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|
|Cinematography||S. Maruti Rao|
|Edited by||S. Surya|
|13 April 1954|
Andha Naal (English: That Day) is a 1954 Indian Tamil-language mystery-thriller 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, or stunt sequences. Set in the milieu of World War II, the story 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.
Balachander originally wrote Andha Naal as a play, but after the script was rejected by All India Radio, he narrated it to Meiyappan who agreed to adapt it into a film. The lead role was initially offered to S. V. Sahasranamam and N. Viswanathan, but were later replaced by Ganesan as they were unconvincing to Meiyappan. The screenplay and dialogue were written by Javar Seetharaman, who also played a prominent role as an investigative officer in the film. Cinematography was handled by S. 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. It was also the only film directed by Balachander for AVM Productions.
Andha Naal was released on 13 April 1954, on the eve of Puthandu (Tamil New Year). It was critically acclaimed and was awarded a Certificate of Merit for Second Best Feature Film in Tamil at the 2nd National Film Awards in 1955. Despite being a commercial failure, it has acquired a cult status over the years, and is regarded as an important film in Tamil cinema. In 2013, Andha Naal was included in CNN-News18's list of the "100 Greatest Indian Films of All Time".
On the night of 11 October 1943, during World War II, the Japanese bomb the Indian city of Madras (now Chennai). The next morning, Rajan, a radio engineer and communications researcher, is found murdered with his own hand gun in his house in Madras after his neighbour, Chinnaiah Pillai, having heard the gunshot, complains 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 with the investigation. Naidu suggests that the killer could be a thief who killed Rajan for the money found at the crime scene. However, Sivanandam is unconvinced by Naidu's theory because the amount of money at the scene matches the withdrawal entry in the bank passbook found in the same room. Rajan was about to leave Madras in anticipation of the bombings.
The two policemen question five people in and around Rajan's house, most of whom are his family members or friends. The first person to be questioned is Rajan's wife Usha, who is unable to speak because of her grief. Sivanandam and Naidu feel embarrassed and are reluctant to question her further. They begin interrogating Pillai, who reported the murder. Pillai proposes that the killer is probably Pattabi, Rajan's younger brother, and recalls a confrontation between them: Pattabi asked for his share of the family property but Rajan refused his request, 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. He admits that he did not treat his brother well, and failed to understand his good intentions. He recounts an incident in which his wife Hema fought with Rajan because he refused to apportion the property. Pattabi states that Hema could have killed Rajan for the money as she loses her sanity when overpowered by anger.
Sivanandam leaves Naidu to interrogate Hema. She is initially impudent and refuses to give a statement about the crime, but she later agrees when Sivanandam threatens to arrest her husband. She reveals Rajan's extramarital affair with a dancer named Ambujam, who is pregnant with his child. As Rajan treated the news with a reckless attitude, Hema suggests that Ambujam could have killed him. When questioned, Ambujam accuses Pillai of the murder, saying that he was her foster father and 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 asks Usha, who tells him how she and Rajan fell in love. Sivanandam tricks Usha using a leaky fountain pen in order to collect her fingerprints. That evening, he and Naidu meet all of the suspects at Rajan's house. Sivanandam carries out an exercise in which the suspects—including Usha—must pretend he is Rajan and shoot him using revolvers loaded with fake bullets. All the suspects shoot him except Usha, who bursts into tears. Sivanandam then pretends to have Pattabi and Hema arrested.
Unable to bear this, Usha reveals the truth: Rajan was a radio engineer who wanted to sell radios to the poor at an affordable price. Unable to get any support from the government, he went to Japan where his work was appreciated. He became a spy working for Japan, selling India's military secrets to the Japanese. Usha learnt about this and tried to reform him, but Rajan did not mind betraying India. Usha could not stop him and attempted to shoot him. She changed her mind but pulled the trigger accidentally, killing him. After revealing the truth, Usha commits suicide.
- Sivaji Ganesan as Rajan, a radio engineer
- Pandari Bai as Usha, Rajan's wife
- Javar Seetharaman as C.I.D. Officer Sivanandam
- P. D. Sambandam as Chinniah Pillai
- T. K. Balachandran as Pattabi, Rajan's younger brother
- Menaka as Hema, Rajan's sister-in-law and Pattabi's wife
- Suryakala as Ambujam, Rajan's mistress
After watching Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon (1950) at a film festival, director Sundaram Balachander was inspired by it and wrote a play in the same narrative style. His idea of producing the play failed when the script was rejected by All India Radio. Balachander then approached A. V. Meiyappan, the founder of AVM Productions, and told him the story. Although Meiyappan agreed to produce the film, he opposed Balachander's idea of making the film without songs or stunts; he wanted to have at least one song in the film. Balachander maintained that even a single song would "ruin the tempo" of the film. Meiyappan eventually agreed to finance the film because he liked the story, and trusted Balachander's talent. Andha Naal thus became the first Tamil film that did not have any songs or dance sequences, and was the only film directed by Balachander for AVM Productions.
