Saturday, February 13, 2010

Romancing the Romance : Kollywood

Romancing the Romance - I

Albeit Tamil films are dominated predominantly by action genre, other categories like thriller, horror, devotional, comedy and romance have also had their time of glory at different times. Of all these it is romance which comes a close second to action in terms of the number of films produced in the genre.

It may be argued that even action movies have romance in them and vice versa. But romance seen through out the movie unadulterated is a feeling by itself. While most films have some aspect of romance at least as a subplot a romance film can be described as any film in which the protagonists live or die for their love. The numbers of romance movies in Tamil may not match the number of action films. But Tamil cinema did have quite a few memorable films.

When films started talking with ‘Kalidas’ in 1931 film makers tried many innovations to make the new art live for long. One of such is the invention song and dance sequences. As the early films mostly dealt with historical and mythological characters they were all mostly didactic. When social films started flowing from the forties film makers had all the liberty to explore human emotions. Of the human emotions they found easy to express was love and romance which is saleable more than others.

The black-and-white era contributed some unforgettable moments of romance. Even actors were willing to do some bold scenes by standards then.

MK Thiyagaraja Bhagavathar was hailed as a romantic hero as much as singing sensation. MKT actually taught his generation of actors the aspect of subtle romance. A classic example is Haridas. In the introductory song ‘Vaalvilor thirunal...’ in which he comes riding a horse, his subtle romantic expressions like his squint looks at the girls on the streets, winking the eyes had huge effect on female viewers.

If you notice the most successful heroes who went on to become idols in Tamil are the ones who excelled in not just action but also romance. Specialising in just one won’t do. This trend existed until the mid eighties when angry young men were clearly differentiated from chocolate lover boys due to the changing times.

After MKT-PUC era the trimurti who ruled the Tamil film industry had fair chances to showcase their romantic inclinations on screen. While one was hailed as a mass action hero another was branded melodramatic. The third one was branded King of Romance. But during that period all of them have lived some memorable romantic life on screen irrespective of their images.

Nadigar Thilagam Sivaji Ganesan has a handful of movies in which he excelled in romantic scenes. Movies like ‘Sabash Meena’ and the cult song ‘Chithiram Pesuthadi’... are great romantic memorabilia from the black and white era. In the colourful ‘Puthiya Paravai’ Sivaji’s every movement with Saroja Devi talks love. Ananda Vikatan magazine raved about the lover boy Sivaji more than the histrionic Sivaji when it wrote the review of ‘Deiva Magan’ in 1969.

The romantic scenes in MGR films were altogether different. He mastered subtle romance better than any of his contemporaries. The way he holds the upper arm of his love and giving it a thrust will delight any romantic heart. The way he puts his hand around the neck and jerk s the heroines towards him is a winning art. The way MGR performed his romantic scenes with Savithri in ‘Vettaikaran’ is a talking point even today.

Gemini Ganesan was called Kadhal Mannan probably because other popular tiles were already taken by the other two. I say this it is because the Kadhal Mannan was exemplary as a pathos hero. But still as endearing lover he did capture many hearts in films like ‘Missiamma’, ‘Thenilavu’ and more.

Director Sridhar who is said to have pioneered soft romances in Tamil films is also a pioneer in triangular love themes. His ‘Kalyana Parisu’ is a classic love story which created new tenets for romance. When Gemini Ganesan shouts to inform he is gong to the college signaling Saroja Devi to follow him is one the most romantic moments. This kind of moments inspired many directors who came after Sridhar. The switching lights on-off to show love in ‘Ek Duje Ke Liye’ is one of it. Till the beginning of seventies romance was only a part of the theme and not the life line of films.

Later when Tamil cinema entered the “new wave” age from the early seventies differently made love stories began to crop up. During this period even Sivaji Ganesan tried some full blown romance movies. Though his age and mature stature could have hummed oddness Sivaji did try his hand. Films like ‘Rojavin Raja’, ‘Deepam’ and ‘Ilaya Thalaimurai’ can be classified romantic movies of Sivaji. MGR also showed his mettle in some bold scenes in movies like ‘Raman Thediya Seethai’ and ‘Idhayakkani’. But his ‘Anbe Vaa’ is a romantic classic. Unfortunately Sivaji did not have an out and out romantic film like ‘Anbe Vaa’ in his entire career. The only movie which can compete with ‘Anbe Vaa’ in terms of sheer grandeur is the tragic love story of ‘Vasantha Maligai’.

