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Song of the Day # 831

From: bb on: Thu Nov 30, 2006 12:30 am

Song of the Day: MSV in the 80s: Part VI


- Saravanan writes:

MSV in the 80s: Part VI ~ mOhana punnagai ~

Director Sridhar’s association with Sivaji Ganesan goes a long way back- more than half a century, to be precise. Though Sridhar got to direct only 6 movies of Sivaji over a period of 20 years, theirs was a historic association that saw some breathtaking highs juxtaposed in equal measure with some mortifying lows.

Circa 1953. Hearing that the partners of ‘Saravanabhava Unity Pictures’ were on the lookout for an interesting script to make a movie, a talented youngster entered their office one morning and related an unusual story. True, it was the same eternal triangle, but with wholly unexpected dimensions. ‘ethirpaarathathu’ (1954) was the movie and C.V.Sridhar was the young writer. Of course, Sridhar’s ‘raththapaasam’ staged as a stage play by TKS Brothers, was made into a movie earlier in the same year, but ‘ethirpaarathathu’ was the first story that he scripted for cinema. Sivaji Ganesan played the hero, and the upcoming actor was intrigued with the young writer’s refreshing ideas and natural, conversational dialogues. Reminiscing on ‘ethirpaarathathu’ in his memoirs, Sivaji exclaims, ‘adhu oru arumaiyaana padam!’ The future years saw Sridhar scripting some memorable projects of Sivaji like ‘amaradeepam’ (1956), ‘uththamapuththiran’ (1957) and ‘punarjenmam’ (1961).

When he progressed to direction, in the midst of 3 movies with Gemini Ganesh- ‘kalyaaNa parisu’, (1959), ‘meeNda sorgam’ (1960), and ‘thEn nilavu’ (1961), Sridhar did reserve one for Sivaji Ganesan. ‘vidiveLLi’ (1960/ Prabhuram Pictures), produced by Sivaji himself, was a fascinating insight into the cross of guilt that an essentially good man has to bear when he does something wrong driven by need and how he redeems himself in the engrossing climax. Sridhar did not work with Sivaji in the subsequent years, even as he rose to prominence as the path breaking filmmaker of the 60s. Armed with riveting scripts and taut screenplays, putting together an ensemble of brilliant technicians, and extracting the creative best out of Viswanthan-Ramamoorthi and Kannadasan, Sridhar made memorable movies with Gemini Ganesh, brought into the limelight obscure actors like Muthuraman and Kalyankumar, and introduced newcomers like Ravichandran and Srikanth.

‘gnayiRum thingaLum’, which Sridhar embarked upon with an grand array of Sivaji Ganesan, Muthuraman, K.B.Sundarambal, Devika and K.R.Vijaya was given up midway. Sridhar’s next venture with Sivaji shared a similar fate. ‘oru pidi mann’, a story revolving around an army officer, which Sridhar wrote as a serial story in ‘bommai’ was started with great fanfare with Sivaji Ganesan, Muthuraman, AVM Rajan and K.R.Vijaya, but it too proved a non-starter as Sridhar could not secure permission to shoot in the border areas. However, this time Sridhar was determined not to let go off the dates of his lead stars. He came up with another story quickly- that of the friends Raghu and Siva and the girl Raji whom both fall in love with. ‘nejirukkum varai’ (1967) had Sivaji, Muthuraman and K.R. Vijaya as the corners of the triangle. Soon thereafter, desiring a complete change from this tale of love, suspicion and sacrifice, Sridhar and Gopu worked on a laugh riot whose name underwent many changes- ‘’kaalamellaam kaathiroppOm’ which later became ‘vayathu 18 jaakkirathai’, and finally settled on ‘ooty varai uRavu’ (1967). Starring Sivaji, Muthuraman, K.R.Vijaya, L.Vijayalakshmi and T.S.Baliah, the movie was a success. Enthused by this, Sridhar produced another breezy entertainer with Sivaji in the lead and made his cousin and assistant C.V.Rajendran call the shots. ‘galatta kalyaaNam’ (1968), with Sivaji, Jayalalitha, AVM Rajan and Nagesh did good business.

Sridhar teamed up with Sivaji again to narrate a tale of rebellion against a tyrannical despot in an imaginary kingdom, but ‘sivandha maN’ (1969) co-starring Kanchana and Muthuraman, despite parts of the movie being shot in Europe, failed to enthuse the viewers. After a short interval, Sridhar started on a project called ‘Hero ‘72’ with Sivaji, but the movie was a long time in the making and landed Sridhar in a serious financial crunch. Holding the movie in abeyance, Sridhar approached MGR seeking his help, and MGR obliged him by giving him his bulk dates and utmost co-operation. The massive success of ‘urimaikkural’ (1974) saw Sridhar safely out of the red. And ‘Hero ‘72’, underwent many changes in the meantime and was finally released in 1976 with Sivaji pairing with newcomer Padmapriya as ‘vaira nenjam’. The movie suffered a dismal fate and Sridhar did not work with Sivaji in the subsequent years.

