Andha Naal (1954)

Last week, chatting with a group of friends (equally mad about old cinema) on Facebook, I was stumped by a quiz question posted by one of them. Which was the first Indian language feature film to be made without any songs? Most of us who attempted to answer that question could only think of Hindi films, and the earliest Hindi non-songs film we came up with was Kanoon (1960). That wasn’t the answer—the correct answer was the Tamil film Andha Naal (That Day), made six years before Kanoon, and (like Kanoon) blending suspense—in the form of a murder mystery—with weighty issues about society and politics.

[Edited to add: According to blog reader and blogger AK, of Songs of Yore, the correct answer to that question is actually the 1937 Wadia Movietone film Naujawan].

Andha Naal, the first Indian language film with no songs

That quiz question made me remember that I had Andha Naal sitting in my to-watch pile of DVDs, and it was all the impetus I needed to finally get around to watching this film.

Directed by S Balachander, Andha Naal begins with a voiceover, the gist of which is that the story is set in 1943. It is night, and Chennai [yes, it’s actually referred to as Chennai, rather than as Madras] is being bombed by the Japanese.

The actual action in the film starts off very dramatically: a man (Sivaji Ganesan), looking straight into the camera, stumbles at the sound of a gunshot. He looks shocked, surprised—and falls to the ground, dead. His murderer (whom we do not see) flings the revolver down next to the dead man’s feet. The camera zooms out, to show the corpse lying on the carpeted floor of a posh-looking home.

A man falls dead
We next see a short, balding little man (PD Sambandam) race down a flight of stairs and run onto the road outside, looking terrified. He is soon stopped by a passing police patrol, and Inspector Naidu (?) asks him what the matter is. It emerges that the man is named Chinnaiah, and that he is running to the police station to report a crime—the murder of his neighbour, a radio engineer named Rajan.

Chinnaiah runs into Inspector Naidu
Chinnaiah realises, now that he’s calmed down [only slightly] that he is, after all, talking to a cop, so he takes Inspector Naidu and the jeepload of constables to Rajan’s bungalow, to show them the body. It’s on the first floor of Rajan’s house.

Naidu makes a quick round of the place, all the while getting one of his men to note down the inspector’s observations: there’s a large, open [and, significantly, empty] box (which looks rather like a safe) in one wall of the room. There’s a generator nearby, and on the table is a suitcase full of clothes and bundles of currency notes. Near the table lies the corpse, and beside the corpse’s foot is a revolver.

Naidu and Chinnaiah enter the room where Rajan lies dead
Chinnaiah, who had been sent off by Naidu to find the other members of the household, enters to say that they’ve gathered downstairs and are waiting for the inspector. Naidu instructs one of his men to get things under way—take photographs, send the body for a post-mortem, etc—and follows Chinnaiah outside, to where the other members of Rajan’s household are waiting.

Chinnaiah talks to Inspector Naidu
These include Rajan’s tearful widow Usha (Pandari Bai); his younger brother Pattabi (TK Balachandran), Pattabi’s shrewish wife Hema (Menaka), and Pattabi and Hema’s little son (? A cute little fellow, who I wish had more screen time).

Pattabi and Hema's little son
Not much comes of this interaction. Usha is weepy (and it emerges, also childless—Naidu initially thinks the little boy is her son, but that is clarified).

Usha, Rajan's widow
She appears to be the only one really disturbed by Rajan’s death. Pattabi and Hema don’t seem too perturbed that Rajan has been murdered.

Pattabi and Hema talk to Naidu
Naidu, after a while, returns to the scene of the crime—only to discover that the revolver has disappeared!
[Which, as it turns out, is just a brief ‘huh?’ moment, since it allows us to be introduced to a new character, the detective, who now emerges from behind a drawn curtain. Why his trousers look as if he’s preparing for the floods is anybody’s guess].

Shivanandam puts in an appearance
The detective—CID officer Shivanandam (Jawar N Sitaraman, who, besides having written the screenplay of Andha Naal, was the writer of some popular Hindi films, including Bhai-Bhai, Do Kaliyaan, Suraj, and Aadmi)—has come in response to the murder’s being reported. While Naidu’s been talking to Rajan’s family, Shivanandam has been looking around the room, and at Rajan’s corpse. He’s picked up the revolver, and has discovered that there aren’t any fingerprints on it. The murderer, obviously, is no fool.

Shivanandam shows Naidu the revolver
The two police officers discuss matters on their own; Shivanandam gives Naidu instructions to obtain the fingerprints of everybody present.
On their way out, they come across Chinnaiah, and decide to have a chat with him. Chinnaiah is willing, and has his own theory about who did Rajan in.

Chinnaiah shares his testimony
You see, says Chinnaiah, I was passing by the boundary wall between the two houses the other day, and in their garage, I witnessed an altercation between Rajan and Pattabi.

