Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Sundaram Balachander|
|Produced by||A. V. Meiyappan|
|Written by||Javar Seetharaman (screenplay and dialogue)|
|Story by||Sundaram Balachander|
|Music by||Saraswathy Stores Orchestra|
|Edited by||S. Surya|
|13 April 1954|
Andha Naal (English: That Day) is a 1954 Indian Tamil crime mystery film produced by A. V. Meiyappan and directed by Sundaram Balachander. It is the first film noir in Tamil cinema, and the first Tamil film to be made without songs, dance and stunt scenes.[a] The story, which is set during in the milieu of the South-East Asian theatre of World War II, is about the murder of a radio engineer Rajan (Sivaji Ganesan); the suspects are Rajan's wife Usha (Pandari Bai), the neighbour Chinnaiah Pillai (P. D. Sambandam), Rajan's brother Pattabi (T. K. Balachandran), Rajan's sister-in-law Hema (Menaka), and Rajan's mistress Ambujam (Suryakala). Each one's account of the incident points to a new suspect.
Before the casting of Ganesan, S. V. Sahasranamam and N. Viswanathan were chosen for the lead role but were later dismissed because they were unconvincing to the filmmakers. The story and dialogue were written by Javar Seetharaman, who also played a prominent role as an investigation officer in the film. Cinematography was handled by Maruti Rao and the background score was composed by AVM Productions' own music troupe, "Saraswathy Stores Orchestra". The film's length of 12,500 feet (3,800 m) was shorter than most contemporaneous Tamil films.
Andha Naal was released on 13 April 1954. It was a critical success and was awarded the "Best Film Award" by the Madras Filmfans' Association and a Certificate of Merit for Second Best Feature Film in Tamil at the 2nd National Film Awards in 1955. Despite being a commercial failure during its release, the film has acquired a cult status over the years and is regarded as a milestone in Tamil cinema. In 2013, Andha Naal was included in CNN-IBN's list of the "100 greatest Indian films of all time".
On the night of 11 October 1943, the Japanese bomb the Indian city of Madras (now Chennai). The next morning in Triplicane, Rajan, a radio engineer and communications researcher, is found murdered with his own hand gun. His neighbour Chinnaiah Pillai hears the gunshot and makes a complaint to the police. Purushothaman Naidu, a local police inspector, arrives at Rajan's house and starts investigating the murder. In the meantime, Crime Investigation Department (C.I.D.) officer Sivanandam joins Naidu to help the investigation. Naidu suggests that the killer could be a thief who must have killed Rajan for the money found at the crime scene. However, Sivanandam is unconvinced with Naidu's idea because the sum of money present matches the withdrawal entry in the bank passbook found in the same room. Rajan was about leave Madras in anticipation of the bombings.
The two policemen question five people in and around Rajan's house, most of whom are family members or friends of Rajan. The first person to be questioned is Rajan's wife Usha, who is unable to speak during the inquiries. Sivanandam and Naidu feel embarrassed and are reluctant to question her further and they begin interrogating their next suspect, Chinnaiah Pillai, who reported the murder. Pillai proposes that the killer is probably Pattabi, Rajan's younger brother, and recalls a confrontation between Pattabi and Rajan. Pattabi asked for his share of the family property to be apportioned and given to him. Rajan refused to give Pattabi his share, feeling that he and his wife would squander it. Pillai concludes that this may have prompted Pattabi to kill Rajan.
Sivanandam and Naidu decide to interrogate Pattabi, who feels remorse for Rajan's death and states that he did not treat his brother well and failed to understand his good intentions. He recounts an incident in which Pattabi's wife Hema had fought with Rajan for not apportioning the property. Pattabi states that Hema could have killed Rajan for money as she loses sanity when overpowered by anger. Sivanandam briefly leaves Naidu to interrogate Hema. She is initially impudent and refuses to give a statement about the crime, but she later yields when threatened that her husband will be arrested. She reveals Rajan's extramarital affair with a dancer named Ambujam, who is pregnant with Rajan's child. As Rajan treated the news with a reckless attitude, Hema proposes that Ambujam could have killed Rajan. When questioned, Ambujam accuses Pillai of the murder, saying that he was her foster father who wanted her to stay away from Rajan, after the three met during a picnic. As their relationship continued, Pillai became infuriated and wanted to end the affair.
