Lighter Vein Friday Review

How he tweaked Anna's story

A still from Tamil film Nallathambi.

A still from Tamil film Nallathambi.  

One of the outstanding features of N.S.Krishnan’s comedy was the element of criticism against old-fashioned ideas pertaining to religious dogma, discrimination on the basis of caste and other such factors prevalent in Hindu society, some of which persist to this day.

‘Nallathambi'(1949), one of the classics NSK made, has an interesting back-story: In the late 1940s, Frank Capra’s immortal classic “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” (starring Gary Cooper in the title role) had a successful run in a cinema in Madras. S.V.Sahasranamam, a close associate of N. S. Krishnan, saw the movie more than once and felt it would make a good vehicle for NSK and his socio-reformist views. He invited C. N. Annadurai to see the movie. Impressed by the film, Anna worked out a storyline in which a deceased zamindar’s estate is inherited by his relative (Krishnan). The zamindar’s daughter (Bhanumathi) falls in love with him and the two are expected to marry soon. There is also an estate manager (Sahasranamam) with designs on the estate and the daughter.

However, NSK completely altered this storyline by bringing T. A. Mathuram as his sweetheart sidelining Bhanumathi. Interestingly, a love duet featuring Bhanumathi and Krishnan was recorded earlier. In the NSK version, this song was inserted as a dream sequence (Ghantashala lending voice for NSK). The tune for the song was lifted from noted singer Edmondo Ros’ famous ‘Coconut song’ from ‘Coney Island ’(Music: C. R. Subburaman).

N. S. Krishnan launched this film to propagate his political and social views. With songs, plays and discourses that were performed by NSK himself, the film showcased an excellent combination of creative talents, some of which were hardly cinematic.

Consequently, the story was sidelined making the film more of a socio-political tract. The top Indian directorial duo, Krishnan-Panju, directed the film.

The film was a critical success but did not prove as successful at the box-office. The songs, however, were popular, especially those highlighting the evils of drinking, and the greatness of Tamil Nadu. NSK even introduced a dance-drama, highlighting the same. In it, NSK and Mathuram go to ‘Indraloka’. They speak in song and dance to Lord Indra and his fun loving coterie about the greatness of Tamil Nadu, which had introduced Prohibition on October 2, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi. This sequence won loads of appreciation and was perceived as a masterstroke of social reformation by a far-sighted actor and cult figure .

In one of the telling sequences, the new zamindar (NSK) visits a mother and daughter living in a hut. They come out to meet him one after the other but never together. Then, the stark truth that they possess only one sari, hits him like a thunderbolt and he distributes the Zamindarini’s (Bhanumathi) saris to the poor.

This sequence was inspired by a real life experience of Babu Rajendra Prasad when he visited rural Bihar in 1937 during the General Elections. Next, inspired by saint Nandanar’s life story, NSK created a character named ‘Kindhan’, a rural lad who faces discrimination based on his caste. Kindhan takes a trip to Madras by train and is surprised that people travelling on the train do not practice such discrimination. Nobody objects to where he sits! NSK, in a masterstroke, used the train as a metaphor of abolishing caste discrimination. He sings ‘Railey Railey’ in praise of the train.

In fact , he planned a full-length film titled ‘Kindanar’ and even ran advertisements. Sadly, his 30-month jail term ensured that the project was dropped. Whatever he had in his mind, he performed as Kindanar which became very popular. He, then introduced it as a sequence in ‘Nallathambi'.

NSK’s image as a cult figure and a socially-conscious reformer grew in good measure. Known as the ‘Charlie Chaplin of India’, he made people laugh and think.

After 'Nallathambi', to appease his distributors and financiers at once, he announced his next film “Thambidurai” to be written by C. N. Annadurai (without his consent). But this project did not take off, as Anna showed no interest in doing another script for NSK in light of his experience with the ‘Nallathambi’ script!

The famed writer felt that his work had been maimed and mangled beyond recognition!

(To be continued)

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Printable version | Sep 25, 2020 11:50:24 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/lighter-vein-column-ns-krishnan-part-4/article6661894.ece

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