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17 November 2011

Sagara Sangamam (1983)

Directed by: K Vishwanath
Music: Ilaiyaraja
Starring: Kamalahasan, Jayaprada, Sarath Babu, SP Shailaja

This is a film that I loved when I first watched it in the theatre as a kid. It is also a film that I have revisited many times in the intervening years. With a strong story as its base, and characters you can identify with, and sympathise, Sagara Sangamam is one of those rare movies where everything miraculously came together – story, script, music actors, direction – to give us a near-classic. (The reason for that caveat is given below the synopsis.)

Upcoming and popular danseuse Shylaja (SP Shylaja) has just given a very well-received performance. However, amidst all the plaudits is a scathing criticism of her knowledge of Bharatanatyam. Shylaja is furious, and her fiance, who knows the publisher of the magazine in which the negative review has been published, promises to have the reviewer grovelling at her feet. When the writer of the review is called in to apologise to ‘a great artiste’, neither Shylaja nor her boyfriend can hide their contempt.
Balu (Kamalahasan) is a middle-aged drunk, who can barely function. What does he know of classical dance, demands the fiance. Who is he to write a derogatory article about Shylaja? However, instead of apologising profusely, as the duo expects, Balu demands that she perform the piece again. Contemptuously, she begins, only to be stopped mid-dance. Much to her chagrin, Balu then proceeds to show her exactly where she went wrong, and how it should have been performed. In Bharatanatyam.
Then to rub her nose into it (she had asked him whether he even knew what Bharatanatyam was), he also demonstrates the same verse in Kathak and in Kathakali.

Balu points out that Shylaja’s focus is on her audience, their applause, the next honour that will be bestowed on her. Unless her focus changes to her dance, she will never be a good artiste. Unused to such stringent criticism, Shylaja’s boyfriend causes Balu to be fired. Also fired is Raghu (Sharat Babu), a poet-turned-proof reader who is Balu’s friend.  

Raghu is upset – this is not the first time this has happened. And he has reached the end of his tether. After all, what is his relationship to Balu? As he walks away, Balu stops him by reciting a stanza of Raghu’s poem – their relationship is one of friendship, of two souls who had the same dreams. They are bound together until his death, says Balu. Raghu cannot withstand that plea. 
(From here, the movie moves effortlessly between past and present and the director uses the flashback motif very effectively – each flashback is triggered by a present event in the life of one of the characters, and by so linking the past and the present, the flashback allows us, the viewers, an insight into cause and effect.)

As he takes a completely drunk Balu home, Raghu remembers taking a much younger Balu to a local Kathak master. Balu is so engrossed in the class that a student almost steps on him; she stops dancing to ask him why he is there – when she doesn’t understand his reply, he dances it out so she can understand – he knows Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi, Kathakali. He wants to learn Kathak from the guru. (This is a wonderful scene, showing not only Balu’s mastery over the different art forms, but also how art cuts across barriers of language.)
Raghu manages to get Balu another job –as a film choreographer’s second assistant. On his first day on the job, Balu gets a chance to show what he can do –  when the film director sees his classical dance-based composition, he is aghast – he needs a hit song. The choreographer is furious! When the song is finally composed to the director's satisfaction, a song that celebrates the love of Radha for Krishna is now background for a filmi dance complete with outrageous costumes, pelvic thrusts, and associated vulgarity.
Balu breaks down; later, he dances his frustration out.

Meanwhile, Shylaja has returned home in triumph. As her mother Madhavi (Jayaprada) reads the reviews, she finds Balu’s criticism and takes her daughter to task. Shylaja is still ranting, but Madhavi is taken aback when she reads the by-line. Madhavi sets off to find Balu through the newspaper for which he worked. While waiting for some news of him, she recollects how she first met him. 

She is a photojournalist who writes about art, and is shooting at a temple when she comes across Balu. They meet again at a wedding (his mother and uncle are the cooks), and she learns of his passion for dance. Subsequent meetings involve dance (his passion) and photography (hers);
Madhavi does her best to give Balu an exposure she feels he deserves, writing him up for an article on dance, shooting his portfolio, getting him an opportunity to participate in the prestigious classical dance festival in Delhi.
(This sets the scene for one of the best moments in the film – Madhavi brings the festival’s brochure to Balu and tells him that she has managed to inveigle a pass for him. Balu is overjoyed. As he flips through the pages of the brochure, he finds himself featured amongst the renowned dancers slated to perform on the opening day. It’s a scene without much dialogue; Kamalahasan owns this scene – his eyes expressing his shock, disbelief, joy, gratitude… her happiness twinkles in her eyes.)
Unfortunately, the fates weave their usual coils. On the eve of their journey to Delhi, his mother falls seriously ill; in a final irony, he dances in front of his mother as she breathes her last.
Life goes on, and Madhavi and Raghu are Balu’s only support; as he draws closer to Madhavi, he confesses his love for her, and asks her to marry him. Despite herself, Madhavi begins to hope.
This is not to be either, however. Her father has a bitter truth to share.
Even as Madhavi decides to take charge of her own life, her estranged husband shows up – with an unbelievable solution. But of course, marriage is sacrosanct (God help me!). The scene is set for mega-self-sacrifices – first, Madhavi's husband's, then Balu’s, Madhavi’s (well, she is forced to)… 
Madhavi has no voice; she leaves and Balu seeks his solace in a bottle.

