Blast from the past Cinema

Punnagai (1971)

Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s classic film, Satyakam, was remade in Tamil as Punnagai, and was directed by K. Balachander. Though the basic theme was retained in the Tamil version, many other changes were made to adapt it.

The story of Punnagai concerns a group of college friends, Gemini Ganesh, Muthuraman, M.R.R. Vasu, Nagesh, and V. Gopalakrishnan, who all graduate from the same university. In order to celebrate it, they go on a drive around Madras city in Gopalakrishnan’s car singing about the then ideals in life. But sadly, the car meets with an accident and Gopalakrishnan dies, leaving his friends in a state of shock.

Generally referred to as ‘Kaadhal Mannan’ in film credits, Gemini Ganesan is referred for the first time as ‘Nadippu Selvam’ in Punnagai. Satya (Gemini Ganesan) plays an unusual character in this film, that of a righteous young man who remains unwavering in his ideals even in the face of adversity.

Meanwhile, his friends, Muthuraman, M.R.R. Vasu and others, change their values to suit their convenience. Satya meets a young woman Kanchana (Jayanthi), who has been seduced, raped, impregnated and abandoned by a playboy (S. V. Ramadas). She begets a son; Satya marries her, knowing about her history, and raises the son as his own.

S. V. Ramadas, menwhile, leaves his wealth to his illegitimate son, but Kanchana rejects it. In the meantime, Satya’s kidneys are affected and all of his friends walk away when the doctor asks them if any of them would donate their kidney for their friend. In the end, Satya dies. His wife realises that she has successfully upheld the values that her husband had taught her.

The story is narrated by Nagesh, a writer who wants to write a book and requests his rich friend to get it published. All these sequences are narrated by him and acted by the artistes as chapters of the book. Finally, Satya’s friends realise their folly and bring out the book with the title, Punnagai (‘Smile’ in Tamil).

Music was composed by maestro M. S. Viswanathan with lyrics by Kannadasan, assisted by his nephew Panju Arunachalam. Cinematography was by N. Balakrishnan.

Gemini Ganesan steals the show with his performance and Jayanthi as his wife is equally good, while M. R. R. Vasu and Muthuraman give ample support. Though the film was not a box-office hit, it is considered by critics as a classic.

Remembered for: Excellent performances of Gemini Ganesh, Jayanthi, Muthuraman and Sakunthala.

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Printable version | Nov 24, 2020 6:14:27 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/Punnagai-1971/article14568247.ece

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