling Darling, donning the hero’s mantle and also doubling up as director. Among his assistants, Parthiban and Pandiyarajan too followed in their mentor’s footsteps. While Parthiban directed national award winning films like Puthiya Pathai, Pandiyarajan also impressed with an Aan Pavam. While Parthiban continues to direct an odd film or two, Pandiyarajan has now become a full time actor.

Bharathiraaja, whose directorial venture Bommalattam with Nana Patekar in the cast was a colossal flop, has now taken to acting in cameo roles in films and has even begun to land plum roles on the small screen as well.

Cheran is another filmmaker who was fast developing into a fine director with films like Bharathi Kannamma and Vetri Kodi Kattu when he turned lead actor in his own films like Autograph and Thavamai Thavamirunthu. Unfortunately, he has not directed a film for quite a while now and the acting offers have also dried up.

Two directors who really found their niche as actors are the late Manivannan and Sundararajan. Both of them were brilliant at their craft and while Manivannan had hits like Nooravathu Naal, Pudhu Vasantham, and Amaithi Padai, to his credit as director, Sundararajan’s hit films like Amman Kovil Kizhakhale and Vaidehi Kathirunthal turned him into a household name.

It was his role as an antagonist in Rajinikanth’s Kodi Parakuthu directed by his mentor Bharathiraaja that convinced Manivannan that his future lay in acting. But unlike Sundararajan whose forte remains comedy, Manivannan could play various roles with consummate ease. He excelled as a villain and comedian in films like Suryavamsam and Avvai Shanmughi where he was cast as a rich Chettiar in relentless pursuit of Shanmughi (Kamal Haasan).

Mani was also adept at essaying intense, emotional roles and delivered powerful performances in films like Thullatha Manamum Thullum and Sangamam. His untimely passing was a big loss to Tamil cinema for he was both a gifted director and actor as well.

Rare is the Tamil film which does not have director Manobala in the cast. The thin as a beanstalk Manobala who has directed several films is one of the busiest comedians on the circuit and though he is required to play only inconsequential comic characters, his combination scenes with ‘Vaigai Puyal' Vadivelu and Santhanam have never failed to regale audiences.

One prolific director who appears to have realised that acting is not his cup of tea is Sundar C who along with his wife, actor Khushbu is also a successful producer. Sundar, who had a string of hits as a director to his credit including the acclaimed Anbe Sivam with Kamal Haasan and Madhavan in the lead, was bitten by the acting bug. However, his roles in films directed by him did not click in a big way. The biggest disappointment was the film Veerappu, a remake of the Malayalam superhit Spadikam where he was hardly a patch on Mohanlal who had delivered a towering performance.

Sundar who also appeared briefly in his films like Aranmanai is now back to direction with the sequel to his hit film Kalakalappu and is also all set to direct what could be his magnum opus Sangamithra.

KS Ravikumar who directed superstar Rajinikanth in blockbusters like Muthu and Padayappa and Kamal Haasan in Tenali and Avvai Shanmughi had, like Alfred Hitchcock, made fleeting appearances in his films. But now, with not many directorial offers coming his way after films like Kochadaiyan turned damp squibs, he is chancing his arm as an actor and has bagged a few roles.

From the younger lot, you have Samutharakani and Sashikumar who are actors as well as directors. Samutharakani, who worked in Sashi’s film Subramaniapuram directed the latter in the smash hit Nadodi. The actor, who has already won a National Award for Best Supporting Actor for India’s Oscar entry Visaranai, is now flooded with offers not only from Tamil filmmakers but also from Mollywood where his portrayal of a homicidal maniac in the Pridyadarshan directed Mohanlal starrer Oppam was much appreciated.

Samutharakani has also firmed up plans to direct Sashikumar in a film in the near future.

Other director- actors who deserve a mention are Raj Kiran, T Rajendar, Ramarajan, Myskkin, Ameer, Ram S J Suryah ( who was cast as a diabolic villain in Murugadoss directed Spyder) and Ramesh Khanna, Of the lot Myskkin, Ameer and Ram continue to be hotshot directors as well. That directors have a flair for acting is well known as part of their job is to act out scenes for the performers. And as any director would tell you, acting is far less taxing than direction, with the additional risk of having to own up if a film tanks at the box office.

Mollywood
'Perunthachan' and 'Sargam' are among Manoj K Jayan's most memorable films.
  • Monday, January 29, 2018 - 18:30
Facebook/ Manoj K Jayan

The realisation that he would have to contend with the likes of Yesudas if he were to turn playback singer, prompted Manoj K Jayan, son of the celebrated classical and devotional singer Jayan of the Jaya-Vijaya duo, to opt for a career in films as an actor.

Three decades and hundreds of films later, Manoj has never had to rue his decision for he remains one of the first choices for directors who need a charismatic character actor for their films.

Manoj enrolled in a film institute in Kerala but discontinued the course and began to scout for offers. A blink and miss role in Ente Sonia in 1987 set the actor on course but his potential was noticed in the film Perunthachan released three years later in which the late actor Thilakan was the main protagonist.

Quite early in his career, Manoj realised that he was not cut from the same cloth as Mammootty or Mohanlal and that craving for leading man roles only could cost him his career. This decision enabled him to shift seamlessly between genres and exhibit his versatility in the process. The handsome actor has since excelled in portraying a wide range of characters, some tinged with comedy, others more poignant and absorbing, but not one of them exaggerated or superficial.

One of the finest characters that Manoj K Jayan has enacted on screen was undoubtedly ‘Kuttan Thamburaan’ in the Hariharan directed Sargam, released in 1992. Just five years into his film career, Manoj was signed to play the role of a wastrel prone to epileptic seizures, a mischief maker who incurred the wrath of the villagers with his outlandish living style.

Vineet, a Hariharan discovery in Nakhaksthangal, was cast in the sedate role of Kuttan’s best friend who alone could rein in the boisterous vagrant. Kuttan is forced by his parents to marry a young girl as astrologers had predicted that marriage would cure him of his malady.

Later, it dawns on Kuttan that he had wedded his best friend’s lover. Stung with remorse, Kuttan takes his own life. A complex role where the actor could have easily gone overboard in the emotion laden sequences was handled with a great deal of finesse under the watchful eye of the director. This film was a turning point in Manoj’s career.

Scenarist John Paul, who wrote the script for the late director Bharathan’s Chamayam, had marquee star Mohanlal and veteran Thilakan in mind for the lead roles of two fishermen with an abiding passion for theatre. However when the project took off, the roles were done by Manoj and the late Murali with the former playing the role of the extrovert Anto and Murali his friend cum rival Esthappan.