It was ‘Stills’ Sarathy who persuaded Sridhar and Sivaji to team up again, and set about producing a movie under his ‘Sarathy Motion Pictures’ banner. An acclaimed photographer, R.P. Sarathy had earned the goodwill of many in tinsel town and consequently, the movie was made within a well-planned schedule and generous budget. (Being a ‘still’ photographer himself, incorporating the word ‘motion’ in his production company’s name was a touch of delightful irony!) Sridhar came up with a story of a good-hearted man who watches four women walk in and out of his life, and how life itself passes him by… quite like spring, summer, autumn and winter each of which cuddle a part of a year to their bosom and then pass on in the remorseless march of time….each of these four women become part of his world for a while and then pass on… and he remains…a stoic sketch in solitude. Ever the celluloid poet, Sridhar crafted sequences that glorified grief, the commemoration of a series of tragedies that befall the hero one after other, and how he faces each blow with a gentle smile… ‘mOhana punnagai’ was the name of the movie. Sivaji Ganesan played the doomed romantic. Jayabharati, Padmapriya, Anuradha and the famed Sinhalese actress Geeta Kumarasinghe played the four women in his life.

Major Sundararajan, Nagesh, Maali and Prakash were the other actors. I have rather vague memories of my aunt relating to me the story … and I remember watching parts of the movie on TV, the Anuradha chapter in particular. She played the daughter of the gardener in the remote bungalow to which Sivaji retreats in an attempt to forget the disappointments of the past…she harbours a secret love for him, and as a silent signal of her sentiments, offers him a rose each time he passed by the gate… Earlier on in the proceedings, one of the four women (perhaps Jayabharati) nurtures an unrequited love for Sivaji and in a pique of jealousy kills the woman he is betrothed to. She then puts an end to her own life as well. I cannot remember much else except that the picturesque locales of Sri Lanka filmed imaginatively by the seasoned P.N.Sundaram were an added attraction.

A Pongal release of 1981 along with Kamal’s ‘meeNdum kOkila’ and M.A.Khaja’s ‘vasantha kaalam’, ‘mOhana punnagai’ opened to crowded houses and did elicit a respectable viewership in the initial shows, but the movie failed to sustain the initial interest of a Sridhar-Sivaji reunion beyond a few weeks. An aging thespian with an expanding girth playing a lovelorn youth could not strike a chord with even loyal admirers of the nadigar thilakam. Kumudam was particularly forthright in its censure: “indRaiya sivajiyidam idhai naam edhirpaarkavaillai!” declared the indignant review. The movie was a failure and quickly disowned by all involved in its making. “silarathu vetRigaL kooda salanamillaamal adangippOgum- aanaal, sila pErudaiya thOlvigaL kooda sarithiramaagum. ungaL thOlvigaLum appadithaan!” averred a reverential Vairamuthu in a tribute to Sridhar a few years back. But ‘mOhana punnagai’ was perhaps an unfortunate exception to this. Being just another movie in a season of unmitigated disasters that Sivaji chose to involve himself in, ‘mOhana punnagai’, the last collaboration of Sridhar with Sivaji, made an unobtrusive exit in the swirling mists of time, with no claims whatsoever to anyone’s memory….

* * * *

No…Not quite…. for there are some who remember the movie yet, even if only for some wonderful compositions that MSV adorned its album with. ‘mOhana punnagai’ marked another reunion besides that of Sridhar with Sivaji- it celebrated the coming together of Sridhar with MSV after a spell of separation. In his early years of filmmaking, after working with A.M.Raja in ‘kalyaaNa parisu’, ‘vidiveLLi’ and ‘thEn nilavu’ and with Chalapathi Rao in ‘meeNda sorgam’, Sridhar moved on to Viswanthan-Ramamoorthi for ‘nenjil Or aalayam’. And this was the beginning of numerous wondrous collaborations that marked the crowning glory of what is held by many to be the golden period of tfm. When Viswanathan and Ramamoorthi dissolved their partnership in 1965, Sridhar latched on to MSV and the magic continued, the spell unbroken. Some of Sridhar’s movies might have bitten the dust at the hustings, nonetheless MSV’s works therein were of the highest order. But after extracting from MSV an amazing album for ‘meeNava nanban’ (1977), perhaps wanting a change Sridhar joined hands with Ilaiyaraja for his ‘iLamai oonjalaadugiRathu’ (1978) and ‘azhagE unnai aaraadhikkiREn’ (1979). He summoned Vijayabhaskar to do the honours for his ‘soundaryamE varuga varuga’ (1980). All these movies had chart-topping numbers.