Romancing the Romance - II

In the 70s when the icons altered their priorities, the age of romantic heroes came down. Actors like Sivakumar, AVM Rajan, Ravichandran and Jaishnakar ruled the genre for a while. Towards the end of 70 Tamil cinema witnessed another paradigm shift. Cinema was taken to the place it happens and actors were chosen to play their age. When the B-Company – Balachandar, Bharathiraja, Balu Mahendra and Bhagiyaraj – dominated the industry from late seventies to the early nineties we had romantic movies of all kinds. From Mills and Boon types to matured Adult love. Women-centered romances by K. Balachandar, Mahendran and Balu Mahendra showcased powerful female characters in love – young and older women, wives and mistresses - but they did not let them taste box office success many times.

When ‘Sollathan Ninaikiren’ was released in 1973 Tamil audience started gearing up for delicate romantic stories. Just the previous year in 1972 KB had delivered ‘Velli Vizha’ which talked about the eternity of love with Gemini Ganesan and Vanishree kept their love for each other even after parting ways. K Balachandar in his many films has shown all most all the facets of love. ‘Sollathan Ninaikiren’ in 1973, ‘Apoorva Raagangal’ in 1975 and ‘Avargal’ in 1977 opened the minds of people for discussing love and romance in life as serious business. The multi dimensional ‘Avargal’ would have been a super hit had it been made ten years later. Our remake fanatics can think of remaking movies like ‘Avargal’ today. ‘Maro Charitra’ in 1978 had a terrific run in Tamil Nadu even if it was a Telugu film. This probably started the advent of romantic films where the protagonists can die at the end and still make the film a hit. ‘Maro Charitra’ ran for over a year in Coimbatore city. K. Balachandar had his say till ‘Duet’ in 1994. After that the hyper active generation sprouted and serious love was sidelined.

The case is much similar to another in the B-Company as well. They produced timeless love classics but later faded. Balu Mahendra of ‘Kokila’ (Kannada), ‘Azhiyatha Kolangal’ and ‘Moondram Pirai’ in the 70s lost his touch in ‘Adhu Oru Kana Kaalam’ in 2005. Of all in the B-Company it was Bharathiraja who explored love and came out with flying colours on most occasions. Be it puppy love in ‘Alaigal Oivathillai’ or divine love in ‘Mudhal Mariyathai’. Bharathiraja has done it all. ‘16 Vayathinile’ was village romance. ‘Niram Maratha Pookal’ a romance on trust. ‘Alaigal Oivathillai’ an adolescent babyish romance. ‘Mudhal Mariyadhai’ a divine matured romance. ‘Kadolara Kavithaigal’ a condition romance. Bharathiraja has done it all.

During this late seventies when cinema opened up for rank new comers most of the new entrants tried romance and love for their first films. Many failed and very few found a lasting career. One of them was T Rajender. His ‘Oru Thalai Ragam’ which was released in 1980 went on to become one of the cult romances in Tamil film history. ‘Oru Thalai Ragam’ is the first romantic film in which the boy and the girl don’t speak a single word to each other throughout the film. ‘Oru Thalai Ragam’ ran for more than 365 days. ‘Oru Thalai Ragam’ let the doors open for a series of romances mostly with absolute new commer. But all did not last. But it also gave the confidence to some producers who created some off beat love stories like ‘Palaivana Cholai’, ‘Alaigal Oivathillai’, ‘Panneer Pushpangal’. Eighties was the time Motherland Pictures rewrote the formulae for success with a series of silver jubilee romantic movies like ‘Payanangal Mudivathillai’, ‘Ilamaikalangal’, ‘Udhayageetham’ with the help of Illayaraja.

The decade also saw the rule of the super stars duo and that took away some sheen on romantic movies. Having said that, one cannot deny the contributions of Kamal Haasan in keeping the genre alive. As a soulful romantic in ‘Rajaparvai’, dignified lover in ‘Salangai Oli’, crazy fanatic lover in ‘Guna’, jilted lover in ‘Punnagai Mannan’, Kamal Haasan is aptly called “Kadhal Ilavarasan” until recently. Kamal touched all the facets of love with much finesse right from the beginning of his solo her career. The films Kamal and Sridevi did together in the 70s and 80s made them one of the most cherishing romantic pairs in Tamil film history. The eighties also saw the only film in which Rajinikanth lives and dies for love. ‘Puthu Kavithai’ released in 1982 can be said as the only film of Rajini that had love as the central theme. Traditionalists can add the classy ‘Johnny’ if they like.

The eighties saw female icons in Nadhiya and Revathi who carried many films on their shoulders, mostly romances. Films with Nadhiya and Revathi were sold on their names. But it was Mani Ratnam who stole the scenes in the late eighties with films like ‘Mauna Ragam’ and ‘Idhayathai Thirudathe’. ‘Idhayathai Thirudathe’ created some new grammar for romantic movies. It is the film that gave the ‘Odi Polama’ phrase to all the lovers in following years. It was a dubbed movie from Telugu. But still it tasted the super success of a Tamil film.

