Which means ‘The Same Eyes’.
The first Tamil film I ever reviewed on this blog was a suspense thriller, the excellent songless film Andha Naal. Since then, I’ve come across recommendations for other Tamil suspense films, and when I found a subtitled copy of this one—a major hit of its time—I was eager to watch. ‘Taut’ and ‘tense’ was how I’d seen it described by reviewers, and it sounded right up my street.
Adhey Kangal begins in a tense, suspenseful manner. A man is murdered—someone hangs him in his room—and the man’s wife (G Sakunthala) discovers her husband’s dead body. She has just about started screaming when the murderer (whom we do not see, except as two disjointed hands reaching for her) tries to strangle her.
It’s an aborted attempt: the murderer flees, and his would-be victim, shaken and traumatized, but not dead, is discovered by her family.
These consist of her two brothers-in-law, Kamalanathan (SA Ashokan) and Vimalanathan (SV Ramadas). It transpires that this family consisted of four brothers, of whom the eldest had died the previous year in a car accident; the second brother, the husband of this just-widowed, just-assaulted woman, is now also dead.
The police officer who arrives to investigate meets these people, as well as a few others. There is the doctor (K Balaji), another physician, an old man who’s trained in traditional medicine (?), and the cook Nair (A Karunanidhi).
In addition, just arrived is Kamalanathan and Vimalanathan’s niece Susila (Kanchana), along with a bunch of her friends. Susila’s father was the man who had died last year.
The cops are able to find only one big clue: a half-smoked cigar lying on the window sill. They interrogate people in the house, but can come up with no other clues. Kamalanathan knows of nobody who might have harboured ill feelings towards his dead brother. Now all they can do is wait for the widow to regain consciousness; perhaps she will be able to tell them what happened, and who it was who assaulted her…
In the meanwhile, lots of other (mostly unrelated) things happen. While she and her friends are doing ‘social service’ in the local village, Susila meets a young man named Bhaskar (Ravichandran). There is instant chemistry between the two of them, Bhaskar tells Susila that he works at the Hotel Emerald, and from then, it’s romance.
Except for a brief hiccup, when Susila’s jealous instincts go into overdrive, after she discovers that Bhaskar is married. To an ugly-looking female named Rosie (Nagesh, in drag) with whom he lives in a flat above that of Susila’s friend Julie. It takes several slightly comic adventures and some adroit jugglery on the part of Bhaskar’s ‘wife’ to switch between being himself and being Rosie (whom he’s pretending to be, in order to rent this flat: Bhaskar’s landlady is adamant that she will rent it out only to a married couple).
This man, as Rosie, ends up having to flirt with the landlady’s husband, who’s smitten with Rosie. As himself, he’s busy falling in love with Julie. And when Susila gets the mistaken impression that her beloved Bhaskar has been hoodwinking her all this while, the two men have to let her into the secret, so that all is hunky-dory again.
While all this romance-comedy-song-and-dance is happening on the side, in that great big mansion, someone makes another attempt on the life of that still-traumatized aunt of Susila’s. Susila and her friends burst into the room in time to save Aunty, but Susila sees a smouldering cigar lying on the carpet, and the round stained glass ventilator swinging, as if someone’s just escaped through there.
Susila and her friends have other hair-raising experiences as well: when they decide to visit Mysore, Susila’s uncle Kamalanathan offers her the use of his car and his driver. The driver is a tall man, with a frightening scar across his face: supposedly so scary that Susila immediately says she’ll take the car, thank you, but she’d prefer to drive on her own.
Little do these girls realize that it was on this very stretch of road, about 9 miles short of Mysore, that Susila’s father’s car had broken down the previous year, and a passing truck had run him down.
And guess what? That is exactly where their car too breaks down, and when Susila & Co. get out to open it up and see what’s wrong, a truck comes speeding along, seemingly heading straight for these women… (for some unfathomable reason, when Susila sees the truck speeding towards her, she shrieks for her friends, instead of running off the road. And her friends, as dim-witted as Susila, quickly come and stand next to her and scream in unison at the oncoming truck. These women deserve to be run over).
