Archive for October, 2005

Illaiyarajah’s son Yuvan Weds Grand Daughter of Jaffna


March 21st was an auspicious day for marriages. In Sri Lanka the media hype was about Cricketing spin wizard Muthia Muralitharans marriage to Madhimalar Ramamurthy of Adayar in Chennai.

Even as the Murali – Madhi wedding was on at the Rajeswary Meiyammai Wedding hall another VIP wedding was taking place at the Mayor Ramanathan Chettiar wedding hall. If one “Kalyanam” was of interest to cricket lovers the other “thirumanam” captured the interest of many Tamil film music fans.

Yuvan Shankar Rajah , son of maestro Illaiyarajah and a composer in his own right got married to Sujaya Chandran of London . She is the daughter of medical doctor parents Velayutham and Sarojini Chandran living in Britain.

While Indian media gave much prominence to the “London” connection there was practically no mention about the Jaffna connection of the Bride. Sujayas mother Dr. Sarojini known generally as Saroja is a daughter of Jaffna hailing from Myliddy. An old student of Mahajana College, Thellippalai Sarojini had her higher education in India where she met and married Sujayas father a native of Kerala.

Sujaya based in London is a devotee and student of music. She met Yuvan Shankar Raja as a “fan” in London. Sujaya kept in touch with Yuvan during his many trips to London. There were reverse trips to Chennai too. Gradually rhapsodic love bloomed and the couple with the blessings of their parents embarked on a matrimonial symphony.

With hits like “Kadal Konden” “Manmathan” and now “Ram” Yuvan Shankar Rajah is now firmly established as a little maestro. He is no longer Illaiyarajahs son but a composer in his own right. Music however runs in the family what with Appa and Chithappahs Bhaskar, Gangai Amaran, Annan Karthik Rajah and thangai Bhavatharini making their individual indelible marks on the Tamil film scene.

The wedding ceremony was conducted according to Vedic rituals in accordance with the wishes of the mystical Illaiyaraja. A large number of Brahmin priests were present chanting the “manthras” with gusto.Yuvan tied the “thali” knot at the auspicious time of 10. 05 am.

The attendees and well – wishers were virtually a who’s who of the Kodambakkam movie crowd. The bride Sujaya seemed thrilled at the sight of this galaxy assembled at her wedding.Illaiyarajah personally introduced most of the guests to his daughter in law.

A proud father Illaiyarajah was visibly happy and greeted each and every guest. The fraternal trio Rajah, Bhaskar and Amaran seemed to have patched up their differences and presented an amiable and amicable front to the guests.The family members of the clan too were seen wrapped in bonhomie.

Pride of place was given “Panchu” Arunasalam, Illaiyarajahs mentor who gave the maestro his big break in “Annakkili”. Directors Bharathirajah and SP muthuraman with their wives were present on the stage attending to the couple and guests. Bharathirajah tied a bracelet around Yuvans wrist.

Directors Maniratnam, Shankar, Selvaraghavan, Sa Chandrasekhar and the doyen of them all K. Balachandar were all present.

The guest of honour was former chief minister and DMK Chief Muttuvel Karunanidhi alias Kalainjar. He came in with his customary yellow shawl flanked by deputies Arcot Veerasamy and Thuraimurugan. When Illaiyarajahs wife queried “Amma varaleengala? ” referring to Kalainjars wife Thayalu being absent Karunanidhi retorted “why If Amma had come then how could I have come”.

There was a lot of laughter as everyone present understood the implicit reference to Kalainjars nemesis Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalitha Jayaram also called “Amma”. Quipping further Kalainjar inquired “Did you invite “Amma”?. He then remarked ” I was referring to my Veetukkara Amma” amid ripples of laughter.

The couple came down from the dais to receive Kalainjars blessings. The chief minister Jayalalitha though not present had reportedly sent her greetings and gift earlier.When Kalainjar was leaving RM veerappan was entering.

Kamalahasan and Rajanikanth were expected but only the “Mumbai express” showed up. But the super star made amends by sending his daughters Aishwarya and Soundarya with new son in law Dhanush.

When Prabhu and Ramkumar came the talk moved to “Chandramukhi”.Sarathkumar and Radhika also made their presence felt.

Another notable attendee was the writer Jayakanthan who had recently won the Gnanapeeth award. “aachi” Manorama was seen walking up to the one time “enfant terrible” of Tamil letters and congratulating him.

The lyricist Vaali was present for a long time. Taking a front row seat he was seen observing keenly the wedding rituals. Singers P. Susheela, LR Eeswari, Unikrishnan and Hariharan were there too. The rendering of Ghazals by Hariharan was the highlight of the evening.

Music marvel AR Rahman came too and presented Yuvan a diamond ring. nstead of putting it on Yuvans finger the “Musical storm” dropped it neatly into the bridegrooms pocket.MS Visvanathan was there with wife for an hour.