In 1990 a clean youthful romance ‘Maine Pyar Kiya’ took the nation by storm. The entire youth of nation was wearing the costumes of Salman Khan and Bhagyashree humming ‘Dil Deewana’. The historic success of ‘Maine Pyar Kiya’ generated a whole host of romantic movies. Every 9 out of 10 movies in Hindi produced in that period were romances. But Tamil film industry didn’t take notice of the change.

Romancing the Romance - III

Though in Tamil the nineties continued to be dominated by super stars there were enough sparks to herald changes to come.

Films like ‘Vaigasi Poranthachu’ and ‘Eeramana Rojave’ brought a new found freshness to romantic genre. The success of ‘Vaigasi Poranthachu’ was heard in Mumbai and the Tamil film was remade as ‘I Love You’ in Hindi with Prashanth himself in the lead.

This period also saw the emergence of young heroes like Vijay, Ajith and Prashanth who excelled in romance. The romantic heroes were working in tandem with the swashbuckling during this period. It will be interesting to note that all the mass action heroes of today were actually got introduced and made a mark as lover boys in the 90s. Vijay was in introduced in ‘Naalaya Theerpu’ in 1992. He had his first silver jubilee in the love story ‘Poove Unakkaga’ in 1996. He proved he has the star power only with another romantic film ‘Kadhalukku Mariyathai’ in 1997. ‘Kushi’ released in 2000 catapulted Vijay to the big league of actors. But he went on to be identified as an action hero.

Same story is with Ajith. ‘Amaravathi’ in 1993 introduced Ajith as an over-sensitive lover boy. Ajith had his first success with ‘Aasai’ in 1995. His first block buster was ‘Kadhal Kottai’ in 1996. Then with a string of romances like ‘Kadhal Mannan’, ‘Amarkalam’ and ‘Kandukondain Kandukondain’ Ajith became a big star in his own right. But he too preferred to take the route of Vijay.

The 90s also introduced Tamil audience to some peculiar love stories. ‘Kadhal Kottai’ in 1996 was love only via mails without seeing each other till the very end of the film. In ‘Kalamellam Kadhal Vaazhga’ in 1997 the pair loved through telephone and unites only at the end. In ‘Idhayam’ the hero doesn’t declare his love for the heroine in spite of multiple chances given till the end. ‘Sollamale’ in 1998 had yet another bizarre story line. Livingston who is in love with Kausalya after gaining sympathy by lying he is dumb finally chops off his tongue to remain dumb.

While in the 90s Vijay and Ajith were on their way to mass stardom the chocolate lover boy Madhavan carefully avoided falling into the trap. He never swayed from what ‘Alaipayuthey’ made him out to be in 2000. He cleverly consolidated his chocolate lover boy image with city based films like ‘Minnale’ and remains with maximum female fan followers even after marriage.

Romancing the Romance - IV

The first decade of the millennium saw love and romance change colours within known parameters. The painfully shy heroine is out. Adolescent stories were tried more often. The age of the babyish lovers dropped to almost their real age. Also the lovers turned street smart than earlier generations.

‘Thulluvadho Ilamai’ in 2002 set the ball rolling for a slew of high school romances brazenly disrespecting popular sentiments. The hero of these kinds of romances usually is a rogue who has no responsibilities in life. It was also called by the makers as closer to life films. Dhanush became the unofficial ambassador for this genre. If ‘Thulluvadho Ilamai’ in 2002 was an elementary love, ‘Thiruda Thirudi’ in was arrogant adventure love. ‘Kadhal Kondein’ was an explosive and destructive love.

The present decade has shaped out to be a mixed bag when films on love are concerned. The Sliding Doors inspired ‘12B’ told love in two tracks. Convincingly told and you approved Shaam for both the ladies. The Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikander inspired ‘Badri’ told college love aspirations in simple colours. While urban love stories like ‘Minnale’ and Boys made it good, ‘Ghajini’ who romances the lasses as well as flexes the muscles for love also returned. ‘Kaakha Kaakha’ and ‘Ghajini’ like films created a new genre like action romances in line with romantic comedy. Off beat romantic stories like ‘Kudaikkul Mazhai’, ‘Devathayai Kanden’ and ‘Mozhi’ did not let the hopes die. ‘Kadhal’ in 2004 made a bold attempt to resurrect love with realism. ‘Kadhal’ is bound to feature in the Top 10 Tamil Romances of all time even after many decades from now. When the balance was being well maintained year 2009 put a bumper with no real romances except ‘Varanam Aayiram’ in 2008 and ‘Siva Manasula Sakthi’ in 2009.

Many romantic films are not fairy tales. But the agony and the ecstasy of love are worth longing for on this Valentine’s Day.

Long live Love! Long live the lovers!!

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