Chinnaiah goes on to elaborate. It seems the two brothers were quarrelling over the division of their inheritance. Rajan had appropriated all the wealth after the death of their father, and even though Pattabi had been demanding his share, Rajan hadn’t done anything about it. Now Pattabi had reached the end of his tether, and in a fit of rage, threatened to kill Rajan if Rajan didn’t hand over Pattabi’s rightful share of the money.

A quarrel in a garage
Chinnaiah now proceeds to give his version of how Pattabi might have murdered Rajan. Even the cops have seen that Rajan’s suitcase was packed, with his clothes and lots of money. Rajan, seeing Japanese bombs begin to rain down on Chennai, must have decided that this was the time to flee—with the money, including Pattabi’s share. And Pattabi, suddenly entering the room and realizing what was happening, must have tried to stop him and demand his money…

What may have happened
…and, in the process, pulled a gun on Rajan and shot him.

There, case solved. At least as far as Chinnaiah is concerned.

Shivanandam and Naidu, however, are more circumspect. They collar Pattabi and confront him with the eye witness’s account of the quarrel in the garage. Pattabi does not deny it; yes, there had been such a quarrel. But he had never really meant what he said; it was said in the heat of the moment.
Instead [and this may come as a surprise to those who think families should stick by each other], Pattabi has his own ideas about who killed Rajan: Pattabi’s own wife, Hema.

The cops question Pattabi
Hema, says Pattabi, is very hot-headed. Following the quarrel in the garage, one day at the dining table, Hema confronted Rajan and accused him of trying to cheat Pattabi. Rajan had arrived early for the meal, so Hema—serving him his thali—was the only one around; neither of them knew that Pattabi, in the next room, could hear their conversation.

Hema confronts Rajan
Hema lost her temper, and told Rajan that she would do anything to ensure that her little son wasn’t cheated out of a bright future because of an avaricious uncle. Rajan’s reaction was that of the proverbial duck with water on its back: Hema’s rant poured right off, leaving him seemingly unaffected.

Hema loses her temper
Pattabi now presents his theory to Shivanandam and Naidu: Hema must have come into the room while Rajan was busy packing up to leave Chennai after the bombing. She must have realized that Rajan was going to decamp with all the money, and in a fit of anger, she must have killed Rajan. That’s what must have happened. [What a fine, upstanding citizen Pattabi is. Not a very loyal husband, but still].

What may have happened
So Shivanandam and Naidu go off to question Hema. And, while she agrees that she did get very angry at Rajan at the dining table, she denies that she killed him. In fact [and why does this come as no surprise?] she is certain she knows who did.

Hema tells the two police officers that four days earlier, she had been out, walking past a park, when she saw Rajan in the park with a woman. Hema was curious and stopped close enough to overhear their conversation. From it, she gathered that the woman’s name was Ambujam (Suryakala), a dancer—and [horrors!] Rajan’s pregnant mistress.

Rajan with Ambujam
Hema overheard Ambujam arguing with Rajan, begging him to make an honest woman of her by marrying her before her baby’s birth—but Rajan, other than a weak “Do you think I will desert you?”, did not show any inclination to accede to Ambujam’s wishes. Finally, angry at his obvious reluctance, a desperate Ambujam gave Rajan an ultimatum: three days, that was all the time she’d give him. Marry her within three days, or else.

That, thinks Hema, is why Rajan was killed—by Ambujam. Ambujam must have come to the house that morning, once the three days were over [Shivanandam interrupts to ask how an outsider could have entered the house without anyone else knowing, but Hema has no answer to that]. Ambujam must have discovered that Rajan was planning to leave Chennai, and in her desperation—and her anger at Rajan’s desertion—she must have murdered him.

What may have happened
Which basically means that Rajan could’ve been just as easily killed by Pattabi, by Hema, by Ambujam—and someone else? Everybody has their own idea of who would’ve had a motive for killing Rajan, and everybody has their own version of what would have happened. But who, actually, killed Rajan—and why?

Rajan is killed - but by whom?
I’d begun watching Andha Naal with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I’d read good things about it: it had won a certificate as the 2nd Best Tamil Film at the National Awards; IBN Live had listed it on their 100 Greatest Indian films, and it had been highly acclaimed, both by critics and by the public.

On the other hand, I’d read that it was inspired by Kurosawa’s classic Rashomon (1950). From previous experience, I’ve seen that films inspired by (no matter to what extent) earlier, landmark, works end up being poor copies of the original.

Fortunately, Andha Naal—while it may employ the Rashomon Effect to some degree—is by no means a copy of Kurosawa’s film. It is, in fact, very different film. The setting and the plot are completely different. And (unlike in Rashomon, where different people who were present at a death give their own version of what happened), here it’s people surmising about what happened, even though they were not present. Chinnaiah, Pattabi, Hema, et al, were not [if you go by their testimonies] present when Rajan died. All they are giving Shivanandam is their own theories of what happened, based upon incidents which they had earlier witnessed. They are only guessing, not recounting what really happened on the night of Rajan’s death.

