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Server Sundaram

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For the upcoming film, see Server Sundaram (upcoming film).
Server Sundaram
Server Sundaram poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Krishnan–Panju
Produced by A. V. Meiyappan
Written by K. Balachander
Based on Server Sundaram
by K. Balachander
Starring Nagesh
R. Muthuraman
K. R. Vijaya
Music by Viswanathan–Ramamoorthy
Cinematography S. Maruthi Rao[1]
Edited by S. Panjabi
R. Vittal
Production
company
Release date
11 December 1964 (1964-12-11)
Running time
165 minutes[2]
Country India
Language Tamil

Server Sundaram is a 1964 Indian Tamil-language comedy-drama film directed by Krishnan–Panju and produced by A. V. Meiyappan. The film stars Nagesh as the title character. R. Muthuraman and K. R. Vijaya play the other lead roles while S. N. Lakshmi and Major Sundarrajan play supporting roles. The story focuses on the life of a hotel waiter and how he strives to reach greater heights after he becomes an actor to attain the love of his restaurateur's daughter.

The film was adapted from a play of the same name written by K. Balachander, with the play also featuring Nagesh himself in the title role along with Major Sundarrajan and S. N. Lakshmi who reprised their roles in the film. Balachander also wrote the screenplay and dialogues for the film. Viswanathan–Ramamoorthy composed the film's soundtrack and background music, while Kannadasan and Vaali wrote the lyrics for the soundtrack's songs.

Released on 11 December 1964, Server Sundaram earned positive critical feedback and went on to become a commercial success. At the 12th National Film Awards, it won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Tamil under the Certificate of Merit category, and the Filmfare Award for Best Tamil Film.

Server Sundaram earned Nagesh and Balachander their breakthrough in Tamil cinema and led to many successful collaborations between the two. It became the first Tamil film to show numerous behind-the-scenes looks at various processes involved in film-making such as the studio interiors and song recording. It was remade into Hindi as Main Sunder Hoon (1971) with Mehmood and Kannada as Server Somanna (1993) with Jaggesh.

Plot[edit]

Sundaram, a poor man, comes to Madras with aspirations of becoming a film actor. However, he ends up getting a job in a restaurant called Greenlands Hotel as a waiter. While catering for a group of people who go on an excursion to Mahabalipuram, he meets Radha, the daughter of his restaurateur, Chakravarthy. He misinterprets her friendly nature as love and falls in love with her. In the meantime, Sundaram happens to meet his friend Raghavan, an influential businessman, in the restaurant. During their subsequent meetings, Sundaram tells Raghavan about his ambition to become an actor as well as about his love for Radha, without mentioning her name. Raghavan genuinely believes that the girl reciprocates Sundaram's feelings and motivates Sundaram to express his love.

When Raghavan is about to leave his house for a marriage proposal, Sundaram comes there and describes the girl he was talking about to Raghavan. Raghavan realises that Radha, whom he intends to marry, is the same girl Sundaram is in love with. Raghavan, believing that Radha loves Sundaram, decides to help Sundaram attain his love and get a chance to act in films, which he does successfully. Sundaram becomes a star after his debut film Appavi Kanavan ("Innocent Husband") becomes a success and believes that his stardom and popularity will help him in attaining his love. When Radha comes to Sundaram's house to congratulate him, he introduces her to Raghavan, who is present at that time. As Sundaram goes to prepare snacks for the two, Radha asks Raghavan why he did not show up for the marriage proposal. Raghavan states that he thought Radha loved Sundaram. Shocked, Radha informs Raghavan that she likes Sundaram for his innocence, although she does not love him. Raghavan is pleasantly surprised, but to ensure that Sundaram's film career does not suffer from discovering the truth, he asks Radha to keep it a secret.

Sundaram's mother is pleased with her son's popularity but misses his presence due to Sundaram's busy acting career. She expresses to Sundaram her desire that she should die in his arms. When Raghavan believes that Sundaram will gradually forget Radha so that he and Radha can get married, he discovers that Sundaram's love for Radha is stronger. Raghavan then informs Radha that she should marry Sundaram, as Raghavan does not want to backstab his friend. Radha instead decides to personally express her feelings to Sundaram. When Sundaram expresses his love to Radha, she tells him that she never imagined that he would assume her friendly affection towards him as love and that Raghavan is her fiancé. Sundaram, shattered on losing his love, is also happy on hearing that Raghavan would marry her and congratulates Raghavan.