Illaiyarajah seemed radiantly happy at the Tamil film personalities ranging from character actor Sangili murugan to the divine ms. Meena converging to wish the couple.Director Selvaraghavan a close pal of the groom was seen engrossed in conversation with Yuvan

Several actresses like Kushbu. Radhika, Suhasini. Sneha, Revathy, Suhanya, Rohini, Sangeetha etc were engaged in deep conversation with Ms. Jeeva Illaiyarajah. They also exchanged pleasantries with the bride Sujaya who seemed enthralled by the shining stars.

The grooms brother Karthik went around greeting all guests while carrying his cute kid Yatheeswar.The grooms sister Bhavatharini was wearing a dazzling silk saree and bedecked in traditional jeweelery was the cynosure of most eyes as she busily enacted her duties as a virtual mistress of ceremonies.

The unspoken question on most lips was “Eppo Kalyanam Bhavatharini?

After honeymooning in a far eastern country the couple is set to take up permanent residence in Chennai. With a number of films up his sleeve the new bridegroom is expected to roll out an impressive list of melodies combining a Madras beat with Jaffna rhythms even as he settles down to married life with Sujaya Chandran the grand daughter of Jaffna.

Add comment October 3rd, 2005

Gemini Ganesan – Romance King of Tamil Films

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Gemini Ganesan one time heart throb of Tamil cinema passed away peacefully in his sleep at 1.30 am on March 22nd at his residence in Nungambakkam, Chennai. In a career spanning five decades the octogenarian made his mark in Tamil films as the romantic hero par excellence and was known as “kaadhal Mannan” (King of Romance). His on screen and off screen persona were intertwined and the evergreen Gemini with four wives had several liaisons with attractive women. As Tamil Nadu chief Minister Jayalalitha Jayaram remarked his death is truly “an end of an era in Tamil cinema”.

His real name was Ramasamy Ganesan. The prefix “Gemini” stuck to him because prior to acting Ganesan had worked as casting director at the prestigious “Gemini” studios in Tamil Nadu. By a coincidence his contemporary and namesake Sivaji Ganesan too got the prefix “Sivaji” due to his acting as the Mahratta King in a drama written by former DMK chief Minister CN Annadurai. Sivaji, Gemini and MGR (Ramachandran) comprised the triumvirate that dominated Tamil movies from the fifties to the seventies. Another Thespian SS Rajendran strove valiantly to make this a quartet but failed.

Gemini however was the odd man out among the three musketeers.Unlike MGR and Sivaji he had no professional experience as a stage actor. Both MGR and Sivaji had learnt the ropes as part of the Madurai Boys Company drama group. Unlike them Gemini had tertiary qualifications. He was a B Sc graduate from Madras University whereas the others having taken to the stage in childhood were schooled by life.

MGR and Sivaji encouraged fans associations and participated in politics Gemini remained aloof from politics. He even declined a Rajya Sabha MP nomination proposal by Rajiv Gandhi. While he was always cordial towards fans and friends he never promoted “Rasikar Mandrangal”. This phenomenon continues to this day in Tamil Nadu and other South Indian states with proliferating fans associations dedicated to various film stars.

While MGR’s on screen hallmark was swashbuckling action sequences and Sivaji that of powerful dialogue delivery Gemini cooed and wooed his way into many a heart. All the world loves a lover! Gemini was the greatest lover on Tamil silver screen making hearts flutter. His handsome features, dashing personality, cavalier attitude, soft speech, twinkling eyes and impish humour proved an irresisistible combination.

Though he proved his mettle in many movies with fight scenes and heavy duty dialogue Gemini was not classed as a fighter or actor in the MGR – Sivaji mould. This softie image led to a nickname “Sambar” or vegetable broth. Gemini was also called Ganesh, Gemini Mama and RG. His real name was Ramaswamy Ganesan.

He was born into a well – educated middle class Brahmin family in Puthukottai on November 17th 1920. After rceiving secondary education at Rajahs College he moved to Chennai for higher studies. GGGanesan studied at Madras Christian College and graduated in Science. He worked as a demonstrator in cHemistry for a while at his Alma Mater. Utterly bored with academia he obtained employment at Gemini Studios run by the mercurial SS Vasan. Vasans father in law Ramachandran was Geminis grand uncle.

He worked as casting director at Gemini. One of his duties was to interview prospective actors and actresses. Among his finds was Chandrababu, Ranga Rao, Savithri and Balaji. It was this stint at Gemini that bestowed Ganesan his name Gemini. His first film role was in “Miss Malini” a film based on a short story by RK Narayan. His name in the credits was RG. Later he played Lord Krishna in “Chakradhari”. He came to be noticed as an actor by playing the villain opposite RS Manohar in “Thai Ullam”. His turning point was as the hero playing dual roles in “Manampol Mankalyam” in 1952.