As Madhavi now makes plans to bring Balu back from the brink, she is faced with rejection on both fronts – her daughter is furious at having to learn from the man who criticised her; Balu is dismissive – he’s turned his back on real art a long time ago. What is he going to teach anyone? He gives in to Raghu’s insistence, even though he is ready to walk out when he sees his student. Madhavi removes all the liquor bottles she can find, but has not accounted for an alcoholic’s desperation.
When she returns to her room, she is confronted by her daughter.

How will Shylaja react to her mother’s past? How long will Madhavi hide the truth from Balu? What will happen when he finds out? Will he ever achieve his dream of training Madhavi’s daughter?

One of the first ‘dance movies’ in Telugu, K Vishwanath’s Sagara Sangamam depended heavily on the dancing prowess of its leads. With Kamalahasan and Jaya Prada, the director got just that.  Add that both of them are extremely accomplished actors (talk about understatement!), mix in a wonderful bunch of supporting actors, and a music director who can weave magic with his baton, and you get a critically acclaimed dance and music commercial success on your hands.

Sagara Sangamam was Kamalahasan’s film through and through. This was before he became ‘Dr Kamal Hassan’ and Ulaka Nayakan, and so he didn't feel the need to be in every frame. His Balu is dedicated to classical dance in all its forms. The only son of a widowed mother, his world is a small one – he has his mother, his dance, and a poet-friend, Raghu. He also has ambitions of making it big as a dancer. However, he is a purist, who cannot think of prostituting his art in his quest for success.

As the young, fire-in-his-veins ambitious Balu who is willing to die for his art, he shone. As the alcoholic, good-for-nothing, washed-out dance critic Balu, he brought a pathos to his role that made a lump rise in your throat. You, as the viewer, could see the choices he made, and the suffering that arises from the consequences of those actions; however, you also understand why he made those choices, and how he could not have chosen any other path. When one of the choices in front of you is not a choice at all, then you really have no choice. And Balu has none. This is the only way that his life could have played out. 

There is no belying the fact that Kamalahasan is one of the best actors who has ever graced the silver screen, but there’s also no denying that he can sideline his co-stars with amazing ease. Despite that, Jayaprada (before she became Jaya Prada) not only makes her presence felt, but also matches him step for step – not an easy task when faced with a phenomenal dancer such as Kamalahasan. She also looked incredibly beautiful, which is not a surprise, because I have seen her make-up free and just-tumbled-out-of-bed (she had just returned from an outdoor shooting a few hours prior) and she looked gorgeous. 

As Madhavi, the young woman who falls into a friendship with a dancer whose talent she is mesmerised by, which later deepens into a very mature love, Jayaprada breathed life into her character. Madhavi is torn between her sham of a marriage and her love for Balu which is crushed as much by social expectations and Balu’s own morality. Later, as a widow, she is still encumbered by the necessity to keep Balu from guessing the truth – not being able to snatch the second chance that life has offered her. Her Madhavi had so many layers, and Jayaprada made her believable (and sympathetic) – despite the seeming lack of will that characterised her character. 

The surprise factor was Sarath Babu of whom my cousin once said (after watching him in 'Sattam', a remake of Dostana (1983); he played Shatrughan Sinha’s role) that if someone shot him at point-blank range, he would still have the same expression on his face. Which was none. Not so under K Vishwanath’s able direction. As Raghu, Balu’s friend, who stands by Balu through thick and thin, Sarath Babu brought an honesty and simplicity to his role. He is Balu’s alter ego; his abiding loyalty just makes Balu’s increasing selfishness all the more glaring. It’s a small role, but written well, and fleshed out by the director to the point where we can understand their relationships and their motivations. 

The weakest link, for me, at least was SP Shailaja (SP Balasubramaniam’s sister). She was irritatingly wooden on screen, and made me want, more than once, to get up and smack her silly. And her dances, compared to the grace and fluidity of the film’s heroine, were totally mechanical. Thankfully, she isn’t there for too long. 

K Vishwanath also used Ilaiyaraja to great effect. The music is so seamlessly integrated into the core of the movie and are more than the required ‘three-songs-and-dances’ that are mandatory in films. Coupled with a great background score, the music underlines the emotions of the characters on screen and envelops us with its many different layers.

Photography links the hero and heroine in different ways at different times; the growing friendship and love between Balu and Madhavi is captured in a series of snapshots that Madhavi takes of Balu dancing; the one photograph she takes of them together with a self-timer, she only gets his back; when she leaves with her husband, Balu keeps their photograph with him as a reminder of ‘what was, but will never be again’.

