Dus Lakh (1966)

What happens when a vain and money hungry old man inherits millions? He alienates his family and hooks up with ne’er-do-wells who intend to part him from the money. Is this entertaining? Yes, surprisingly so. It’s the 60s so the design is of the more is more school, the songs are brought to life by Asha Bhosle and Rafi among others, and the cast is spot on. Devendra Goel keeps it all moving along despite the actors sometimes lapsing into melodramatic wallowing and scenery chewing.

Gokulchand (Om Prakash) is a widower, living comfortably with his married son and daughter-in-law (Ramesh Deo and Seema Deo), younger son (Sanjay Khan) and grandchildren (Master Ripple and Baby Sonia aka Neetu Singh). He is obsessed with money and feels that anyone else’s good fortune has somehow been at his expense. But finally his prayers are answered when his reviled brother dies and leaves him everything. Gokulchand tells Manohar to quit working, buys a big fancy house, and goes to a hill station to practice being rich and snobby. He meets Jerry (Pran!) and Dolly (Manorama), con artists who see him as easy pickings once they get his kids out of the picture. Is blood thicker than whisky and soda?

Om Prakash and Manorama get the bulk of screen time. While I have no patience with a vain, horny old man and his poor decision making I did quite like seeing the story develop around an older less glam pairing. But it is both funny and infuriating to see Gokulchand preening as Jerry and Dolly manipulate him so easily. Om Prakash is at his best when Gokulchand is very angry or very sad, and his moods permeate the whole family.

Dolly has a son, William (Brahmachari), to her Indian husband and a daughter, Kitty (Helen) to her English husband. Jerry fancies Kitty and money, Dolly likes booze and money, and Gokulchand takes to drinking and wearing shorty shorts like a duck to water. There is a lot made of English versus Indian manners and morals, with Dolly and Kitty representing the corrupting influence of Westernised women and Jerry as a Goan of convenient morality, and William as a simple lad who can’t afford long pants. Manorama does her usual shtick and her expressions are priceless. I really loathe Dolly as a character though, and not because she was a con. I allow that women had limited options and not everyone can be a builder’s labourer. But the way she pimped Kitty out was appalling, and William wasn’t treated much better.

Ramesh Deo and Seema Deo are charming as Manohar and Devki. Devki borrowed a diamond necklace from a friend to give to Rita as an engagement gift, promising to return it. Losing the necklace on top of being kicked out of the family home drove the little family to the brink. And while there was much agonising over loss of honour and standing, Manohar simply rolled up his sleeves and went to work as a labourer to make the money they needed. And so did Devki. I realised while watching the film again that their story reminded me a little of stories my Nan told me about how she and Poppy got through the Depression. I love a battler!

Manohar and Devki are too good to be true but even when the acting gets dialled up too many notches the actors stay connected to their characters and each other. Manohar slaps Devki in one scene but in context it was understandable while not being at all acceptable. And none of the bystanders held back on telling him off. So I was pleased to see the social rules in the film were anti wife-beating. They also had some really nice scenes talking about the family or their own relationship. And that is something that the film does well. People have to sort out their own problems, they need to talk about things, and then come up with a plan. And all that goes on in between everyone else erupting into dances, fights, and silly outfits.

Kishore (Sanjay Khan) is the youngest son, indulged by his older brother and sister-in-law, and the hope of his father. He’s an engineering student and like so many filmi heroes, appears to have been studying for a long long long time. He is in love with girl next door Rita (Babita). Rita seems to understand that Jerry is a crook and that Gokulchand is an idiot well before Kishore does. Kishore is both annoying and impractical without her influence. I don’t like Babita but he is a sap.

Rita is a bit of a drama queen and doesn’t mind a mock fight for the fun of making up afterwards. But essentially she is quite pragmatic and gets things done. When she sees an opportunity to get the necklace back, she bargains hard with Kitty. Rita did look like she’d rather lick a slug but she lets Jerry hold her hand and then executes her plan perfectly. Babita faced Helen in a dance-off and then again in a collaborative dance of pre-nuptial snark so I give her points for trying.

Kitty (Helen) is not happy at being raffled off like the meat tray at an RSL, but she can’t just up and leave her family so she treads a line. She steals the necklace from Jerry, which Dolly thinks is brilliant. Kitty agrees to help Rita in exchange for Rita winning Jerry’s dubious affections and thus freeing her up for a more salubrious affair with Kishore.