The lead role of the radio engineer Rajan was initially given to S. V. Sahasranamam, who was dismissed 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 (now Kolkata). When the production was halfway through, Meiyappan was not satisfied and wanted to reshoot the film with Sivaji Ganesan. Balachander refused, and Meiyappan ordered the production controller Vasu Menon to settle the salary dues to Balachander and to bring the reels to be burnt before him. Balachander was shocked on hearing this and agreed to reshoot the film with Ganesan as per Meiyappan's wishes. Meiyappan had introduced Ganesan in Parasakthi (1952), and was very keen to have him play the lead role. Balachander was hesitant to approach Ganesan initially because he was unsure whether he would agree to play a negative role. In his autobiography, Ganesan stated that the film was almost completed before he was approached. He agreed to be part of the film because he found the story interesting and thought that portraying a variety of characters would interest the audience. In 2009, film historian Film News Anandan stated that the success of Thirumbi Paar (1953), which featured Ganesan as an antihero, encouraged the latter to sign up for Andha Naal, where he played a similar role. According to film historian Randor Guy, Rajan was one of the earliest antihero roles in Tamil cinema.
Ganesan initially wanted ₹40,000 (equivalent to ₹2.8 million or US$42,000 in 2016) which Meiyappan could not afford to pay. He offered him ₹25,000 (equivalent to ₹1.8 million or US$26,000 in 2016), but Ganesan refused. Balachander then told Ganesan that Meiyappan would pay him ₹1,000 (equivalent to ₹71,000 or US$1,100 in 2016) for every day they shot the film, Ganesan agreed to this, believing the film would take a long time to complete. To his dismay, Balachander completed the shoot in 17 days. The screenplay and dialogue were written by Javar Seetharaman, who also appeared in the film as a C.I.D. officer, and provided the voiceover in the beginning of the film in the scene before Rajan is shot dead. Pandari Bai was selected to play Rajan's wife. Malayalam actor T. K. Balachandran, actresses Suryakala and 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 S. Maruti Rao, and the editor was S. Surya. The background score was performed by Saraswathy Stores Orchestra, AVM Productions' music troupe. No credit for the story is given in the introductory credits. The film's photography was markedly different from most early Tamil films. Rao used the "painting with light" technique, which captures the actors' shadows to convey their "mood and character". The film's final cut was less than 12,500 feet (3,800 m) — shorter than most contemporaneous Tamil films.
Themes and influences
Regarded as the first film noir in Tamil cinema, Andha Naal is set in the milieu of the World War II where the Japanese bombed the Indian city of Madras in 1943. Residents of the city moved to nearby hill stations to protect themselves from further bombings and invasion. 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.
Though various sources, including Ganesan, have stated that the film was inspired by Rashomon, Randor Guy notes that this notion is erroneous, that Andha Naal was actually adapted from the 1950 British film The Woman in Question directed by Anthony Asquith, and that there was only a "thematic resemblance" between Andha Naal and Rashomon. According to Jason P. Vest's Spike Lee: Finding the Story and Forcing the Issue, the three films follow a nonlinear narrative by presenting diverging accounts of the same incident. In his 2015 book Madras Studios, film historian Swarnavel Eswaran Pillai notes that Andha Naal is unrelated to Rashomon except for its whodunit plot, where the murder is explored using various angles. He also notes that, unlike Rashomon, Andha Naal ends with the mystery being solved. According to B. Vijayakumar of The Hindu, Andha Naal is "probably" the first spy film made in South India.
According to Ganesan, the main theme of Andha Naal is patriotism. It tells how unemployment and desolation can lead young people to become traitors. If a country does not appreciate its talented young men's efforts, they could turn against the nation. Rajan becomes a traitor by selling Indian secrets to Japan because his idea was rejected by the Indian government. According to Guy, Ganesan's role was influenced by T. S. Balaiah's character in the 1946 Tamil film Chitra. Swarnavel Eswaran Pillai compared Pandari Bai's "ideologically driven" character Usha in Andha Naal to her character in Parasakthi, but in the former, "it is the idea of the Indian nation that she pledges her allegiance to." The Times of India compared Andha Naal to Citizen Kane (1941) for its similar lighting and camera angles.
The film uses a Tamil saying "Kolaiyum Seival patthini" (a virtuous wife may even kill her own husband) as a clue to the identity of the culprit. 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. The jury of the 2nd National Film Awards describes Naidu as a conscientious officer, and Sivanandam as a "brilliant, eccentric but not so serious" man.
