Quirky and Quirkier – Tamil Movies of the ’80s and ’90s.

Life was never the same after the advent of the Sun Network. There was a movie every afternoon on Sun TV! Every afternoon! Previously, movies could be watched only on the weekends, on TV, so this was cause for much joy, especially among those who didn’t have much to do in the afternoons.

Then there was Sun Movies. Three or four movies a day! When I wasn’t burning my skin off in the sun during the summer vacations, or watching Cartoon Network, or fighting with my sister, I’d be glued to these movies.

This love for movies were further kindled by themed movie weeks on Sun TV. So the late evening movies for a particular week would follow some theme. Like ‘Adhiradi vaaram’, where all the movies would be action blockbusters, or ‘Thik-thik vaaram’, where horror movies would be screened the whole week, or even a week full of Vithalacharya movies, or movies where Vishwanathan-Ramamurthy were the composers. There were also other more specific themes like Movies Where Hero And Heroine Cannot Be Together, or Movies Where Love Is Sacrificed For Higher Reason. Apart from Movies Where One Or More Protagonists Are Differently-Abled, or Movies Where One Or More Of The Protagonists Are Dying (Of Cancer). I’m not making any of these up.

This went on for around a year or two, before they filled late evenings with some or the other soap (which all deserve a post or three to themselves… remember Chitthi, anyone?). Then they had a common theme throughout, with every day of the week having one genre. Like there was a comedy movie every Monday, a love story every Tuesday (Kaadhal Sevvaai), a classic old movie every Wednesday (Kaaviya Budhan), an action flick every Thursday (Adhiradi Vyaazhan) and a superhit blockbuster every Friday (Superhit VeLLi). This, apart from two movies, one in the afternoon and another in the evening, every Saturday and Sunday.

And I sat fixated as often as I could. Watched heckuva load of Tamil movies. Amma and I would watch some Kannada movies too, on Chandana, but we stuck to comedies… Anant Nag’s Ganesha ones, or S. Narayan… we both still adore his Oho. Channels would promptly be changed if it was a Kashinath movie. But I hated Kannada movies back then. They seemed too serious and too tragic. When we didn’t still have cable, Amma and Ajji would watch the Sunday evening Kannada movie on DD, and cry and cry and then cry some more. One movie which freaked the heck out of me had Ambarish write a letter in blood to the leading lady. Years later, when a classmate wrote a love letter in blood to another, I felt very very very faint not because it looked like a crazed madman’s handiwork, but because it brought back repressed memories of this movie. And I stopped watching Kannada movies after this one wacko movie where Ambarish gets bitten by a dog and dies of rabies. He barked like a dog, ate food from an aluminum plate not using his hands, frothed at the mouth, and died. I swore to myself I’d never watch a Kannada movie again, and never one with Ambarish in it.

So Tamil movies it was. And God, they weren’t any less gaga. They might be cheerier, more hopeful, better-made and more watchable, but less crazy, they most certainly weren’t.

One of the more tragic ones I watched involved a lower-middleclass family, where the father was presumed dead in a train accident. They get his insurance money, and their standard of living suitably improves. But then, the father comes back, and the rest of the movie is about the shenanigans that result from trying to hide him from the rest of the world. It could have been a nice comedy, but it mainly involved the family politics, grinding poverty, maintaining self-respect, and endless mother-in-law daughter-in-law shenanigans, apart from the mother not being able to wear her mangalsutra and sindoor even though her husband is alive. It sapped the energy out of me.

Then there was this seemingly normal movie where a boy with a widowed mother falls in love with a girl with a widower father. The girl’s father suitably opposed the match like all movie dads, but then he went one step further. He spoke to the boy’s mother, saying there’s only one way we can stop them from marrying and making the biggest mistake of their lives. And the mother agrees. They both get married, and then he snidely tells the boy, now since I’m married to your mother, Heroine is your….? . Mindblown, simply mindblown.

And I saw this one clip of a movie and couldn’t bear to watch it any more. So this guy has a rather cold wife who’s not being intimate with him. He takes her to a movie one evening. And from her horrified shrieks on watching it, we infer that it was an adult movie, and she is thoroughly disgusted and limp from shock. He tells her in a confrontational tone that he did that just to loosen her inhibitions after which she’d fall limp into his arms. Oh. My. God.