From then onwards there was no looking back. He has acted in more than 200 films in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada and Hindi. Most films however were in Tamil his mother tongue. Among successful movies that Gemini acted as hero were Kanavane Kan Kanda Theivam, Vanjikottai Valiban, Kalyanap Parisu, Missiyamma , Then Nilavu, Meenda Sorgam, Sumai Thangi, Patha Kanikkai, Parthiban Kanavu, Kairasi, Kalathoor KannammaKonchum Salangai Katpaham, Ramu, Valkai Padagu, Shanthi Nilaiyam, Thamarai Nenjam, Vellivila , Punnagai and Naan Avanillai.

He also acted in several blockbusters with Sivaji Ganesan playing second lead. Notable among these were Pennin Perumai, Veera Pandiya Kattabhomman, Kappalottiya Thamilan, Pathi bhakthi, Pavamannippu, Parthal Pasi theerum, Kandan Karunai, Saraswathie Sabatham and Unakkaha Naan. His only film with MGR was Muharasi where he played elder brother. Gemini also starred with SS Rajendran in “Vairakkiyam.In Kalathoor Kannamma Kamalahasan as a child artiste acted as Geminis son. Decades later in Avvai Sanmugi the aged Gemini played father in law to Kamal.

Gemini has acted opposite several leading actresses like Anjali Devi, Pushpavalli, Padmini, Vaijayanthimala, Savithri, Devika, Vijayakumari, Saroja Devi, Vanishree, Rajashree, Kanchana, Bharathi, Jeyanthi, KR Vijaya and Jayalalitha. His screen chemistry with almost all his heroines was superb. Some of the love songs Gemini crooned on screen are evergreen numbers. Several playback singers have sung for Gemini but it was AM Rajah, PB Sreenivas and SP Balasubramaniam whose voices blended most harmoniously on screen. The directors who brought out his acting abilities out best were Ragavaiah, Bhimsingh. Bhanthulu, Sridhar, Shankar, Gopalakrishnan, Balachandar, Nagarajan etc.

Some of his roles are unforgettable. The ugly dwarf in Kanavane Kankanda theivam; the valiant military commander Velliathevan in Veera Pandiya Kattabhomman; the freedom fighter Madasamypillai in Kappalottiya Thamilan; the burdened family man seeking solace as a Catholic priest in Sumai Thangi. The widower with child caught up in a triangular relationship in films like Katpaham, Ramu etc. The Nathaswaram playerlip synching to perfection on screen the music of maestro Karukurichi Arunasalam in Konchum Salangai, Vikkarama Cholan in Parthiban Kanavu, the warrior Verramallan in Saraswathy Sabatham. Lakshmana in Lava kusa; Lord Siva in Kandan Karunai; Lord Krishna in Veera Abhimanyu; the devotee to truth in Punnagai are someperformances lingering in memory.

His magnum opus however was in his own production “Naan Avanillai” (I am not he) directed by S. Balachandar. Gemini played nine roles. The story was about a bigamist posing off as different men in different disguises to different women. It was a case of art imitating life and Gemini was in his element playing all roles. It was a sign of Gemini’s remarkable sense of humour that he chose to film such a story as the only film he has ever produced. Unfortunately it did not click at the box office.

Geminis first and only legal wife was Alamelu called fondly as “Bopji”. Gemini married at 19 and had his first child when 22. This did not prevent further marriages done according to religious rites. One such wife was Pushpavalli with whom he acted in his first film . Another was the illustrious actress Savithri with whom he has acted in many films. She was known as Savithri Ganesh. Gemini made headlines a few years ago by his marriage to a woman more than fifty years his junior Julianna. He also had a live in relationship with the actress Rajashree.

Ganesans other extra- marital liaisons were numerous and added grist to the gossip mills of Kodambakam. Gemini was no gigolo but a casanova.. He was not a hypocrite and candidly admitted to these saying his life was an open book. Some writers have compared him to Gary Cooper in this respect. His wife Bopji stood by her philandering husband throughout like the typical Indian loyal wife.

She and Gemini have four daughters. Three of them Revathy, Kamala and Jeya are medical doctors. A fourth Narayani is a journalist on Times of India. Gemini has two daughters by Pushpavalli. The elder is Rekha the well – known Hindi actress. The younger Radha also acted in a few Tamil films but then opted for marriage and migration to the USA. Savithri and Gemini have two children. The daughter Vijayasamundeeswari is a Physiotherapist. She acted in films as a child artiste “Baby Savithri”. Gemini’s only son Satheesh Kumar is also living abroad.

Despite the fickle love life Gemini was a shrewd businessman and invested heavily in real estate and property development. He was a good sportsman having captained the College Cricket team. He also played Tennis, Golf, Badminton . His other interests were swimming, riding horses, ball room dancing and reading. He has visited Sri Lanka several times and had many good friends.

