Jun 10, 2007

Thillana Mohanambal.....

Here's some plain speaking...I stay at Bangalore and yet I've never been any good with movies or with catching up with the latest releases. I can never be dedicated to any task for more than a few minutes, and being glued to the silver screen for two-and-a-half or three hours is not, in many cases, an exception. I do have quite a few English favorites though (This is affectionately called the UK effect by some of my team-mates). Given a choice, I would prefer the Tamil oldies to the latest Hindi or the regional masalas. And speaking of Tamil oldies, the one film that pops up in my mind is this evergreen classic Thillana Mohanambal..

It is truly a classic..not only because it is set in the early to mid nineteenth century or because it is of Eastman colour..but also because generations after generations, people (children and adults alike) have found pleasure in every scene of the movie..I've watched the movie a zillion times before and I can play the entire movie in my mind's eye uninterruptedly (sans the irritating ads), and yet, I never miss an opportunity to watch it again discovering newer connotations in every scene and adding richer appreciation to every character. Well, its after all a classic....

For those of you who are not familiar with the story, here is a very brief synopsis of the movie...
Sikkil Shanmughasundaram (a role adorned by Shivaji Ganesan to the extent of religious perfection) is a very talented but rather irritable 'Nadaswara vidwan'. Mohanambal (played by Padmini) is an equally talented and gorgeous Bharatanatyam danseuse. Each of them have their own set of troupes. Balaiya, the mridangam vidwan, Thangavelu, the dance master, T.R.Ramachandran (playing the role of Varada) are a few of them.

Well guys, its the proverbial love at first sight and first hear for them (you got to hear the nadaswaram and watch the Bharatanatyam dance). Its more of a magnetism between the Nadam and Bharatam, the arts, and consequently the corresponding artistes. And that's another reason why its a favourite of mine (its love at first encounter ;) ). Back to the plot, Shanmugasundaram's bad-temper and Mohana's mother's lust for money bring in a few villains. Vaithy (played by Nagaesh) accentuates the rift between them, bringing in the Singapura Minor (Balaji) and the Madanpur Maharaja (Nambiar) who are allured by Mohanambal's splendor.


There is also a contest held between the lead artistes, (nadam or bharatham? Sikkil or Mohana? is the question) and the usual wise judgement of both being equally exceptional is delivered. Mohanambal is rightfully bestowed with the title 'Thillana Mohanambal' by none other than Shanmugasundaram himself in praise of her exceptional talent in that form of dance - Thillana...

To cut a long story short, (movies of yesteryears do have a intricate storyline guyz, unlike the modern counterparts which manage to run the reels for three hours with a three-minute plot), Mohana finally manages to appease Shanmugasundaram with her dedication. All's well that ends well...

Now for the critical analysis of the movie....All the songs are classics, with this one standing out... 'Marainthirunthu paarkum marmam enna..' Check out the video on youtube (link provided in this page)....Padmini's abhinayangal, her charm, lithe dance movements, notwithstanding Shivaji's expressions will leave you entranced. My favorite scene in the movie is the train scene, one in which both the troupes are cramped inside a typical Indian third class compartment and fight their guts out for more comfortable seats, berths, and light. Balaiya (the mridanga vidwan and Sivaji's senior accomplice excels in this scene...his is yet another monumental performance in movie.)The young couple, unperturbed by the surrounding scuffles are in their private world conversing with their eyes. How romantic!!! How intense is their affection!!! I seldom get that romantic feel in any of the modern day movies.....Such is the execution of the scene....

And I have quite a few favorite characters in the movie...Its difficult to pick a single superlative, because every single artiste connects to their roles and plays them to the required level of precision. I admire even the seemingly minor roles of Varadha (TRR), Vaithy (Nagaesh), dance master (Thangavelu) or even the vethilaipotti accomplice of Mohana's mother. And yet, one particular character which deserves awesome appreciation is Jiljil Ramamani (seemlessly rendered by Manorama). Her role is marked by ignorance, innocence, good-intentioned stupidity. In my opinion, her performance in the movie is second only to Shivaji Ganesan's...Do leave your favorite scenes and characters in the comments section.

So if there is something which can keep a true Mercurian like me glued to a spot for over three hours, it is a classic like Thillana Mohanambal. You can laugh, cry, emote, sit straight and connect all at once in three hours. That should explain most of it...I can't think of any modern-day sequels that can get even remotely close to this classic...Can you??