What I liked about this film:

The suspense in the first half. It’s fast-paced, and the twists and turns are very interesting: the film seems to be headed one way, then suddenly changes tack and goes off down another path, with one motive after another, one suspect after another, coming into the limelight. The fact that there aren’t any songs to dilute the pace and feel of the film adds to the experience.

The cinematography, by Maruthi Rao. The lighting and the angles are dramatic, the extreme close-ups very effective.

A still from Andha Naal
Sivaji Ganesan in Andha Naal
Incidentally, another small detail that I liked was the repeated death scene of Rajan. For each person who comes up with a theory about how and why Rajan was killed, the theory is acted out in what would amount to a sort of ‘noir dream sequence’—and in each sequence, the focus in the final frames is on Rajan, the surprise in his face as the bullet hits him and he crumples over, dead. It’s a memorable set of frames, even seen again and again—because it’s well filmed and well acted, and because till the end, you don’t know which of them was the actual death scene. Or even if it was one of them.

What I didn’t like:

The acting of some of the cast. While Sivaji Ganesan and Pandari Bai are mostly good, some of the others—especially TK Balachandran and Menaka—overact to the extent of being laughable. Even when it comes to Sivaji Ganesan and Pandari Bai, their acting is somewhat spotty: restrained in most places, but going over the edge and into the realm of hammy at times.

The second half of the film, which is given over to some very long and boring speeches (I will not say about what, since that might constitute a spoiler). It’s apparent that these speeches are here to firmly and without any room for doubt establish a plausible reason for Rajan’s death. The result, sadly, is that the speeches are far too protracted (which makes them a little unconvincing, thus defeating the purpose). Plus, they dilute the taut, fast-paced feel of the earlier half of the film.

The plot holes, regarding the murder itself. For example: with that much happening—shouting, much noise, etc—how could the other people present in the house (even if they had been downstairs) not have suspected something was happening? And how was it that a gunshot—heard by Chinnaiah in the next house—wasn’t heard by the members of Rajan’s household?

Still, Andha Naal is a decent suspense drama, and worth a watch if you like to see noir in different forms and languages.

Little bit of trivia:

While the film is songless (and mostly with no background music either), the instrumental versions of two popular Hindi film songs—Yeh zindagi usi ki hai and Chup-chup khade ho zaroor koi baat hai—can be heard in two scenes where Rajan and Ambujam meet.

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86 thoughts on “Andha Naal (1954)

    • Since a quick glance below has shown me that pacifist has tried to solve this crime, I’ll provide the ending below her comment. In the meantime, though, because you asked for the spoiler (I assume you mean the one I mentioned as being among the things I didn’t like), here we go:

      Spoiler:

      There is a long flashback involving how Usha and Rajan first met, at a debate in college. There are very long, very boring speeches here, with a fiery Rajan supporting government (obviously, the British Raj back then) scholarships – since he is on one – and Usha, on the other hand, being equally fiery as a patriotic Indian and trying to incite her fellow students to say yes to swaraj, no to Raj-sponsored scholarships.

      Spoiler over.

      (This actually is closely related to why Rajan was killed, so it would be a spoiler – but it was just too long-winded for my liking).

  1. Ah. Wonderful review. I feel like watching Andha Naal RIGHT NOW.

    :)

    I have not, I think, watched ANY Sivaji Ganesan movie. Several Gemini Ganesan ones, but SG no. Hence that is one more reason to watch this.

    • I’d never watched a Sivaji Ganesan film before this one either, Ava – though I had seen a few clips from his first major hit film, Parasakthi, when I was trying to find screenshots for my blog header for 100 Years of Indian Cinema.

      Have never seen a Gemini Ganesan film, not even Miss Mary. :-(

        • You know, I’ve been trying to remember whether I ever saw any of those Sunday afternoon films, and I’m drawing a complete blank. Were they dubbed/subtitled? If they were, I can’t imagine why I never watched any of them.

          • They were sub-titled, Madhu. My grandfather, who knew no other languages other than Malayalam and English, would watch films in Assamese, Oriya, Marathi, Bengali, Tamil, Kannada and Telugu with great interest, painstakingly reading the sub-titles. And he was very perspicacious in his comments too. We had some fine discussions about those films later.