The MGR – Sivaji – Gemini Period at its best was the golden age of Tamil cinema. The last of that trio has breathed his last. Many actors have romanced their heroines in the past and no doubt will do so in the future. The “romantic king” crown however belonged to Gemini Ganesan and all other aspirants only pretenders to the throne.He was and will be forever the “Kaadhal Mannan” of Tamil cinema just as MGR was the “Puratchi Nadigar” (revolutionary Actor) and Sivaji its “Nadigar Thilakam”.

Add comment October 2nd, 2005

Toronto Festival:Films “Of By And For” The People


Film festivals are fast becoming annual events in many, many
cities now. The reviewer V.Radhika writing in the “Hindu”
summed it up aptly “In a box-office-propelled movie world, film
festivals are oases of hope. They offer a kaleidoscope of world
visions that are not packaged in a fast-food format: to be
devoured and forgotten. They showcase works that hold a
mirror to the times we live in, often reflecting unflattering but
thought-provoking images”.

Sri Lanka striving hard to establish its own niche in the celluloid
realm should seriously consider the screening of an
international film festival annually in Colombo. If conducted and
continued with consistent perfection the film festival could prove
to be an additional fillip to the tourist industry. More importantly
it could help the country stamp its own distinctive mark on the
film scene.

Venice and Cannes may be the most glamorous but other cities
too have established a name for themselves in this respect.
One such example is Toronto in Canada where I have been
living for the past fifteen years. The Annual Toronto
International Film Festival – rated second in importance to only
Cannes – is the largest of its kind in North America.

September as far as Torontonians are concerned is not only
the month where summers give way to fall/autumn but also the
film festival month. Come mid – September and areas
surrounding participating theatres are dramatically altered with
winding queues of film buffs waiting in line with their tickets.
Films from the four corners of the globe are exhibited to hectic
schedule that ultimately leaves avid film goers exhausted but
exhilarated.

As an ardent movie aficionado I been fortunate indeed to
witness parts of this glorious spectacle as a viewer for thirteen
times in the past except for two years when away from Toronto.
It is indeed a unique event where the elites mingle with the
commoners in viewing films as mere film buffs. Devoid of judges
and juries it is mass participation that determines the festivals
course.

In the words of Festival director Piers Handling ” The philosophy
of the festival was always ‘ this is a festival for the people of
Toronto’ the public is still our most important constituency and
we’ve never lost sight of that”.Handling sees the festival as a
“perfect mix of the pubic and industry, the two intersect, they
jostle with each other, but there is no real friction between both
sides of the festival. The film makers love coming here because
they don’t feel its a market or they don’t feel its a press junket”.

According to Handling many distributors of foreign language
films like to see the movies with a live audience in Toronto
before taking decisions on buying them.” It is the public that
decides what’s good and what’s bad”.The great advantage of
Toronto is not being one of the “more high pressure festivals,
which are competitive and are more of a market or press
situation”.

There is vast opportunity for both the struggling independent
maverick as well as the more established film makers to exhibit
their wares here. Sri Lankan film makers or South Asian
filmwallas for that matter should focus more and more on what is
known generally as the Toronto film fest. This people oriented
public nature of the Toronto fest as opposed to many others
where critics and juries hold sway is a major reason for its
popularity.

This years festival was the one where I saw the most number of
pictures. I managed to cram in twenty – two features, seven
documentaries and one “revived” classical oldie. Though nearly
three months have passed it does not seem too late even now
to write briefly about this years film fest. After all few reviewers in
South Asia give prominence to it.

The 29th Toronto film fest held from Sep 9 -18 showed 328
films from 60 Countries of which 253 were full length features
and documentaries while the other 75 were shorts. 99 of these
celebrated their world premieres while 220 were North American
firsts. 155 films from 55 non -English speaking Countries were in
languages other than English. The final selection of 328 to be
screened was made by the organizers out of a mind boggling
2686 entries.

Each film was screened twice on 19 screens at 8 theatres and
cineplexes in the heart of Toronto. 20 of these were special
“Gala” presentations with high priced tickets. These galas have
parties following screenings attended by filmakers, artistes and
Exhibitors. The rest of the tickets were well within reach of the
average cinephile and more than 250, 000 tickets were lapped
up during the 10 days of film mania. More than 700 journalists
from 80 Countries spangled with fans, filmmakers, actors and
distributors for the peoples film festival.

A distinguishing hallmark of the Toronto fest is the question and
answer session provided at the end in most screenings.
Audience members get a chance to clarify film related issues
from the director, producer and other artistes present. The film
makers are only too happy to field questions and serious
filmfans pose many sensible and sensitive ones. These
sessions are never dull and often transcend constraints of time
until organizers reluctantly wind them up finally.

This year saw an eclectic mix ranging from the 540 minute
marathon “Evolution of a Filipino family” from the Philippines to
the 2 minute short “More Sensitive” from British Columbia in
Canada. The nine hour film in Tagalog by director Lav Diaz took
eight years to make and focused on the fifteen years of martial
law imposed by Ferdinand Marcos.