While the kids are crooks, they look out for each other and try to help Kishore as they know he is being unfairly accused. Her brother William is probably the most decent of this bunch. He might steal but he doesn’t like to lie. Kishore apologises to Kitty at one point for misleading her and while she is too quick to forgive, I liked that he still felt she deserved an apology despite the taint of association with Dolly and Jerry.

Pran plays the reprehensible Jerry for laughs, and the occasional flashes of menace don’t quite land. He speaks a Yoda-esque English, saying things like “Leave not father rich” and wears loud checked suits. His expressions are even less subtle than Manorama.

I realise this doesn’t sound all that entertaining or comedic. But if you know that the finale takes place during Gokulchand and Dolly’s wedding which is also a costume party complete with a man in a giraffe suit, Helen and Babita playing keepings off with a bag of money, a duel between Kishore and Jerry, and Manohar languishing in hospital being transfused with what looks like a bottle of tomato sauce, then all is indeed well that ends well.

I have a lot of affection for Dus Lakh despite feeling that watching a family torn apart because of greed is not comedy gold. Babita and Sanjay do nothing for me but luckily they are not the main event. See it for excellent use of Helen and a whole lot of decent character actors getting more than just a comedy subplot. 4 stars!

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Navarathri

Navarathri-Savitri in Navarathri

Savitri starred in both the 1964 Tamil Navrathri (dir. A.P Nagarajan) and the 1966 Telugu remake (dir. Tatineni Ramarao) and she is lovely as ever. What makes it particularly difficult to choose one over the other film is her leading men – Sivaji Ganesan (1964) and Akkineni Nageswara Rao (1966) – who each bring their own style to the proceedings. So I won’t pick.

That is so pretty with the Golu, the girls dancing and their sarees. The Telugu song is a bit more sparkly so I always pick that one.

Savitri is Nalina (Tamil) or Radha (Telugu). I’m going to just refer to her as Savitri throughout. After that lovely happy song, Savitri is told her father has fixed her marriage. She is already in love, and has no idea that her dad has unwittingly accepted a proposal from her boyfriend. Oh the drama. She runs to see the boy, only to be told he has gone to get married. She runs away, unable to face life as another man’s wife. Her character spends 9 nights wandering. She encounters different characters, all played by the leading man, who represent different aspects of human behaviour and emotion. These are named slightly differently in each film so I will just list them by night.

The film is more of an allegory than a realistic portrayal. Despite having lots of detail presented about who these men are, there is not a lot of depth to all the characters. The actors focus on the key emotion of the episode rather than trying to create nuances. Sivaji Ganesan is charismatic and is always instantly recognisable in this tour de force. ANR is generally better suited to low-key roles, but he also plays the various men as types. It is highly entertaining and stylised.

Night 1. A flamboyant widower interrupts Savitri as she contemplates suicide and drags her back to his house. Both ANR and Sivaji played this character as an eccentric, lonely man. The widower is devoted to his dead wife and little daughter (played by Kutty Padmini in both versions, I think). When compared flounce for flounce, there is little to separate the actors in this episode. I kept thinking of Snagglepuss.

Night 2. Tricked by a brothel madam, Savitri has to fend off a drunkard with a sob story. Savitri is determined, fierce and has a good throwing arm. Sivaji played this role as a wild eyed, plaid pants wearing letch with mood swings. ANR did a gorgeous self-parody as a self-pitying Devdas and for that, he wins my vote.

Night 3. Picked up by the police, Savitri is taken to a mental hospital. Both actors play the doctor as gently considerate and interested in why she was faking madness. I enjoyed ANR’s reactions to Savitri’s odd gesticulations and speeches. Sivaji is more of a generic saint in a white wig. Placed in a ward with several other women exhibiting different manias, Savitri joins in the various set pieces each inmate delivers and their song and dance medley. The Telugu patients (including Suryakantam, Chhaya Devi, Jamuna and Jayalalithaa) are funny and energetic, and I recognised most of the songs they used so I enjoyed their section a lot.  Manorama features in the Tamil film where the dancing and singing is more subdued but still fun. I’m usually averse to using the mentally ill as comedy fodder, but there was something good-natured and kind in this episode that helped me put my qualms aside.

