Greatest Tamil Films – 8 and 7

8. Andha Naal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl’

– Jean-Luc Godard

 

Before K Balachander The Revolutionary, there was another one. S Balachander, famously known as Veenai Balachander, was equally experimental, albeit less successful. In 1955, when the entire Tamil industry was mired in melodrama and familial tales, he chose a genre that even few in Hollywood dared to touch: film noir.

Film noir, French for Black Cinema, as the name implies deals with darker stuff. Murder, deceit, betrayal, crime are the hallmarks of this genre. It involves detectives or policemen chasing fugitives and pits them against usually ordinary people attempting crime, usually involving sex. There are hardly any good guys in film noir. You may not risk mistaking the hero to be a good guy. And noir films usually start and end with a crime.

Andha Naal has all these attributes described in the previous paragraph, except sex of course, because even S Balachander was not ‘that’ experimental!

Year: 1943: setting: in the midst of Japanese bomb raid on Madras. A radio engineer is murdered in Triplicane. There are several suspects and each one is investigated, his wife, his mistress, his own brother, his sister-in-law, his neighbour. Each has his or her own version of events. Flashback plays repeated at different angles. It is obvious that S Balachander had seen Akira Kurosova’s Rashomon. But make no mistake. Andha Naal is no Rashomon. It is more of Citizen Kane’s Rosebud. If you were wondering what I’m talking about, you have not seen Citizen Kane, which means you’ve not seen the best Hollywood film ever.

Even today, Andha Naal provides a gripping watch, even if you know the ending. With intricate and clever script, downplayed music, well-orchestrated cinematography with its own shades and darkness that’s trademark film noir, Balachander delivered a clean and almost perfect noir drama in Tamil. Dealing with a risky genre is one thing, and to top it off, he even decided to do away with the compulsory ornamental accessory for Tamil films: the songs. Yes, there are no songs in Andha Naal and when you’re watching it you couldn’t thank the director enough for this decision. This is even more surprising considering the fact that Balachander himself is a musician and an accomplished Veena exponent.

And finally, this write up is not complete without a mention of its lead actor. Sivaji Ganesan uses the opportunity to portray a passionate, studious, a tad eccentric engineer with the subtlety and underplay demanded by the director. Ganesan mesmerises as a charming college student, as a seductive flirt and as a passionate engineer and, well any more detail will be a spoiler so I’ll stop here.  The other notable performance, by Jaavar Seetharaman, as a goofy, yet intuitive detective, is a treat to watch and he also adds some bit of, only a bit, comical element to liven up a dark drama.

Andha Naal is original, fresh, innovative, experimental and skilfully-crafted, and contains everything that a great cinema should have. And is still immensely watchable is a testimony enough to make it a classic.

 

 

 

7. Kadhalikka Neramillai

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘One of the joys of going to the movies was that it was trashy, and we should never lose that’

                                                                                                  – Oliver Stone

 

‘If you’re looking for a story, this film is not for you,’ was the promotional caption for Kathalikka Neramillai. With lesser known actors with no credible star value, with comedy without any ‘social’ message, a script with no scope for drama and with an audacious promotional caption, Kadhalikka Neramillai was a trendsetter all the way. Though he proudly proclaimed, Sridhar will be pleased that his ‘story’ was not only remade in Hindi and Telugu, it has inspired at least two hits in Hindi and Tamil since then.

Sridhar

 

In a time when comedy for the sake of comedy was considered anathema, Kathalikka Neramillai broke the mould. It could have turned the other way. People could have laughed at the film rather than with it. But the focused direction from Sridhar ensured that the film’s message, or the lack of it, went straight to people’s hearts. And, in that, Sridhar didn’t take any chances. He made sure the actresses looked beautiful, the location was pleasing and the lilting melodies were haunting. There was feel good element running throughout with escapism at its best. If not anything, the film retains its classic status with just one iconic scene where the Nagesh character narrates a horror story to his father, TS Balaiya.

Sridhar made great tragedies, but his name is never mentioned anywhere without instantly associating it with this film. That is a bit ironic but it also proof enough that Kadhalikka Neramillai remains, and will remain, as the finest comedy of Tamil cinema.