Sivanandam inquires Usha, who tells him how she and Rajan fell in love. Sivanandam tricks Usha using a leaky fountain pen to collect her fingerprints. That evening, Sivanandam meets all the suspects along with Naidu at Rajan's house and carries out an exercise in which the suspects—including Usha—must shoot Sivanandam as though he is Rajan using revolvers loaded with dummy bullets. All the suspects shoot, but Usha bursts into tears and fails to shoot. Sivanandam then orders an apparent arrest of Pattabi and Hema. Unable to bear the torture, Usha reveals the truth. The story goes into a flashback. Rajan is a radio engineer who wants to sell radios to the poor at an affordable price. Unable to get any support from the government, he goes to Japan where his work is appreciated. He becomes a spy, selling India's military secrets to the Japanese. Usha learns about this and tries to reform him. But Rajan does not mind betraying India. Usha cannot stop Rajan and tries to shoot him. She changes her decision but pulls the trigger accidentally, killing Rajan. After revealing the truth, Usha commits suicide.
- Sivaji Ganesan as Rajan, a renegade radio engineer
- Pandari Bai as Usha, Rajan's wife
- Javar Seetharaman as C.I.D. Officer Sivanandam
- P. D. Sambandam as Chinniah Pillai
- S. V. Venkatraman as Inspector Purushothaman Naidu
- T. K. Balachandran as Pattabi, Rajan's younger brother
- Menaka as Hema, Rajan's sister-in-law
- Suryakala as Ambujam, Rajan's mistress
Sundaram Balachander, a "multi-faceted" film personality entered films as an actor in 1934 and apprenticed under director Krishna Gopal for the film Idhu Nijama (1948), a supernatural thriller. Following the success of Idhu Nijama, Balachander directed En Kanavar (1948) and Kaidhi (1951), both made on similar themes. After acting in a few more films, he decided to make a film based on his own story. He approached A. V. Meiyappan to produce the film and told him that he wanted no scenes featuring songs or stunts. Meiyappan was opposed to Balachander's idea of not having songs in the film; he wanted to include at least one song. However, Balachander responded, "either the film should have six songs or none". Meiyappan eventually agreed to finance the film because he liked the story. Andha Naal thus became the first Tamil film that did not have any songs. The film was initially titled Oru Naal, but was later retitled Andha Naal.
The lead role of Rajan the radio engineer was initially offered to S. V. Sahasranamam, who was removed after some days of shooting because Balachander and Meiyappan were not satisfied with his performance and felt he looked "too old" to play the role. The filmmakers then engaged newcomer N. Viswanathan, a Tamil professor from Calcutta. After some footage featuring him was shot, the makers were again unconvinced with Viswanathan's work; they dismissed him and replaced him with Ganesan. Meiyappan had introduced Ganesan in Parasakthi (1952), and was very keen to have him play the lead role. Balachander was initially hesitant to approach Ganesan because he was unsure whether the latter would accept a negative role. In his autobiography, Ganesan stated that the film was almost completed before he was approached. He agreed to be a part of the film because he found the story interesting and thought portraying a variety of characters would interest the audience. Andha Naal was one of the earliest films in which Ganesan portrays an anti-hero.[b] The screenplay and dialogue were written by Seetharaman, who also appeared in the film as a C.I.D. officer. Pandari Bai was selected to play Rajan's patriotic wife. Malayalam actor T. K. Balachandran, Suryakala, Menaka and P. D. Sambandam formed the rest of the cast.
Muktha Srinivasan, who would later become one of Tamil cinema's established directors, assisted Balachander with this film. Cinematography was handled by Maruthi Rao and the editor was S. Surya. The background score was performed by Saraswathy Stores Orchestra, AVM Productions' music troupe. The photography of the film was markedly different from most earlier films in Tamil cinema. Rao used the "painting with light" technique, which captures the shadow of the actors to reflect their "mood and character". The film's final cut was less than 12,500 feet (3,800 m)—shorter than most contemporaneous Tamil films.[c]
Themes and influences
The film is set in the milieu of South-East Asian theatre of World War II where the Japanese bombed the Indian city of Madras in 1943. Residents of the city moved to nearby hill stations in order to protect themselves from further bombings and invasions. Besides being inspired by Akira Kurosawa's Rashōmon (1950), Andha Naal was also adapted from the 1950 British film The Woman in Question directed by Anthony Asquith. It is regarded as the first film noir in Tamil cinema.
The main theme of Andha Naal is patriotism. It tells how unemployment and desolation of youngsters will lead to them becoming traitors. If a country does not appreciate talented young men for their efforts, they could turn against the nation. Rajan, a talented young man turns into a traitor as he does not get any support in any form from his country which fails to recognise his efforts. A dejected Rajan goes to Japan where his talents are well recognised. He becomes Japan's secret agent in order to betray his own nation. Ganesan's role as a traitor who leaks India's military secrets through radio was influenced from one of the characters in the 1946 Tamil film Chitra.