The film is definitely stricken by the ‘curse of the second half’ (I forget where I read that phrase – on bollyviewer’s site? Perhaps. If any of my readers know, please tell me, and I shall promptly credit it. It’s too good not to be poached and reused.) (Fellow blogger bollyviewer tells me that the phrase was coined by Aspi of Aspi's Drift, and brought to the blogging world by Beth, as she explains in the comments to this post of bollyviewer's.)

Because when Madhavi sees Balu again, it is at a temple where Balu is praying for her deergh sumangali-hood. And Raghu warns her that that is the only thing that keeps Balu going – the thought of her being happily married.
So now, Madhavi has to disguise the fact that she is, in fact, a widow; a deceit that leads to many scenes where we are hit on the head with the sanctity of the kumkum. (I warn you!)
Things do tend to get a tad bit melodramatic toward the end, and again, it’s to Kamalahasan’s and Jayaprada’s (and even Sarath Babu’s) credit that they reined it in. Leaving aside the melodrama, which, if it had been avoided would have elevated the film to a timeless classic, Sagara Sangamam is a story that is well-told. In its portrayal of friendship between man and woman, of the purity of love between the same two people, of love that puts the other person first, of the friendship between man and man that gives unconditionally, Sagara Sangamam practices a subtle restraint.

Every relationship, whether between Balu and Madhavi, or between Raghu and Balu, is a natural progression; and they are the better for not being emphasised. If nothing else, watch this film for the incredible dance sequences, especially the one filmed in the kitchen (with kitchen utensils as props), or even the one where he dances on the water pipes across a well.They are filmed beautifully, and even the one song which is ‘commercial’ is there as part of the narrative, and leads to one of the most powerful scenes in the film. Releasing as it did in an age not known for its restraint (the over-the-top eighties) Sagara Sangamam had two leads who knew what subtlety meant, and allowed their expressions and their dances to show their emotions. 
And because so much is expressed between them without dialogues, this is one film where the viewer does not really need sub-titles to understand the nuances. (The DVD does have sub-titles, though they are pretty awful.) This, in my opinion, is  a must-watch.

And because I can’t resist:
Doesn’t she resemble Waheeda in the last shot?


  1. Yay! First one to comment. ;-)

    I am so-so when it comes to Kamal Hasan - I've seen him only in Hindi films, some of which I liked, some of which I didn't. But Jaya Prada is so beautiful, I've loved watching her from the very first time I saw her onscreen. And this sounds like an interesting film... but yes, no matter what, I do need subtitles on my DVD. Let's see if my DVD rental guys have this one.

    P.S. I think Greta was the one who came up with that "curse of the second half" thing.

  2. Yay! Finally a film that I have seen!! :D I saw the Tamil version, Salangai Oli, which is apparently dubbed from this one - not that that makes any difference. Telugu or Tamil, I need subtitles. And every time I watch a film with subtitles, I feel for anybody who has to watch badly subtitled films. This one had subtitles that introduced a lot of un-intentional comedy. :D That small glitch apart, I enjoyed Kamal Hasan's dancing. Can't say the same of his acting - every facial muscle quivering with expression is a bit too much acting for me! Jaya Prada was lovely as usual. Why couldn't the poor woman have acted in a different decade? the 80s were kind to nobody, and she deserved so much better...

    "The curse of the second half" was a phrase coined by Aspi of Aspi's Drift, and brought to the blogging world by Beth, as she explains in the comments to this post of mine.

  3. I have seen this one. It was a big rage in the south and deservedly so.
    I was fully enthralled by the film that time. I liked Kamalhassan and Jayaprada, but I don't know how I'd react to them or the iflm for that matter now.
    A cousin of mine used to watch the films and learn the dances and perform it in front of everybody. And he used to do it real good. I should admit, I used to feel jealous at all the praise he used to get for that! :-)

    BTW, where does the para below belong? I found it somewhat out of place at its present location. Quite possible, that I didn't read properly.

    "As she almost steps on him, a student asks him why he is there – when she doesn’t understand him, he dances it out so she can understand – he knows Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi, Kathakali. He wants to learn Kathak from the guru. (This is a wonderful scene, showing not only Balu’s mastery over the different art forms, but also how art cuts across barriers of language.)"

  4. Madhu, I don't think Hindi films ever gave him his due. To be totally fair, I don't think he was very serious about crossing over either. He held sway over Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam audiences and had some very good films on hand - nothing that the HIndi film industry could have matched (at the time).

    This was dubbed into Tamil and Malayalam; I wonder whether they dubbed it into Hindi?

    It was Greta, was it? I shall credit her in the blog as soon as I finish replying to the comments.

  5. Bollyviewer, Salangai Oli is the dubbed version of this film. I agree about the sub-titles providing unintentional comedy. Sigh. Do you think if I offer to do them, someone will actually take me up on the offer?

    Jaya Prada (to give the version of her name in Hindi films) was unlucky as you say, to have come into Hindi films during the eighties. So was Sridevi, and to some extent Madhuri Dixit. Both Sridevi and Jayaprada had a body of work in Tamil and Telugu (and in Malayalam for the former) that would make any contemporary actress green with envy. However, most of the films the two acted in were remakes of south Indian films, made by south Indian producers / directors... wonder what one can make of that! And this, at a time when there were some wonderful movies being made down south. I can only imagine that they chose the worst of commercial excess to export to Hindi, because the subtle restrained ones would have flopped.