While Sundaram is busy shooting for the climax scene of a film, his mother falls down the footsteps of her home and is badly wounded. Sundaram's manager Manickam tries to convey the news to Sundaram, but is blocked by the studio authorities who inform him that the director has instructed them not to allow anyone in there. After finishing his shot, Sundaram hears of the news about his mother and rushes home to learn that she is dead. At last realising the happiness he enjoyed as a waiter, Sundaram dons his hotel uniform again. He explains to Raghavan that the waiter's job is permanent, while the actor's was only temporary. Raghavan and Radha get married.

Cast[edit]

[Nagesh] was very passionate about theatre. He asked me to give him a role in my plays and I told him that I would write one, with him as the protagonist. That is how Server Sundaram happened.

 – K. Balachander on the development of Server Sundaram.[3]

Male actors

Female actors

Production[edit]

Two people dancing
Nagesh did not want the song "Avalukkenna" immediately after the film's intermission, but admitted his mistake after critics praised it for showing his dancing skills.[7]

Server Sundaram was based on a 1960s comedy-drama play of the same name that was written by K. Balachander,[8][9] then a playwright.[10][11] Balachander stated that he wrote the story of Server Sundaram for Nagesh after watching his performance in Naanum Oru Penn (1963).[12] Director duo Krishnan–Panju had earlier made Nallathambi (1949), which featured comedian N. S. Krishnan in the lead role, and wanted to make another film with a comedian as the protagonist. Hence they chose Nagesh for the job by informing him of their wish while travelling with the actor from Salem to Tiruppur. After returning from Tiruppur, Krishnan–Panju and Nagesh met Balachander and the trio asked Balachander to write a stage play for Nagesh. Balachander agreed. Krishnan–Panju also offered to produce a film adaptation of the play if it became a success.[13]

The play had Nagesh himself in the title role, along with Major Sundarrajan and S. N. Lakshmi who reprised their roles in the film.[14][15] Balachander recalled in 2009 that when he wrote Server Sundaram with Nagesh in mind, he suffered anxious moments: "I was convinced of the story, but there was a risk in promoting Nagesh, but I pulled it off".[16] A. V. Meiyappan acquired the rights to the play and also shared Krishnan–Panju's wish to make a film based on it.[17] Balachander was recruited as the film's screenplay and dialogue writer. Krishnan–Panju directed the film, although Balachander had shown a keen interest in directing it himself.[17][18] Meiyappan accepted the inclusion of Nagesh in the film after watching the latter's performance in the play.[19] Nagesh, who in turn was impressed with S. N. Lakshmi's performance in the play, asked Balachander to have Meiyappan include her in the film.[20] K. R. Vijaya was cast as Sundaram's love interest Radha, and R. Muthuraman was cast as his friend Raghavan.[4] Singer T. M. Soundararajan made a guest appearance in the song "Avalukkena",[21] as did poet Vaali's wife Ramani Thilagam.[22] Goundamani, who later became a successful comedian in Tamil cinema, made his acting debut with this film in an uncredited role.[23]

Server Sundaram was the first Tamil film to show numerous behind-the-scenes looks at the various processes involved in film-making such as the studio interiors, song recording, horse riding scenes and rain scenes.[24][7] It was also notable for not featuring an antagonist.[7] In one sequence, S. V. Ranga Rao and Manorama are seen as actors performing a scene for a film, using the concept of film within a film.[25] The bond between mother and son, which according to historian S. Theodore Baskaran was "a persistent theme in Tamil cinema", was shown in the film.[26] He also compared it to City Lights (1931) because in both films, a poor man "pin[s] for the attention of the woman he fancies".[27] Server Sundaram was also considered a biography of Nagesh's own life.[28][29] Panju edited the film under the pseudonym "Panjabi",[30] with R. Vittal as co-editor.[31] Server Sundaram was publicised with a still of Nagesh holding many cups and saucers, but the film initially had no such scene.[32] After Meiyappan finished watching the final cut, upon his request it was added to the film.[33] The final length of the film was 4,535 m (14,879 ft).[34]

Music[edit]

Server Sundaram
Soundtrack album by
Viswanathan-Ramamoorthy
Genre Feature film soundtrack
Language Tamil
Label Saregama
Producer
  • M. S. Viswanathan
  • T. K. Ramamoorthy

The film's soundtrack was composed by the duo Viswanathan–Ramamoorthy, with lyrics written by Kannadasan and Vaali.[35] The soundtrack was released under the label of Saregama.[36]