            • Oh, hell. :-( I wish I’d known. I’d have certainly watched them. We used to watch a lot of the foreign films that used to be shown late at night – I remember seeing some fabulous Korean and Chinese films – but we never watched any of the regional films. Feeling so regretful about that…

              • Yo know Madhu, I have watched several regional films without subtitles, it is a little tough but I found that I sort of got the gist of it and sometimes even enjoyed the films. One of them was the South Indian version of the Amitabh and Mala Sinha starrer Sanjog. I guess it was Tamil as it starred Gemini Ganesan. Ok I confess I had the advantage of already having heard the story of Sanjog from my mum. Few minutes into the film and I realized it was the original version of Sanjog. Much later I saw Sanjog and although I had not been able to understand the dialogues, I found the South Indian version a shade better than the Hindi one.

                • I guess some people are able to appreciate films even without really understanding the language completely – look at Greta, she’s managed to review several Hindi films she’s watched without subtitles, even if she isn’t able to grasp all the Hindi that’s being spoken.

                  For me, I find it very frustrating to watch something I cannot understand. Plus, I’m very devoted to detail. I don’t want to miss a single facet (even if the film is bad or boring). So, I never fast-forward or wander off to do other things. It just somehow seems to me that I can do justice to a film (and review it more accurately) if I have seen and (as far as is possible) understood every bit of it.

  2. Lovely review as usual, Madhu. :-)

    Haven’t seen this movie – I have heard of it though.

    Overacting is a given in Tamil movies. I think it’s reduced over the years – old movies would often be insufferable just for this reason. Sivaji himself was often considered master at overacting. :-) Apparently that’s what Tamil producers/directors thought their audience wanted. So if an actor just delivered his dialogues, it wasn’t enough. It had to do be theatrical, loud – and it had to have all sorts of facial contortions. :-)

    If you see Hindi films produced by Tamil producers, you will notice the same thing. Actors acting normally in other movies would go OTT in Tamil producers’ movies. :-)

    Btw, Chennai was Chennai for Tamilians, long before its name was officially changed in English. That is why when the name change happened, I wasn’t one bit surprised. It’s like if Delhi is changed to Dilli. :-)

    • “If you see Hindi films produced by Tamil producers, you will notice the same thing.

      I did think the same thing! Andha Naal is an AVM production, and even though the genre was very different from the ‘usual’ family-social drama films AVM and other Tamil-produced Hindi films, that slightly overdone acting reminded me of countless Nutan-Sunil Dutt films from the late 60s. Highly emotional, to the point of being embarrassing. :-D

      I did know that Chennai was the old name for the city, but hadn’t realised it was in common use even while it was being officially called Madras. I guess I was labouring under that delusion because most of the (admittedly very few) Tamilians I know still staunchly call the city Madras, adding, “I can’t call it anything but that. I’ve always called it Madras.”

      A bit like a lot of Bengalis referring to Kolkata as ‘Cal’ even now.

    • True, over acting was a must in Tamil movies those days. It was mandatory as the Tamil audience were used to it. Yet when it comes to National Award winning performances, our actors outnumber artists of other regional cinema (including Bengali, Malayalam, Kannada and Marathi) in some categories. Don’t label me a Tamil jingoist, but I have to say this here :)

  3. Thanks for the lovely review, Madhu. Andha Naal was, I think, a ‘different’ sort of film for that age. Agree about the plot holes, but the film was nevertheless engrossing enough. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    Sivaji Ganesan’s roots are in theatre, so you see that effect in his films too. :) (But he was capable of very restrained performances when necessary – Muthal Mariyathi, Oru Yaatramozhi, Thevar magan….) Besides, as Raja said, that was what (they thought) the audiences demanded, so that is what they gave them. Also, Tamil films, in particular, used their films for social commentary, to bring the message to the masses, so to speak, and therefore, you will find long speeches being declaimed. They were almost mandatory, especially in MGR’s films. Malayalam films suffered from the same theatricality (though not to the extent that Tamil did) until Sathyan entered the scene.

    • Thank you, Anu – glad you liked the review. And, despite the plot holes and the often theatrical acting, I did enjoy the film!

      I hadn’t known Sivaji Ganesan had his roots in theatre. (I must admit, though, that he was one of the people whom I found least theatrical in this – the others beat him to it!) Interestingly, when I was watching Andha Naal, I was reminded of a Kathakali performance I attended when I was in Kochi recently. It began with a brief introduction to the art form, and one performer enacted the navrasas. All of them were unmistakably the emotion they were supposed to portray, and so very OTT that they couldn’t be mistaken for anything else.

      Watching some of the scenes in this film reminded me of that performance. ;-)

      • You are right about Kathakali performances literally personifying emotions. It is meant to; with the mask and costume, you really aren’t going to figure out subtlety anyway. :)

        I meant to say another thing, though – you mentioned how the film was inspired by Rashomon; it also took its inspiration from Five Angles on Murder.

        • I remember it being mentioned on the wikipedia page for Andha Naal that it was also inspired from Five Angles on Murder. I haven’t seen that one (have you?), but had seen Rashomon, so wasn’t really confident about mentioning Five Angles on Murder – Wikipedia isn’t exactly the most reliable of sources, sadly.