    Thanks for crediting the correct person for the 'curse of the second half' - I knew I had read it on your blog! Madhu thought it might have been Greta. Will credit it in the post.

  6. Harvey, the film has weathered well; I saw it recently and still found myself engrossed in the story.

    The paragraph you quoted comes immediately following "As he takes a completely drunk Balu home, Raghu remembers taking a much younger Balu to a local Kathak master." But I had a comment in parantheses, so I guess this doesn't flow as well as it should. Thanks for pointing that out.

  7. Yay! I've seen this! *dancing around the room with joy* Like bollyviewer I too watched the dubbed Tamil version. I fell in love with Jayaprada then - what a beauty! You're right about the last screen cap - she resembles Waheeda Rehman in that one, but I personally think Jayaprada is more beautiful than Waheeda.

    I *loved* the dances! Especially the one where Jayaprada dances with Kamal Hasan. This was a beautiful movie, even if the second half veered toward melodrama - I'm going to steal 'the curse of the second half'. It's perfect!

  8. *in my best possible so-called south-indian accent*
    achhaji, ab samajh gaya! :-)
    Thank you!

  9. I changed it in the post too, Harvey, thanks to you. :)

  10. Tina, I'm glad you've seen this film, and liked it. It really is a good film - there are precious few films based on classical dance, so it's nice to see a 'good' one.

    Jayaprada was beautiful, wasn't she? I remember gawking at the screen the first time I saw her.

  11. A hero dancing before his dying mother must be a first, singing of course, is quite well-used.

    Would love to see this film, it sounds interesting. Kamalahasan is a good actor, definitely was very watchable before he started swallowing up the entire film. And Jaya Prada is beautiful and a wonderful actress. Yes, she does look like Waheeda Rehman in the last screenshot.

  12. A hero dancing before his dying mother must be a first, singing of course, is quite well-used.

    Banno, in this, his mother has always been supportive of his dancing; in fact, it's her greatest ambition to see her son on stage. And she's supposed to go with them to the National Festival, when she falls ill. So he dances for her. It was a very effective scene.

    I know what you mean about 'swallowing the entire film'; LOL. That's why I mentioned this was before he became Ulaka Nayakan. If you can get your hands on this, do watch it.

  13. Like everyone else (here) who has seen the movie, I too watched the dubbed Tamil version - it came out almost simultaeneously with the Telugu original. 'Salangai Oli' was a wonderful film; I would dare to say it was one of the best of that era, and you're right that it has weathered well.

    Jayaprada - aah, what can I say about her? Many, many adolescent dreams revolved around her. She was such a fantastic actress too. She has also aged well, though she seems to have put on a lot of weight. I ran into her at Chennai airport on my last visit to India.

  14. This was an amazing movie, even if slightly drippy . As you say, it was when Kamal was known for his acting skills, before his movies became "Kamal" films. The music is of course one of Ilayaraja's most popular efforts : but if you understand Telugu, the lyrics are sublime.

    K Vishwanath's USP was the "classic culture" kind of movies. Probably in order of fame/Telugu film lore of the 80s when I first started watching Telugu movies as a kid, his most important would be Sankarabharanam, Swati Mutyam(press erase from your memory and rewatch if you have seen Eeeeeshwar) /Sagara Sangamam, and Saptapadi. He mostly stuck to Jayaprada though : (, who is plastic enough to deserve banning on environmental grounds.

    From one of his Hindi efforts, a favourite Kishore song (and sigh, Jayaprada again, but yes, she looks beautiful despite apparently being styled by Abdul the Tentmaker's colourblind cousin).


  15. AKM, thankfully I understand Telugu and didn't need to rely on sub-titles. Once upon a time, I could also speak it, but that proficiency has fallen off due to disuse. :) I usually liked all of K Vishwanath's films - yes, the thought of Anil Kapoor taking on Kamal's role in Swathi Muthyam made me flinch, but then, I did see Eeshwar much later. Not a patch on the original (and Vijaya Shanti wasn't a patch on Radhika either) but I thought he did a commendable job. If nothing else, Anil had the guts to do roles that other 'heroes' wouldn't have touched with a barge pole. (He has Sridevi to thank for that - she was the one who brought him south Indian film scripts.)

    He mostly stuck to Jayaprada though : (, who is plastic enough to deserve banning on environmental grounds. Nooooooo! She was not plastic - she was a good actress! :(

    Which other film did Vishawanath use Jayaprada in? Shankarabharanam was with Manju bhargavi (though the Hindi remake had Jaya Prada); Swati Muthyam was with Radhika and Saptapadi was with Sabitha. Offhand, I can only remember Siri Siri Muvva (later, Sargam). They remade Saptapadi as Jaag Utha Insaan but that had Sridevi (who was a definite improvement over Sabitha - though the latter could dance!)