The film uses a Tamil saying "Kolaiyum Sival patthini" (a virtuous wife may even kill her own husband) as a clue to the identity of the culprit. The story of the blind men and an elephant is referenced in the narrative, when Sivanandam notes how each suspects' account of Rajan's death contradicts that of the others. Usha is depicted as a virtuous wife and a patriot who loves her country. When she discovers that her husband has betrayed India, she does not hesitate to kill him. G. Dhananjayan, in his 2014 book Pride of Tamil Cinema, said that T. V. Kumudhini's character in Mathru Bhoomi (1939) who disowns her husband after realising that he is a traitor, was an influence on the character of Usha. The Directorate of Film Festivals describes Naidu as a conscientious officer, and Sivanandam as a "brilliant, eccentric but not so serious" man.
Andha Naal was released on 13 April 1954 to critical acclaim, but did not succeed commercially because the audience were not impressed with a film without songs. In theatres, the viewers were disappointed after the first scene in which Ganesan is shot dead because they found the film to be "anti-sentimental". The theatre owners had to persuade them to watch the entire film. Its commercial failure led Meiyappan to avoid making any more films without song sequences. The film was later re-released after the announcement of the 2nd National Film Awards and became a box-office success.
Andha Naal won critical praise, in spite of its poor performance at the box-office. At the 2nd National Film Awards, the film won a Certificate of Merit for the Second Best Feature Film in Tamil, and a "Best Film" Award from the Madras Filmfans' Association in 1955. Contemporary critics lauded Meiyappan and Balachander for the experimental film. Ganesan's role as an anti-hero won critical acclaim; many critics said that Pandari Bai's role as his patriotic wife "overshadowed" Ganesan's performance. Many contemporary critics expected the film to be a "trendsetter" but it failed to inspire many thematically similar films in Tamil.
In May 1954, a meeting was organised by the "Film Fans Association" in Madras to congratulate Meiyappan, Balachander, the actors and other crew members of the film. V. C. Gopalaratnam, the president of the association, said "Meiyappa Chettiar [Meiyappan] had displayed his pioneering spirit and zeal in producing a novel type of Tamil picture, without either songs or dances, relying for its success purely on the story and the portrayal of characters".
Andha Naal has been described as a revolution in Tamil cinema for the absence of songs and dances. Though largely ignored during its release, it has become a cult classic. In 2001, journalist S. Muthiah called Andha Naal the "best film" produced by Meiyappan. In July 2007, S. R. Ashok Kumar of The Hindu asked eight Tamil film directors to list their all-time favourite Tamil films; three of them – K. Balachander, Mani Ratnam and Ameer – named Andha Naal. Malaysian author Devika Bai, writing for The New Straits Times, described Andha Naal as Balachander's magnum opus, and Balachander as "Tamil cinema’s Father of Film Noir".
The film is regarded by many critics as Balachander's best work. Encouraged by the film's critical success, Balachander went on to direct and act in several more films of the same genre — Avana Ivan (1962), Bommai (1964) and Nadu Iravil (1965). Andha Naal inspired several later whodunit films — including Puthiya Paravai (1964), Kalangarai Vilakkam (1965), Sigappu Rojakkal (1978), Moodu Pani (1980) and Pulan Visaranai (1990) — and several song-less films in Tamil — including Pasi (1979), Kadamai Kanniyam Kattupaadu (1987) and Kuruthipunal (1995).
The film was screened in the "Tamil Retrospective Section" of the 14th International Film Festival of India in 1991. In 2008, film historian Randor Guy praised Andha Naal for "being the first Tamil film which had no dance, song or stunt sequence and for Balachandar’s impressive direction and fine performances by Sivaji Ganesan and Pandari Bai". In a 2013 interview with the Tamil magazine Ananda Vikatan, Malayalam film maker Adoor Gopalakrishnan listed Andha Naal as one of his earliest favourites in Tamil cinema. In April 2013, Andha Naal was included in CNN-IBN's list of "100 greatest Indian films of all time".
- Although Naujawan (1937) is widely considered Indian cinema's first sound film without songs, the Limca Book of Records and Meiyappan's son M. Saravanan claim Andha Naal to be the first songless film in India. According to Randor Guy, the film was the first of its kind in the whole of South Indian cinema.
- Prior to acting in Andha Naal, he played a similar role in Thirumbi Paar (1953).
- The average length of a Tamil film was at least 15,000 feet (4,600 m) at that time.
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