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Nizhalgal poster.jpg
Directed byBharathiraja
Screenplay byBharathiraja
Story byManivannan
Produced byP. Jayarajaa
S. P. Sigamani
CinematographyB. Kannan
Edited byChandy
Music byIlaiyaraaja
Manoj Creations
Release date
  • 6 November 1980 (1980-11-06)
Running time
117 minutes

Nizhalgal (transl. Shadows) is a 1980 Indian Tamil-language film co-written and directed by Bharathiraja. The film stars primarily newcomers such as Rajasekaran, Raadhu (credited as Rohini), Ravi, Chandrasekhar and Suvitha. The film's crew too contained a host of newcomers including the lyricist Vairamuthu and Manivannan, both would later go on to become an established lyricist and a director respectively.

The film revolves around a group of youngsters and their struggles to overcome the challenges faced by them in society. It was released on 6 November 1980. Though a commercial failure, the film received critical acclaim and was screened at the "Indian Panorama" section of the International Film Festival of India in 1981. The same year it won two awards at the Tamil Nadu State Film Awards.


Gopi and Hari, two unemployed graduates, share a room in Madras. While Gopi is looking for a job, Hari, a harmonium player, aspires to become a music composer in the film industry. They both manage to make ends meet with the help of their friends. Their neighbour is Prabhu, a college student who spends all his time smoking, painting and singing. A new family relocates to their apartment. The couple have a daughter Mahalakshmi. Prabhu and Maha both study in the same college and become good friends. Prabhu decides to apprentice under a veena exponent, but the exponent dies before he joins the class.

Gopi gives tuition to Maha and they both fall in love. During this time, Gopi, Hari, and Prabhu get arrested for different reasons. Maha pledges her necklace and bails them out. In an attempt to reform, Prabhu goes to meet his college principal but gets dismissed from the college after impulsively slapping him for extinguishing his cigarette on a flower. He is scolded by his father but Maha is supportive of him. Prabhu assumes that she loves him. During this time Maha's parents force her to discontinue her tuition as some of their relatives suspect she and Gopi are in a relationship. Hari gets a break in films and receives an advance payment from the producers. Using the sum, they return Maha's necklace. By this time, Maha's parents start looking for a groom for her.

Maha meets Gopi and advises him to find a job so that they can marry. Things start to take a turn for the worse when Hari is dropped from the film because the financier of the film does not want a new, untested music composer. Gopi and Hari are evicted from their room for not paying the rent, and seek shelter with Mani, a rickshaw puller. Gopi gets a telegram informing him that his father is dead. To bear Gopi's travel expenses, Mani's son Singam goes out but meets with an accident. Hari tries to make money by becoming a street performer but fails. Gopi approaches a moneylender to borrow money for Singam's treatment. The moneylender talks ill about Singam, angering Gopi into stabbing the moneylender and taking his money. When he arrives, he sees that Singam is dead.

Meanwhile, Maha's parents arrange a marriage for her. When she meets Prabhu, he confesses his love for her. A shocked Maha informs him that she never loved him, only Gopi. Prabhu is disappointed and feels life has betrayed him at every turn. He tries to molest Maha but stops when she takes a knife and threatens that she will kill herself. Prabhu feels guilty, takes the knife and stabs himself to death. By this time, Gopi arrives at her house and informs her that he has killed the moneylender for money. They both decide to take the next step and are married immediately. The next day they are arrested for the deaths of Prabhu and the moneylender. Hari throws his harmonium in the sea and becomes insane.



Manivannan joined Bharathiraja's unit as an assistant in the film. He scripted the story and co-wrote the film with Bharathiraja.[4] The film's cast, principal cast in particular – Ravi, Chandrasekhar, Raadhu, and Rajasekar – completely featured newcomers. Raadhu was credited as Rohini.[5] Ravi was earlier asked to audition for Bharathiraja's Niram Maratha Pookkal (1979) as a dubbing artist for the lead character. However, since Bharathiraja himself dubbed for character, Ravi was dropped. Bharathiraaja, however, signed up Ravi for Nizhalgal as the lead actor, thus marking Ravi's cinematic debut.[6] Bharathiraja cast Rajasekar because he liked his eyes.[7]


The main theme of the film is unemployment.[8]


The film's soundtrack and background score were composed by Ilaiyaraaja.[9] The song "Ithu Oru Pon Malai" was written by Vairamuthu, making his cinematic debut.[10] The song is set in Kedaram raga,[11] while "Poongathave" is set in Mayamalavagowla.[12] The song "Madai Thiranthu" was later remixed by Yogi B and Natchatra in their album Vallavan.[13][14] A remix version of "Ithu Oru Pon Malai" is featured on music artist M. Rafi's album Aasaiyae Alaipolae.[15]

No. Title Singer Length Lyricist
1 "Ithu Oru Pon Malai" S. P. Balasubrahmanyam 04:20 Vairamuthu
2 "Dhoorathil Naan Kanda Un Mugam" S. Janaki 05:05 Panchu Arunachalam
3 "Madai Thiranthu" S. P. Balasubrahmanyam 04:21 Vaali, Manivannan[16]
4 "Poongathavae thaal thiravai" Deepan Chakravarthy, Uma Ramanan 04:27 Gangai Amaran