  16. My bad, I can't offhand recall anything except Kaamchor/Sargam in Hindi and this movie in Telugu (Sanjog maybe). I guess it stuck she irritated me so much : ) and because he introduced her in Hindi with Sargam.

    And good actress ? Ummmm. So is Aishwarya Rai. And Sonam, too.

    Really. I'm probably merely biased.

  17. Sridhar, I can understand adolescent dreams being fuelled by Jayaprada. :)

  18. AKM, Aishwarya in the same breath as Sonam is heresy too, in my opinion. But Jayaprada in the same category? *Closes eyes in pain.* We'll have to agree to disagree then. LOL.

  19. Although I have not seen this movie, & like Dustedoff unlikely to do so unless it has subtitles, I did like KamalHasan & Tamil music back in the early to mid 80's. I do realize this movie is in Telugu, and there is a Tamil version, and unlike several Bombayites (everyone south of Colaba is a Madrasi & everyone north of Virar is a Punjabi) I appreciate the major differences in the 4 South Indian languages/cultures. Having spent 5 years in an undergraduate institution in Madras (back then it was still Madras and Bombay), I did get to learn several of these differences, some were literally beaten into my head.
    I felt that the Tamil music of the early to mid 80's was much better than its Hindi counterpart, and KamalHasan was certainly good enough to be in the race for the best performance by a lead male actor in Indian films all-time (think Nayagan).
    Incidentally, I also did not mind Rajnikant, and I think his "Billa" is much better than SRK's Don; but obviously AB's Don is the undisputed #1.

  20. Samir, it's interesting that you should say that of Bombayites - I think it's very true of many people north as well. I remember asking one chap who told me that everyone south of the Vindhyas was a 'Madrasi', whether he would like it if I said everyone north of the Vindhyas was 'Punju'. He was affronted. He was a UP brahmin! Sigh.

    The eighties were a wonderful period for both Malayalam and Tamil films definitely. It saw the resurgence of good stories, good scripts, and excellent acting, along with the usual commerical fluff. Kamal Hassan for all his megalomania in recent years, has probably forgotten more about acting than many people have learnt in their lifetime. His body of work is proof. And during the time, even if the films were bad, he never was.

    Rajnikant's Billa was definitely better than Shahrukh's Don. He, in fact, acted in many of the Amitabh films that were remade in Tamil. And if you want to see what an underrated actor he was before he became superstar and known more for his mannerisms, watch a movie called 'Mullum Malarum'.

  21. I saw the Tamil version of this movie and loved every minute of it. The acting was restrained and good, both from Kamal and Jayapradha, the songs good and the dancing excellent - at least, to my eyes! This post began with a description of my favorite scene in the movie, where Kamal demonstrates the same song in the various styles - Bharata Natyam, then in Kathak and Kathakali and as he is doing it, somebody is delivering tea to the office, and Kamal's foot comes in contact with the man and the empty cups go flying in the air and land with a metallic clang! I have watched this scene so many times on Youtube just to watch the expressions on the faces of the people in the scene.
    The only thing I never did understand was the emphasis given to keeping the fact of her widowhood such a big secret, and the thought of her being happily married being the only thing that kept him going. Maybe I should watch it again now, since it has been almost thirty years since I saw the movie - yikes, has it been that long?
    Jayapradha is definitely gorgeous in this movie. I have seen her in another one also where she looked great - 47 naatkal (47 days) - a movie worth watching, as it was based on fact!
    One question nagged me, though - how was Kamal supporting himself during the intervening years? Was he being supported by Sarath Babu? If so, why did he support the alcohol habit? Oh well, I always get these nagging doubts!

  22. The only thing I never did understand was the emphasis given to keeping the fact of her widowhood such a big secret, and the thought of her being happily married being the only thing that kept him going.

    This! I never understood it either when Raghu makes that a big issue - 'Don't go in front of him as a widow!'

    But then I hated that plot point - first of all, the estranged husband shows up, and there's not even a question why he does. Secondly, he comes up with 'I have to get Balu and Madhavi married so I can repent'. Huh? Who is he to get anyone married off? Then, there's all this sanctity of marriage dialogues that Balu spouts - erm, what marriage? And all those years, he's been praying for the two of them?!
    I don't think there was a movie where Jaya looked bad! :) Even with the horrendous fashions of the eighties. *Thinking hard* Except when they put her into those flounces and frills of the eighties western dresses. She looked thoroughly uncomfortable.

    You are stuck on wondering how heroes support themselves, no? :) (I remember you asking that on dustedoff's review of Professor, too.) Well, in this case, he's being supported by Raghu, no? And by the odd jobs that he cadges like writing scathing reviews of upstart new danseuses? :))

  23. Telugu and Tamil movies (atleast of that era) went rather overboard in protecting the sanctity of marriage, even to absurd limits (remember Swathi Muthyam). Maybe a function of the time they were in that they felt the need to do so - repeated references to the 'thali', 'kumkum', 'sacred fire'; contrast that with a Malayalam movie made in the same era (can't recollect the name) where the leading lady hurls the mangalsutra at her husband and says something to the effect of '..ente pattikke venam' or something like that...