But no, it’s no criminal inside after all. It is Bhaskar and a truck driver friend, come to the rescue of Susila and her friends. Bhaskar, his pal (part of the time as Rosie, then as himself) and all the girls go off to sing and dance at the nearby gardens while the truck driver repairs Susila’s car.
This episode, while it gives Bhaskar reason (and impetus) to try and find out who’s behind all these murders, is also a prime example of what’s wrong with this film.
What I didn’t like about this film:
The illogical suspension of all fear while taking time out to sing and dance.
Yes, I have seen dozens of Hindi films where songs and dances and much romancing are part of the story, alongside the murders and suspense and whatnot. But the placement of these songs and dances, the very nature of them, is important: when you’re biting your nails, shrieking and jumping at the slightest sound in the night, how can you suddenly forget all that and do the boogie-woogie? What’s more, in Adhey Kangal, what with the serial killings, there is cause to be stressed pretty much all the time—and Susila and her friends behave like frightened rabbits through much of the film, screaming, jumping about nervously, biting their lips and opening their eyes extra wide at everything out of the ordinary.
These are not the people and these are not the situations where one can conceivably imagine them suddenly leaving all their cares behind and breaking into song.
Then, there are the plot holes. The cigar always left at the scene of the crime, for instance: clue or red herring or whatever, there is eventually no reason assigned for it. And why actually does the girls’ car break down just at the very spot where Susila’s father’s car had broken down the previous year? This might be mere coincidence, but it’s silly and needless.
The over the top acting, while various blog readers have in the past told me that it’s pretty much par for the course for old Tamil cinema, still does get on my nerves. Very irritating.
What I liked:
I must point out one person whose acting I found, to my surprise, to be good: Nagesh. I say ‘to my surprise’ because as soon as Nagesh put in an appearance dressed as a woman, I was rolling my eyes and inwardly cringing, because men in drag, in this sort of role, rarely strike me as funny. But Nagesh, even though I thought the comic side plot deviated from the main story and could have been done away with, was a hoot. Very funny.
And, I loved the music. The music for Adhey Kangal was composed by Vedha (SS Vedhasalam), to lyrics by Vaali (TS Rangarajan), and some of the songs were really good; among my favourites were Kannukku theriyadha, Oh oh ethanai azhagu, and Pombala oruthi. Plus there’s a fascinating dance sequence, with Susila and lots of other dancers all doing the can-can.
It’s interesting to see the parallels between Adhey Kangal and the Hindi suspense film Gumnaam (1965). Gumnaam was based on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (not that it was credited as such) and had a bunch of people, strangers to each other, finding themselves stranded on an island and being picked off one by one by a mysterious serial killer. Adhey Kangal has a serial killer in it, preying on the residents of one house, but is otherwise unlike And Then There Were None (even its denouement and the details of the crime, the motive and the method are different from what Gumnaam uses).
What struck me though was the way Adhey Kangal contains various, scattered nods to Gumnaam. For instance, there is the man in drag (in Gumnaam, Dhumal spends part of his time, not very much, in night dresses, though unlike Nagesh’s character, he doesn’t seem to have any reason to be wearing female clothing). Then, there is the cook (Mehmood in Gumnaam) who’s slapstick comical but is up to something mysterious, which involves a vague woman who moves about in the darkness…
There is the beachside song Ennenna vo, in which—what with the setting, the beach balls, the man so obviously entranced, and the woman (Geethanjali) who sings to him—it’s easy to see the obvious resemblance to Gham chhodke manaao rang-reli.
The similarity is a little less obvious in Kannukku theriyadha, where it’s just the very occasional few notes, the sudden panting, that calls to mind Rafi and Herman Benjamin in Jaan-pehchaan ho. What I do applaud is that neither Kannukku theriyadha nor Ennenna vo are copies, as far as music is concerned, of the songs they resemble.
Adhey Kangal’s director AC Tirulokchandar seems to have been able to successfully gauge what would work, though: the film was a huge box office success. To me this had good points and bad, but overall, it was entertaining enough, if somewhat unintentionally funny at times.
The film is available, with English subtitles, on Amazon Prime.