The film had the distinct Bharathan touch and the stars fit perfectly in their roles. The sheer ecstasy in the number Anthapurathu sung by MG Sreekumar, where Manoj whips up a fast dance number with Murali egging him on, lit up the screen for its sheer vibrance and vitality. With Sithara, a sublime presence as the heroine, Chamayam could well rank among Manoj’s top films.

Internationally renowned cinematographer-director Santosh Sivan made the film Anandhabhadram in 2005 and a surprise pick for the villain’s role was Manoj K Jayan. The role of the diabolic Digambaran, a black magic practitioner who terrorises a village was a complete antithesis of everything that Manoj had done thus far. With his larger than life image, kohl lined eyes blazing like charcoals, large fingernails and giant strides, Digambaran was modeled on characters drawn from Kerala’s finest art forms Kathakali and Theyyam.

The film was a dark fantasy in which Manoj completely overshadowed the hero Prithviraj and Kalabhavan Mani, who played the role of a visually impaired samurai warrior taking on the sinister and maniacal Digambaran. For a cool and composed individual in real life like Manoj, Digambaran was a real baptism by fire and he ended up vindicating the faith of the director.

It was Hariharan again who gave Manoj K Jayan another pivotal role in his period film Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja where Mammootty was cast in the title role. A lavishly mounted film with enchanting visuals, Pazhassi Raja featured Manoj in the role of a local chieftain Thalakal Chandu. Although Mammootty hogged the limelight in the film, Hariharan had taken care to ensure that the character of Chandu did not receive short shrift and Manoj had an opportunity to steal the thunder in the scenes allotted to him.

Pazhassi Raja, scripted by Jnanpith awardee M T Vasudevan Nair also had a spectacular box office run and did much to further Manoj K Jayan’s career.

The versatile actor’s performance as a hijra in playback singer M G Sreekumar produced Ardhanari, a highly charged, melodramatic film however was a letdown as it was a totally over the top portrayal and though the character was meant to elicit empathy, audiences gave the film and the character a frosty reception.

For the hero turned character actor it was a pleasant turn of events when director Farooq Abdul Rahman plumed him to play the lead role in the film Kaliyachan, released in 2015. The role of Kunhiraman, a Kathakali dancer and his relationship with his guru provided Manoj an opportunity to once again showcase his acting skills.

Manoj K Jayan is one of the few stars of yesteryear who has managed to strike a chord with the younger set of filmmakers and they have always reposed faith in him. His roles in films like Alphonse Puthran’s Neram, Bejoy Nambiar’s Solo, and his being part of the soon to be released Prithviraj – Parvathy starrer My Story, Zacharaiah Pothan’s Jeevichirupundu and a number of films on the floors, signify that the actor continues to be in demand for strong, character roles.

Manoj has worked with almost all the top names in Malayalam cinema and was also a part of two of Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s films Naalu Pennungal and Oru Pennum Rendaanum. The actor has also ventured into Tamil and Telugu films but has hardly done any significant work. In most of his Tamil films he has been typecast as a police officer and though these films including Dhool, Thirupaachi and Villu were box office hits, they did little for him career-wise.

Incidentally, it was director Mani Ratnam who gave him his first break in Kollywood in the Rajinikant-Mammootty-Arvind Swami film Thalapathi. Well entrenched in the industry. the actor’s zest for films stands undiminished and though he has only won a few awards, he has endeared himself to the audience with his portrayals in varied roles and along with veterans like Nedumudi Venu, Innocent, Siddique etc. remains always in contention for vibrant supporting roles.

Opinion
Despite having an average film career and his political entry fizzling out, Vishal has risen from the ashes before and we should not dismiss him so quickly.
  • Tuesday, January 02, 2018 - 12:15

He has his fingers in several pies at the same time. An actor and producer, Vishal also successfully contested and won the elections to the Nadigar Sangam and the Producer’s Council. He is now the Secretary of the former and the President of the latter.

However, Vishal shocked friends and foes alike by jumping into politics and filing his nomination for the recent RK Nagar bye-polls in Chennai. The seat had fallen vacant after the demise of former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa. But, in what came as an anti-climax, his nomination papers were rejected by the Returning Officer on the grounds that two signatures of his proposers were fudged.

Vishal, as could be expected, raised a hue and cry and hinted at a conspiracy, but it was to no avail. His detractors in the Producer’s Council, like director Cheran, seized the opportunity to take potshots at him for neglecting his duties as Council President and for choosing to plunge into politics instead. They even went to the extent of launching a sit-in protest at the Council premises. But, like his innings in politics that ended even before it really began, the agitation too fizzled out.

Vishal has earned the reputation of being a doer, especially after he wrested power at the Nadigar Sangam from veterans like Sarath Kumar and Radha Ravi, who were holding the fort after Vijaykanth bowed out and opted for a full-fledged career in politics. The Sangam, which has senior actor Nasser as President, has filed a suit against the previous incumbents alleging misappropriation of funds and the case is pending in the courts.

After the victory in the Nadigar Sangam elections, Vishal set his sights on the Producers’ Council – the fiefdom of long-time filmmakers like ‘Kalaipuli’ Thaanu, KR, Alagappan and others. With the solid backing of the younger set of producers, including the likes of actor, director and producer Prakash Raj, his team swept through the polls. However, unlike in the Sangam, which has been functioning as a compact unit, the Council remains a divided house and there are several dissenting voices being heard.

Vishal, who has a degree in Mass Communications, started off as an assistant director in Arjun Sarja’s Vedham in 2001. He made his debut in Chellame in 2004. But it was his later films – Sasi’s Dishyum, Linguswami’s Sandakozhi and Tarun Gopi’s Thimiru – that secured his place in the Tamil film industry.

A typical Vishal film had its quota of stunt sequences, in which he excelled thanks to his wiry physique, and duets where he wooed heroines in exotic locations. The emotional content was kept to the barest minimum as the actor’s comfort level while enacting such heavy-duty scenes was suspect.

It was director Bala who uncovered the hidden depths to Vishal’s talent in his action-comedy Avan Ivan, which is still ranked very high in the actor’s career. Bala, who is known to be choosy when it comes to casting in his movies, relied of actor Arya’s recommendation and Vishal did not disappoint. In the story of two half-brothers, Vishal played Walter Vanangamudi, the softer sibling, while Arya proved to be his perfect foil with his tough Kumbideren Swamy.

The film offered Vishal the opportunity to do something different. Despite him having to strain his eyes to play the role of a man with a squint, the critical acclaim he received must have helped alleviate the pain. One particular scene stands out in the movie – Walter, a wannabe actor, in a bid to impress Suriya (playing himself) performs the navarasas – which only met with a lukewarm response in the box office.

