Hitchcock of Tamil Movie – Antha Naall

Veena doyen S. Balachander will be remembered on April 13, the day he passed away 26 years ago. His family has made sure that every year; homage is paid to the multi-faceted genius in the form of veena concerts. But this year they have decided to give it a twist by showcasing his contribution to cinema. Taking centre stage will be ‘Andha Naal,’ the songless wonder that has attained cult status over the decades.

The film has been condensed into a taut 30-minute skit that retains all the ingredients of the thriller film. None of the cast has acted in a play before. “They are friends, united by love for dad’s prodigious talent,” says Raman, SB’s son, who has directed the play. Young Bharadwaj, a rising veena star and Raman’s son, is in charge of the audio effects. Bharadwaj and his guitarist friend have played an interlude for… yes, the park scene.

After working hours, the crew gathers at SB’s house for rehearsal in the evening under the watchful eyes of Mrs. Shanta Balachander, who recalls incidents with amazing accuracy. It is with heart-warming enthusiasm that she talks about her husband, who was clearly ahead of his times.

Chess, snooker, art… Balachander’s canvas was unlimited. “I always knew him as a film buff, well-versed in world cinema. So it was not surprising when he decided to take it up seriously,” observes Shanta. Did he discuss ideas with her? “He would talk about the films but loved to keep the surprise and suspense elements to himself. And no, I never went to shooting spots.”

Conversation returns to the classic ‘Andha Naal.’ “SB was inspired by ‘Rashomon,’ of Akira Kurosawa, which he watched at a film festival,” Shanta reveals. “He wrote a play in the same narrative style and took it to Koothapiran of AIR. It was rejected and a disappointed SB told the story to A.V. Meiyappa Chettiyar. His interest kindled, the movie moghul agreed to make it into a film.”

But there was a catch. Song and dance sequences, mandatory for any Tamil film, were totally banned. Did Chettiyar oblige?

“Well, he wondered whether there could not be room for at least one song. When appa said that even a solitary song would ruin the tempo, he gave in,” supplies Raman. “All credit to Chettiyar and AVM Productions for making it happen,” acknowledges Shanta.

What was the reaction of the audience? “It was not a runaway hit you know,” she laughs. “Rajeswari Amma (Mrs. AVM) suggested that we see the film and off we went to the theatre. There were people, who wondered why Sivaji Ganesan was falling dead so many times. The novelty left them puzzled. No need to say that it didn’t make any impact in the B and C areas,” she says.

How did Balachander take it? “Oh, he was not worried. He was delighted that he pulled it off, what with Sivaji’s understated performance that stole the show and support in just right measures from the co-actors, including a charming Pandaribai. It won acclaim at the national level and is recognised as a landmark film in the history of Tamil cinema, ranked among all-time greats,” she adds.

The homage on Wednesday next does not end with the skit. When we talk about SB’s films, can his music be forgotten? A few of the songs he wrote and composed for his films are going to be presented on the occasion. Shanta listens keenly as the numbers are practised, correcting words here and there, during the rehearsal.

Simplicity indeed was the hallmark of the songs SB composed, minimal orchestra laying the accent on the lyric and the voice. Again, he experimented with words and music. English was liberally used, often in conversational vein. And some songs transcended genres seamlessly moving to Western from Indian classical.

That ‘Andha Naal’ has evergreen appeal is evident from the fact that filmmakers, including Mahendran, Maniratnam, Karthik Subburaj, Mysskin, Parthiban and Naga, will speak on Balachander’s technique and style at the event. Mohan V. Raman will give an introduction with excerpts from SB’s films.

Yesudas’s reaction

Shanta Balachander recalls: “Yesudas was absolutely thrilled when he was roped in for the ‘Neeyum Bommai’ song. He came for recording with great expectations, visualising a host of instruments, etc., and was shocked to find a solitary bulbultara sitting there. But what else can you expect in a song picturised on a beggar?”

His ouevre

*It was on April 13 that ‘Andha Naal’ was released in 1954.

*Films SB produced and directed: ‘Avanaa Ivan,’ ‘Bommai’ and ‘Nadu Iravil.’

*‘Idhu Nijama,’ ‘En Kanavar,’ ‘Kaidhi,’ ‘Edhu Nijam’ and ‘Avan Amaran’ were films he directed for other producers.

Ref : The Hindu

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