Let's all go back in time. To the time where Indian cinema was measured in terms of the length of the reel. Way before the term "Cinemascope" came into existence. A time period where we have the jewels of Indian cinema waiting to be rediscovered by the likes of us - cinelovers. Alright. The year is 1975. It was in this year that a classic was released that would forever be the pioneer of exploring relationships in Indian cinema. It was in this year that a legend had opened the gate for himself (quite literally) to become a legend in Indian cinema. This year, another legend showed how mature he was as an actor and an artist irrespective of his physical age.
I am talking about Apoorva Ragangal. A timeless classic directed by Iyakkunar Sigaram (Director Paramount) K. Balachander starring Kamal Hassan, Srividya and with a debut by Rajanikanth (as credited in the film). This was a period in time when love itself was a big deal. This was the time where marriage outside a caste/religion is considered blasphemous and the couple is ostracized. During such a time a film that talks about young people falling in love with people way elder to them? Blasphemous! Anti-social even! But when such a tricky story gets directed by K. Balachander, the film does a 100 days in the box office! Join the club of wonderers as I talk about this jewel from the archives.
Apoorva Ragangal (trans. Rare Melodies) stars Kamal Hassan, Srividya, Major Sundarrajan, Nagesh, Jayasudha and Rajinikanth (debut). Prasanna (Kamal Hassan) is a revolutionary young man with the notion that extremism and violence are the only ways to get rid of the evils in society. He engages in such activities against the wishes of his father Mahendran (Major Sundarrajan). One day, Prasanna runs away from his house because his father hands him over to the police for one of his nefarious acts. Prasanna gets involved in a brawl one day and gets beaten up. Bhairavi (Srividya) while returning from one of her concerts takes him in and helps him medically. Over a period of time, Prasanna develops feelings for Bhairavi who is much older than him. This happens in Tamil Nadu.
Cut to Bangalore (It wasn't called Bengaluru back then) Ranjani (Jayasudha) befriends Mahendran while returning after watching a play. She has run away from her house because her mother could not accept the fact that she was born out of wedlock and brought her up making her believe that she was an orphan. She starts to develop feelings for Mahendran who is much older than him. Do they get married? How are these two stories related? These questions are answered by the end of the film with a ver O. Henry typical twist in the middle. In fact, Ranjani throws a riddle to Mahendran at the beginning of the film, "My father is father-in-law to someone; that person's daughter-in-law's father is my son's father-in-law. What is the relationship between him and me?" The film is, in a way, an answer to that riddle.
Each of the artists' performances is rock solid. My favourite is the Mahendran character played by Major Sundarrajan. Trivia: He gets the prefix of "Major" from his portrayal of the character in the play titled 'Major Chandrakanth' (a play by K. Balachander which later on in 1966 became a film with the same director and the actor reprising their roles). He had always been known for his loud and urbane way of dialogue delivery. But in this film, he has really underplayed his character and stuck to the nature of the character. The irony is that he is part of a drama committee in the film and is the least dramatic in the screen life! For Kamal Hassan, this film fetched him the Best Actor Award in the National Film Awards. Rajinikanth in his introduction scene throws open the gates to the portico of a bungalow. That scene, many consider, opened the gates for him to grow to be a legend in his own right. Srividya is absolutely powerful in her portrayal of Bhairavi and goes on to win a Special Award for this film.
The cinematography by BS Lokanath is plain brilliance. There is a shot where Prasanna leaves Bhairavi's house. As he leaves the house, Bhairavi's shadow falls on the ground in front of him and he stops. After waiting there for a few moments, he silently retraces his steps to the house. There are no dialogues, no emotions and no songs in this scene. Only the background score of the legendary MS Viswanathan. In fact, even Maniratnam says, "This scene could have been dramatic, with a lot of dialogue. Instead, you get a silent visual." That is the product of brilliant chemistry between the director and the cinematographer. The film is replete with such gems throughout.
The film released in a time period where love marriage itself was a taboo topic. Yet, with its controversial story, the film ran for 100 days at the box-office. It was also a critically acclaimed film. This makes one wonder, "We could see controversy on the screen but not accept it in reality?" Yet, that leads to another question, "When K. Balachander directs films he always takes social issues which means these were a reality in those times!" If this isn't ironic, what is?
This film is streaming on Amazon Prime Video. Do watch it let us know your thoughts.
We have a celebratory post coming up for one of the legends mentioned here. Stay tuned!