Monday, June 15, 2015

Tamil Cinema on Kings,Kingdoms and Empires:- A Historical Perspective.


























     Cinema as a creative form has never failed to carry on its twin objectives of entertaining and enlightening.There have been pointed expositions at various levels, of issues concerning individuals and groups, the latter taking differently identifying positions such as family,society and humanity as a whole, with local or global compositions.There have been interpretations of civilization and culture, with generational implications.There have been geographical influences in framing and shaping regional fundamentals of culture, tradition and morality.There have been war and peace, aggression and conquest,victory and defeat as cyclic events across the world.Prosperity and famine, feudalism and egalitarianism, fascism and socialism,expansionism and coexistence, types of governance such as monarchy,democracy,oligarchy and even anarchy  have all come and gone as world realities, cutting across nations.
  All this has moved on, as  corollary conditions of the passage of time and have made human beings susceptible to the outcome of time related- events, chronicled as history of regions and the world. Cinema in a galaxy of languages, has responsibly exhibited these realities most often confining to happenings at the time of its creativity.Occasionally films have also focused on periodic occurrences looking back retrospectively on the course of events and their relevance to mankind, creating a temporary or lasting impact, on the lives of people.Such an approach with a historical thrust is accompanied by elements of heroism and grandeur in narration.
   Some of the English historical films that come to my memory are,Ben-Hur,The Guns Of Navrone King Arthur,Waterloo, Cleopatra, Lincoln, Gone With the Wind,The Great Escape,Genghis Khan, The Ten Commandments, Elizabeth the Golden Age,Brave Heart and The Patriot.The list I am sure is a minuscule from the voluminous archives of English Cinema, focused on world history.What makes most of the English historical films gorgeously appealing, is the magnificent display of scenic splendour,powerful action and the make- believe, or factual veracity of events and characters.Music component also plays a vital role, in making these movies totally different from the other genre films.There is always a sense of epic glory in history films, dipped in heroism, conspiracy, espionage, adventure,aggression, revolt and resistance, all culminating in war, involving victory and defeat, with their inherent layers of sacrifice and loss of lives.Watching one extraordinary historical film, creates a life time experience to be treasured and remembered.
    Indian cinema in general and Tamil cinema in particular, can also make amazing claims of having presented a stupendous show of history, in terms of global standards.Even during the days of inadequate technical advancement, our people have set  commendable  standards and yardsticks, for producing films on provincial and national events and personalities, to find an immortal place in the map of time.Some of the Hindi films in this regard are Jodha Akbar,Ashoka the Great,Jhansi Ki Raani, Gandhi,The Passage to India,Train to Pakistan and so on.
    Tamil historical films have crossed the regional barriers and dealt with historical personalities like Krishnadevarayar['Tenaliraman'] and Queen Padmini of Chittoor{'Chittoor Rani Padmini'}.The first one was simultaneously made in Telugu and Tamil and in both the versions N.T.Ramarao donned the role of Krishnadevavarayar. Sivaji Ganesan whose face was rightly made for social and royal themes, replaced A.Nageswararao in the role of Tenaly Raman in Tamil and had graceful Jamuna as his wife.In Chittor Rani Padmini,based on a traditional story of historical mould,with its story background located in Rajasthaan, Vijayanthimala,the most fascinating actress and dynamic dancer,played the title role,while Sivaji Ganesan appeared as King Rana and M.N.Nambiyar as Alauddin Khilji,the Sultan of Delhi.The film unfortunately failed at the box office.
