Saturday, 21 May 2011

The Best of Tamil Cinema

So I’m reading this coffee table book on “The Best of Tamil Cinema, 1931-2010” by this guy G.Dhananjayan.  It’s not unlike Halliwell’s Hundred or Halliwell’s Harvest, though its quite snark free.  It’s quite obvious Dhananjayan is a fanboy – which is all right with me, I’m a fanboy myself. It’s got introductions by K.Balachander, Mahendran and Balu Mahendra. There’s a painful introduction trying to define trendsetters and landmarks, and the book itself is split into two volumes, the first  covering 1931 to 1976 and the second from 1977 to 2010.

The first volume covers Kalidas (1931) to Bhadrakali (1976) – bookended by Kali – as it were. The second volume takes up from 1977’s 16 Vayadhinile to 2010’s Nandhalala.

The book is a labour of love, obviously. Dhananjayan notes that it took two years to put it together, and it’s obvious he thoroughly enjoyed doing it. There are some amazing pictures – ancient photographs, posters, newspaper clippings, review scans and other material. 

Add some hilarious lines – like this one on 1979’s Panchakalyani “A film which succeeded due to the excellent action of a donkey”. (If it was LH, that would have been a devastating put down – but here, it’s delivered perfectly straight); No prizes for guessing what it has to say about “Aattukkara Alamelu”; some cryptic ones “Unparallel output, which became a benchmark” on Nayagan.

So, the book itself. Volume 1 begins with Kalidas, and covers the earliest Tamil Movie Queen – T.P.Rajalakshmi. A homely (and by that – I mean – a not very attractive woman – and NOT the way we use it normally) woman who looks like someone’s mother, a mother who doesn’t take too much pains with make-up.

T.P.Rajalakshmi, the first Movie Queen of Tamil Cinema

Did you know that the first secret identity guy in Tamil Movies was called “Madras Mail”? And it starred a hero billed as “Batting Mani”.  Made in 1936 – the year that Hollywood gave us My Man Godfrey and Modern Times? And it starred a heroine nilled “Miss. Meenakshi”?

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Or that the first woman to wear a two piece outfit in Tamil Cinema was a woman with the decidedly unglamourous name of K.R.Chellam, who was reviled in the popular press for doing so? And it was in a Tarzan rip-off called “Vanaraja Karzan”?

Or that Swadesamitran gave glowing reviews to Kalidas – predicting a run of a couple of weeks? Or that Samikkanu Vincent built  South India’s first dedicated movie theatre in Coimbatore – the Variety Hall. In 1914? That both Chandralekha and Aboorva Sagodarargal were directed by an Iyengar mama – T.Raghavachari – who was never heard of again?

I think I’m gaing to be making a new list of films – something I haven’t done since my summer hols in 1985 – when I discovered Halliwell in the BC,

Oh. and there’s not much on the cinema politician nexus, but did you know that the old dude in the middle was a movie buff?