His film career has been far from impressive – his flops have outnumbered his hits. While action extravaganzas like Malaikottai, Pandiyanaadu, Naan Sigappu Manithan and Sivappathigaram fared a trifle better, his later films like Ambala, Paayum Puli and Kathi Sandai were total flops. The only film that comes to mind when I speak of Vishal’s hits is Hari’s Thamiraparani. Kathakali and Marudhu also performed only averagely at the box office.

The actor’s most-recent break came in Mysskin’s Thupparivaalan, where Vishal played a desi Sherlock Holmes, investigating a string of seemingly unrelated murders. Vishal, whose earlier cop film Sathyam failed to click with the audience, had a much better outing with Thupparivaalan, which opened to critical and commercial acclaim. His hyped-up performance as an antagonist in the Malayalam film Villain, starring Mohanlal as the hero, went unnoticed.

So where does this forty-year-old, strapping actor go from here?

He has no dearth of assignments and can even make his own films now. His father, GK Reddy, and his brother, Vikram Krishna, are both Kollywood producers too – so he can even fall back on them for a project if need be. For now, he has pinned his hopes on his upcoming films, Irumbu Thirai, where his one-time mentor Arjun will be crossing swords with him, and Sandakozhi 2.

However, his attempt to rush into politics, when superstars like Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth have marched into the arena, has come a cropper. Chances are that he has now decided to put his political plans on hold for now.

As an administrator, he has a number of plans lined up for the Nadigar Sangam, including a fundraiser tour to Malaysia and intensifying the battle against video piracy. Constructing a building for the Sangam too is of top priority.

There is no doubt we will see more of Vishal in the times to come – he is here for the long haul.

 

 

Music
Rahman has experimented across genres of music and has left his stamp on each of them.
  • Saturday, December 23, 2017 - 16:45
PTI

As a young boy, he used to hang around when his father, RK Shekar used to compose music for films.

At nine, Dileep Shekar lost his father and had to don the mantle of the family’s breadwinner soon after. Renowned music directors like Dhanraj and M K Arjunan took him under their wing and young Dileep could by then play the synthesizer like a young pro.

After the family embraced Islam, Dileep was re-christened as Alla Rakha Rahman and came to be known in the field of music as AR Rahman. With music in his genes, he soon gained mastery over several instruments and with a group of friends, he formed a music band called. ‘Roots’. From there, he graduated to composing music for jingles.

He also earned expertise in his craft by freelancing for music directors like MS Viswanathan, Ilaiyaraaja and Raj Koti and also found opportunity to accompany stalwarts like Zakir Hussain, Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan and L Shankar.

In 1992, veteran director Balachander produced Roja under his home banner with Mani Ratnam as director. The duo decided to introduce a new music director for their film and the opportunity came Rahman’s way.

Until then, Ilaiyaraaja had been Mani’s favourite composer and his scores had embellished films like Mouna Ragam, Agni Nakshathiram and Nayagan among others. But the gamble paid off and Roja heralded the arrival of a new composer who would eventually conquer the world of film music in the years to come.

With a baton like a magic wand, Rahman would regale audiences around the globe, working not just in Kollywood and Bollywood but in Hollywood films as well. Roja became a trendsetter for its music score and Rahman made bold by introducing singers like Minmini (Chinna Chinna Aasai) while relying on proven performers like SP Balasubramanian, Chitra, Sujatha, Unni Menon and Hariharan.

Vairamuthu’s lyrics set to Rahman’s music in Roja became a rage and the two of them would later work together in several movies, enthralling listeners of all ages. If Kadhal Rojave had a ring of pathos to it, Rukkumani Rukkumani was a foot tapping number and Hariharan’s rendering of Thamizha Thamizha was rich in its soulful quality.

Rahman might have worked in any number of films after Roja but there are many admirers who still feel that he is yet to surpass Roja, the lyrics of which also became chartbusters in Hindi and Telugu. And incidentally TIME magazine has included Roja in a list of top ten soundtracks of all time.

A commonly heard quip is that Rahman has always reserved his best for films directed by Mani Ratnam who was instrumental in giving him his first break. And logic supports this argument as Rahman has won two of his four National Awards for Mani’s films (Roja and Kannathil Muthamittaal) and their combination turned Bombay into one of the largest selling albums in Tamil cinema.

Rahman has also been an integral part of Mani’s Hindi films like Dil Se, Yuva, Guru and Raavan. The soundtracks of other Mani films like Kadal, O Kadhal Kanmani and Kaatru Veliyedai too bore Rahman’s stamp. Apart from Mani, Rahman has also shared a great rapport with director Shankar who has repeated Rahman in all his films right from his debut film Gentleman. Their latest collaboration 2.0, starring Rajnikant which is slated to hit the screens next year, is eagerly awaited by the diehard fans of the actor, the director and the music director as well.

While most of the films for which he composed the music were set against an urban backdrop, Rahman was not found wanting when working for films with pastoral themes either. His films with Bharathiraaja, Kizhakku Cheemayile and Karuthamma amply proved that rural themes were right up his street. Sangamam was another classic example of Rahman excelling in compositions with a distinct folk flavour.

Jana Gana Mana and Vandhe Madharam, his non film albums too were huge hits. Rahman was no stranger to Bollywood as the lyrics in the dubbed versions of his films like Roja and Kadhalan had turned out into smash hits. However, his first break in Hindi cinema came through Ramgopal Varma’s Rangeela, the Aamir Khan starrer which was a runaway hit.

A number of films like Taal, Swades, Rang De Basanti, Lagaan and Jodhaa Akbar enabled him to establish himself firmly in Bollywood. Veteran director Subhashi Ghai who directed Taal once confessed that he was almost driven to despair by the unique working style of the maestro whose composing generally began after all the cows had reached home and went on till the wee hours of the morning. But Taal was an inspiring score that was instrumental in the success of the film at the box-office.

Rahman won a National Award for Lagaan a film based on a rural subject and the tunes became chart toppers in no time .His scores in films like Rockstar, Ranjhaana and Highway too were highly appreciated.

While Rahman also composed music for stage productions like Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Bombay Dreams and Deepa Mehta’s Water, the crowning glory came with Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire a blockbuster which had riveting music. Two Academy Awards, BAFTA Award,  a Golden Globe and two Grammy’s were among the honours that have come to Rahman for his overseas assignments.

While fast, peppy numbers like Chikku Bukku Rayile (Suresh Peters, G V Prakash), Muqabla Muqabla (Mano, Swarnalatha) have been his forte, his melodies like Munbe Vaa (Naresh Iyer, Shreya Ghosal), Mannipaaya (Shreya Ghosal, A R Rahman ) and Yaarumilla Thiraiarangil ( Swetha Menon) have tugged at the heart strings of listeners across the world.