Night 4. Frightened that the police had come for her, Savitri runs again. She meets a lurking gunman, out for revenge against the men who tortured and killed his brother. Savitri tries to persuade him to stop but he is killed by his enemies. It’s his character who has the most obvious demons to fight in this Navarathri. Both ANR and Sivaji play him with swagger and bluster. ANR had a little more vulnerability while Sivaji showed more of the wounded pride and ferocity. Both died spectacularly and both had to deal with interesting makeup and costumes. I guess it depends on whether you prefer a stripy t-shirt or a stripy lungi.

Night 5. Savitri contemplates suicide again. She is saved by a kindly villager and his sister who worry that she had been possessed by an evil spirit. A comedy conman arrives to fleece her poor but honest benefactors and Savitri decides to give him a taste of his own medicine. Nagesh originated the role in the Tamil verison while Relangi played in the Telugu film. I prefer Relangi in almost any role to Nagesh in most things! I think ANR does poor man with heart of gold so very well.  For this section, the Telugu film is the winner for me.

Night 6. Savitri sees an old man crawling along a path and goes to help. A formerly rich man, he is now a leper and shunned by all his family and associates. Savitri doesn’t let her revulsion at his physical state stop her from behaving with compassion and integrity. I really like that at around this stage in the movie, Savitri has stopped just passively absorbing help and is not only thinking about how to sort out her own life but is actively supporting other people. The makeup department were a bit more effective in 1966, and ANR does vulnerability so well. The Telugu film gets my points for this episode.

Night 7. A theatrical company is in need for an actress after theirs elopes. Savitri agrees to help them and the play goes on. I don’t think anyone can beat Sivaji Ganesan in Ye Historical Outfits and he looks like he has a ball in this turn as the rural actor/director. ANR is very good and his dancing has a higher comedy value, but the portentous dialogues flow so nicely in the Tamil film. Savitri is lovely in both films as she matches her leading man step for step.

Night 8. Whoever thought either of these men should wear short shorts should be given a severe talking to. Playing a policeman playing a hunter ANR and Sivaji both opt for a braying laugh, military bluff heartiness and those shorts. I think they used the same footage of the tiger in both films. Savitri masquerades as a man. She is not even slightly convincing, but her expressions are funny and her Telugu characterisation is enjoyably pompous. I think Sivaji’s shorts are both more terrifying (baggy, poor camera angles) and hilarious (baggy, poor camera angles). The Tamil film is a little more dramatic and better paced at this stage so I prefer that.

Night 9. In which we discover that intended groom/disappearing boyfriend Anand or Venu (Telugu) is of course Sivaji or ANR. Savitri has nice rapport with both actors and the reconciliation scenes were both funny and heartfelt by turn.  The wedding goes ahead and all the ‘other men’ turn up (except the dead gunman). Happiness prevails!

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I slightly prefer the Telugu soundtrack by Chalapathi Rao T as it is a little more filmi and festive but the songs in the Tamil film are quite soulful so it does depend on my mood. I have the Telugu DVD with subtitles but have only seen the Tamil film without (it’s on Youtube). The stories are identical but of course, the dialogues will differ somewhat. Despite having different directors, there are only differences in a few scenes. It’s interesting to see so little of the second director in the remake – when I first saw the films I assumed AP Nagarajan did both.

I have some minor doubts. How did Savitri keep finding new sarees with impeccably tailored blouses? And she seemed to be wandering in circles yet no one could find her. But nothing detracted from enjoying her journey and her realisation that she could go home and be happy.

I really like both films, and have rewatched them a couple of times. Savitri is brilliant as Nalina/Radha and despite the focus being on the men, her performance is varied and her characterisation develops beautifully. Both Sivaji and ANR are in fine form and make the task of playing nine roles seem effortless. Choose your favourite cast, choose on language, choose the songs you like most, choose your own adventure! 4 stars!

Kandan Karunai

This is one of the few Tamil mythological films by A. P. Nagarajan that I’ve been able to find on DVD with English subtitles, and despite its sometimes pedestrian and almost documentary-like telling of key events in Lord Murugan’s life, it’s still worth a watch mainly due to the great cast and an excellent soundtrack.  The film covers the major incidents which define Lord Murugan and his place in the Hindu pantheon and it gives a good insight into why he is often regarded as the God of Tamils. Despite his more minor role Sivaji Ganesan is the star of the show but Gemini Ganesan, Savitri and various other stars of the time make an appearance, including an incredibly cute 4-year-old Sridevi in her first ever role as the young Murugan.  There are plenty of glittery costumes and even more sparkly jewellery set against some incredibly colourful sets which prove that there are no colours which clash in India. It’s garish but pretty and personally I’d like to see every army adopt the gold boots worn with such aplomb by Sivaji’s Veerabaghu.

