Monday, June 27, 2016

Inspirations (21 of 25) - The late filmmaker Manivannan

Kadavule ille-nu solra katchikaaran kooda kovil idichadha sarithram kedaiyadhu pa…Kadavul irukudhu-nu solra katchikaaran idikaran paaru...”

That line, written by Manivannan and delivered by Sathyaraj, in “Amaidhi Padai” is symptomatic of a lot of what made Manivannan an important figure in the annals of thamizh cinema history.  Firstly, the mixture of sardonic wit and forthrightness.  Secondly, the disdain for caste obsessed, hypocritical politicians.  And finally, the actor who delivered that line – Sathyaraj.  Sathyaraj has always been lavish in his praise for Manivannan and the role played by him in shaping up his career as an antagonist, anti-hero and as a leading man.  Their professional collaboration and their friendship that lasted till the day Manivannan died, was something unaffected by the highs and lows of their careers.  Above all, the answer to why Manivannan is an inspiration to me than just another writer/director that I admired is a combination of his powerful story lines and sharp, thought provoking dialogues on dicey topics such as corruption, communism and rationalism.  It is because there were - and there are - very few besides him that have demonstrated a deep understanding of these topics and fewer that have had the guts to write about them. 

Special thanks to Ravishanker (pen name Zola) for the cartoon that he created for this post.  His many fantastic cartoons and nostalgic write-ups can be found at 

Manivannan was extremely prolific as a writer and director in the 80s.  The rate at which he churned out movies meant that there were a clutch of some forgettable movies.  But when he chose a theme that focused on his deep rooted beliefs and when he got actors to do justice to the material, he was in the zone.  To me, the two best movies of his career were “Ini Oru Sudhandhiram” (1987) and “Amaidhi Padai” (1994).  The former, starring Sivakumar, was a moving tale of a freedom fighter who had to fight for his rights long after India achieved Independence.  The latter, of course, featured Sathyaraj in arguably the best villainous role of his career.  If you watch these two movies back to back, you will realize that the movies are as different as night and day.  One is almost an art house drama.  The other one is a mainstream melodrama.  One is a dead serious film.  Another is a heady mix of a satire and a family drama.  But in both movies, Manivannan’s writing sizzles.  The seamless segues in his screenplay, the dazzling array of word plays, the depth and meaningfulness of his thoughts and the free flowing nature of the expression of his thoughts were all uniquely his.  Also, at his best, Manivannan was a master of economy of scenes.  For instance, in “Amaidhi Padai,” to establish the uneasy truce under which the husband (Sathyaraj Senior) and his wife (Sujatha) live in a house, he came up with just one scene.  It is the scene where a party man visits his house, requesting Sathyaraj to name his newborn child.  And when Sathyaraj hands over the infant to Sujatha asking her to bestow a name upon the child, she names the child Thaayama, the innocent girl that Sathyaraj cheated in his youth!  Sathyaraj stares furiously at Sujatha for a second but quickly smiles since he is unable to react in the presence of others.  To add insult to injury, Sujatha then asks him to whisper Thaayama in the ears of the child three times!  In this and many other sequences like the unforgettable election sequence, Sathyaraj was in stupendous form.  It is no overstatement to say that they were the Martin Scorsese-Robert de Niro pair of thamizh cinema.  Both parties in the duo were good on their own but when working together, they generated sparks that were of the highest voltage!

Manivannan inspired me in two ways – to love all things thamizh and to think about sticky issues that pervade our society.  He rarely did this in a preachy manner.  (I was quite stunned when actor Prashanth mentioned to me that Manivannan came to the shooting spot with nothing written on paper.  He would pen dialogues on the spot!  How he could pen such sharp, thought provoking lines in quick time is astounding to think about.)  In the brilliant jaathi kalavaram sequence in “Amaidhi Padai,” he highlighted the unfairness of the caste system and the exploitation of caste differences by politicians.  Sample this exchange:
Manivannan: “Indha Jaathi Karumaandharatha Yaaru Kandu Pidichavan?”
Sathyaraj: “Mandhram Oadharavanga Kandu Pidichaange…Adha Mandhiri maarunga gettiya pudichikitaange!”
Manivannan: “Apo indha jaathi-ya ozhuchitta makkal sandhosham-a irupaange pola irukkey!”
Sathyaraj: “Jananga sandosham-a irupaange…naama thaan soathuku dingi adikonum!”

It made you laugh.  But it also made you think.  That was the success of Manivannan.  His untimely passing away (he was 58) three years ago was not just the death of a man.  It was the death of intelligent satire in thamizh cinema.  And, it was the death of bold rational thought and free expression of such thoughts.  For that, we have to mourn even more than just for the death of a person.  But as Sathyaraj said in a movie, “Puratchikaaran Pudhaika Padarthille…Vedhaika Padraan.”  With just a handful of his creations, he certainly did sow the seeds of meaningful thinking in thousands of Tamilians.  And in that harvest were also sown the seeds of his immortality.  


PS: This write-up was decidedly focused on Manivannan, the writer/director and not the actor since it was the former that truly 'inspired' me.  


Zola said...

Ram Murali : Thank you so much for this write-up on one of my favourite comic-character (??) actors ! Very difficult to slot such a formidable talent. Really absorbing and engaging read. Personally for me this is a treasure trove since I never knew this director facet of him. But the way he delivered his lines as an actor - dangerously deadpan but deadly delivery - reveals a mind that raced far ahead of his entire being.

Thanks for this wonderful write-up

Ram Murali said...

Thank you, Ravishanker, for your comment and more importantly the cartoon :)
You're absolutely right about his "deadpan but deadly" dialogue delivery. In fact, Satyaraj credits Manivannan for his style of delivering lines esp. in movies like 24 Mani Neram ("En character-aye purinjika maatengriye!")

Do watch "Ini Oru Sundhadhiram" and esp. "Amaidhi Padai" when you find time. Both are on youtube:

Nandini said...

Excellent write up. I haven't watched the movies you have mentioned in your post, but after reading this, I am certainly very curious to watch the movies. Thanks to Ravishankar for the wonderful cartoon. I have always only looked at Manivannan as a character artist/comedy artist. Good read that focuses on his writer/director side.

Ram Murali said...

Thanks, Nandu. Yes, Ravishanker's cartoon was the highlight of this post!

Zola said...

Thanks a lot Ram Murali & Nandini ! Thanks Ram Murali for the opportunity. Was hoping someone would write a piece on Manivannan. Glad that you came out with this.

Unknown said...

Amazing cartoon. Adds value to the write-up. Maybe both of you should team up.

Manivannan's tongue in cheek humor is amazing and thought provoking. Well written.

Zola said...

Thanks Ms.Murali ! It was Ram who pushed me to do this. All credit to him

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