One of the sensational American murder cases during the first decade of the 20th Century was the Gillette Murder Case. A young man, the nephew of a garment factory owner in New York State, was carrying on an affair with an attractive young woman working in the factory whom he seduced under the promise of marriage. The poor girl fell for him and looked forward to the happy day when they would exchange ‘I do'. However, the ambitious young man had no such intention and hoped to marry a rich woman. Soon the factory girl was pregnant, and he decided to kill her. One fateful day he took her on a boat ride in a well-known summer resort in New York State and the poor girl had no idea of what lay in store for her. During the boat ride, he suddenly crept up behind her and smashed her with the oar, killing her instantly. He pushed the body into the river and jumped out of the boat trying to fake his death. But he swam to safety …
The police were informed. Soon the young woman's body was found, but not the man's! Digging into the murder of the woman, they found out all about the young man and arrested him. The case and trial created a sensation and he was sentenced to death.
One of the greatest writers of America, Theodore Dreiser saw it as a shocking example of degradation of values in American society, and he wrote a king-sized novel running to hundreds of pages, called ‘An American Tragedy.' It turned out to be a bestseller and classic work of fiction which was made into a movie by the talented cinematographer-director George Stevens (Giant, I Remember Mama and Shane) under the title A Place In The Sun (1951) featuring Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, and Shelley Winters as the murdered woman. This film was a major hit and enjoyed a successful run in India. S. Balachandar was drawn to the film and he adapted it in Tamil, turning producer in the process. The film was Avanaa Ivan and he called his company S. B. Creations, the first time the word ‘Creations' was used in south India for a motion picture production company, revealing his inventive genius.
The movie closely followed the Hollywood movie. Balachandar played the antihero who kills his wife (Lakshmirajam) to marry the other woman (Vaasanthi).
Some children go on a picnicduring which the murder takes place. Two of them (‘Kutti' Padmini and ‘Master' Sridhar) watch the killing of the woman and finally expose the killer. The film was brilliantly narrated onscreen by the multi-faceted Balachandar.
Vaasanthi, a Telugu actor, played the female lead, while Lakshmirajam, who passed away recently at the age of 91, was the wife.
Besides the excellent direction and interesting storyline, the film had melodious music composed by Balachandar. There were five songs in the movie — one of them ‘Kalyana Ponnu Kalangaathey Kannu' was a hit. ‘Vaaranamayiram', a pasuram, was rendered by Radha of the Radha-Jayalakshmi duo of classical musicians. Jayalakshmi sang off-screen during that period, and this was another novelty introduced by SB.
A group song, ‘Manamvittu', was used in a novel way by SB. He used the background instrumentation of the song as title music and brought out a 78rpm gramophone record of it, again an innovation for the day.
In the last shot while the killer is taken away by the cops, he winks at the kids and says “Tata” — a fine touch by the creative filmmaker!
A piece of trivia — Balachandar sent blank cheques to his cast and crew, requesting them to fill the amount according to their wish and inform his office!
He also introduced interesting publicity materials. One was a larger-than-life cut-out of the hero which was erected in the Mount Road area opposite a popular non-vegetarian restaurant. There was also a cut-out of the dark glasses the hero wears; on one lens was written ‘Avanaa', and on the other ‘Ivan'! These attracted enormous attention, building up pre-release publicity.
In spite of expectations, Avanaa Ivan did not fare well at the box office.
S. Balachandar, Vaasanthi, ‘Javert' Seetharaman, Lakshmirajam Sadan, ‘Kutti' Padmini, ‘Master' Sridhar
Remembered for the fine music and excellent onscreen narration.