Philips, an autodidact guitarist, performed the guitar portions for "Avalukkenna". The music troupe for the song consisted of Noel Grant (drums), Mangalamurthy (accordion), Nanjappa (flute), Fobes (violin), Henry Daniel and Joseph Krishna.[37] Violinist T. Samuel Joseph, popularly known as Shyam, also took part in the recording of the song.[38] Balan, a member of the troupe, claimed in 2015 that Viswanathan came up with the tune for "Avalukenna" in ten minutes,[39] while Anand Venkateswaran of The Wire believes that Viswanathan set the song to tune in 15 minutes, and it took T. M. Soundararajan the rest of the day to record it.[40] According to Gopal Krishnan, in his book, Chords & Raaga, "Avalukkenna" involved a "complicated arrangement of mambo and bossa nova."[41] Live versions of "Avalukenna" have been performed by various Indian singers including Karthik,[42] Haricharan,[43] Shweta Mohan and Rahul Nambiar.[44] The percussion of the song "Mayanadhi" from Kabali (2016) was described by India Today as being reminiscent of "Avalukkenna".[45]

The soundtrack received positive reviews, with "Avalukkenna" being particularly well received. Pradeep Madhavan of The Hindu (Tamil) states that "Avalukkenna" brought out Nagesh's dancing potential onscreen.[7] M. N. Bhaskaran of the same newspaper appreciated the clarinet interludes in "Avalukkena".[46] A reviewer from Radio Mirchi wrote that "Avalukkenna" provided a new concept to Tamil cinema in terms of lyrics, music and dance.[47] Balachander commented on that song, "Songs like 'Avalukkenna.. [...] Listen to them today, and they will seem so fresh and amazing. [Viswanathan's] music is the kind that will challenge directors to come up with impressive visualisation."[48] Baradwaj Rangan, writing for The Hindu, said, "Listen to the lazy drawl with which certain words taper off in ‘Avalukkenna,’ an antidote to the rock ‘n’ roll bounce in the rest of the song."[49] Poga Poga Theriyum" was later included in Old is Gold, an album compiling hit songs from films featuring Muthuraman, and was rated by The Times of India as one of the album's "hot picks".[50]

Track list[35]

No. Title Lyrics Singer(s) Length
1. "Avalukkenna" Vaali T. M. Soundararajan, L. R. Eswari 05:17
2. "Silai Edutthan" Kannadasan P. Susheela 05:16
3. "Poga Poga Theriyum" Kannadasan P. B. Sreenivas, P. Susheela 04:27
4. "Thattai Nenjam" Kannadasan P. Susheela, A. L. Raghavan 04:02
5. "Pattondru Tharuvaar" Kannadasan P. Susheela, L. R. Eswari 04:46
Total length: 23:48

Release[edit]

Server Sundaram was released on 11 December 1964.[51][52] The film became commercial success and completed a theatrical run of 100 days.[53] It was also dubbed in Telugu under the same title.[54][55] Server Sundaram was remade in Hindi as Main Sunder Hoon (1971) with Mehmood,[56] and in Kannada as Server Somanna (1993) with Jaggesh.[57]

On 18 April 2010, the film was screened at the South Indian Film Chamber Theatre for the Dignity Film Festival held in Chennai; other films also screened included Madhumati (1958), Kadhalikka Neramillai, Anbe Vaa (1966) and Thillana Mohanambal (1968).[58][59]

Critical response[edit]

The film received critical acclaim.[60] Positive comments were directed mainly at Nagesh's performance as Sundaram and Balachander's screenplay and dialogues. S. Theodore Baskaran, Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Paul Willemen, and Baradwaj Rangan noted similarities between Nagesh and Charlie Chaplin.[61][62]

Tamil magazine Ananda Vikatan, in its original review of the film dated 20 December 1964, mentioned that the highlight of the film was Nagesh's acting and the film gave the experience of conversing and enjoying with friends in a car journey without living much impact.[63] Tamil Canadian journalist D. B. S. Jeyaraj stated that Nagesh "played the "server" (waiter) role to perfection", that the film gave him "another dimension as an actor who could evoke tears from the audience through his emotional performance" and that Server Sundaram was one film in which he "provided stellar displays of his histrionic talents".[64]

On the scene where Nagesh auditions in front of the film producers introduced to him by Muthuraman, Baradwaj Rangan, writing for The New Indian Express, said, "Audiences that grew up with Nagesh will cotton on to the slyness of this apparently ungrateful gesture as the most identifiably Nagesh-like among everything that's transpired during these five minutes of Server Sundaram", whilst also stating the actor's comedy potential to be "his great arsenal".[62] In 2014, at the fiftieth-year celebrations of the film, Pradeep Madhavan of The Hindu called the film a "trendsetter" in Tamil cinema for showcasing scenes involved in filmmaking and believed that Nagesh "lived the role of Sundaram".[7] In its review of the film's DVD, The Times of India gave a rating of 3.5 out of 5, calling it a "tour de force for Nagesh fans" and a "classic in every sense".[65] Film music historian Vamanan stated, "Nagesh could effortlessly bring pathos into play as in [...] Server Sundaram. This was possible because of his poignant real life experiences."[66] He also noted that despite Manorama's role being a cameo, she held "her own in the presence of the talented Nagesh and S V Ranga Rao."[67]

