Nov 20 2014 : The Times of
Director of just two movies, inspiration to hundreds of film makers; gave a deeper cinematic experience
C. Rudraiah, maker of the offbeat milestone film, Aval Appadithaan (She’s like that) is dead and the slogan surely is going to be, ‘Long live Rudraiah’. It would be fitting, for it would be an exact re-run of what happened to his film after it was released in 1978.
‘Aval Appadithaan’ could not find proper theatres then and was released in Chennai (then
Madras) in Blue Diamond (now demolished), and
Kamadhenu, known more for screening re-runs then and now defunct. The film
barely managed a run of two weeks, by which time the elite crowd had apparently
seen enough of the ‘Adults only’ film to be all agog about its bold theme and creative
As Vannanilavan, noted novelist and co-script writer of Aval Appadithaan says, ‘‘The film quickly disappeared without much fanfare when it was first released. But after three or four years, the appreciation and applause began to grow’’. By this time, Rudraiah had made his second film, ‘Gramathu Adhyaayam’ (Village Chapter, 1980), which sunk without a trace and took him along. We later heard of some valiant efforts to resurrect his career, but nothing came of them.
Aval Appadithaan focuses on an independent-minded misandric woman (Sripriya) who works in advertising under a male chauvinist boss (Rajinikanth) and is attracted to a sensitive documentary film maker (Kamalahasan). It was spoken of as a feminist film later but its makers did not have such notions when they set about writing the screenplay. Credited to Vannanilavan, Somasundareshwar and Rudraiah himself (in that order), the script simply sticks to its plan of highlighting the individual and societal forces and contradictions faced by its characters. A sense of realism in not veering away from contradictions that a plot has to unravel has given Aval Appadithaan and Rudraiah a distinctive place in making Tamil cinema a meaningful medium.
Aval Appadithaan signalled the new visually oriented cinema and its bright new sound (Ilayaraja) that emerged in the latter half of the seventies. Rudraiah, fresh from the Adyar film institute then, made the film with technicians who had also graduated from the same institution. It was a time when the products of the Institute were looked down upon by mainstream cinema-wallahs as bookworms who made boring ‘art’ cinema that would fall flat in the theatres. Such institute kids had Ananthu, K. Balachander’s script man for a father figure, and Aval Appadithaan is significantly dedicated to Ananthu.
The sound track of the titles of the film (mostly in Kamalahasan’s voice) bears eloquent testimony to the challenges faced by the film’s makers and their ambition to break the barriers in Tamil cinema towards celluloid significance. ‘‘I can bear it no further…I am fed up..I have to say something..’’… the offscreen voice says with feeling. It anticipates the resistance. ‘‘Puriyaadhu…they won’t understand. The villagers won’t understand. There is a communication gap…’’ says the disembodied voice. We are then told, ‘’This is cinema. This is ‘take one’. You know, this is not the full picture. It’s only the rush print.’’ .
A percipient critic of Tamil cinema speaks of the rebellious voices in Tamil cinema. that made bold to break away from escapist entertainment and melodramatic fare. Back in 1960, leftists came together to expose the manipulations of the stock market with ‘Paadhai Theriyudhu Paar’. Despite it lovely songs which are heard to this day, the film bombed and disappeared for ever. Singitham Srinivasa Rao made Dhikkatra Parvathi (1972) based on Rajaji’s story on the evils of alcoholism. The film was released in a little theatre (Little Anand!) before vanishing! Maverick writer Jayakanthan directed his own novel, ‘Unnai Poal Oruvan’ on a shoestring budget. The film won him a national award but the box office kept clear of it. The nationalist filmmaker B. R. Panthulu made a feature film on freedom fighter V.O. Chidambaram (Kappalottiya Tamilan 1961). Despite Sivaji Ganesan’s charisma and an array of bright Bharati songs and superb performances, audiences did not take kindly to a biographical film, so much was their aversion to ‘realism’.
Jayakanthan’s novel treatment of the aftermath of rape on a young college girl in Sila Nerangalil Sila Manidhargal (1976) succeeded in its celluloid version because the integrity of the story was backed by the excellent treatment and sensitive performances. Durai’s Pasi, a realistic take on slum dwellers in Chennai succeeded bigtime because of a sterling award-winning performance from Shobha,
Balu Mahendra (Veedu 1987, Sandhya Ragam 1989, Thalaimuraigal 2013), Jayabharati (Kudisai 1979, Uchi Veyil 1989) and K. S. Sethu Madhavan (Marupakkam 1990), among others have achieved varying degrees of success in presenting a more sensitive cinema..
In recent times, directors are tackling offbeat storylines and emerging real-life issues to make cinema more evocative, though they are not entirely ‘realistic’ in their narrative and style. Films with novel subjects – Haridas (autism), Dhoni (leaving children to pursue their aptitude) and Thanga Meengal (father’s love for girl child) for example – need to become a trend.
But it requires more than good intent and risk-taking to make celluloid tick…and even if with a single success Rudraiah was a one-film wonder, the tag line is that he made one wonderful film.
(The author is a historian of Tamil film music and an author of many books on Tamil cinema)