There is hardly any genre of music that the Mozart of Madras has left untouched and his versatility has been the hallmark of his musical career. Experimentation has been a key word in his dictionary and in instrumentation, using non-traditional voices and so on, Rahman has blazed a new trail. Rahman’s expertise has stretched to classical, western, pop, reggae and sufi, music and he has left his stamp on all of them.

Apart from his international awards, Rahman’s tally includes four National Awards, 15 Filmfare Awards, 16 Filmfare Awards ( South) and a Padma Bhushan as well. His state of the art Panchathan Studio in Chennai and a highly popular music school are among his abiding passions.

Kollywood
Several Malayali women actors have become established stars in welcoming Tamil Nadu.
  • Monday, December 04, 2017 - 18:03

They came in search of greener pastures and stayed on to conquer the hearts and minds of cineastes in Kollywood, gaining a stranglehold on the industry in the process. Just as Tamil women actors ruled the roost in Bollywood right from the days of Vyjayantimala to Hema Malini and Sridevi, their counterparts from Mollywood shifted base to Kollywood and struck firm roots in Tamil cinema.

Among the earliest to touch base were the famous trio, referred to as the ‘Travancore Sisters’ Lalitha, Padmini and Ragini, all celebrated classical dancers. While Lalitha sparkled in a few films and passed away at 52, Ragini who died prematurely at 39 had a shorter stint in the world of cinema. But it was Padmini hailed as ‘Naatiya Peroli’ for her dancing prowess, who became a household name in Tamil cinema and was in great demand right through her long career.

The highlight of a film like Vanjikottai Valiban where Gemini Ganesan played the lead was a dance competition between Vyjayantimala and Padmini and both the dancers, unrivalled in their time, gave a superb performance.

Incidentally the lyric to which they danced ‘Kannum Kannum Kalanthu’ turned into a chart topper as well. Padmini, who acted with all the top heroes of her time, and also made it big in Bollywood, made a fine pair with Sivaji Ganesan and their films together like Thangapadumai, Thillana Mohanambal and Vietnam Veedu were all box-office hits. She was one of the few women actors of her time who could match thespian Sivaji Ganesan in the acting department.

In the twilight of her career, Padmini returned as a grandmother in the film Poove Poo Choodava, a remake of Fazil’s Malayalam hit Nokkathaatha Doorathu Kannum Nattu where she had essayed the same role. Padmini’s cousin Sukumari, no mean dancer herself, also worked in a number of Tamil films playing the quintessential mother. She also won a National Award for Best Supporting Actress for the offbeat film Namma Gramam directed by actor Mohan Sharma.

A petite star with a tip tilted nose, Sumithra also forayed into Tamil cinema with Avalum Pen Thaane produced by veteran woman actor Pandari Bai in which she played the challenging role of a young woman trafficked into sex work. In the wake of the success of the film, she landed a number of offers and was cast by veteran director Balachander in Nizhal Nijamakirathu. She donned the role of Sivaji Ganesan’s sister in the film Annan Oru Kovil. She also played Rajinkanth’s wife and Sivaji’s daughter-in-law in the film Justice Gopinath.

But the two sisters who held sway over Kollylwood in the eighties and early nineties were Ambika and Radha, both of whom became extremely popular, excelling in glamorous and emotional roles as well.

Ambika, who was introduced by director Bhagyaraj in Antha Ezhu Natkal rose to fame with the Kamal Haasan starrer Khaki Chattai and also worked with Rajini in hits like Padikaathavan and Maaveeran. She was also seen in Rajini’s Engeyo Ketta Kural where her sister Radha too had a parallel role.

Radha was a Bharathiraaja discovery in Alaigal Oyvathillai where she was paired with Karthik and the duo went on to work in several other films, too. A number of films with Kamal Haasan like Tik Tik Tik, Oru Kiadiyin Diary and Japanil Kalyanaraman followed. However, her finest performance came in Bharathiraaja’s Mudhal Mariyathai where she was a perfect foil for Sivaji Ganesan who played an elderly villager unable to fend off the affectionate advances made by a young woman.

Actors like the late Kalpana (Chinna Veedu, Sathi Leelavathi, Pammal K Sambandam) and her younger sister Urvashi (Mundanai Mudichu, Michael Madana Kama Rajan) too had their share of success in Kollywood though they mainly worked in Malayalam films.

Women actors from Kerala like KR Vijaya and Revathi too have been a force to reckon with in Tamil cinema. Vijaya, who was introduced by K S Gopalakrishnan in Karpagam, had a very long career in Kollywood and worked with all the top heroes of her time including MGR, Sivaji Ganesan, Gemin Ganesan, Murhuraman, Jaishankar, and so on. 

Revathi, spotted by star maker Bharathiraaja who cast her in Mann Vasanai performed with elan in films like Kamal’s Thevar Magan and Punnagai Mannan and also in tear jerkers like ‘Kizhakku Vasal’ with Karthik. Shobha, who started out as a child actor in Malayalam, flashed by like a meteor in Tamil with films like Azhiyatha Kolangal, Mullum Malarum, and Pasi for which she won a National Award. Unfortunately the promising actor allegedly committed suicide at a very early age, barely days after she received her National Award. 

The gifted dancer Shobana, niece of the Travancore Sisters, shone for a while in Tamil cinema with mercurial performances in films like Ithu Namma Aalu, Kamal Haasan’s Enakkul Oruvan and Mani Ratnam’s Thalapathy.

Another Malayali actor who made a name for herself in Kollywood was Asin Thottumkal, who debuted in the film M Kumaran – Son of Mahalakshmi with Jayam Ravi and also worked with top heroes like Kamal in Dasavataram and Suriya in Ghajini. Her roles in Vijay’s Pokkiri and Kavalan and Ajith Kumar’s Varalaru were no less memorable.

Meera Jasmine, too, was popular with films like Run scoring at the box office. She was also part of Mani Ratnam's Ayutha Ezhuthu, in which she once again acted with Madhavan.

Among the current crop Nitya Menen (OK Kanmani, Mersal), Lakshmi Menon (Pandiyanaadu, Kumki, Vedalam), Keerthy Suresh (Idhu Enna Mayam, Rajani Murugan, Remo, Bhairavaa) and Parvathi (Poo, Maryan) too have distinguished themselves, albeit briefly in Tamil cinema.

Of the lot, however, Keerthy Suresh is on a better wicket with films like ‘Mahanati’ (a biopic on the late actress Savithri), Thaana Serndha Kootam with Suriya and Saamy 2 with Vikram, directed by J Hari on the anvil.