    When you watch 'Pranayam', you realize that Jayaprada may have aged but she remains such a graceful and beautiful presence on screen that you understood the predicament of the men on the screen.

    Talking about K Vishwanath, other than 'Sankarabharnam and 'Sapthapadi', I only recollect 'Swathikiranam' as a movie that I cherish.

  24. Laughing at the reference to the reference to the Malayalam films of the same period. Maybe that is why I found it so irritating! I cannot imagine a Malayalam heroine of the time quietly accepting the diktat of the men in her life. She's more likely to kick both of them out! :)

    But we went through a period where our films also began to be regressive - with our heroes (mostly Mohanlal / Jayaram films) slapping the 'arrogant' heroine to bring her back to her senses... strangely enough, I haven't seen that (not very frequently) in a Mammootty film. Hmm...

  25. Coming late to the party? Like the others, I too saw the Tamil version. Funny that should be so, since the Telugu original was around at the same time. Loved it. That was also my first Kamal Hassan movie, and I remember hounding my neighbourhood video-rental guy for more films. It was very difficult to get your hands on south Indian films then, and he would patiently explain to me why he couldn't. :( It wasn't until recently (about two years ago) that I had the chance to watch Moondram Pirai - the man is awesome!

  26. Ruhi, I think the Tamil version did become more popular even though it was dubbed. I can sympathise with you not being able to watch south Indian films; it was so difficult to get Malayalam films in Bangalore. And later, in Bombay, unless you lived in Chembur or Matunga.

    Moondram Pirai was a fantastic film - both Kamal and Sridevi did a wonderful job. It won him the Rajat Kamal that year. It was a shame that Sridevi lost to Smita Patil for Chakra.

  27. Since the 'golden period' has faded, we have largely become regressive in our cinema and not so open to notions contrary to accepted norms of culture. While directors are trying to play safe, the society should also be able to embrace such ideas so that cinema can question such sanctimonious thoughts. Can't imagine a 'Thoovanathumbikal' now where notions of morality are turned on the head. MT once said in an interview that he or any other director cannot make a 'Nirmalyam' now because modern Kerala and India are not liberal enough when compared to the era when it was made.

    Even when heroes did not slap heroines, wasn't it hypocritical that women had to be sorry or suffer even when men were in the wrong or equally responsible (like in 'Mithunam' or surprisingly a new gen movie like 'Cocktail')? It is no wonder that when Ranjini Haridas says that pre-marital sex is acceptable, it becomes a controversy in Kerala - a land that embraced sambandhams at one point of time!!!

  28. Even when heroes did not slap heroines, wasn't it hypocritical that women had to be sorry or suffer even when men were in the wrong or equally responsible

    That, too, I have seen more in the Jayaram and Mohanlal films. My father always used to say that if it was a film starring either of the above, the heroine is a) bound to be slapped or / and b) have to fall at the hero's feet asking for forgiveness.

    Of course, it used to be the case in the Balachandra Menon films of yore. Actresses like Revathi, Shobhana et al left Malayalam because they weren't getting good roles.

    I find not only Kerala, but India too, regressing of late. And the shock is even more because I only visit once a year.

  29. Offline thought - can't open your blog on mobile; the pages are too heavy to load..Think there's an option in Blogspot to also enable the blog for mobile separately - you may want to check that out....

  30. Wondering how our filmi heroes support themselves when they are jobless seems to be a pastime of mine! I myself didn't realize it until you pointed it out, but hubby doesn't like to watch movies with me because I keep pointing out inconsistencies in the plot or continuity gaps - my nitpicking tendency as he calls it!

  31. Pradeep, I have had someone else point out that they cannot read my blog on their mobile phones; I checked out Blogspot, but all they have is an option for me to blog from my mobile, which is not of much help. If you do know how to do this, could you email me at warrierfourteen(in numerals) at gmail dot com? Thanks.

  32. Lalitha, let me introduce you to my husband, please? The two of you will get along very well, point out all the plot holes. And I will sit and watch the movie with your husband, and enjoy it with nary a thought of detail or continuity or plot holes as big as craters. :))

  33. Alright; Blogspot makes it difficult to make the blog accessible to mobile devices; I might have to think seriously about shifting to Wordpress or something, which is a pain, but...

  34. Hi Anu,
    Salangai Oli was what I watched first, and then watched the original in Telugu. Didn't have the tolerance to watch Malayalam being systematically butchered in the Malayalam-dubbed version. Have always been a sucker for K Vishwanath, Kamal Haasan and Jayaprada ( in any order you like :) ), so Salangai Oli wasn't any different in that sense. Never put that under my Long-Ruminations-Microscope ever, can't seem to figure why. Maybe it was Jayaprada. About your Dad's observation on Jayaram/Mohalal movies, that's spot on ! As Pradeep mentioned, that final scenes of Midhunam so smacks of sexism that its almost disgusting. .( a movie that I love). Also, I hope you would have recalled at some point, the by-the-numbers rip-off that was adapted to another so-called classic in Malayalam cinema, Kamaladalam. The drunk and dancing Mohanlal and the sobbing Monisha ..I almost wished kamal haasan was in its preview show chuckling to himself. Lovely writeup, as usual. Switches on the Nostalgia generator without a hitch :).

