Blast from the Past - Bommai 1964

A hundred-day run: Bommai. Photo: Special Arrangement  

Alfred Hitchcock, described as ‘the Merchant of Menace', an icon of World Cinema and the maestro of the suspense genre, created many unsurpassed classics both in the United Kingdom, where he began his career as a filmmaker, and later in Hollywood. He made successful films most of which became classics such as Psycho, North By Northwest, Vertigo, Strangers On A Train and The Man Who Knew Too Much. One of the early masterpieces he made in England was Sabotage (1936), which is watched today not only by his fans but also suspense movie buffs around the world.

Hitchcock has been a source of inspiration to many filmmakers in several parts of the world, including India. Influenced by his style of filmmaking and onscreen narration, S. Balachandar, the multifaceted Tamil filmmaker, adapted Sabotage in Tamil, suitably changing the storyline for the local market. His movie was titled Bommai, the reason being that, as in the original British movie, the central character is a baby doll which a terrorist uses to plant a bomb and sends it through a boy. The boy travels by bus unaware of the content and, like most boys, wanders around attracted by the sideshows on the road. Finally the bomb explodes inside the bus, and the passengers, including the boy, are killed.

For the Tamil audiences, Balachandar had a walking baby doll in which the bomb was concealed. It was taken in a car and exploded, killing all the villains and saving the hero (Balachandar), for whom the bomb was intended.

Balachandar wrote the story and screenplay, while the dialogue and lyrics were written by his close associate Vidwan Ve. Lakshmanan. Of course, the music was composed by Balachandar.

Veteran stage and screen actor V. S. Raghavan plays the main role of the person who is anxious to get rid of the hero, along with his followers such as Sadan, Maali, Lakshmirajam, Gopalakrishnan and Srinivasan, who pretend to be the hero's friends. L. Vijayalakshmi, an attractive classical dancer who had had a brief career in movies, plays the heroine and does a few dance numbers.

Expectedly, the movie had quite a few song sequences though it was a suspense thriller. Songs such as ‘Thatthi thatthi nadandhu varum chella paapa' (Voice: L. R. Easwari) became a big hit. An interesting feature is the multilingual singer K. J. Jesudas took his bow as an off-screen singer in Tamil Cinema with the song ‘Neeyum bommai naanumbommai', which was filmed on an old roadside beggar.

Balachandar as the protagonist was excellent, underplaying his role like a Hollywood star (James Cagney was his favourite star). There were many newcomers in the film such as Ramesh and Srinivasan. Much was expected of these actors but they faded away. Srinivasan who played a key role in Bommai is totally forgotten today.

Though the film was completed in 1963 and censored, it was released only in 1964 for many reasons. Balachandar faced some problems in marketing it because of the new faces and lesser-known artists doing major roles. However, Bommai turned out to be a box office hit, scoring the much-coveted hundred-day run in many cinemas, winning critical appreciation. Today it is treated as a classic in the rare genre of suspense movies in Tamil.

Balachandar searched high and low for the appropriate baby doll, which is in fact the hero of the movie, and much to his surprise found it in one of the local shops.

Remembered for the interesting storyline, excellent onscreen narration and performances by Balachandar, V. S. Raghavan and the doll. And also the melodious music, some of the tunes becoming hits and fondly remembered after nearly five decades.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Dec 3, 2020 4:19:15 AM |

Next Story