But ruling the roost in Kollywood today is Nayantara, the highest paid woman actor in Tamil cinema and also the most sought after. Introduced to the silver screen in the film Manasinakkare by Sathyan Anthikaad with Jayaram playing the male lead, Nayan made the transition to Tamil cinema with Hari’s Ayya in 2005.

She consolidated her position with films like Chandramukhi with Rajinikanth and Ghajini, the Suriya starrer with AR Murugadoss wielding the megaphone. Non- descript films like Kalvanin Kathali and Vallavan threatened to wreck her career but she bounced back soon with hits like Billa, Yaaradi Nee Mohini, Boss Engira Bhaskaran and Naanum Rowdy Thaan. 

Of late she has been concentrating on heroine oriented subjects and films like Maya and her latest release Aramm where she has donned the role of a Collector have proved that she is capable of carrying a film on her shoulders.

Today, Nayan who has a huge fan following, is in a position to sort the chaff from the wheat and the films that she has lined up all feature her in powerful roles. She is also willing to experiment and take risks and is a sure bet to play a long innings in Tamil cinema. 

The exodus from Mollywood to Kollywood is not likely to end any time soon. Better remuneration and a greater reach are some of the factors that draw these actors to Kodambakkam. And nobody is complaining, least of all the audience who are only too willing to cheer for them all the way.

Sandalwood
A look at five of Girish Kasaravalli’s films reveals his innate ability to tell stories convincingly and without commercial elements.
  • Saturday, November 25, 2017 - 16:15
Wikipedia/Omshivaprakash

The parallel cinema movement in the country has over the years been nurtured by a number of stalwarts like Satyajit Ray (Pather Panchali, Apur Sansar, Aparajitho) Mrinal Sen (Bhuvan Shome Ek Din Prati Din), Shayam Benegal (Ankur, Manthan), Mani Kaul (Uski Roti, Duvidha), Govind Nihalani (Ardh Satya, Aakrosh), Kumar Shahani (Maya Darpan, Tarang) and Gautam Ghose (Paar Antarjali Yatra).

Down south too, there has been no dearth of filmmakers whose ventures have swerved considerably from the beaten track. Adoor Gopalakrishnan (Elipathayam, Mukhamukam), Aravindan (Utharayanam, Pokkuveyil), John Abraham (Agraharathil Kazhuthai, Amma Ariyan ), MT Vasudevan Nair (Nirmalyam, Oru Cheru Punchiri), BV Karanth (Chomana Dudi, Hamsa Geethe), Pattabhirama Reddy (Samskara), MS Sathyu (Garam Hawa) Girish Karnad (Vamsa Vriksh, Ondanandu Kaladalli), TS Naghabharana (Nagamandala) and Seshadri (Munnudi, Bharath Stores) have all won awards galore for their efforts apart from critical acclaim.

One name that should feature prominently when the history of parallel cinema is written is that of Girish Kasaravalli, a Kannada director of great distinction whose oeuvres have enriched the industry greatly.

A gold medalist from the prestigious Film & Television Institute of India (FTII), Girish, who has worked with directors like B V Karanth in Chomana Dudi made his directorial debut with the path breaking Ghatashradda’ in 1977.

In a span of forty years, he has made just fourteen films, many of which have won him multiple national awards and have been screened at major international film festivals.

Right from his first film, Girish Kasaravalli has revealed a penchant for picking up themes from published works of celebrated authors be they novels, novellas or even short stories. But in most cases he has taken liberties with the text, often adding his own inputs while writing the screenplay.

Girish has never been enamoured of marquee names and his priority has always been to choose actors who could do justice to the characters. The female leads in his films have all been strong-willed, capable of shouldering responsibilities and conquering the odds ranged against them.

A review of five of Girish Kasaravalli’s films reveals his innate ability to tell stories convincingly eschewing commercial elements in toto. Pandering to the dictates of the box office too has been anathema to him.

GHATASHRADDA - 1977

This 1977 film marked the debut of the director and was based on a novella by the Jnanpith Award winning author U R Ananthamurrthy.

Shot in black and white, Ghatashradda depicted the heart-wrenching story of a young widow whose pregnancy is aborted. A ritual held for the dead is conducted for her while she is still alive.

A little boy who had cottoned on to her and had become her constant companion and only solace is a mute witness to the proceedings. Just as the novella shocked readers, the film too touched a raw nerve. A no holds barred castigation of the social mores of a highly patriarchal society, Ghatashradda won as many as eighteen awards including the coveted Golden Lotus for the Best Film of the Year at the National Awards.

Meena Kuttappa in the lead and Ajith Kumar as the child artiste excelled in their roles with the latter winning the National Award for the Best Child Actor.

TABARANE KATHE - 1987

The trials and tribulations of a watchman. Tabara Shetty, waging a lone battle against an apathetic dispensation that denies him his pension benefits formed the nucleus ofTabarane Kathe. The film is based on a short story by the celebrated writer Poornachandra Tjejaswi.

Charuhasan, until then better known as the elder brother of matinee idol Kamal Haasan was Girish’s pick for the protagonist’s role and he was ably supported by Nalina Murthy who was cast as his ailing wife.

Madhu Ambat’s cinematography captured the trauma of the characters brilliantly. Two scenes in the film stood out, one showing the head of an accounts clerk emerging from behind a mountain of files like that of a mouse from a haystack, and the other a highly poignant one where Tabara requests a butcher to amputate the gangrenous leg of his wife as he is not in a position to afford a surgery.

Eventually, the wife breathes her last and Tabara’s pension is cleared. By then he had lost his zest for life and he curses all those who had been responsible for his plight. This film too won the Golden Lotus Award.

THAAYI SAHEBA – 1997

The film, based on a novel by Ranganath Shyamrao Lokapure, was set in the pre-independence era and narrated the story of a patient and docile woman Narmada Thaayi whose husband Appa Saheb, a freedom fighter, seeks to adopt a son as she remains childless.

The film revolved around the social status of women in an orthodox Brahmin household and as in his earlier films, Girish ensured that the story was presented in a realistic manner. Girish’s wife, the late Vaishali Kasaravalli won the National Award for Best Costume Design for the film and the film netted four awards in all at the National level.

Girish had plumped for an actor better known for her glamorous roles, Jayamala, for the title role and she did not disappoint, winning a Special Jury Award for her portrayal.

DWEEPA – 2002

One of the busiest heroines in south Indian cinema, Soundarya produced the film Dweepa as she had a desire to work with the director and also work in an offbeat film in a deglamourised role.

Character actor Avinash was cast as her husband and the film, based on Na D’Souza novel, revolved around the displacement of tribals from their homes as the government takes their lands over for constructing a dam.

