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Mangaiyar Thilakam

Award winning Tamil family drama movie “Mangaiyar Thilakam” (1955) starring Sivaji Ganesan, Padmini, Ragini, M.N. Rajam among others.

Three hour long movie, this is total emotional atyachar movie from the Tamil cinema stable of the yore. Everything that could possibly go wrong in a family goes wrong and the actors have to bear it. Sivaji is bought up by his elder brother without his parents and for him his elder brother and wife are like God.

That’s the main story and there are sub plots galore. Thangavelu has provided some comic relief with his cameo role as a drama actor/ director in love with Ragini who has danced quite beautifully in the movie. Her father is a die hard drama hater and to bring him around takes all his intellect.

Sivaji marries into a rich family with a snobbish girl Rajam who is not used to doing the household chores. So tension on that count. Sivaji is quite a good actor save for his dialogue part which is too much. Tamil and Malayalam movies have long and heavy dialogues – i guess a legacy of the theatre. Three hour with songs is too long for today’s times. The music gave the impression that a song is around the corner every second. imdb 3/10

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Kodiyettam

Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s masterpiece of the growing up of an adult human being, starring Bharath Gopi, KPAC Lalitha, Azeez, among others.

ShankaranKutty (Bharath Gopi) is a no gooder wiling his time eating and drinking at others’ expense, doing sundry jobs without any pay and playing with children. He is grown up but immature and irresponsible. He has no working skills to speak of. He has a sister Sarojini (Kuttyedathi Vilasini) who works as a maid in Trivandrum and sends him money.

Peeved at his lack of seriousness, she marries him off to Shantamma (KPAC Lalitha) but marriage and subsequent child birth does not make him aware of his responsibility. Shantamma moves off to her maternal home and he does not deem it necessary to follow her and inquire about her.

At his village he is infatuated with a widow Kamalam (Kaviyoor Poovamma) but she has an affair going on with somebody on the side. Kamalam commits suicide after the man refuses to take responsibility for her. Which is the point at which when Shankarankutty starts taking life seriously. He becomes a cleaner to a truck driver Azeez and sees him play with his own little children while at the same time having an affair with another lady enroute his travels.

Adoor has bounced Shankarankutty against three women – his sister, the widow and his wife and made him realise responsibility only against rejection by two women. He is portrayed like a child with an immature mind unable to grasp the harsh realities of life. He has seen both these women being mistreated and that sort of opens his eyes, which is why he takes up the job of cleaner the second time after quitting the first time, unable to cope up with the demands of trucking life.

Bharath Gopi has acted quite brilliantly for his part as the dumb reckless person to a happy smiling husband and father towards the end. The transformation is quite spectacular. Deservedly he bagged the best actor award at the Nationals. Others have done their part quite well. Adoor apparently has not used any background music during the movie, still the natural sounds whilst making the film are quite breathtaking. He has focused a lot of ultra close up shots of the characters, don’t know the meaning of that – there must be something to that. Typically any Malayalam movie must have one eating scene and one drinking scene. This movie had plenty of both – more of the eating though and some bizarre ultra close ups, unable to fathom the reason for that though. imdb 8/10

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Manimuzhakkam

Poignant award winning Malayalam movie “Manimuzhakkam” (1976) directed by P.A. Backer and starring Harikeshan Thampi.

Its a very interesting plot in the sense that the script very subtly delves into identity conflicts of a person based on others’ perception and religious beliefs. Jose (Harikeshan Thampi) is an orphan bought up in a christian convent upto his college days. Then he is discovered by his long lost Hindu family and he immediately faces an identity crisis. Earlier in the college a girl dates him until she discovers that he grew up in an orphanage.

Then he finishes college with first class and his family proposes his marriage to another Hindu girl until her family discovers that he was brought up in a christian upbringing. He goes to Madras for a job whereupon he is taken upon by a catholic family as a potential suitor for their girl. Until they learrn of his real story.

There is a lot of subtle messaging going on, which is quite well done. But the movie lacks the tempo to be a robust hit. The music is dreary and depressing. The plot slows at various places to depict the social awkwardness of Jose considering the fact of his early life in an orphanage. The last scene is very riveting like Charlie Chaplin’s The Modern Times.