And when he got this opportunity to work with Sivaji again, Sridhar sent for his old friend. The mellisai mannar returned happily to partake again of those cherished moments when the exacting director would sit with him and elicit the best from him in exciting experiences of mellifluous creativity. Vaali was the lyricist appointed, and after sessions of animated discussions, the team came up with 5 songs: ‘thalaivi.. thalaivi..ennai neerattum aananda aruvi’ (SPB & Vani Jairam), ‘then ilangai mangai’ (S.Janaki), ‘kalyaaNamaam kachchEriyaam’ (TMS), ‘kudikka vidu ennai kudikkavidu’ (TMS & Ramola) and ‘naan edhirpaarthathu.. anbE.. un uLLamE allavO’ (Vani Jairam).

Let us listen today to three of these elusive tracks..

* * * *

We have first the exquisite ‘thalaivi.. thalaivi..ennai neerattum aananda aruvi’. With the nadaswaram and mELam ushering in the auspicious air of wedding festivities, MSV spins a delectable yarn of unbridled revelry and offers it on a salver to his favourite singers SPB and Vani Jairam. The chorus voices, albeit slightly reminiscent of ‘muththu thaaragai vaanaveedhi vara’, cheer them on. In a scintillating sign-off, MSV adds a postlude…hark at SPB and VJ soar over the chorus voices…like a pair of joyful birds flying away to a distant horizon….

Listen to SPB and Vani luxuriate in this romantic carousal

* * * *

Next is an old favorite of Radio Ceylon: ‘then ilangai mangai, veNNilavin thangai’ sung by S.Janaki.

I guess this song must have featured Geeta Kumarasinghe. Dona Geeta Samanmali Kumarasinghe is a leading actress of Sri Lankan cinema. Making her debut as a stunningly beautiful teenager in Neil Rupasinghe’s ‘Lasana Kella’ in 1975, Geeta followed it up with memorable performances in movies like Wasana, Ege Adara Kathawa, Pembara Madu, Karumakkarayo, Maruwa Samaga Wase, Sathara Diganthya, Siribo Ayya, Podi Malli, Palama Yata and Loku Duwa. In an illustrious career spanning more than 30 years, she has acted in more than 80 movies and is the winner of four Presidential Awards, the highest honour in Sri Lankan cinema. Her brilliant performance as an unwed mother in the recent Ran Diya Dahara has earned Geeta another award at the 30th Sarasaviya Film Awards from the President of Sri Lanka.

When Sridhar picked her for ‘mOhana punnagai’, Geeta was thrilled, for it was a great honour to work with legends of Indian cinema like Sivaji Ganesan and Sridhar. She was playing a Sri Lankan girl, and hence felt completely at home. Her costumes for the movie were created by the renowned Sri Lankan designer Chula Ariyaratne. Subsequent to ‘mOhana punnagai’, Geeta went on act with Jaishankar and Radhika in another Indo-Sri Lankan collaboration ‘raththathin raththamE’ (also 1981).

Beauty sat bathing by a spring-
where fairest shades did hide her;
The winds blew calm, the birds did sing,
The cool streams ran beside her….

- Anthony Munday (Beauty Bathing)

A woman enjoying a dip in the brook, and reveling at the sight of her own beauty is nothing new to cinema. But trust our master to bring in enchantment even into a sequence so prosaic, and with S.Janaki as his mascot here, he conjures up a bewitching rhapsody. An arresting humming throws open vistas of sylvan spaces of solitary delight. The first lines remind one of another MSV/Janaki delight of yore, ‘vandhavargaL vaazhga, matRavargaL varuga!’ but the subsequent lines meander to an alluring trail.

Listen to Janaki cuddle cosily to this yamuna kalyaaNi

* * * *

I have saved for the last the once popular ‘kalyaaNamaam kachcheriyaam’ by TMS. The song found favour with vividh bharti and I can recall listening to it even in the mid 80s. Suppressing his angst, the hero sings at her wedding and wishes her well in her marital life. What does a man do when he finds that the dream that he has chased all his life was not his dream in the first place? Does he wallow in self-pity or does he close his eyes waiting for another dream to find him? Vaali would have him put the past behind him with philosophical resignation and trust in God to smear a soothing salve of serene tranquility all over the bruises in his heart.

Listen to TMS and his kalyaaNiyil aalabanai, kaNNeeril aaradhanai

True, this is no ‘poo mudippaaL indha poonkuzhali’. Yes, TMS is well past his prime here, and the tune does sound a trifle passé for the ebullient 80s. But happily for us, we tfm lovers are not encumbered by the plebeian mind that can see only the painted backcloth of stage scenery; we can perceive the sunny sky, and the lush trees and the blue waters beyond… jOr jOr jOr jOrjOri jOr!

Discussion Page in DhooL on this Song