A serious study of the human mind and the stark contrast between the wife’s optimistic outlook on life and her husband’s abject resignation to his fate, Dweepa also had enchanting visuals that gave a fillip to the proceedings.

GULABI TALKIES – 2008

Feminist writer Vaidehi’s novel Gulabi Talkies tells the story of a fifty plus Muslim woman who is estranged from her husband. She serves a fishing village as a midwife but is forced to remain aloof as the villagers shun her company.

However a transformation occurs as she becomes the proud possessor of a TV set, a rarity in the village and everyone flocks to her humble abode in no time. Picturised in sylvan surroundings in the coastal town of Kundapura and Kasaravalli, Gulabi Talkies dwelt on the minutest details of life in a fishing village.

Actor Umashri, often wasted in inane comical roles, took on the character of Gulabi and invested it with her histrionic abilities to come up with an outstanding performance that won her a richly deserved National Award.

Girish Kasaravalli’s filmography also boasts of films like Kraurya, Hasina, Naayi Neralu, Kansaambo Kudiriyeneri and Karmavathara and each one of them will remain milestones in his career. A self-confessed admirer of Adoor Gopalakrishnan and his minimalistic style of filmmaking, Girish Kasaravalli has to his credit a documentary titled ‘ Adoor – A Journey In Frames on the ace filmmaker as well.

Image courtesy: Omshivaprakash, Wikipedia/Creative Commons

Cinema
From Marcus Bartley of 'Chemmeen' to Senthil Kumar of 'Baahubali'.
  • Monday, November 13, 2017 - 15:48
Facebook/ PC Sreeram

The National Award winning Malayalam film Chemmeen released in 1965 was based on a novel by the celebrated writer Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai. It was directed by Ramu Kariat, the editing was done by Hrishikesh Mukherjee and the music composed by Salil Chowdhury. Veteran Manna Dey’s ‘Manasa Maine Varu’ a melodious song from the film still echoes in the hearts of those belonging to the earlier generation.

One of the major highlights of the film, however, was the cinematography by Marcus Bartley. Bartley’s camera captured the sea (the backdrop of the film) in its myriad moods, placid and tranquil at times, aggressive and searing at others and the cinematographer also invested the rest of the film with his touch of class.

Five decades ago, when technology had not progressed to the level that it has now, Bartley’s picturesque and panoramic presentation earned him a host of admirers. Although the cinematographer missed out on the National Award for the film, he won it later for Shanthi Nilayam another film noted for its haunting visuals.

Another cinematographer director who excelled in those bygone days was Vincent, a favourite of directors like Sridhar. Vincent who directed National Award winning films like Thulabharam was at his best in films like Kalyana Parisu and Uthamaputhiran and was widely acknowledged as a master of his craft. Both his sons, Jayanan and Ajayan Vincent took after their father and have been an integral part of Malayalam cinema for decades now.

When the camera is a bystander

Two of Malayalam cinema’s finest offbeat filmmakers who have left an indelible imprint on Indian cinema are Adoor Gopalakrishnan and the late Aravindan. Both the stalwarts had their favourite cinematographers whom they inevitably repeated in most of their ventures. Adoor and the late Mankada Ravi Varma made for a formidable combination in films like Swaymvaram, Kodiyettam, Elipathayam, Mathilugal, Kathapurushan and Nizhalkoothu.

In all these films that inevitably moved at a tepid pace, Varma’s camera was like a bystander recording the frames, gauging the moods of the actors and in short synchronizing effortlessly with the theme and the direction.

Ravi Varma’s work in the PN Menon directed Olavum Theeravum too won him fulsome praise.

Shaji Karun also perfected this art but for him, the cinematographer was Aravindan in films like Thampu, Esthappan, Chidambaram and Kanchana Seetha.

One of their finest efforts however was Pokkuveyil (Twilight) a film that traced the life of a frustrated poet. Shaji’s subtle use of light and shade was the highlight of the abstract film.

Of lights and colours

Balu Mahendra and Ashok Kumar held sway over Tamil cinema for a considerable length of time and both also tried their hand at direction where the former was much more successful than the latter. Balu who passed out of the FTII, Pune with a Gold Medal in Cinematography, once confided to this writer that cranking the camera was child’s play for him. His lens work however was in an altogether different league and right from the Kannada film Kokila which he also directed to Shankarabharanam and Moondram Pirai, he gave ample proof that he could provide considerable value addition to his films with his camera. 

The sensual presentation of the song ‘Ponmeni’ picturized on Kamal Haasan and Silk Smitha where the colourful filter lighting was eye catching and brilliant is a case in point. Ashok Kumar’s too was a class act and his work in Nenjathai Killathe, My dear Kuttichathan ( India’s firs 3 D film ) and Johnny marked him out as a cinematographer of great merit.

Mani Ratnam, whose films are renowned not just for deft directorial touches but also for their technical brilliance, has always ensured that he gets the best cinematographers on board for all his films.

While Balu Mahendra worked with him in his debut film Pallavi Anu Pallavi, it was P C Sreeram who collaborated with him in many of his earlier films like Mouna Ragam, Nayagan and Agni Natchathiram.

In the last mentioned film, Sreeram used special filters in the song sequences with great success.

Offbeat cinema

Madhu Ambat also an alumnus of the FTII, Pune wielded the camera for Mani’s poignant film Anjali. Incidentally, Madhu is one of the very few cinematographers who has worked extensively in offbeat films made on shoestring budgets and some of his outstanding work has been manifest in GV Iyer’s films like Adi Shankaracharya, Prema Karanth’s Phaniyama, Bharathan’s Vaishali and Girish Kasaravalli’s Tabarane Kathe.

Lenin Rajendran, an avant garde Malayalam film maker has always preferred Madhu for his films and the duo have done memorable films like Swathithirunal, Makara Manju etc. Madhu also lent his expertise to Salim Ahmed for Adaminte Magan Abu and won the National Award for Cinematography for the film.

Of grit and grandeur

But one of Mani’s mainstays has been Santosh Sivan, an universally acclaimed cinematographer who has also worked in Hollywood. The duo is all set to come together for the sixth time in Mani’s new film.

Sivan worked his magic in films like Thalapathi, Roja, Dil Se, Iruvar and  Ravanan with Mani wielding the megaphone. Rajiv Menon, to whom Mani offered the lead role in his film on the Mumbai riots Bombay ended up being the cameraman of the film and imparted an authentic feel to the riot sequences, an integral part of the film. 