On the other end of the spectrum, there was this sweet movie on Young Love called Panneer Pushpangal. The western world (and the Star World-watching world) may have had its Wonder Years, and Kollywood had Panneer Pushpangal. It starred Prathap, who I used to confuse for Kokila Mohan, as a cool and with-it teacher at an Ooty boarding school, where the lead pair were students and fell in love. Of course, the girl’s mom was a witch and locked her daughter up, but the ragtag bunch of friends help her escape. She meets the boy, and then everyone wonders what to do. And then the movie ends. I rather liked this movie, I’ll admit, and wished my school had a teacher like Prathap. And I mention that movie here mainly because it has this wonderful, wonderful song.

Radhika (of Chitthi, Annamalai and Arasi fame) starred in a few more mindblerg movies I watched. First was this one where she woos Sivakumar as a village girl, going as far as getting each others’ names tattoed on their arms, after which he is transferred to the city, where he meets another Radhika who is a modern-dressing rich daughter of his boss. She keeps aggressively pursuing him, and he never gives in because he loves only the villager Radhika. He goes back to the village to find her, but she isn’t there and the whole village blames him for her disappearance. And then comes the shocker. Both the Radhikas are the same! It was an experiment where the rich girl was testing a potential suitor to see if he was only after her money. Oh, what problems rich girls have. Anyway he takes offense and spurns her, and her own father says while he supported her through this endeavour, he feels this sort of test insults any self-respecting man. Then both Sivakumar and Radhika down sleeping pills separately. After appropriate edge-of-seat shenanigans, the director makes sure both lives are saved and that they live happily ever after.

Another one was Meendum Oru Kaadhal Kadhai with Radhika and Prathap. They are two mentally-ill kids in an asylum, and are supervised by a progressive doctor played by Charuhaasan. Radhika is from a rich family who all don’t really like her, especially her scheming brother and brother’s wife, while Prathap has no one. They fall in love, get married and move to some new village with the doctor to have a new life. The village had a slew of quirky characters I don’t really recall, but most of the movie was pitiful while not being slapstick. Radhika ends up pregnant, and dies when Prathap is making her laugh or something…. most mindblerging natal death EVER. I didn’t follow what happened after that, but it might have involved the doctor dying after killing Prathap.

And then. This is the first mindblerging movie I watched, and the one which I was thinking about and then remembered all these movies I’ve talked about. I saw it first on DD one Sunday afternoon when they’d show regional-language movies, which meant this movie had subtitles. It starred Mohan as a Hindu boy, who falls for his sister’s Christian friend. She keeps away at first, actively asking him to get lost, but he persists and they end up in love [Aside: it never fails to blow my mind how easily couples before the Noughties fell in love in movies so quickly and based on so little! He saved my life, so I’m going to spend it with him! Or, she loves animals, so I’ll love her]. His mother and her father can simply not submit to this match. They chain Mohan to a small room in their terrace, while the girl (who could have been called Julie and could have been played by Radha) is locked in her room, while presumably her wedding to a Christian boy was being planned. The separation proves too much for her, and as Christ is the reason she can’t be with her love, she hammers a nail through her palm, like was done to Christ. And obviously dies. He escapes from his shackles and comes to help her escape, but he only sees her little neighbour boy (every heroine in every movie before the late ’90s had one) standing in line for her funeral. He runs to the graveyard as they are reading out hymns before burying her, sees her dead, kisses her prone body and dies right there. Lovers dying, okay, fine, but nail through palm? That made my eight-year-old self squirm a whole lot when I saw a crucifix after that, and I took special care to never hold a nail in my hand, and was very edgy around hammers.

I’ve been wondering what the name of this movie is. Does anyone know? Please please tell me… I want to watch it again, this time with new eyes that are cynical about such dated movies.

But…. that might be jumping the gun. These movies were definitely cheesy. But they were gritty. And original. And had an honesty and creativity to them which is missing in later suave movies without bright lights and item dancers in shiny costumes. They had some really good music, and I don’t know how popular they turned out in their time, but their actors gave really wonderful performances in these movies.

The themes were bold and original. The filmmakers might have been wacko jerks with too many rich uncles, or they might have been thinkers, I’ll never know. But I’m glad these crude movies that lack even an ounce of finesse and subtlety got made.  They were like alcohol experiments in undergrad where you experiment with a wide range of quality and quantity of drink before you figure out what works for you. The makers of these movies might have hit bull’s eye with exploring early-teenage love and jealousy with a Panneer Pushpangal, and I might be glad for that, but I’m also glad that they got the scenario of ‘What if a guy likes a girl but his mother marries her father?’ out of their systems so that none of us needs to explore that again.