    On that WordPress migration, WordPress has a single click option to import your entire blog to its platform, but you would have to go around, twaeking each post. You can even set it up for those exact dates even. Please migrate. Oh Phuleeeeze :)

  35. Oh, my God! I watched the Malayalam version recently, and nearly died of shock.

    D'you know, I hated Mithunam because the last scenes ruined it for me? Someone gave it to me to watch because they said I would relate to it, and I'm sitting there halfway through the movie and say, 'huh, what?!'

    Kamal would have dug his own grave if he had the time and the patience (not to speak of the inclination) to see most of his remakes. :) That man has forgotten more about acting (and cinema, in general) than most people will ever learn in many lifetimes. I admire him, though I wish he would tone down the megalomania a bit. I suppose every great actor has to have a flaw.

    Why the Wordpress push? :) Is it really better? I keep thinking I should, but then it's a pain changing urls and then waiting for the readership to build again...

  36. Not sure whether you received my mail but am able to access the blog on my mobile now even though the loading takes time..A simpler template for mobile only may work..Nevertheless, could not post any comments through the mobile - system would just not allow me to do so.

  37. I did receive your email, but had no way of replying to it. :) It's funny that you should be able to load my blog on your mobile now - I don't think I did anything even though I mucked around with the template a bit. I'm glad it works though.

  38. Jayaprada is one of those rare breed of actress who is a perfect combination of acting talent, dancing skills, beauty and grace...

  39. Absolutely agree with that estimation. :) She was incredible.
    Unfortunately, she came in the eighties when there weren't many good
    roles for heroines.

  40. Hi, my post on this thread will seem to be out of the length and breadth of the intended time span, but couldn't hold back 'cos this is about a movie that I love dearly. 
    I do not understand the language as I am from Calcutta, but strictly speaking, I never felt that this movie needed sub-titles. All credit goes to every artiste associated with this awesome movie.
    Watched Sagara Sangamam for the first time when I was a kid in school and when the National Award winning movies were shown on Doordarshan, Sunday afternoons. My family could not believe why I was so enthralled but I could only explain to them that I was watching masters at work, and true art never heeded to any language barrier.

    Kamal Hassan is an institution in himself - but I share similar sentiments with others in the thread regarding Jaya Prada, she should have been present in this decade as an actress, so that we all could do justice to her talent and capabilities as an actress and a dancer (one of the most nimble footed that I have seen). The 80s were probably not the correct time for her. And how beautiful she was! Absolutely bewitching ...

  41.  Sangita, welcome to my blog. I'm so glad you enjoyed this film, thus underlining the fact that the language of cinema (and the arts) needs no translation. For that matter, I watch Bengali movies the way you watch south Indian ones. :) What little Bengali I have picked up comes from having watched the region's films. And like you, I thank DD for exposing me to cinema from all over India. It is interesting, you know, that my grandfather who knew Malayalam and English and no other language, would patiently sit through Assamese and Oriya and Marathi and Bengali films if it caught his interest. What is more, he and I would actually have a discussion about what he had seen, and he had some really interesting observations to make about them.

    It goes without saying that I agree with your estimations of both Kamal and Jayaprada.

    Thank you for commenting.

  42. Any film which attempts to truly address a real social issue in true form, does leave the viewers feeling quite differently than what the director would have envisaged. That is because, the social issues are so complex that each one has one's own individual interpretation, on the basis of one's own experiences, or lack of it.
    Kamala Hasan is known to gamely give expression to such complex human emotions.
    Anuji has been able to give quite a thorough perspective of the story line and emotions entwined therewith. However, the nuances of the film may be realized by some one who belongs that language. I wish I belonged there.

  43.  Of course it is better to know the language; you don't miss the nuances of the dialogue that way. In the absence of that knowledge, what do we do? Absorb as much as we can from what is shown on screen; finally, a good actor should be able to express what he feels without dialogue. It's a compromise, I know, but I'd much rather be able to watch films in different languages and miss its nuances than not watch them at all. :)

  44. Thanks Anu. I didn't expect any response since this thread was up some time ago ... but, I am mightily glad that I did.
    Wrt Ashok's post just above, I also have this niggling feeling sometimes, that had I known the language probably I would have understood the nuances better. But again, on the flipside, as you rightly mentioned, great artistes often help the viewers transcend that chasm with subtle yet superb portrayals. And this is what lifts Sagara Sangamam to such a height. Keeping aside the inconsistencies that could have probably been controlled, the beauty of the film lies in its depiction of human relations and reactions, and how helpless we are in front of our hearts. And how love is not only about receiving, but also about giving without thinking and effortlessly . Like 'The Gift of the Magi'.
    Another good thing about th movie was the music and dance which helped people from all across to connect. ALmost makes me feel sad that I have not learnt to dance or sing  ... :(
    Am glad I found your blog where there is a mature discussion regarding the movie - it has really been a pleasure to read all the comments.
    And a small token of appreciation - 

  45.  Thank you, Sangita. As you may have guessed, I love the movies, so it is nice to write about them and initiate a discussion about the film. Like you, I have never learnt to dance (I did learn classical Carnatic vocals for eight years), and am in absolute awe of the grace and mastery that the leads showed! This is one of my favourite movies, as much for the focus on relationships as for the songs and dances which pulled the narrative along. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  46. You are welcome. 