An extravagant film by Indian standards, Baahubali, directed by SS Rajamouli was shot by Senthil Kumar who graduated from FTII, Pune. He won his spurs in Telugu films and was handpicked by Rajamouli for his magnum opus. The second part of the film was even more lavishly mounted and Senthil had a tougher job not just to maintain the high levels he had touched but to do even better. Senthil was fortunate that he had the full confidence of his director who allowed him plenty of leeway to shoot the sequences, especially the war scenes, a piece de resistance of the film.

Among other practitioners of the art, special mention should be made of veterans like KV Anand (National Award for Priyadarshan’s Thenmavin Kombathu) Nirav Shah (Billa, Benares, 2.0), Ratnavelu (Nanda, Varanam Aayiram, Enthiran, Lingaa ), Ravi Varman (Anniyan, Vettayadu Vilayadu, Dasavatharam, Galiyon Ka Rasleela), Rajeev Ravi (Liar’s Dice, Chandni Bar, Dev D, Gangs of Wasseypur I & 2,’Bombay Velvet ) and Ravi K Chandran ( Kannathil Muthamittal, Virasat).

The list however can hardly be complete as there are several other cinematographers knocking at the doors of stardom, all set to break into the big league.

Mollywood
If Mammootty and Mohanlal are still able to command a wide fanbase, the credit must go to filmmakers like IV Sasi.
  • Saturday, October 28, 2017 - 14:20

IV Sasi who breathed his last in Chennai on Tuesday, the 24th of October, started out as an art director in films and later turned director.

In a career spanning four decades, Sasi directed over 150 films mainly in Malayalam with a sprinkling of Tamil and Hindi films as well. To the prolific director goes the credit of introducing and shaping the careers of several stars including the muscular Jayan, Vincent and Seema (whom he married after a brief courtship during the filming of Avalude Ravukal).

But the two actors who owe their rise to stardom, largely to the diminutive director are Mammootty and Mohanlal, whom Sasi cast in several of his successful films, both together and separately as well.

Neither of them had any previous acting experience but Sasi realised their potential quite early and afforded them a platform to showcase their talents. In the late seventies and early eighties, both Mammootty and Mohanlal had no set images or fanatic fan followings and had no reservations about being cast together in parallel roles, though most often Mammootty had the meatier role.

Among the numerous films in which they acted together, Aalkootathil Thaniye, Adiyozhukugal, Iniyengilum, Karimbinpoovin Akkare, Anubandham and Vaartha deserve a special mention as all these films swerved considerably from the beaten track.

With Thrishna, Sasi gave Mammootty his first major break as a solo hero and it was Iniyengilum which marked out Mohanlal as a safe bet for the future. Apart from Sasi’s deft directorial touches and his penchant for blending commercial elements with aesthetic touches, the excellent story lines and script provided by writers like M T Vasudevan Nair and T Damodaran also paved the way for the success of his films.

The literary flourish in their writing gave ample scope to both Mammootty and Mohanlal to deliver dialogues that captivated audiences, leaving them spellbound.

While Yavanika directed by KG George brought Mammootty into the reckoning in Mollywood, his thirty five films with Sasi many of them huge box office hits, ensured that he reached a pinnacle in the industry.

Significant among these films were ventures like Kaanamariyathu, Ee Naadu, Mrugaya, 1921 and Balram vs Taradas. In each of these films, the swashbuckling actor had diverse roles and their box office successes took him several notches higher in terms of celebrity status.

Kaanamariyathu, scripted by the late Padmarajan with Mammootty in the role of a benefactor of a young girl, played by Shobhana was a sentimental film that tugged at the heart strings.

The 1982 film Ee Naadu written by T Damodaran with whom Sasi collaborated in several films was a hard hitting critique of the government of the day with a theme based on deaths caused by illicit liquor.

Mammootty had to contend with the likes of established actors like Balan K Nair in Ee Naadu but he held his own remarkably, vindicating his director’s faith.

Mrugaya was perhaps the first time that a handsome hero like Mammootty played a totally deglamourised role, that of a drunken sot Vaarunni whose services were requisitioned by a village committee to rid them of the menace of a man-eating leopard. The film narrated a story of the man-animal conflict and the director had chosen a new genre altogether. 

1921, bankrolled by an NRI Mohamed Mannil, was a historical film based on the Mappillai uprising, one of the earliest mutinies against the British. Mammootty excelled in the role of Khader, a bullock cart driver, and the film had a multi-star cast and a huge canvas with war scenes woven into the script.

In one of the latter day films directed by Sasi Balram vs Taradas, Mammootty was cast both as the protagonist Balram and the antagonist Taradas with the actor reprising the role of Inspector Balram from an earlier Sasi film of the same name. Scripted by Damodaran and SN Swamy, it had been a commercial potboiler with punchlines galore and was a box office success as well.

Mohanlal might not have done as many films with Sasi as Mammootty but nonetheless, theirs was a winning combination. But arguably the best film that the Lal-Sasi combination produced was Devasuram, released in 1993.

Mohanlal’s interpretation of the title role, that of an egoist Mangalassery Neelakantan who crosses swords with a young Bharathanatyam dancer Revathi but eventually relents after realising his feelings for her won him plenty of critical acclaim.

The film, a stupendous box office hit, was also notable for excellent performances from the cast including Revathi, Nedumudi Venu, Innocent and the Tamil star Napoleon who played the role of Neelakantan’s arch rival Mundakal Sekaran.

Sasi again cast Mohanlal in his 1997 film Varnapakittu with Meena in the female lead. The actor played a savvy Singapore based businessman Sunny Palamottam whose father is gypped by his rival and who later realises that his girlfriend is in fact a mole planted by the villain to ferret out his secrets.

Unlike Sasi’s earlier films which covered a wide ambit in respect of storylines, Varnapakittu relied more on the hero’s performance and Lal did not disappoint the viewers.

Both Mammootty and Mohanlal expressed shock at I V Sasi’s passing and while Mammootty bemoaned the loss of a loved one, Mohanlal was more forthcoming and in his condolence message saluted the master of Malayalam film industry who made the viewers and actors, including him, to understand the basics of cinema.

Despite the arrival of several young actors, the superstars continue to hold fort and for this they owe a debt of gratitude to filmmakers like Sasi who gave them a much needed leg up when they were seeking a firm foothold in cinema.

Kollywood
These actors may not have the fan following of heroes and heroines but they have the audience's love.
  • Tuesday, October 10, 2017 - 16:22

Their contribution to Tamil cinema over the years has been invaluable but in an industry where the lead stars hog all the publicity, character actors still remain on the periphery.   

Labeled as ‘supporting actors’, their performances, however, have a significant impact on every film. There have also been instances where their performaances have overshadowed the lead stars'. 

In the age of black and white cinema

In the early days of black and white cinema and thereafter as well, actors like MR Radha, Ranga Rao, SV Subbiah, TS Balaiah, MN Nambiar etc proved their versatility in film after film. 