About wanderlust

just your average books-and-music person who wants to change the world.
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10 Responses to Quirky and Quirkier – Tamil Movies of the ’80s and ’90s.

  1. Varun. (Kingcryblindoe) says:

    Apart from being amazingly witty, the post brings up a lot of memories from my childhood. Thrown in among all these nutters were some amazing gems too. Like Anajli, which every kid at the time would have watched and Pushpak /Mahanadi. There was Moondram Pirai which was equally brilliant and wackjob.

    PS : Hand -nailing heroine movie starts Kokila Mohan or the other Mohan?
    Super post 🙂

    • wanderlust says:

      what other mohan was there other than the kokila sort?

      now that you bring up anjali and pushpaka vimanam, i think i should have atleast mentioned the awesome movies of this era…. like the other day i was watching salangai oli, and then sindhubhairavi…. just to give the era a more well-rounded feel.
      guna was the wackjob-est movie i’ve seen in a while, the first scene between kamal and the doctor in that movie has messed with my mind heckuva lot. but it is way too well-known and hence i wont mention it here 😛

  2. Varun. (Kingcryblindoe) says:

    Oh and btw Chitti rocked !!! Took melodrama and twists to a whole new level.

  3. Swaroop says:

    Loved this post. It brought back so many memories. BTW very monday was Nagaichuvai thingal 😛

    But I guess every film industry had its own bad phase. But all KB movies were awesome though few dealt with unconventional theme like there was one kamal movie where he loves old Srividhya and her daughter loves Kamal’s dad. But though theme is disgusting, I enjoyed the movie as climax was good.

    And the Mohan’s movie you are talking about is Kilinjalgal. Think twice before you watch it AGAIN!!

    And yeah one request to all the readers, if at all anyone comes across a link to a movie called marupakkam (had Sivakumar and Radha), please sollungo. Have been searching for it quiet sometime.

    And yeah have to agree with Varun, Chitti rocked. The ONLY MEGA-SERIAL that was watchable!!

    BTW have you watched marma desam serial series, writer Sujatha’s work. Sometimes gave me sleepless nights, and the one that told about MPD way before anniyan and chandramukhi.

    I guess now the reply is getting too long 😀 And yeah, keep writing on tamil cinema. 🙂

    • wanderlust says:

      no, i don’t call it a bad phase at all. especially since at the same time you had wonderful movies from KB, Bharathiraja and other directors. you had a pushpaka vimanam, a sindhubhairavi, a shankarabharanam, a salangai oli… it was just like any other era in cinema. i am just amazed by the mindblowingness of these themes.

      thanks a ton for the name of the movie! i _might watch it again.

      and marupakkam!!! I have been trying to find it from ages. i think it’s available on dvd from netflix, not sure. i didn’t watch enough of it to describe it in this post, nor did i find anything about it extremely weird.. i considered the movie briefly before not writing about it. i have watched snatches of the movie enough to make me curious but not enough to grasp the theme. i think it’s also known as ‘manithanin marupakkam’. try searching for that set of keywords also.

      i likedchitthi, even though i otherwise hate megaserials. my extreme-megaserial-hating mother also caved in to spend the entire evening watching the last episode and the fanfare around it. i distinctly remember there being a relative’s 25th wedding anniversary that day. not a single person was bothered about the couple. everyone gathered at their house was glued to sun tv 😛 i had a feeling the couple themselves wished they could have celebrated their anniversary on a different day 😛

      marma desam is godlevel brilliance from KB. very very good series. i especially loved vidathu karuppu. all the episodes of both chitthi and marma desam are available on rajshritamil’s youtube channel, if you care to watch. a few months back, i watched kai-alavu manasu again on youtube. and then premi. mostly on fast-forward. they are GOOD!

  4. Randeep JR says:

    Brilliant!!!!….. 😀

  5. Arpita says:

    Hi, I’ve just discovered your blog (your sis told me about it) and I must say you are a brilliant writer (blogger?).
    Though I never watched Tamil or Kannada movies, being an Indian I know where you are coming from!
    The minute details you provide make it so easy for any foreign reader to get the whole picture. And I absolutely love your witty sense of humor! 🙂

  6. Gokul says:

    The nail-hammer crucifixion scene is from the movie “Kilinjalgal” .. starts Mohan and Purnima.
    and, Yes .. she is Julie with that little dude from the neighbourhood.

  7. Naveen Prasanth says:

    It’s “Nagaichuvai Thingal” for monday.

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