          • I did, Madhu. Only, when I watched it, it was titled ‘A Woman in Question’. Much later, I picked up Five Angles on Murder, not knowing it was the same film. :) About a minute or so into the film, there is this sense of déjà vu. :)

            It is similar in the sense that a woman is murdered, and there are five viewpoints on how the murder was committed, all contradicting each other. I don’t know whether javar Seetharaman was inspired by either, frankly. I remember reading an interview in an old Tamil film magazine where he had said (okay, I read this when I was in junior college, so excuse me for paraphrasing from memory) that he was inspired by the fable of the blind men and the elephant. The truth, as always, probably lies somewhere in between.

            • A Woman in Question/Five Angles on Murder sounds very interesting. I must look out for it.

              Shivanandam does refer – at length – to that fable of the blind men and the elephant, so Sitaraman may have had a point there, but I agree that the chances of him being influenced by both the fable as well as the Hollywood film seem high.

  4. Sounds really interesting. I found a very good print on youtube but without subtitles. So like bawa I’d like to know the suspense – can’t stand it :-/

    But I’d like to make a guess.

    ****possible spoiler***
    Is it the wife Pandari Bai? She may have come to know about the mistress who’s also pregnant, and SG is running away with the family’s wealth depriving everyone and so Pandari Bai does a good tun for everyone including the little boy on whom she dotes.
    The very people mentioned as suspects by anyone – have to be ruled out. :-D LOL

    I love guessing endings of such films. But do tell those who’d like to know the ending who killed him.

    • **spoiler (maybe) continued***

      What I meant was, that PB perhaps came to know that the three days are over and the decision SG has made is to take all the wealth and go away with his pregnant mistress – maybe marry her or whatever,

        • Yes, I think I will explain it. :-) After all, bawa wanted to know what happened, too…

          Major spoilers ahead:

          Usha did come to know that Rajan had been having an affair with Ambujam, but that was not the main reason. Worse (considering she was a patriot), she realised that Rajan – being a radio engineer, and having made frequent trips to Japan on so-called business – was now in cahoots with the Japanese armed forces. He was in communication with them for the bombing of Chennai. and was going to escape to Japan, taking with him photos of Indian dams and other major infrastructure that they could target. This shook her up, and when she tried to stop him – with very long speeches – he refused to listen. There was a tussle, and the gun went off, killing Rajan.

          Spoiler over

          pacifist, I am very impressed with you. Have you ever thought of an alternate career as a detective? :-D

          • >Have you ever thought of an alternate career as a detective? :-D

            LOL. Actually I am very impressed with my armchair detectivity (?) :-D

              • :-D
                I’d like to be Mycroft who was described by Sherlock as;
                “If the art of the detective began and ended in reasoning from an arm-chair, my brother would be the greatest criminal agent that ever lived.”
                LOL

                • Come, come. You don’t want to be a criminal agent, do you, pacifist? (Especially not when you’re using such an innocuous name – ‘pacifist’ is not exactly the sort of name I’d expect from a Napoleon of crime) :-D

                • LOL!!
                  My ID pacifist is a remanent of the Iraq war days, commenting on anti war blogs. :-)
                  But the ID fits like a glove here. Mycroft was the original arm chair detective who could reason out answers which proved correct, and Sherlock was extremely critical of him for not exerting himself and going after criminals since he was so good at it. He called him a crime agent for that – a passive crime agent. :-)

                  • I guessed it was the wife, but for entirely the wrong reasons! So doesn’t count as good detection skills…..I had it down to the love triangle. Have to give points to the director to coming up for an innovative alternative explanation. And would justify the murder more I guess.

                    • Yes, I guessed (as you can see by my reply to your other comment, above) that you guessed who it was. Considering I hadn’t mentioned the patriotism angle in my review, you couldn’t have been expected to know about that.

                    • Bawa – I would like to be like Mycroft. Never said I was one. But yes I do feel satisfied with my armchair skills as I get it right more often than not. :-)

  5. Thanks to Raja I got the answer to the question that first crossed my mind, Madras being called Chennai, I did not know the locals called Madras, Chennai. Like the others I too would like to know the end and my mind was also moving in the same direction as Pacifist.— Shilpi

  6. Lovely review Madhu and thanks for the warning!
    The director knew his handiwork! Seems to be engrossing film, but if anything can harm a thriller is long winding, dramatic (OTT) speeches (on social evils?) and listening to them with subtitles can be very tedious.
    So hands off for me.

    • Long speeches in suspense films, whether or not they’re subtitled or you can understand the spoken dialogue, are irritating, period! Actually, if they’d trimmed those speeches by about half, and if the acting had been a little less theatrical in places, this would’ve been a truly great suspense film. As such, it ends up being enjoyable, and entertaining – but not fantastic.