Radha, who generally played the antagonist, had a distinct acting style and his own set of mannerisms. He could also modulate his voice to suit the character. After his popularity skyrocketed, there was a time when it was said that a film without Radha was saada (ordinary).  His roles in films like Kai Kodutha Dievam, Chitthi and Raktha Kanneer were memorable. 

The tall, stylish Ranga Rao too performed character roles with elan in films like Iruvar Ullam, Pachai Vilakku and Padikaatha Medhai. But the go to man for directors seeking intense, emotional performances was SV Subbiah. 

In Balachander’s Arangetram, where the heroine becomes a sex worker to keep the wolf from the door, Subbiah was cast as the hapless father, bemoaning his fate. But Subbiah’s class act came in his own production Kaval Deivam, based on a story by Jnanpith awardee Jayakanthan where he played the role of a police inspector. One scene that still lingers in memory is his confronting a ruthless killer Chamundi (Sivaji Ganesan in a cameo) who had brutally slain his daughter’s rapist. The camera focuses on the eyes of the duo, Sivaji’s blazing like coals and Subbiah’s calm, cool and serene. 

The silence added to the poignancy of the scene and one could hear a pin drop in the theatre. Subbiah also breathed life into the role of the stormy poet of the freedom movement, Mahakavi Bharathi in Kappalottiya Thamizhan

An actor like S Balaiah too earned name and fame for his fine portrayals in several hits and two of his outstanding performances were in Thillana Mohanambal as a thavil vidwan and in Thiruvilayadal where he was cast as the egoist classical vocalist Hemanatha Bhagavathar. 

The quintessential comedian Nagesh was not just a rib tickler. In Major Chandrakanth, Balachander had given him the role of a killer who avenges the suicide of his sister (Jayalalithaa) by murdering the man who had left her in the lurch. 

The touch of pathos that he brought to his roles in Server Sundaram and Neerkumizhi, too, remain green in memory. Another stalwart Major Sundararajan, who possessed one of the finest voices in Tamil cinema was to the fore in films like Major Chandrakanth and Uyarndha Manithan among others.

Women actors

One of the earliest woman actors to create an impact in Tamil cinema was Kannamba who was to the fore in films like Kannagi and Manohara. In the latter film where she was cast as Sivaji Ganesan’s mother, she came up with a rousing performance.  In those days, the test of a hero or heroine’s mettle was the felicity with which he or she could reel off dialogues in flowery prose written by scriptwriters like Karunanidhi. Kannamba rose to the occasion splendidly. 

Vijayakumari too was cut from the same cloth and her portrayal of Kannagi in Poompuhar was the highlight of the film. Savithri could tug at heart strings in films like Pasamalar and Kai Kodutha Deivam while Manorama proved that she was no novice either. The buck toothed mother of Vijaykant in the blockbuster hit Chinna Gounder was vindication of her versatility. 

Sowcar Janaki (Kaaviya Thalaivi) and Sujatha (Aval Ordu Thodarkathai, Avargal) were also actors with the capacity to breathe life into their roles.  Fortunately for Kollywood, those who came after this generation were in no way inferior to their predecessors. 

Contemporary cinema

Tamil cinema today boasts of a number of excellent supporting actors who have been proving their versatility in the roles that they have landed.  The late Raghuvaran, one of the most popular villains in Tamil cinema had a dual personality and while he often went over the top in bad guy roles, his subdued, nuanced  performances in films like Samsaram Adhu Minsaram of that of the eldest son of a joint family loath to shoulder responsibility and Anjali where he acted as the distressed father of a special child came in for critical acclaim. 

Nassar, still going strong decades after he played the tough inspector in Mani Ratnam’s Nayakan, won renown for his role of Arvind Swami’s father in Bombay, a casting masterpiece by Mani Ratnam where Kitty a Hindu played a Muslim and Nassar a Muslim, a Hindu. Charuhasan, national award winning actor and elder brother of Kamal Haasan recently paid a handsome tribute to Nassar when he rated him a few notches higher than Kamal in terms of versatility.

Nassar also won kudos for his enactment of the role of Bijjaladeva in Rajamouli’s Baahubali.

Other distinguished character actors who have made a mark are Prakash Raj, Raj Kiran and Samuthirakani. 

Prakash Raj won praise for masala films like Gilli and Singham, but his national award winning performances in films like Mani Ratnam’s Iruvar and Priyadarshan’s Kancheevaram were in a different class altogether.  The portly Raj Kiran, a producer-director, too, is rated high as a character actor and has proved himself worthy of accolades coming his way in films like Nandha, Pandavar Bhoomi and Thavamai Thavamiranthu

One of the most sought after actors in Tamil cinema today, Samuthirakani who made his mark in the Sasikumar directed Subramaniapuram, won the National Award for Best Supporting actor in the Vetrimaran directed Visaranai where he essayed the role of a honest cop in a posse of corrupt policemen. The actor was also to the fore in a negative role in Priyadarshan’s Oppam, a box office hit in Malayalam.

A host of films where he will be seen in significant roles are on the floors in various stages of production.

Most of the roles that have come Radikaa’s way have been in commercial films but her role of a mentally challenged girl in the offbeat film Meendum Oru Kadhal Kathai with actor director Prathap Pothan was indeed a class apart. She has since acted in many character roles in contemporary Tamil films.

Among the present lot of women actors, Saranya Ponvannan, Aishwarya Rajesh and Sai Dhansika deserve a mention.  Saranya, an automatic choice in mother’s roles won the National Best Actress Award for her moving performance in Thenmerku Paruvakaatru helmed by Seenu Ramaswamy.

As Veerayi, a widow who raises her son single-handedly she performed with panache, winning critical acclaim.  She came good in an earlier film Thavamai Thavamirunthu (Cheran) as well. 

Aishwarya Rajesh who has played Arjun Ramphal’s wife in Daddy, the story of dreaded don Arun Gawli, was first noticed in Kakka Muttai where she was cast as the mother of two young boys. An aspiring heroine and a relative newcomer, she thought little of deglamourising herself for the role and proved it is the character that matters as far her choice of films was concerned. 

Sai Dhansika, who played Rajini’s daughter in Kabali, is another actor who has been able to give a good account of herself in films like Aaravan and Paradesi. But unlike in the sixties and seventies, there are few takers for character roles, probably due to a fear among the younger stars that they could be typecast.

Unlike heroes and heroines who could fall out of favour with audiences after a time, character actors have a much longer shelf life as they can be cast in diverse roles and even if a film fails at the box office, they can earn recognition for their performances. And though they might not get equal billing as the heroes, audiences will continue to root for them.