Release and reception
Andha Naal was passed with a "U" (universal) certificate by the Central Board of Film Certification after 14 cuts. It was released on 13 April 1954 on the eve of Puthandu (Tamil New Year). Andha Naal was released alongside another film featuring Ganesan, Kalyanam Panniyum Brahmachari, making it the first of seventeen instances where he starred in two films releasing on the same day. The film received critical acclaim upon release, but did not succeed commercially because the audience were not impressed by a film without songs. The film was considered "revolutionary" because of this. In theatres, viewers were disappointed after the first scene when Ganesan is shot dead, and many even walked out. Theatre owners had to persuade them to watch the entire film. Its commercial failure led Meiyappan not to make a film without song sequences. The film was later re-released after winning the Certificate of Merit for the Second Best Feature Film in Tamil at the 2nd National Film Awards, and became a box-office success. Moser Baer and AP International have released the film on home video.
In addition to its National Film Award win, the film won 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 antihero won critical acclaim; many critics said that Pandari Bai's role as the 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. Several years later, Balachander's wife Shanta recalled that he was not affected by the film's failure as he was "delighted that he pulled it off", with critics praising the performances of Ganesan, Pandari Bai and the other actors.
A contemporary review from the Tamil monthly magazine Kalaimanram praised AVM for the new attempt and called Andha Naal a daring venture. The Tamil weekly Kumudam (dated 1 May 1954) praised Meiyappan for recognising "young talents" like Balachander and Seetharaman. However, it criticised AVM for not publicising the film as a thriller; the magazine asserted that had such a publicity been made, the fans would not have been horrified by the fact that there were no songs in the film. The magazine gave the verdict, "Success of art; failure of narrative". The same month, 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 that 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". The Tamil magazine Gundoosi stated that, for fans who were wondering whether there would be a day when a film without songs and dance, which was within 12,000 feet, and which had a narrative beyond the traditional love story would be produced, "Andha Naal/That Day has come. Such a cinema of renaissance is Andha Naal", and it also appreciated Maruti Rao's cinematography and Meiyappan's courageous effort. It asked fans to support such a film if they "really want Tamil cinema to progress". In June 2008, The Times of India gave the film a rating of four out of five, and stated that it had a "timeless feel both in terms of story telling and presentation." The reviewer praised Ganesan and Pandari Bai's performances, and concluded that Seetharaman's screenplay and Balachander's direction made Andha Naal one of the finest Tamil films to that point. Writing for Deccan Chronicle in September 2014, Logesh Balachandran called Pandari Bai's role as a patriotic woman in the film a "memorable" one.
Andha Naal has been described by French film historian Yves Thoraval as a revolution in Tamil cinema for the absence of songs and dances. Though largely ignored during its release, it has since attained cult status in Tamil cinema, and in addition to becoming a trendsetter for Tamil films without songs, it set the benchmark in Tamil cinema for its noir-style lighting in some of its dramatic sequences. In 2001, journalist S. Muthiah called Andha Naal the "best film" produced by Meiyappan. He noted that it "proved that a song-and-danceless film could also be a hit." 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 songless Tamil films such as Unnaipol Oruvan (1965), Kudisai (1979), Veedu (1988) and Uchi Veyil (1990). Researcher and ethnographer Preeti Mudliar compared Ratha Kanneer (1954) to Andha Naal because in both films, "the sin of foreignness is [neutralised] by a chaste Tamil woman, the virtuous wife". Director Chimbu Deven acknowledged Andha Naal as an influence on his 2014 film Oru Kanniyum Moonu Kalavaanikalum.
The film was screened in the "Tamil Retrospective Section" of the 14th International Film Festival of India in 1991. In 2008, Randor Guy praised Andha Naal for "being the first Tamil film which had no dance, song or stunt sequence and for [Balachander]’s impressive direction and fine performances by Sivaji Ganesan and Pandari Bai". In March 2012, film historian Mohan V. Raman told The Times of India that Andha Naal, being the first film noir in Tamil cinema, was "among the significant black and white films of yore", along with Mayabazar (1957) and Uthama Puthiran (1940). In a 2013 interview with the Tamil magazine Ananda Vikatan, Malayalam filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan listed Andha Naal as one of his earliest favourites in Tamil cinema. In April 2013, Andha Naal was included in CNN-News18's list of "100 greatest Indian films of all time". In mid-April 2014, the film was screened at the Russian Cultural Centre, Chennai, to mark its diamond jubilee anniversary.
In March 2015, the Film Heritage Foundation announced it would be restoring Andha Naal along with a few other Indian films from 1931 to 1965, in accordance with international parameters, as a part of its restoration projects being carried out in India and abroad. However, the Foundation stated that it would not colourise any of the films as they should be "the way the master or the creator had seen it." Filmmaker Shivendra Singh Dungarpur also believes that the film requires restoration on a "priority basis". A 30-minute play adaptation of the film was staged in April 2016 directed by Balachander's son Raman.
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