Saturday, February 21, 2009

Zenith of Indian Film Noir.

The art of the Thespian who was never won.

People were in the clutches of Industrial revolution, world wars and British rule. Their only mode of rejoicing was the theatres. The drama slowly evolved into cinema and was in its formative stages. Noir or stylish mystery movies, with sexual and emotional themes in the subversive overtones and social life of the people less focussed are one peculiar genre in particularly Black and White movies. Movies like Chinatown (Roman Polanski), Touch of evil (Orson Welles), Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder) have been doing well in the 40s and 50s, which had brilliant expressionist depictions of the frame. In India, it was not that dense and rigid, but well Noir movies were popular in their age. I say this in the vernacular context of Andha Naal (1954), which I believe is a work of art which hasn’t been surpassed by other Noir movies of the period such as Puthiya Paravai, Adhe Kangal, Nootrukku Nooru, etc. And yes, it was the greatest Tamil actor- ‘Sivaji’ Ganesan who played it to perfection in the lead role.

Cast: Sivaji Ganesan, Pandari Bai, Jawahar Seetharaman

Director: S.Balachandar aka Veenai Balachandar

Banner: AVM


The movie draws downright inspirations from Rashomon (Akira Kurasawa) and Citizen Kane (Orson Welles), still manages to be one of the finest movies ever made. Andha Naal is a period movie - first of its kind in the era it was made. It is the product of extensive research and analysis. It happens in Madras during the IInd world war, when South-Asian cities were bombed by the Japanese. The locales and the backdrop are completely new to the audience who had been witnessing mythology and folklore for ages. The style of movie-making provokes deep insights unlike any other Indian movie that released before. It radically changed the way music was used for movies as in the case of its contemporaries which had a minimum count of two dozen songs. The camera angles and techniques used were inspired, but pathbreaking. Montages, voice-overs, flashbacks, deep focus, fade, zoom, rally, recur and the application of gestures in place of the dialogues were critical breakthroughs. 

The story is simple- A detective unfolds the mystery about an Engineer’s murder as he enquires the usual suspects. The perspective keeps changing, which provides interest to the otherwise monotonous script. This murder catapults a series of events, which expand into realms of the social life and conditions of India before Independence. Sets, costumes and dialects are typically portray a Madras which existed in the 40’s. Performances, apart from the obviously excellent Sivaji Ganesan (about whom I’m restricting myself from writing- I’d never stop) never upset us. To quote scenes, there is a speech given by ‘Sivaji’ Ganesan in a students’ consensus. The powerful dialogue delivery, minimal yet apt music and stand still, close-up camera shots in this particular scene are noteworthy. The detective tries to get evidences near the scene of murder in a beverage stall. The juice vendor’s casual dialogues, his striking accent and a realistic set with information about the plays of that days and a small folk number he sings is such a treat to watch. The wit of the detective throughout the movie is remarkable. The convoluted script and the sequence of events that are knit together are masterfully crafted that the dominoes if disturbed spoil the whole design itself. The non-linear fashion of story-telling sure has a reason and fortunately doesn’t end in an ambiguous climax. S.Balachandar, the filmmaker who gave us few other good movies like Bommai has to be given due credit. If anyone told that they could see the end coming, they are lying. 

And all this was astonishingly accomplished 50 years ago. And is yet to be surpassed. Period. 


vinoth gowtham said...

I seen tis movie in Doordarshan when i was a school boy.
Very Intersting Thriller.

And Im also Trapped by tis blog.

SUPRIYA said...

HI ,
was finding information on Indian noir and came across the blog, got to learn a lot.

வெங்கிராஜா said...

Thanks for your valuable comments Gowtham. Please do visit regularly. :D

Glad that our blog could cater your needs Supriya. We hope you would have a nice time here. :)

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Mohan said...

Fantastic! I am a lover of American film noir, and am looking forward to the Tamil interpretation. I am watching this evening on You Tube.