Release and reception[edit]

Nizhalgal was released on 6 November 1980.[8] Although the film's story, music and the performance of the cast members received critical acclaim, it failed at the box office.[4] After the film's release, the name "Nizhalgal" was added to Ravi's name as a prefix.[17]

At the International Film Festival of India in 1981, Nizhalgal was one of the 21 films to be screened at the Indian Panorama section. It was one of the two Tamil films to be screened at the festival; the other being K. Vijayan's Doorathu Idi Muzhakkam which was released the same year.[18]

Made in the neo-realistic style, the film was a different attempt by Bharathiraaja. The French film critic Yves Thoraval in his The cinemas of India stated: "a gloomy and violent film despite musical scenes with pretty dancers in short skirts."[19] In 2008, short filmmaker R. V. Ramani in an interview with The Hindu recalled Nizhalgal as being a film that made a strong impact on him. He further called the film as a path breaking one in Tamil cinema.[20]

In a 2015 interview, Bharathiraaja noted that he had to return to mainstream filmmaking as the failure of Nizhalgal forced him to stop making films of the same kind.[21]


At the Tamil Nadu State Film Awards (1981), Nizhalgal won two awards – Best Music Director (for Ilaiyaraaja) and Best Male Playback (for S. P. Balasubrahmanyam).[22]


  1. ^ a b c Tiwari, Nidhi (25 May 2020). "40 years of 'Nizhalgal': A Tamil film still relevant in COVID time". The Federal. Archived from the original on 15 November 2020. Retrieved 14 June 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Dhananjayan 2014, p. 262.
  3. ^ Kolappan, B. (19 May 2020). "Ilaiyaraaja's tech-savvy drummer, R. Purusothaman, dies". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 20 May 2020. Retrieved 20 May 2020.
  4. ^ a b Subramanian, Karthik (15 June 2013). "Master of character roles Manivannan passes away". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 9 May 2016. Retrieved 15 August 2015.
  5. ^ "மீண்டும் நடிக்க வருகிறார் நிழல்கள் ரோகிணி". Dinamalar (in Tamil). 8 August 2014. Archived from the original on 16 September 2015. Retrieved 15 August 2015.
  6. ^ "They are in the fray too..." The Hindu. 11 May 2001. Archived from the original on 15 November 2020. Retrieved 15 August 2015.
  7. ^ Kumar, N. (22 May 1987). "A courageous comeback". The Indian Express. p. 12. Archived from the original on 15 November 2020. Retrieved 17 October 2020.
  8. ^ a b Dhananjayan, G. (14 July 2017). "Similar storylines need to show new tricks to hook fans". DT Next. Archived from the original on 7 December 2018. Retrieved 17 December 2018.
  9. ^ "Ilaiyaraaja – Nizhalgal (1980, Super-7, Vinyl)". Discogs. Archived from the original on 1 February 2019. Retrieved 31 January 2019.
  10. ^ Pillai, Sreedhar (18 June 2002). "In love with lyrics". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 1 December 2003. Retrieved 9 January 2019.
  11. ^ Mani, Charulatha (15 March 2013). "Mood enhancers". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 17 September 2019. Retrieved 9 January 2019.
  12. ^ Saravanan, T. (20 September 2013). "Ragas hit a high". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 26 December 2018. Retrieved 9 January 2019.
  13. ^ B, Yogi. "Vallavan". Apple Music. Archived from the original on 9 January 2019. Retrieved 9 January 2019.
  14. ^ Jerald, Jasmine (20 March 2017). "Now no one can perform Ilayaraja's songs without his permission". Edex Live. Archived from the original on 18 December 2018. Retrieved 9 January 2019.
  15. ^ Jeshi, K. (2 November 2007). "Mix and match". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 4 November 2007. Retrieved 11 November 2013.
  16. ^ "'மடைதிறந்து….' – இது மணிவண்ணன் பாட்டு!". Envazhi (in Tamil). 16 June 2013. Archived from the original on 9 January 2019. Retrieved 9 January 2019.
  17. ^ Raman, Mohan V. (8 November 2014). "What's in a name?". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 20 June 2018. Retrieved 17 December 2018.
  18. ^ "Indian Cinema '80/'81" (PDF). Directorate of Film Festivals. p. 98. Archived (PDF) from the original on 3 January 2020. Retrieved 13 October 2020.
  19. ^ Thoraval, Yves (2000). The cinemas of India. Macmillan India. p. 332. ISBN 978-0-333-93410-4. Archived from the original on 15 November 2020. Retrieved 16 September 2020.
  20. ^ "Why I like... Nizhalgal". The Hindu. 22 February 2008. Retrieved 15 August 2015.
  21. ^ "நிழல்கள்' தோல்வி தான் சாதாரணமான சினிமாவிற்குள் தள்ளியது: பாரதிராஜா". Dinamani (in Tamil). 9 April 2015. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 15 August 2015.
  22. ^ Dhananjayan 2014, p. 263.


  • Dhananjayan, G. (2014). Pride of Tamil cinema 1931–2013: Tamil films that have earned national and international recognition. Blue Ocean Publishers. OCLC 898765509.

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