The 120 second clip in English by Gail Noonan was on a
second rate singer keen to prove he was smarter and more
sensitive than the Viewer. The festival has earned a reputation
over the years for exhibiting the best of current global cinema
and for showcasing the latest works of famed international
directors.

These categorised under three sections “Masters”,
“Contemporary World Cinema” , and “Special Presentations”
have proved time and again to be the most popular attractions
of the festival. Movies under these banners provide high profile
sneak previews by world renowned film makers as well as other
creative talents.

Jean – Luc Godard, Michelangelo Antonioni, Pedro Almodovar,
Wim Wenders, Ousmane Sembene, Volker Schlondorff, Steven
Soderbergh, Agnes Varda, Spike Lee, Istvan Sabo, Zhang
Yimou,Tom Hooper and India’s Buddhadeb Dasgupta etc were
some of the maestros whose works were on display in Toronto.

South Africa: Ten years later – was the theme of the National
Cinema Spotlight focus. A decade after apartheid being
abolished South Africa has a flourishing film industry reflecting
the voice of a united nation. The highlights of this spotlight were
the feature “Drum”. Short film ” Mozart – Music of the violin” and
the documentary “A South African Love Story -Walter and
Albertina” about legendary apartheid fighter Walter Sisulu and
wife.

There were other South African films in the special presentation
category like Hotel Rwanda and Yesterday. Hotel Rwanda
directed by Terry George had a powerful storyline based on
actual events of the Rwanda genocide. The film with
Hollywood’s Nick Nolte in the cast was voted the most popular
film of the festival and given the Peoples choice award.

“Yesterday” an elegiac movie about an HIV positive Zulu woman
was a moving experience. Directed by Darrel James Roodt and
co – produced by Anant Singh the film had a superlative
performance by Leleti Khumalo. It has been selected for
nomination to the Oscar competition in the best foreign film
category.

Another remarkable SA based film was “Red Dust” directed by
Tom Hooper and based on the novel by Gillian Slovo. An
intense movie with a thrilling narrative “Red Dust” is set against
the background of South Africa’s Truth and reconciliation
commission hearings.

In addition to these were many other films made by or relating to
Black issues and themes featured under the regular “Planet
Africa” category.

The only ones from South Asia were four “India” films.
Dasguptas “Swapner Din” (chased by dreams) had Prosenjit
and Rimi Sen and a fresh face Rajesh Sharma in the main
roles. Though set in West Bengal ” the trio of characters and
their aspiring dreams were typical of persons in any part of
India” explained the director at the screening.

A delightful road movie was ” Hari Om” by Bharatbala of “Vande
Mataram” fame. A visually stunning film that brought out the
beauty of rural Rajasthan “Hari OM” has scintillating
performances by Vijay Raaz and Camille Natta. Interestingly
Bala relied on the fusion music of Nitin Sawney instead of his
AR Rahman as many would have expected him to do.

“Schatten der Zeit” or “Shadows of Time” was a Bengali
language movie set in colonial Calcutta. This German
production had director Florian Gellenberger writing the
screenplay. The movie with Prashant Narayanan and Tannishta
Chatterjee in the lead roles evoked shades of Satyajit Ray. Irfan
Khan and Soumitra Chatterjee also made their presence felt.

“Zero” a feature documentary by Elida Shogt probed the
mysteries of zero as a mathematical concept and as a state of
being. Th search for the origins and cultural roots of zero
brings the filmmaker to Varanasi where she maps her inner
world onto the powerful mix of Hindu ritual and spirituality.

There was a time when the Toronto festival featured a large
number of Indian films. Once four films of Maniratnam were
featured. The advent of a separate Toronto South Asia film
festival in recent times has made an impact leading to a
reduction in Indian movies.

Other screening categories include “Real to Reel ”
(documentaries) “Discovery” ( new directors) “Wavelengths”
(avant – garde artistes),” Midnight madness “(late night movies)
and “Dialogues” (viewing and discussing films).

Traditionally Pride of place is given to Canadian films through
the “Perspectives Canada” category to help nurture the
fledgling Canadian industry. This year it has been dropped and
Canadian movies are being screened in the general categories
instead of enjoying a special place.

This time however two new Canadian sections. One is”
Canada first ” for first time Canuck directors and another “Short
Cuts Canada” for Canadian short films. There are also the
regular ” Canadian Retrospective” and “Canadian Open Vault”
sections.

Several Canadian film makers made their mark at the festival
showing signs of holding their own against Hollywood. Canadian
cinema seems to have come of age. Much excitement was
generated by the Canadian documentary ” Casuistry: The art
of killing a cat” by Zev Asher. The film showed the killing,
skinning, cooking and eating of a cat as a “protest” against the
killing and eating of other animals and birds. The animal rights
activists were out in full force picketing against the film and the
riot squad was called. Asher himself was placed under
protective custody for a few hours.