    What would you say Anu is the takeaway from this film?

  47. That there is a love that, despite everything, only wants the best for the person who is loved. Is it realistic? No. Is it even for the best? I don't think so. But there is a selflessness about it that makes it endearing. 

  48. And that love transcends all barriers - giving birth to relations that we can only feel, breathe in an d endure, and not even give a name to it ... and not quantify it 

  49.  I'm not much for martyrdom. I didn't see why Balu had to insist on Madhavi remaining married to a man who had deserted her; why that man thought he had the right to 'give' his wife away to another, or why she even agrees to being with her 'husband' when he has never been there for her *and* she is in love with Balu. Or even why she had to remain 'married'. I mean, natural progression says that sometimes a chap can die, right? In the natural order of things, she could be widowed and still his friend? They irk me, these regressive attitudes.

    But, despite all that, I still liked the movie and that is because both Kamal and Jayaprada made me believe in such a relationship.

  50. I agree. But since I couldn't follow all the dialogues (unfortunately), I really wanted to understand what Balu's friend told Madhavi in the temple, when she wanted to meet him? I mean, what explanation was being given to her to not come in front of him as a widow?
    Also, initially, when the truth came out that Madhavi was indeed married - why did Balu choose to act as a martyr (as you rightfully mentioned - see, Madhavi wasn't the type of woman who would play around if her emotions and fool people - I see her that way at least. 

    Regressive indeed. In fact, today morning, I was having a debate with one of my friends that for India to grow culturally, there is no need for women to probably own Sita and Draupadi. They were women who were powerful in their own might and right, and were probably way ahead of the men they were with. Also, in Vedic times, men and women lived in an egalitarian society - its the systematic destruction of moral issues and values, over the ages that has badly skewed the scale of balance. 

  51.  The scene in the temple is where Raghu tells Madhavi that Balu goes to the temple every day to pray for her deergh sumangali-hood. And so, if he learns she is a widow, it will shatter him.

    Secondly, it bothered me that no one, neither her husband nor Balu ever bother to ask Madhavi what she wanted. She is like a sacrificial lamb. Bow her head and agree to her life being decided for her.

    Also, in Vedic times, men and women lived in an egalitarian society

    Ah, but you are wrong there - male-female equality took a beating during the Vedic age; that was when patriarchy raised its head. Until then, women had had a very high role at home and in society. Along with the vedas came the idea that the man is the head of the household and that a woman is dependent on him. That was when they based a woman's role on what that idiot Manu had to say:

    Pitah rakshati kaumare
    Pati rakshati youvanne
    Putro rakshati vardhakye
    Na stree swatantram arhate

  52. Oh great, now I have muddled up the ages.
    Yes, Manusmrita and the Ignoble Uprising - things that led to a downfall in women's position all across.
    No wonder even at those times, there were people who thought that the result of the power struggle should go in favour of men.

    One more thing - what did Balu tell Madhavi at the hospital when she comes to meet him, as a widow?

    BTW I feel, that that was the sorest point in the entire movie - leaving Madhavi out of the decisions to decide her own life. Or maybe, the Director didn't wan to risk showing a progressive woman who decided on her own - frankly, at that point, I neither liked Balu nor her husband. Typical male.

  53. Sangita, I don't seem to be able to reply to you downthread, so I'm writing it here: Balu has already discovered that Madhavi is a widow (he's seen the shraddh being performed); when he lands in hospital, it is Raghu who tells him just why she keeps up the pretence - to bring him back to the man he once was, to allow his greatness as an artiste to blossom once again.

    So when she comes to visit him in the hospital, and all pretence is at end, he tells her not to worry - his art will live on after he dies - through her daughter, Shailaja.

  54. Okay this helps ... thanks. I really wanted to know.
    Another scene which you could help me with - is the one with Balu and Madhavi in temple-like place, after Balu discovers about her husband.

  55. I'll have to see the film again, I think. :) No, I don't remember offhand. Sometime later, perhaps, Sangita.

  56. Sure Anu, when you get some time. 

  57. Just went through the shloka once again.
    Shaking my head in disgust 

  58. Sangita, replying to you here since the silly Disqus won't allow me to reply to you in the same thread. 

    Just went through the shloka once again. Shaking my head in disgust

    You and me, both. It made me want to pull this Manu out from whichever yuga he had hidden himself in, and knock some sense into his silly head!


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