Monday, June 22, 2009

Gnaanasundari (1961)

Prem Nazir, Thikkurissi, G. K. Pillai, S. P. Pillai,Adoor Bhasi, Bahadur, L. Vijayalakshmi,Pankajavalli, Aranmulla Ponnamma,Adoor Pankajam

CLASSIC HIT Prem Nazir and L. Vijayalakshmi in the film

`Gnanasundari,' a Christian folk myth has always been in focus of the Indian stage and the silver screen. The legend of `Gnanasundari', a rare example of a totally invented Christian mythological character, is probably developed from a Spanish folk tale. `Gnanasoundari Ammanai,' a folk poem, which attained much popularity from the 18th century, is the basis of the musical operas that were staged in Malayalam and Tamil. Popular drama troupes in Tamil Nadu staged this play throughout South India and it had its influence on the Malayalai audience also. In 1921, V. S. Andrews, one of the founder members of sangeetha natakam (musical opera) in Malayalam created a musical opera which was staged very successfully in the State.

The story of Gnanasundari was released by Columbia Gramophone Company in Tamil in a set of 78 rpm records which was in huge demand those days.

General Pictures Corporation, pioneers of silent cinema in the South, produced a silent film titled `Gnanasundari' directed by A. Narayanan in 1929. With the advent of the sound in cinema, the same story was filmed in Tamil by Sreenivasa Cinetone again directed by A. Narayanan with Sreenivasa Rao and Sarojini in lead roles. The film was a huge success. In 1948, Gemini Films and another film production company Citadel Films released the story under same title `Gnana Soundari' and both the films were released at the same time. The film by Gemini that was directed by the experienced Murugadasa and had popular artists M. K. Radha and V. S. Suseela in the lead roles, failed. However, the Citadel production, directed by Joseph Thaliath, a Malayali and F. Nagoor with singing sensation T. R. Mahalingam and the Kannada- Tamil actress M. V. Rajamma in lead roles, was a huge success. It is said that S. S. Vasan, owner of Gemini Studios withdrew his film from the theatres as a respect to the tremendous victory of the Citadel version.

The Malayalam version was released during Christmas time, December 22, 1961. It was a true copy of the Citadel version. Though the story and script by Muttathu Varkey was based on a novel of the same title authored by him, the dialogues closely resembled that written by Nanjil T. N. Rajappa for the Tamil version. Except for the hero and the heroine, the names of the other characters were changed in the Malayalam film. The Malayalam version was a success, but not as successful as the Tamil original.

Gnanasundari (L.Vijayalakshmi), daughter of King Philip (Thikkurissi), loses her mother when she was a child. She grows up as an ardent devotee of Virgin Mary. Out of fear that she may be banished if Gnanasundari ascends the throne after her father, Annisha (Pankajavalli) her stepmother plays nasty tricks to kill her. For this evil plot Annisha takes the help of her faithful maid Kathri (Adoor Pankajam). When the king is away from the palace on a hunting expedition, Annisha engages her men to murder Gnanasundari. Out of mercy for their princess, Annisha's men leave Gnanasundari alive in the woods with her arms cut off and reports to Annisha that the princess is murdered. Philendran (Prem Nazir), prince of a neighbouring kingdom, happens to find Gnanasundari in the forest and takes her to his palace. King Sheemon (G .K. Pillai) and Queen Mariana (Aranmula Ponnamma) conduct the marriage of their son Philendran with Gnanasundari.

While Philendran is away helping King Philip in battle, Gnanasundari gives birth to twin boys. Annisha comes to know that Gnanasundari is alive and is now the wife of Philendran. A message sent by Philendran to his parents is forged and manipulated by Annisha. Misguided by the message Sheemon sends Gnanasundari and her children to the forest. Gnanasundari prays to Virgin Mary to save her from the miserable plight and the mother of Jesus Christ descends to save her devotee.

Philendran returns to the palace and is heart broken when he comes to know about the fate of his wife and children. He leaves the palace to search for them. He finds them in the forest, misunderstandings are cleared, Philendran and Gnanasundari return to the palace with their children. Annisha and Kathri are forgiven by Gnanasundari and the film ends with prayers to Virgin Mary.

This was the first independent directorial venture of K. S. Sethumadhavan in Malayalam. He had earlier directed a Sinhalese film before this. His efficient direction and excellent camera work by Melli M. Irani brought to the screen the beauty of the splendid sets of Vijaya -Vauhini studios. Costumes by K. Raman, editing by M. S. Mani, sound recording by C. V. C. Shekhar and art direction by R. B. S. Mani , all contributed to the success of this black and white film. The mandatory miracle scenes of this mythological film gave ample scope for special effects. The scenes where Virgin Mary descends to earth and Gnanasundari regaining her arms were filmed with amazing technical perfection.

Prem Nazir and L. Vijayalakshmi did justice to their roles. Pankajavalli and Adoor Pankajam also filled the bill perfectly. But the comic scenes, copied from the Tamil version, that had Adoor Bhasi, Bahadur, S. P. Pillai and Adoor Pankajam did not rise to expectation.

There were 10 songs in the film penned by Abhayadev and set to music by V. Dakshinamoorthy. Some of the songs became super hits and have stood the test of time. The devotional song by P. Leela `Kanya Mariyame thaaye...' is considered as one of the best Christian devotional songs in Malayalam cinema. The solos by Kamukara Purushothaman, `Mindaatha thenthanu thatthe...' and `Panineer malarinorithal...' also became super hits. The other hits include `Onnu chirikkku chirikku...' (Kamukara-Leela), `Parannu poyo inakkiliye...' (Kamukara) and the comedy duet `Kandal nalloru chetta.' sung by the composer himself with K. V. Santha is one of the best songs in the genre.