I managed to see 30 out of the 328 shown in 10 days. My pick
for best feature was “Der Untergang” (Downfall)about the last
days of Hitler by Oliver Hirschbiegel. Patricio Guzmans
“Salvador Allende” was the choice as best Documentary.
Hopefully if time and the editor permit I do hope to write about
these and a few other “good” ones I saw in the coming weeks.

Add comment October 2nd, 2005

Symposium: Sri Lanka’s cultural experience – For a distinct identity

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Sri Lankan Tamil films have made little progress in quantitative or qualitative terms, but they constitute a key index of the cultural development of Tamils in the island in the post-Independence period.

TAMIL cinema in Sri Lanka, it may be argued, is yet to grow beyond its nascent stage. While thousands of Tamil films have been made in India and hundreds of Sinhala movies have been produced in Sri Lanka, the number of Sri Lankan Tamil films produced so far has not touched the three-digit mark. In qualitative terms also the genre is yet to make its mark. Nevertheless, the attempts made against the odds, by individuals concerned to forge a distinctive cinematic form and assert a separate cultural identity in the post-Independence years are quite interesting. In the context of cinema, Sri Lankan Tamils comprise indigenous Tamils, Tamils of recent Indian origin and Tamil-speaking Muslims. Some preliminary observations are relevant here.

First, the visual media – the big screen and the small screen – constitute the most popular form of cultural entertainment for Sri Lankan Tamils. Cinema, however, has not had an effect that transcended the barriers of popular culture. Tamil films have not been a vehicle of social and political change in Sri Lanka unlike in Tamil Nadu, where all Chief Ministers from C.N. Annadurai, who came to power in 1967, have been involved in cinema at some time or the other.

Secondly, it must be noted that Indian Tamil cinema has had a limited Sri Lankan Tamil connection. Thavamani Devi, a Jaffna Tamil woman, defied convention and acted as a “female Tarzan” in Vanamohini which was produced in India in the 1940s. She set off a series of controversies by acting in what were considered immodest roles. However, there has been a long line of Sri Lankan Tamils involved in Indian cinema in various capacities. Two prominent persons among them, who are active at present, are award-winning director-cum-cinematographer Balu Mahendra and producer-director V.C. Kuganathan.

Thirdly, several well-known personalities of Indian Tamil cinema have had some kind of connection with Sri Lanka: M.G. Ramachandran was born at Madulkelle in Kandy; comedian Chandra Babu spent his early years in Colombo as a student of St. Joseph’s College, Maradana; actress Sujatha, whose father taught in Sri Lanka, spent her childhood in Galle; Radhika, daughter of M.R. Radha, also grew up in Wennappuwa from where her mother hails.

Fourthly, Sri Lankan Tamils have been a constructive component of Sinhala cinema right from its inception. The first Sinhala film, Kadawuna Poronduva, was produced by a Tamil, S.M. Nayagam. The pre-1983 period saw a large number of Tamils become part and parcel of the Sinhala film industry as producers, directors, cinematographers, music directors, sound directors, technicians and musicians. In fact, the owners of some of the major studios and theatres were Tamils. But with the post-1983 developments in the island, the Tamil presence in Sinhala cinema has become virtually non-existent

Despite their contribution to Sinhala cinema, very few Tamils made any worthwhile attempt to pioneer the production of Tamil films in Sri Lanka, the chief reason for this being doubts about the commercial viability of such films. Competition from imported South Indian films and the films produced by flourishing Sinhala film industry made the production of Tamil films in Sri Lanka a risky venture. Besides, the distribution of Tamil films posed a problem. The distributors were accused by Sri Lankan Tamil film-makers of discouraging local production of Tamil films.

Under these circumstances, the task of making Tamil films in Sri Lanka was left to maverick producers, who did not have adequate financial or institutional resources. The successful development of Tamil cinema in India was owing to the entrepreneurship of major studios such as Modern, Gemini, AVM, ALS, Vijaya, Jupiter, Narasus and Pakshirajah. In Sri Lanka there was no such development; there it was left to independent film-makers, who were fired by desire and determination, to try their hand at cinema. Many of them lacked an understanding of what good cinema was all about. Their purpose was to emulate within the Sri Lankan milieu films made in Tamil Nadu.

THE first Sri Lankan film in Tamil – as opposed to a Sri Lankan Tamil film – was named Kusumalatha, which was screened on December 29, 1951. It was not a film made originally in Tamil; it was a Sinhala film, Sangavunu Pilithura starring Eddie Jayamanne and Rukmani Devi, dubbed into Tamil. The voice-overs were supplied by Indian Tamil artists. So, this movie cannot be considered to be an authentic Sri Lankan Tamil film.