Awards[edit]

Award Ceremony Category Nominee(s) Outcome Ref.
National Film Awards 12th National Film Awards Certificate of Merit A. V. Meiyappan (producer)
Krishnan–Panju (director)
Won [17]
Filmfare Awards South 12th Filmfare Awards South Best Tamil Film A. V. Meiyappan Won

Legacy[edit]

Server Sundaram attained cult status in Tamil cinema,[68] and is believed by many critics to be Nagesh's breakthrough role as an actor and Balachander's first success in Tamil cinema.[7][19] Actor Kamal Haasan compared his 2015 film Uttama Villain (which also starred Balachander) to Server Sundaram, finding it to be "both emotional and humorous" like the latter.[69] The success of Server Sundaram led to many collaborations between Nagesh and Balachander, notable of which include Neerkumizhi (1965), Major Chandrakanth (1966), Ethir Neechal (1968) and Apoorva Raagangal (1975).[70][71] Film historian Mohan V. Raman noted, "By casting [Nagesh] in Server Sundaram, ... [Balachander] made the comedian a serious actor."[70] The film also became noted for introducing the anti-hero to Tamil cinema as well as the style of delivering short and fast-paced dialogues.[61] A dialogue spoken by Nagesh's character, "Long, long ago... so long ago, nobody knows how long ago" became popular.[72] Balachander mentions the dialogue in Uttama Villain as a build-up to the film his character directs.[73] Actor Appukutty worked in several hotels and restaurants as a cleaner and server before making his debut as the lead actor with Azhagarsamiyin Kuthirai (2011) which won him the National Film Award for Best Supporting Actor; Kumar Chellappan of Daily News and Analysis compared this to the plot of Server Sundaram.[74] Bharatiya Janata Party member L. Ganesan considered Server Sundaram to be an example "of good Tamil cinema globally."[75] Following Nagesh's death in 2009, Sify ranked Server Sundaram fourth in its list, "10 Best Films of late Nagesh", commenting, "A hotel waiter becomes a superstar and the transformation is shown brilliantly by the actor."[76] Sri Lankan historian Sachi Sri Kantha included Server Sundaram in his list compiling "the ten landmark Tamil movies, spanning all genres, which delighted the multitude of fans immensely".[77] The sequence where Sundaram balances several vessels in one hand, referred to by the Hindustan Times's Gautaman Bhaskaran as the "dumara-tumbler" sequence, attained popularity,[60] as did the scene where Sundaram's mother realises that he is not a hotel manager but a waiter.[78]

Director Radha Mohan expressed a desire to remake the film but decided against it: "If there is one film I want to remake, [Server Sundaram] will be the one, but I know I will not, because I believe classics should be left alone."[79] Director and choreographer Prabhu Deva ranked Server Sundaram among his favourite films.[80] A restaurant named "Hotel Server Sundaram" is located in the Thuraipakkam area of Chennai.[81] In December 2014, G. Babu Jayakumar of The New Indian Express included the film in his list of Balachander's noted films.[82] Clips from Server Sundaram were screened along with clips from other films such as Iru Kodugal (1969), Arangetram (1973), Aval Oru Thodar Kathai (1974), Avargal (1977) and Azhagan (1991) at a function held in Balachander's honour at Tiruchirappalli in January 2015,[83] a month after his death.[84] Server Sundaram is also used as the title of an upcoming film starring Santhanam and Nagesh's grandson Bijesh,[85] with its producer Selva having bought the title rights from AVM Productions. On why that title was chosen, Selva said, "Santhanam plays a chef in the film and we felt that Server Sundaram, in which Nagesh played the role of a server, would be apt for this film, too. It is amazing how well the title suited the concept of our film, which is why we went right ahead with our decision."[86] S. Jegathiswaran, writing for Daily News Sri Lanka, noted, "In [Server] Sundaram, [Nagesh] showed that after having gained the social status one shouldn't forget one's past."[87] Actor Vikram, who became popularly known by the moniker "Chiyaan" after the release of Sethu in 1999, stated in August 2016, "After Nagesh sir [in Server Sundaram] becomes something else, he still holds his server uniform close to his heart as a memento. Chiyaan is something like that to me."[88]

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