This film released in 1959 was one of the most expensive Hollywood films of that time and won as many as eleven Academy Awards out of twelve nominations. The hero’s role — rejected by the Who’s Who of Hollywood, Burt Lancaster, Paul Newman and Marlon Brando among others — finally landed in Charlton Heston’s lap who did full justice to the rugged character of Judah Ben-Hur. The highlight of the film was the nine-minute long chariot race that till today ranks among the finest film sequences ever shot. Ben-Hur won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor among others. It was only decades later that its record was equalled by Titanic.
Based on a play of the same name by renowned playwright Komal Swaminathan, Thanneer Thanneer released in 1981 remains one of the best films directed by K. Balachander. A hard-hitting commentary on the ineptitude of a corrupt bureaucracy and the apathy of the powers that be to the pressing need for water in a rural hamlet named Athipatti, the film’s strong point was its pithy dialogues with lines that stung like whiplash. The film netted two National Awards for Best Screenplay (K. Balachander) and the Best Tamil film. The heroine Saritha’s portrayal of a village belle taking up cudgels on behalf of her tribe was one of the highlights of the film that also had a phenomenal run at the box office.
M.T. Vasudevan Nair
The directorial debut of litterateur M.T. Vasudevan Nair (1973) Nirmalyam was a film that was much ahead of its time. The tragic story of a velichapad (oracle) who reveres the goddess Bhagavathi whose temple he looks after finds his life steeped in misery. His daughter is seduced by a priest of the temple and deserted. The last straw is when the velichapad realises that his wife has been selling her body to a rich moneylender to keep the home fires burning. In a startling denouement, the velichapad goes berserk, strikes his head repeatedly with the sacred sword, spits his blood on the deity and finally drops dead. Theatre actor P.J. Antony in the lead role delivered a sterling performance that fetched him the National Award for Best Actor. The film also marked the debut of Sukumaran and Sumithra, both of whom went on to carve their own niches in Malayalam cinema.
This film released in 1979 still remains evergreen in the minds of viewers and is arguably the Best Telugu film ever made. A musical that explored the guru-sishya parampara, Shankarabharanam’s music score by veteran K.V. Mahadevan could well be considered a milestone in the history of Indian cinema. Although classical music wizard Balamuralikrishna was originally pencilled in to render the numbers, Mahadevan preferred to give S.P. Balasubramaniam who had no grounding in classical music a chance. Balu did not disappoint and with Vani Jayaram and S. Janaki providing him excellent support in the duets the film’s music broke all records. Mahadevan, Balu and Vani all won National Awards. Vintage performances by the cast, especially J.V. Somayajulu as Sankara Sastri and Manju Bhargavi as his life-long disciple Tulasi and eye- catching cinematography by Balu Mahendra were the other strong points of the film.
Actor, playwright, writer and Rhodes scholar Girish Karnad introduced an angry young man called Shankar Nag in this Kannada film that hit the theatres in 1978. Ondanandu Kaladhalli had all the makings of a samurai film. Shankar Nag was cast in the role of a mercenary whose expertise in sword fencing turns him into an unconquerable adversary. Fate however has other plans for him and he meets his end at the hands of his guru who treacherously kills him even as he refuses to raise his sword on his teacher. The film was adjudged the Best Kannada film at the National Awards. Shankar Nag went on to become a top star until a fatal road accident cut short his life in its prime.
Those that almost made it
Naan Kadavul: Bala
Guns of Navarone: J. Lee Thompson
Ghatashradda: Girish Kasaravalli
Vazhakku Enn 18/9: Balaji Sakthivel
Irrutinde Athmavu: P. Bhaskaran
(C.V. Aravind is a freelance journalist and avid film buff based in Bangalore.)