In that respect, the first Sri Lankan Tamil film was Samuthayam (Society), an adaptation of C.N. Annadurai’s Velaikkari. This film, however, was in 16 mm and in technicolor. While the producer of the first Sinhala film was a Tamil, the producer of the first Sri Lankan Tamil film was a Sinhalese, Henry Chandrawansa. He was its director too. Samuthayam was initially planned as a 35-mm film but later the producer reverted to 16 mm because of financial difficulties.

The film was essentially a labour of love. At one stage the producer was in dire straits, and the artists were forced to raise money by soliciting donations from the public. Already in trouble, the producer faced a further shock when he was unable to find theatres to screen the film. The film was screened in 1962 at the Borella YMBA hall by special arrangement. Thereafter it toured the country and was exhibited in schools and halls of religious bodies. Finally, with the aid of Ceylon Theatres, it was exhibited in 1963 at Manel Theatre in Dematagoda. The chief guest on the occasion was Federal Party leader S.J.V. Chelvanayagam.

The first Sri Lankan Tamil film in the standard 35 mm was Thottakkari (Plantation Woman). Its makers were persons who had started out on Samuthayam but broke away from the group because of professional differences. The film was plantation-oriented and included speeches by trade unionists S. Thondaman and Azeez. It was directed by Krishnakumar who also played the male lead role. Thottakkari was released on March 28, 1962 at nine theatres. The film did not exceed two weeks at the first run. It had several technical defects.

If Samuthayam and Thottakkari were the first Sri Lankan Tamil films in 16 mm and 35 mm respectively, the last Tamil film produced in Sri Lanka was Sharmilavin Ithaya Ragam (Sharmila’s Melody of the Heart). Its producer-cum-associate director is a Muslim, Peradeniya Junaideen, and the director a Sinhalese, Sunil Sopma Peiris. Junaideen also wrote the screenplay, the dialogue and the songs. The film was completed in 1989 but could be screened only in 1993 because of the non-availability of theatres.

Sharmilavin Ithaya Ragam was based on a novel serialised in the Tamil weekly Chinthamani for 32 weeks. The novel was very popular and met with success in the book form too. It was written by Junaideen’s wife. Junaideen had dabbled in several cinematic enterprises; he was an assistant director of the English movie Mountain in the Jungle starring Ursula Andress, which was shot in Sri Lanka. At a ceremony held in Colombo one month after the screening, Junaideen related the severe financial problems he faced (he even sold his house in Kandy) while producing the film. He broke down when he said that he was struggling to raise Rs.50,000 to dub the film in Sinhala.

Although there have been some attempts to produce Tamil movies in Sri Lanka after Sharmilavin Ithaya Ragam, they have not borne fruit; however, some telefilms have been made. So, technically, the unfinished saga of Tamil movies in Sri Lanka, which began with Samuthayam in 1962 and Thottakkari in 1963, has not proceeded beyond Sharmilavin Ithaya Ragam released in 1993. Nearly 50 Tamil films have been produced in Sri Lanka during the post-Independence period. While the quantity and quality of these films leave much to be desired, they do constitute an important index of the cultural development of Tamils in Sri Lanka during this period. Thambyayah Thevathas in his descriptive work Ilankai Thamil Cinemavin Kathai provides an exhaustive account of the birth and growth of films in Tamil. He categorises the films into four. One is the 16-mm category (Samuthayam, Pasa Nila). The second is films dubbed from Sinhala into Tamil, such as Kaliyugakaalam and Naanku Latcham. The third is Indo-Sri Lankan joint productions such as Nankooram, Pilot Premnath. The fourth is the larger and authentic category of Tamil movies, such as Thottakkari, Kadamaiyin Ellai and Vensangu produced originally in Sri Lanka.

It is the considered opinion of this writer, after having viewed almost all of the Sri Lanka-made Tamil films, that none is worthy of mention as a masterpiece either as a serious art film or as a commercial masala film. Sadly, very few of them made profit. But equally sad is the fact that none of them made an impact as an instance of good cinema. Still some films are worthy of mention as relative mileposts within the specific and limited context of Sri Lankan Tamil cinema.

Pasa Nila, made by two schoolmasters at Jaffna College in Vaddukkoddai, has been a singular achievement, with students and staff members of the institution acting in most of the roles. One of the two pedagogues, Joe Dev Anand, went on to become a successful Sinhala film-maker. Then there was Kadamayin Ellai, a film made by an English lecturer, Vedanayagam, a devotee of Shakespeare. The film was a Tamil version of Hamlet.

Nirmala was the first film to create a name for its own brand of original music and songs. Sillaikur Selvarajan wrote the lyrics and a youngster from Trincomalee, Pathmanathan, composed the music. The song “Kanmani Aada Vaa”, sung by Ferdinand Lopez, was a hit, and for the first time Sri Lankan Tamils were humming a local Tamil film song. Vensangu, made by the Tampoes who had experience in the making of South Indian and Sinhala movies, was a reasonable success.