     There were many films with historical themes and it was MGR or Sivaji Ganesan seen as prince or king, in most of them.Some of the noted films of MGR in this category were Mandhirikumari,Jenova, Marudha Naattu Ilavarasi,,Marmayogi,Mahadevi,Mannaadhi Mannan,Madurai Veeran,Chakravarthi Thirumagal,Rani Samyukta[in which MGR played the role of King Pridviraj]Rajarajan,Raja Desingu Arsailankumari,Nadodi Mannan[an epoch making film produced and directed by MGR himself}, Kanchi Thalaivan[ a story from the mighty pen of Dr. M. Karunanidhi ,relating to the Pallava empire] Arasa Kattalai,Aayirathil Oruvan{a fiction film on bonded labourers, overpowered by imaginary provincial rulers,and this run away hit, could gain an epic status because of its over all grandeur in presentation} Adimai Penn[a great success from the production house of MGR ] and Madhuraiyai Meetta Sundara Pandian,
    The story line of all the films mentioned above, was generally related to rulers of actual or imagined provinces or the kings of the Pandiya, Chola and Pallava empires. Among these films, Nadodi Mannan was a mixture of black and white presentation in the first half and in colour in the second half.The  colour films of MGR in this genre, were the last three, in the list mentioned above. The striking features of all these films were, the royal costumes meticulously made, the chaste Tamil dialogues delivered forcefully and clearly by MGR and all other actors,the impressive show of heroism,the scheming back door villainy of politically ambitious and power hungry forces represented by great actors such as P.S.Veerappa ,M.N.Nambiyar, R.S.Manohar, S.A.Narajan, andT.S.Balaiah and a few others, the fitting musical addition and the exquisite display of art, in erecting exhaustive settings and the dedicated shooting of the whole process of events, with accuracy at all levels.
     Besides earnestly trying to present history,a majority of these films stuck to the traditional and cultural aspects, prevalent during the period referred to, with relevance and authenticity. Excepting Rani Samyukta,Rajarajan and Arasilankumari all the films of MGR with historical background, were mega hits and films like Mandhirikumari,Mannadhi Mannan, Mahadhevi, Chakravarthi Thirumagal Nadodi Mannan,Aayirathil Oruvan. Adimaipen and Madhuraiyai Meetta Sundara Pandian were block busters.The last in the list was the last film of MGR,the evergreen hero of Tamil Cinema and the story base of this great film was provided by the reputed Tamil novelist Akilan.
    The list of Sivaji Ganesan's historical films is also very impressive, though not as long as that of MGR.His earliest hits were Manohara,Vanagamudi and Uthama Puthiran,Then came the epoch making Veera Pandia Katttabomman produced by B.R.Pantulu of Padmini Pictures.Like Pantulu's grand epic Karnan,this huge historical piece has been digitally remade and is eagerly expected for a revisit.What a sprightly and invigorating performance it was, for the Chevalier,playing the role of a provincial king from a Telugu region ruling from the extreme southern region of the Tamil soil,roaring like a lion and not budging to the British invaders, towards paying duty and taxes.From the beginning till the end, the movie was a wonderful treat in all respects.The narration was so gripping and dramatically so stimulating, that it made elements such as historical authenticity and veracity a secondary factor.With a grand cast of veteran actors like S.Varalakshmi,Gemini Ganesan, Padmini,O.A.K Thevar,V.K.Ramasamy and Javert Seetharaman, along with Sivaji Ganesan,this silver jubilee hit continues to haunt audience imagination, with its amazing cinematic stuff.
     A couple of historical films of Svaji Ganesan also flopped at the box office.They were Raja Bakthi and Rani Lalithaangi. However,Pantulu's ''Kappalottiya Thamizhan'' dealing with a few salient events relating to the Indian freedom movement, with special reference to the happenings in Tamil Nadu, fulfilled audience expectation though it could not be equated with the success rate of Veera Paandiya Katta bomman. But the film beautifully brought out the emotional aspect of the struggle for freedom, under the effective stewardship of a noble minded businessman, called Va.Vu.Chidambaram Pillai. The film also threw light on other freedom fighters like Poet Subramanya Bharathi,Vaanchinaadhan Subramanya Siva,Madaswami and so on.The narration was extraordinarily realistic with the underplay of emotions,by stalwart actors like Gemini Ganesan,S.V.Subbiah,T.K.Shanmugam and K.Balaji, besides the grandiose Sivaji Ganesan. I am sure, many would have shed tears on watching the film at the theatres.
    Then came Raja Raja Cholan under the ace direction of A.P.Nagarajan. This was another color film on a historical subject starring Sivaji Ganesan,after Veera Pandia Kattabomman.The film had a huge cast of great actors like M.N.Nambiyar,R.Muthuraman.Sivakumar,T.R.Mahalingam, R.S.Manohar S.V. Sahasranamam, Sirkazhi Govindarajan,S.Varalakshmi,Vijayakumari  Lakshmi and Manorama. This film carries the pride of being the first cinema scope movie in Tamil.In spite of great contribution and support from Sivaji Ganesan and many other talented actors and technical crew,this film noted for veracity in narration, clean dialogues and good music quotient,could not become a box office hit, because of lack of vigor and dynamism in over all presentation.However, there is no doubt that Sivaji Ganesan as usual, made every one feel that Raja Raja Cholan would have been like him and would have walked and talked like him.This made Raja Raja Cholan an unforgettable piece of historical narration in celluloid form.