Overall movie is good and it has won the national & state award also, but it fails to raise above the mediocre. imdb 2/10

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Swapnadanam

K.G. George’s haunting award winning psycho drama movie “Swapnadanam” (1976) starring Dr. Mohandas, Rani George, Suman, among others.

George has managed to maintain a suspense almost throughout the movie, which lies to his credit. The story is about an introverted socially awkward doctor Gopi (Dr. Mohandas) who has no social skills to talk about being forced into marriage to his cousin Sumithra (Rani George) in an arranged marriage kinda setting as a quid pro quo for funding his medical education.

Whilst in medical college, he falls in love with a student but that does not materialize much to his dismay and that plays at the back of his mind in his marriage. His wife Sumithra is a kind of rich snobbish girl bred with much life comforts. Their marriage is falling apart and he has no back up plan nor a support system to ensure it doesn’t.

George has beautifully played with lot of themes during the movie. There is hitchcockian suspense with jazz music playing in the background. He has pushed Gopi close to his mother and takes him close to the servant too. The consummation takes place much later, which is when the man breaks up because he has to attend to a dying patient at his clinic. Very bold scenes for a 1976 movie production.

George has bought about the tension in the household between Sumithra and Gopi and his mother very well. Gopi has to stay in a house with comforts provided by his father in law which rankled him to the extreme. Also the house belonged to Sumithra’s friend Rosi (Mallika Sukumaran) so that interplay between Gopi and Rosie is also played out very well. Her brother Mohan (Suman) who is a real estate agent also stays in the house and the script manages to weave a doubt around Mohan and Sumithra.

Ending up in Madras for a closure is a little manufactured i thought. The movie is shown in flashback when doctors at the hospital in Madras give him a narco analysis test to bring out the truth.

The intensity of Dr. Mohandas as Gopi and the mix of playfulness, neglect, & anger of Rani Chandra as Sumithra is done beautifully. Both of them have acted extremely well. Very sorry to learn that she died very young in a plane accident. She was one good talent gone too soon. imdb 6/10

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Nirmalyam

Brilliant Malayalam award winning movie “Nirmalyam” (1973) written and directed by M.T. Vasudevan Nair and starring P.J. Antony, Sumithra, Ravi Menon among others.

The basic theme of the movie is the neglect of temples in small villages and consequent neglect of the arts and culture of Kerala except when a foreign tourists come visiting. But the undercurrent throughout is the abject poverty of the people, the lack of opportunities for young people, the sad & desolate future for women.

The film revolves around an oracle who is sort of a go between the worshippers and god. He faces bleak future because nobody is coming to the temple, no offerings are made and he has to beg from house to house for some little grain. He has a son who is educated but unemployed and loafing around with no gooders and a daughter who is not educated and staring at a bleak times. He has two more young daughters who don’t go to school because they have no books nor school uniform to wear.

A young priest joins the temple but he is looking to escape the priest hood by studying for competitive exams. He seduces the oracle’s daughter and has sex with her inside the temple. A small pox virus breaks out in the village which is when the oracle is summoned for his divine help.

P.J. Antony has done a magnificent role as the oracle with his long locks which he keeps playing with and erect persona going with the intense eyes, he is deadly in extreme. Its a once in a lifetime performance for which he won the National award for best actor. Others have done an equally good job, especially Sumithra as the seduced daughter – she is quite brilliant as the hopeless female with no future. The ending of the movie is quite spectacular. The music is very good and so is the camera work, cinematography which captures the essence of the movie quite beautifully. imdb 8/10

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Sarasayya

Award winning Malayalam noir film “Sarasayya” (1971) starring Sathyan, Madhu, Sheela, Jayabharati among others.

Heavy duty emotional film this one, right from first frame and that too with heavy dialogues and equally dense music. If not anything else, the music was killing the viewer.