  7. Wikipedia confirmed my hunch, the director Balachander was none other than the classical Veena maestro of the same name. Incidentally, for all those clamouring for spoilers, Wiki has them in plenty.

    • “Incidentally, for all those clamouring for spoilers, Wiki has them in plenty.”

      Yes, one reason why I never look at the Wikipedia entry for a movie or book until I’ve finished reading/watching it. There’s not even any warning that there’s a spoiler coming up.

      I’d no idea S Balachander was also a veena maestro. Thank you for adding to my knowledge!

      • > I’d no idea S Balachander was also a veena maestro.

        Umm, he was more than that. He was certainly the most prominent veena exponents of the last century, certainly as iconic of the instrument as Ravi Shankar was of the Sitar. I mean, just try to imagine someone of the stature of Ravi Shankar or Bhimsen Joshi carving out a successful acting career, directing spy thrillers, then chucking it all up to dedicate themselves solely to classical music, and pursuing this new vocation with such sincerity as to reach the rarefied heights they did reach. Leaves me staggered every time I think of it.

        Oh, and in his teens he was an Asia-level chess champion too. Go figure!

        • Ah. We live and learn. Very interesting. He sounds rather like one of those Renaissance greats – a da Vinci or a Michelangelo, for example – excelling in different fields, several not even vaguely related to each other.

  8. Madhu,
    Lovely review. I refer to the quiz you started with – the first songless film. It is well documented – Naujawan (1937), made by Wadia Movietone, is supposed to be the first talkie film without songs. When it was premiered in Jubilee Cinema in Delhi, the audience went on a rampage, “Wadia ne loot liya“. A trailer had to be added explaining the reasons why there was no song in the film. The next songless film in Hindi is KA Abbas’s Munna (1954). (Source: “Hindi Film Song: Music Beyond Boundaries” by Ashok De Ranade. Also, “Hindi Film Geet Kosh”.)

    • Ah, thank you, AK! I hope Raja (who was the one who had initially posed the question) reads your comment. I didn’t know the answer to that question, either, so assumed that the answer I was given – Andha Naal – was the correct one. I will go off and edit my post to give the correct information there. Thanks.

      • Oh, I just picked up my info from wiki. And we know that wiki entries are not always accurate. Sorry for misleading you, Madhu.

        Well, at least now we know what the right answer to that quiz question is. :-) Thanks, AK!

  9. Great review, Madhu! I promptly went to Youtube, found the movie, but was able to watch only the first segment out of 14! Give me a couple of months and I may be able to finish viewing the whole movie, at this rate. In any case, it is more fun to read your review and the comments therein. Incidentally, as so many others have already pointed out, SG came to the movies from the stage, so he does come off as theatrical, especially in his earlier movies (spoken by someone who didn’t even start watching Tamil movies until she finished high school!).

    • Thank you, Lalitha!

      Oh, come, come. I’m sure you’ll be able to finish watching the film soon – provided you don’t find it terribly boring. ;-) But I guess you must be busy, too, so I can understand. And, anyway, my review and the comments contain most of the story, so you could skip the viewing.

  10. Madhu ji,
    A well written review. In the beginning, you stated that the movie is a suspense thriller and that too without any songs. I stopped reading further and chose to watch the movie which was available in three parts. You have recreated almost frame by frame account of the film till the Sherbath/juice vendor scene where the clinching hint was provided and then within the next 15 minutes it was quite evident. The last 50 minutes were required to complete the formalities and justify the killer’s motive and to add some political propaganda. Overall it was quite an enjoyable movie and your description / review was realistic.
    Never before I have seen such restrained (as per Tamil film standards) acting from Shivaji Ganeshan. But till the scene where CID Shivanandan asks all the suspects to assemble at one place and enacts the finale, it appeared to me like an (not very convincing) imitation of Hercule Poirot type story. But our armchair detectives in the comment section, just going by the account presented by you, proved no less. A la Miss Jane Marple!
    But definitely there was something more than just a political touch. The year was 1954. The Dravidian movement was at its peak. Five years before, the DMK had split from the Dravida Kazhagam and had declared its political ambitions. The film medium was a major vehicle for the DMK. With MGR, M Karunanidhi, C N Annadurai all deeply associated with the film industry, were spearheading their political agenda like secession from India, anti Hindi cum anti congress cum anti upper cast movement etc. With this background such overt and covert counter propaganda themes were part of the Tamil movies of those days. This can be discussed in detail in some other forum.
    Thank once again.

    • Thank you, Venkataramanji – I’m glad you enjoyed the film and my review of it. I agree with you that the scene at the juice vendor’s is a very important one which provides a major hint. (I also thought that the hint at the beginning – when Naidu first enters the house, and sees the portraits and books of the nationalist leaders, and discovers that it is Usha who is the patriot in the house, not Rajan – was also telling). After Shivanandam got Rajan’s photos developed, it was quite obvious what direction the film was taking; just the details were clarified towards the end.