    Gemini Ganesan who was a close contemporary of MGR and Sivaji Ganesan and an intimate associate of the latter, also stays remembered for playing dynamic roles in films based on historical fiction.Gemini Ganesan's films like Pathini Dheivam [based on Shakespeare's Winter's Tale]Guna Sundari[story base lifted from Shakespeare's King Lear] and mythical entries like Kanavane Kankanda Dheivam,Sowbagyavadhi, Manaalane Mangaiyin Baagyam,Boologa Ramabai and Mangaiyar Ullam Mangaadha Selvam were tales of the royal stuff.Besides these,there were special historical films like Konjum Salangai, Vanjikkottai Vaaliban and Parthiban Kanavu.
    Konjum Salangai is remembered for its fabulous folklore music and fascinating narration of romance and adventure. The story written by Ku.Ma.Balasubramaniyan and directed by M.V.Raman accompanied by the grand musical show of S.M.Subbiah Naidu made the film an aesthetically rich and commendable show.The film is remembered as much for the immortal song ''Singaara Velane Dheva'' as for its other creditable aspects..Parthiban Kanavu was a clean show of historical fiction, based on a novel written by Kalki Krishnamurthy,with the same title.The story of Parthiban Kanavu had direct references to events relating to the Pallava and Chola empires.It is ever remembered for the enchanting role performance of  Gemini Ganesan and,Vaijayanthimala and the appealing performance of ace actors like S.V.Rengarao,T.S.Balaiah, P.S.Veerappa and S.V.Subbiah.
     Vanjikottai Valiban was a felicitous narration of conspiracy,conquest,misrule, struggle for independence and became a mammoth show, like the other Gemini pictures' movie Chandralekha starring M.K.Radha, T.R.Rajakumari and Ranjan,In entertainment value and marvellous presentation,Chandralekha and Vanjikottai Vaaliban would ever retain their status as films of epic grandeur.The artistic excellence of both the films in general and the classical dance competition between Vaijayanthimala and Padmini in Vanjikottai Vaaliban in particular, would ever be preserved as the invincible treasures of Tamil Cinema.The mega settings erected by Gemini pictures for both the films, became a visual ecstasy speaking of high standards of film production, set and practised by Gemini Pictures,as an outstanding film production house.A couple of  other popular movies of Gemini Ganesan in this line were, Veerakkanal and Ellorum Innaattu Mannar.
     It should be mentioned here that films like Ambikapathi,[starring Sivaji Ganesan and P.Banumathi as the immortal lovers of the Kulothunga Chola kingdom]Avvaiyar,[ a film on the female spiritual poet and saint of the Chola empire played by K.B.Sundarambal] and Poompuhar[based on the epic Silappadhikaram with S.S.Rajenran, Vijayakumari and Rajashri donning the roles of Kovalan, Kannagi and Madhavi], carried direct or indirect connections with the Chola and Pandia empires spread over the vast stretch of Tamil Nadu, at different periods.Stories of kings and queens, princes and princesses,also formed part of films like S.S.Rajendran's Muthu Mandapam,Mani Makudam and Petra Maganai Vitra Annai and AVM Rajan's Chitrangi.[the last two films produced by the Modern Theatres].The other two qualitative additions in this genre are, Citadel films Vijayapuri Veeran and A.V.M's  Veera Thirumagan,both celebrating the acting potential of C.L.Anandan and the unique feel of dynamism in presentation. Veerathirumagan is specially known for its enduring musical richness.
    I would have left out some movies for want of memory.But the list provided here is certainly vast and valid  to show that Tamil Cinema has not at all been lagging behind, in depicting history and history- related fiction,with authentic understanding,supportive imagination and artistic commitment. Part of it might be pure fiction and part of it might be a combination of real events, blended with imagination.But on the whole, it has been a solid demonstration of faith, in presenting men and matters,with a single minded devotion to how things would have been and events would have occurred, at different periods of time.Moreover, films of  this genre,have also thrown light on gloried individuals, as kings and queens and as fighters for human freedom,justice, progress and happiness.
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