Another novelty was the advent of a trade unionist-cum-politician on the Tamil silver screen. V.P. Ganeshan of the Democratic Workers Congress was the Sri Lankan equivalent of M.G. Ramachandran in Tamil Nadu. Ganeshan produced and acted in the lead roles in Pudhiya Kattru, Naan Ungal Thozhan and Naadu Pottra Vaazhgha. He is also the only film-maker to produce three films, all of them reasonable successes.

In terms of commercial success, Rathathin Rathame stands out. But again being registered as an Indian movie and with an Indian cast – Jaishanker, Radhika, Nagesh, Asokan – it cannot be called a Sri Lankan film. However, the film was shot in Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans were involved in its production. In fact, its producer and director were Sri Lankans.

The greatest commercial success after Rathathin Rathame, in Tamil films was Komaligal (Clowns). This was a remake of a popular radio drama, “Komaligalin Kummalam”. The film, produced by M. Mohammed, a businessman, was directed by Ramanathan, an experienced person in the Sinhala film world. The highlight of the film was the performances of Ramadas, a Brahmin in real life, who played the role of a Muslim, and Abdul Hameed, a Muslim, who played a Brahmin role. A sequel to it, Emaligal, also met with reasonable success.

Three Tamil movies, however, stand out as having reflected Sri Lankan Tamil life in a realistic manner. They are Kuthuvilakku, Ponmani and Vadakkattru (North Wind). The first two are set in the peninsula, while Vadakkattru is set against the backdrop of the Neduntheevu island. Both Kuthuvilakku and Ponmani have the burning problem of dowry as the central theme. The heroines meet with death in both films. Vadakkattru, based on a novel by Senkai Aaliyan, deals with the tensions between migratory and indigenous fishermen. This is perhaps the best Tamil film made so far. It is produced by Sivathasan of Kamalaalayam Movies and is directed by Premnath Moraes. The screenplay and dialogue are written by Sempiyanselvan. The music is composed by Latiff. In the cast are S. Yesuratnam, K.S. Balachandran, K.A. Javahar, Vasantha Appadurai, Chandrakala, Lathis Veeramani, A.E. Manoharan, Anantharanee Rajaratnam, S.S. Ganeshapillai and Inthirakumar.

THIS then is the brief tale of Sri Lankan Tamil cinema. It is a story of a cultural industry that struggles to assert itself against overwhelming odds: on the one hand there are the Tamil films from India, and on the other there are Sinhala films. While there has been no help forthcoming from the Sri Lankan Government to promote and foster indigenous Tamil cinema, India too did not allow any access to the vast Tamil Nadu market. Thus it was left to individuals who were fired by the desire to make achievements in Tamil cinema to try their hands at it, amidst great hardship.

One of the positive aspects of the Sri Lankan Tamil film scene has been its ethnic diversity. The cruel ethnic divide was not reflected here. Sinhalese, Sri Lankan Tamils, Tamils of Indian origin, Muslims – they have all been involved in its development. Almost every film has reflected the ethnic diversity of the country – in the form of the cast, technicians and musicians.

Although some of the early ventures were disasters, Sri Lankan Tamil movies have struggled to evolve their own individuality. The period between 1970 and 1977 in particular saw a cultural renaissance in the Sri Lankan Tamil literary field. The implications of this were felt in films too. Tamil film-makers realised that mere imitation of Indian Tamil cinema would not pay commercially or artistically. So they began experimenting with a new genre based on realistic portrayals of indigenous issues and themes. A more committed form of film-making aimed at striking out an independent course was emerging.

Even as this process was in progress, three calamities struck. The first was the opening up of the economy, paving the way for joint Indo-Sri Lankan productions. When prominent Indian stars came to Sri Lanka and began shooting in familiar spots, the novelty of offering to filmgoers Sri Lankan locations on screen was appropriated by these films. So, indigenous films lost a primary attraction.

The second was the arrival of television and the video cassette. Indian Tamil movies could be now viewed sitting in one’s drawing room. The state, on the other hand, did not encourage the local industry by offering incentives. The adverse impact felt by Tamil films from Tamil Nadu and Sinhala films as a result of television and the video cassette was felt even more acutely by Sri Lankan Tamil cinema.

The third and most important factor that affected Sri Lankan Tamil cinema was the ethnic violence of 1983 and the continuing escalation of the conflict. Sri Lankan Tamil society itself was torn asunder and uprooted by the ongoing conflict. This led to a moratorium on all meaningful cultural activity. Internal displacement and migration to other places became the reality of life for Sri Lankan Tamils. Performers, producers and patrons of culture were all affected. In this situation, Tamil cinema faces extinction. It would require a political change to create a climate that is conducive to the resurgence of Tamil cultural forms. Sri Lankan Tamil cinema, characterised by a widespread expression of popular culture, can emerge with strength only in such a context. With cinema in Sri Lanka facing a crisis with regard to screening, there appears to be no prospect for Tamil cinema to emerge, let alone flourish.

October 1st, 2005


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