      The section of your comment regarding the political implications of the film are extremely interesting. I must admit that I’d never seen any Tamil films before this one, but I have another sitting in my pile of DVDs to be watched – Parasakthi. From the very little that I’ve read about it, I wonder if that would be a more appropriate film to discuss with reference to this particular topic…

    • It’s true that the Dravidian politics had a great deal of influence on Tamil cinema those days. Apart from Parasakthi and a few other films written by Karunanidhi, Thirumbi Paar (also starring Sivaji Ganesan), a political satire, remains an important film. Read this article [http://www.hindu.com/cp/2009/03/13/stories/2009031350291600.htm] to know what was Nehru’s (then PM) take on the movement, and how the party (through Karunanidhi) used this film as a medium to make fun of him!

  11. I just saw the last comment about “Parasakthi”. If you thought “Andha naaL” is kinda over the top in terms of acting, “Parasakthi” is way off the charts. I actually own a copy of “Andha naaL” since my father-in-law was a huge fan of the film and recommended it highly. I am not a huge Sivaji Ganeshan fan because of the over-acting. There are movies where he tones it down, but they are really really few when compared to the number of films he did. India cinema in general is melodramatic and one has to turn off comparisons to western cinema when watching it – think of the over-done mother-in-law, the despondent wife crying buckets (Meena Kumari had perfected that), the hero drowning his sorrows in drink, the dying parent who coughs constantly. Not always easy to digest unless one is steeped in it and accepts it as par for the course. And Tamil cinema takes the drama way up a few notches. It was Director K Balachander (not veena playing S Balachander who directed this film) who changed that. The melodrama is there, but it is toned down to an acceptable level IMO. “Major Chandrakant” which starred “Major” Sundararajan and Nagesh was a superb film as is the Rajnikanth starrer “AvargaL”. I have been collecting as many of Balachander’s films as I can and many of them are gems with extremely bold themes. If you want to watch some good Tamil cinema, I would highly recommend them.

    • I agree that Indian cinema is generally rather melodramatic – and I certainly never compare it to Western cinema when watching (though I’ve seen my fair share of melodramatic Hollywood films too). Still, there is a limit to how much melodrama one can bear – some Indian films (right now, the ones that come to my mind are the horrid Nutan films made in the late 60s – Khaandaan, Meherbaan, etc) can be too melodramatic even for my liking. That is why, perhaps, I prefer directors like Bimal Roy (or, actually, some of the other Bengali directors, too, who confined themselves to Bengali films): more restrained, generally.

      Thanks for the recommendations, too! I shall look out for them. Any old Tamil films (pre-70s) which you can recommend?

      • Khandaan, Aadmi and Dil ek mandir are all examples of original Tamil films and that explains the heightened melodrama – the first two originals Baagapirivinai and AalayamaNi starred Sivaji.
        Here are some films I would recommend though they are not all “old”
        1. Kaadhalikka neramillai (a favorite comedy of mine)
        2. Major Chandrakant
        3. AvargaL (Superb acting by Rajnikanth)
        4. Apoorva raagam (unusual film, ahead of its time)
        5. Sirai (film from the early 80s with a powerful if improbable storyline)
        6. Ethir neechal (Nagesh is really good)
        7. Iru koDugaL (high on melodrama, but I found it intriguing)
        8. Eeram (made in the last decade – supernatural film)
        9. PayaNam (made in the last decade – about a hijacking)
        10. Aarulirunthu aruvathu varai (Rajnikanth film with restrained acting)

        Several of the older films were re-made in Hindi. But the originals were much better.

        • Ah, thank you so much! If I’m not mistaken, Kaadhalikka neramillai was the original of Pyaar Kiye Jaa. I remember having searched for a subtitled version of that film, but couldn’t find it. Will look out for the others, too, now. Thanks so much!

            • There were quite a few good movies made in Tamil although not regularly like Bengali, Kannada and Malayalam.There is a film called Unnaipol Oruvan (not the Kamal starrer), which was supposed to be the first art-film made in Tamil. Sadly even Google won’t be able to find much about the film. That’s the condition of art/class films in our state!

              • It’s not just restricted to one state, sadly. It seems to be the condition of films all across India. :-( One major complaint I have with the powers that be is that regional language cinema is so difficult to access for people who don’t know the language in question. I am fluent in English and Hindi (and am fairly conversant with Urdu), but that’s it. I’d love to watch films from other parts of India – especially old cinema – but other than Bengali cinema, very little of it (even blockbusters and award-winning films) seem to be unavailable in subbed or dubbed versions. It is such a shame and so frustrating.