Will be remembered: As the first independent directorial venture of K. S. Sethumadhavan in Malayalam. As the debut film of actress L. Vijayalakshmi in Malayalam and first independent film of cinematographer Melli M. Irani. It will also be remembered for the good music and as a huge success among the remake films in early Malayalam cinema.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Chilamboli (1963)

Prem Nazir, Thikkurissi, Muthiah, Adoor Bhasi, S .P. Pillai, Bahadur, Ragini, Ambika, Sukumari, Adoor Pankajam.

Musical A scene from Chilamboli 

Chilamboli,’ produced under the banner of ‘Vrindavan Pictures’ was an adaptation of the legend of Bilwamangal, Sanskrit poet and an ardent devotee of Lord Krishna. This legend has been the theme of many an Indian film. In fact, various states claim him as their own. The ancient Sanskrit epic poem ‘Sree Krishna Karnamrutham,’ supposed to have been written by him, gives evidence of the life and time of Bilwamangal, known as Vilwamangalam Swamiyar, in Kerala. The story of ‘Chilamboli’ revolves around Guruvayoor temple and surroundings.

Madan Theatres, one of the reputed film producers of early Indian cinema, sent the black and white version of the Hindi film ‘Bilwamangal’ (1932) abroad and had it printed in colour. Another Hindi film of the same title released in 1954 had singing stars C. H. Atma and Suraiya in the lead roles. Some film versions presented the legend as a biography of Surdas, for example Homi Master’s silent film ‘Bilwamangal.’ Most Hindi and Bengali versions tell the story from the male perspective, following Girish Ghosh’s famous play ‘Bilwamangal’ (1886), but the South Indian films narrate the tale of Chintamani, the courtesan who influenced the life of the poet. The importance given by the stage and the screen indicate the influence of the legendary poet on the people.

The Tamil film version of the legend ‘Chintamani’ (1937) directed by Y. V. Rao with M. K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar in lead role and another singing sensation, K. Ashwathamma as Chintamani created a record of sorts at the box office. The Telugu remake directed by P. S. Ramakrishna Rao had N. T. Rama Rao and P. Bhanumathi in the lead roles. The Kannada remake of this Tamil film had Ashwath and B. Saroja Devi in the lead roles. Directed by M. N. Basavarajiah this film was an early experiment in colour. Both the Telugu and Kannada remakes were huge successes. The Malayalam film ‘Chilamboli’ also followed Rao’s Tamil version. The script and dialogues penned by Thikkurissi was almost a copy of the Tamil film. But the Malayalam version did not click. This can be because the Tamil and Telugu films had good runs in the State. The then super stars of Malayalam cinema, Prem Nazir, Thikkurissi, Ragini, Ambika handled the main roles. The film was a musical hit, the choreography of Madhavan was also greatly appreciated.

According to the legend prevalent in Kerala, the life of Vilwamangalam is closely associated with major temples, like the Guruvayoor temple, Poornathrayeesa temple, Tripunithura and the Chottanikkara temple. The film narrates some of the episodes connected with the Guruvayoor temple. It was later dubbed in Tamil under the title ‘Bilwamangal.’

‘Chilamboli’ (sound of the anklets) opens with the courtesan Chintamani (Ragini) performing a dance on the premises of the Guruvayoor temple. Vilwamangalam (Prem Nazir), a rich merchant and Sanskrit scholar, is introduced by his friend Visweswaran (Thikkurissi) to Chintamani. Chintamani is a devotee of Lord Krishna. Vilwamangalam’s devotion to the Lord and his knowledge of Sanskrit attracts Chintamani towards him. Vilwamangalam gets drawn towards Chintamani. Though a courtesan, she stands against the wishes of her mother Parijatham (Adoor Pankajam) who tries to pressurise her into following the traditions of courtesans. Vilwamangalam deserts his wife Sumangala (Ambika) and his family to lead a life with Chintamani.
Vilwamangalam reaches home to find his father (T. S. Muthiah) on his death bed. Sumangala’s attempt to stop her husband from leaving home is in vain. Vilwamangalam’s love for Chintamani leads to tragedy. Sumangala jumps into a swollen river and commits suicide. Vilwamangalam crosses the river on that stormy night holding on to a log floating in the river. He reaches Chintamani’s chamber by climbing over a wall with the help of a hanging rope. But he never realises that the log he had clutched on hard happened to be the dead body of Sumangala and the rope a python. These images have been used to show Vilwamangalam’s blinding fascination for Chintamani. As time passes Chintamani gets disillusioned and pleads with Vilwamangamalm to offer his love to God. The lovers are separated and both lead a life devoted to the Almighty. Vilwamangalam loses his eyesight. From thereon both their lives are guided by the hand of God. They are united in life once again only to gain salvation at the feet of the Lord.

Prem Nazir and Ragini excelled in their roles. The dance sequences involving Ragini and Ambika, along with the choreography, were the high points of the film. The comic scenes by S. P. Pillai, Adoor Bhasi, Bahadur, and Sukumari were exact copies of the 1937 Tamil film The child artists, Baby Vinodini and Baby Vilasini, who performed the roles of Krishna impressed. Direction and camera work by G. K. Ramu were commendable.

Twelve songs penned by Abhayadev were set to tune by Dakshinamoorthy. The song by P. Leela , ‘Priya manasa nee vaa vaa...’ became a super hit. A duet by Kamukara and Leela, ‘Poovinu Manamilla....” and the solos by Kamukara, ‘Odi vaavaa odi vaavaa...’ and ‘Mayamayanude Leela...’ also became extremely popular and have stood the test of time.
Will be Remembered: For the good music and choreography. It will also be remembered as the first Malayalam film with the Guruvayoor Temple as the background for some important scenes.