The film starts with a devotional song to Lord Murugan by renowned singer and actress K. B. Sundarambal who appears in her characteristic role of Avvaiyyar.  She introduces the story of the demon king Surapadman (Ashokan) who is terrorising the people of heaven but cannot be killed due to a boon he and his people received from Lord Shiva.

When Surapadman’s sister Ajamugi attempts to kidnap the king of the heavenly people’s wife Indrani (S. Varalakshmi) as a present for her brother, subsequent events force Lord Shiva to become involved. Rather than kill the demons directly he creates a son to deal with Sundarambal but gets rather more than he bargained for with Murugan.

Murugan is clever, even as a child and faced with six divine girls as potential nannies, he rather practically splits into six versions of himself so that they each have a child to look after.  Later his mother Parvati reunites all of the children to create the god with six faces while the divine girls are rewarded by being transformed into stars. These first few stories dealing with the young Murugan are mainly told in song, although when there is dialogue Master Sridhar as the young Murugan holds his own in scenes with the older actors Gemini Ganesan as Shiva and Savitri as Parvati.

The adult Murugan is played by Sivakumar who sadly doesn’t give Murugan much personality at all,  and he plays the role rather passively.  However the ‘good man’ Veerabaghu, who comes to help Murugan in his war against the demons, provides plenty of attitude and Sivaj Ganesan brings the film to life in this role.  He acts first of all as a messenger from Lord Murugan to Surapadman, defying the demon’s arrogance by creating his own throne and servant girls when Surapadman denies him a chair.  He is instrumental in instructing Lord Murugan how to fight the various demons and later he gets to strut around in his wonderful gold boots as the army celebrates Murugan victory.

The latter half of the film deals with Murugan’s two marriages.  The first of these is to Indira’s daughter Deivanai (K. R. Vijaya) who manages to stay cool when faced with the riot of colour that accompanies her marriage and subsequent first night with Lord Murugan.

The explanation of marriage and a woman’s place in society sounds incredibly patronising, particularly when Deivanai is told that she has to remain faithful to her husband while Murugan goes off and finds a second wife.  However, since the basic theme of an obedient wife still seems to be expounded as the ideal even in India to-day it probably sounds more reasonable to its intended audience, particularly back in 1967 when the film was made.  Deivanai is still understandably outraged when Murugan comes back with Valli and there are some funny moments as Veerabaghu has to deal with the two angry women, which he does with great charm and lots of sparkle.  K. R. Vijaya looks beautiful but doesn’t have much scope to do anything else as her character is very one-dimensional.  Jayalalitha as Murugan’s second wife Valli has a better role with a little more substance including this lovely introduction.

Valli is the daughter of a tribal chief and her friends include Manorama and Tamil comic actor Nagesh who provide a little relief from all the noble deeds and dramatic pronouncements of the other characters.  Jayalalitha is charming and her Valli is graceful and elegant even in her simple village girl persona which translates well to her rise in station as the consort of Lord Murugan.

The film is very stylish and looks beautiful but lacks the warmth of other Nagarajan films I’ve seen, particularly in the character of the older Lord Murugan.  Perhaps it’s because Murugan has outgrown the mischievousness and arrogance which livened up the early scenes and it’s hard to portray worthiness and knowledge as being anything other than a little dull. Sivakumar is pleasant enough but is eclipsed by Sivaji who has much more presence.  The battle scenes are very stylised and the demons don’t ever look to stand much of a chance against Lord Murugan and his trusty spear, although the internal squabbles in Surapadman’s court are well portrayed.  I really liked the actress who played Ajamugi who got her outrage and vindictive nature across very clearly.

The music by K V Mahadevan won him a National Award and it’s definitely  a highlight of the film with some beautiful vocals by P. Susheela in many of the songs.  This film worked more for me as an explanation of some of the symbolism I’ve seen on my visits to temples in Tamil Nadu, and a synopsis of Lord Murugan’s life, although of course I always enjoy a film with lots of sparkle! Worth watching for the songs, Sivaji and the younger Murugan – 3 stars.