  12. So, I was reading through some of your posts, and came across this one ..
    A couple of thoughts (perhaps some of the commenters already brought this up, but the comment thread style made it a tad difficult to read them all)

    The director of this movie, Balachander, well, back home in India we always referred to him as “Veenai Balachander” as opposed to the other movie director K Balachandar. My understanding then was that he was one heck of a talented artist in a remarkably wide range of creative activities–and he excelled in all of them.

    Yes, it is always way too difficult to watch many of those old movies in which actors over-emote scene after scene. I vaguely recall watching Andha Naal, but then I wonder if my memory is fooling me ;)

    There was one other songless movie that I enjoyed watching, thanks to Doordharshan of the old days telecasting the arty movies that rarely ever got to the movie houses. (pre-VCR days!) So, on the telly one day was the movie “Yarukkaga Azhudhan?” (for whom did he cry?) It was by Jayakanthan, a literature giant. I am pretty sure that this movie was also songless. Again, a long time away from India and Indian movies means that I am no longer confident about such memory recalls. …. I am sure you and your film buddies will know more about this movie. But, from what I remember, it was a wonderful movie …

    • Thank you for the Yarukkaga Azhudhan recommendation – I’d never heard of it, so will look out for it. Sadly, so few regional language films of that period (barring Bengali) are available with subtitles, it’s really hard to find them.

  13. I’ve been searching for a review on this film before stumbling here. Never thought of finding a decent review of this six-decade old Tamil film online. This is supposedly the first film-noir in Tamil cinema, perhaps in the whole of South India. I really love the final confrontation scene between Sivaji and Pandari Bai (just before he gets killed). Agree with you on the over-acting thing, but yes it was mandatory in Tamil cinema those days. You cannot have someone to act naturally in the climax scene :)

  14. can you make a review of another classic tamil film THILLANA MOHANAMBAL 1968….. The film represents the tradition and culture of tamil nadu.. Its a request….

  15. you should do it for us….
    Dustedoff is one of the leading A grade film reviewing blog…
    We, tamilians would be really happy if you make the review of tamil classic film THILLANA MOHANAMBAL…….

    • As I’ve tried to explain, it’s not a question of whether or not I should try to do it for my readers. It’s a question of whether I can get hold of a subtitled DVD or not! The spirit is very willing, but if there are no subbed DVDs avalable, there’s really nothing I can do. Try and understand my predicament, please.

  16. Lovely review. Did you know that this film was based on an English classic called ‘The Woman In Question’? You should check out the original. The only difference is that in the original a woman is mysteriously killed while in the Tamil version a man :)

  17. S Balachander was involved in a handful of films: all of them were noir thrillers with interesting titles Ithu nijama ( is this the truth?), Bommai ( doll), nadu iravil ( in the middle of the night) .He acted in some, directed and produced others, scripted and scored music in a couple. Most were adaptations from Hollywood suitably Indianised. Trouble was they were mostly much ahead of the times . ed . Apart from being a virtuso veena player he could also sing and play tabla, mridangam, piano and other instruments.

    A genius he got bored of films and dud not return after Nadu Iravil. His spats with his contemporaries like Semmangudi Sreenvasa Iyer and Bala Murali Krishna are legendary. a man who called a spade and a spade and who lived and died by his own terms.

    • That – and S Balachander himself – sounds very interesting. Since noir is one of my favourite genres, the films you’ve suggested certainly make me want to watch them. I do hope I can get hold of subtitled versions somewhere… this is my constant gripe; the lack of subtitled copies. :-(

      • Sorry no– even without subtitles I have been trying to get hold of ithu nijama – for nearly twenty years. i may be wrong but they seem to have been lost. may be they have a copy in FTII Pune . who knows? nadu iravil is just about ok. saw it as a kid. Wiki gives 1966 as the release date. i distinctly remember seeing it. So it should be 69 or 70. SB movies would not have had a theatrical re run. so something is amiss there.
        reg instruments he played I cant vouch for piano but you can include sitar and kanjeera to the list. he was also a chess prodigy it seems. As a child i slept through his concert — to be woken up by my parents — after the kutcheri! How come one always remembers such embarrassing moments in one’s life. The only thing I took from the concert was some pamphlets and was amazed at the way his signature was in the shape of a veena!

      • Sorry no– even without subtitles I have been trying to get hold of ithu nijama – for nearly twenty years. i may be wrong but they seem to have been lost. may be they have a copy in FTII Pune . who knows? nadu iravil is just about ok. saw it as a kid. Wiki gives 1966 as the release date. i distinctly remember seeing it. So it should be 69 or 70. SB movies would not have had a theatrical re run. so something is amiss there.
        reg instruments he played I cant vouch for piano but you can include sitar and kanjeera to the list. he was also a chess prodigy it seems. As a child i slept through his concert — to be woken up by my parents — after the kutcheri! How come one always remembers such embarrassing moments in one’s life. The only thing I took from the concert was some pamphlets and was amazed at the way his signature was in the shape of a veena!

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