Sathyan is a leprosy doctor and researcher but he gets emotionally involved with his patient Sheela. Young Madhu is also a doctor who gets smitten by Sheela. In the meanwhile Sheela’s sister Jayabharati has a troubled marriage with an oddball character. Their father is mentally challenged. Sheela is indebted to Sathyan because he recovers her fully from leprosy.

But Sathyan rapes Sheela one day in an emotional state and she denies such thing ever happened to her beau Madhu. The father meanwhile dies from accidental poisoning and police gets involved. Too much of emotional wrangling going on among the characters, with copious amount of tears flowing. The saving grace in the movie is undoubtedly Madhu who was the cool, assured, sorted out character. The director has tried to add some oddball comic characters to the plot, but it fails to entice the viewer. IMDB 2/10

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Umaj Padel Tar

Lovely award winning Marathi film “Umaj Padel Tar” (1960) starring Ramesh Deo, Chitra, Durga Khote, Datta Salvi among others.

Its based on the theme of problems within a rigid heirarchical joint family system in India, where doubt, jealousy, suspicion, revenge can destroy families. Ramesh Deo and Chitra are happily married he being a motor mechanic having his own garage, Durga Khote being his loving doting mother.

A rival family which is high flying high society types lawyer and his wife but no substance within, plot their downfall through some nefarious games. Rift happens in the family, angry words exchanged, wife stomps off to her father’s house.

The plot is unraveled by the lawyer’s father who knows his son only too well to be taken in his wiles and guiles. All’s well that ends well with lots of lessons learned.

Nice simple plot with rich script and dialogues, not too emotionally heavy. Good accomplished acting by Ramesh Deo, Chitra, Shanta Jog, Datta Salvi, Durga Khote, its a kind of a rich star cast but everybody has played their part well, no overacting by anybody. It got the national award in 1960 for best feature film in Marathi.

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Kanyadaan

Beautiful, sensitive, socially relevant National award winning Marathi movie “Kanyadaan” (1960) directed by Madhav Shinde and starring Usha Kiran, Dada Salvi among others.

Just like “Vamsha Vriksha” made by Girish Karnad and B.V. Karanth in 1972, this movie deals with the theme of widow remarriage in a traditional rural Indian family setting. And since this movie was made in 1960, it is far advanced for the years.

Usha Kiran has done a super job as the unfortunate widow who loses her army husband soon after her marriage. Her father in law encouraged her to come out of the shackles and join college. In the college she falls in love with another poet. Her mother in law being traditional and orthodox rebels against it, but the father in law brilliantly played by Dada Salvi initially feels aghast but when he overhears her conversation that her in laws love her more than anything else, the heart melts.

Very beautifully made movie with clean direction, rich dialogues and some brilliant acting by Dada Salvi as the elderly person has expressed his emotions very superbly. IMDB 8/10

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Harano Sur

Beautiful Bengali movie “Harano Sur” (1957) directed by Ajoy Kar and starring Uttam Kumar, Suchitra Sen among others.

Alok (Uttam Kumar) is in a mental hospital having lost his memory somehow. He is disoriented and Roma (Suchitra Sen) is treating him but she is not happy with the way another doctor Utpal Dutt is treating him. Alok escapes the hospital and somehow lands up at Roma’s house.

She spirits him away to her village Palaspur and starts on his recovery process. In the process she falls in love with him and marries him. Alok gets into another accident and recovers his original memory.

He heads back to Calcutta where he is a rich businessman. Roma somehow locates him at his office, but he fails to recognise him. She gets a job as a governess in his house, looking after his niece.

Its such a beautifully made movie and Suchitra Sen has done an absolutely magnificent role in the movie. Her soft touch acting is world class. Uttam Kumar has also done a superb role, very understated in his elegance. But it is Suchitra who carries the movie on her shoulders. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant, besides looking sensationally beautiful in the movie.

Its an old script on you tube but watch it purely for Suchitra Sen. She is masterclass. IMDB 8/10

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The Gunfighter

Lovely American western movie “The Gunfighter” (1950) directed by Henry King and starring Gregory Peck, Helen Westcott among others .

Jimmy Ringo (Gregory Peck) is known as the fastest draw in the west and nobody ain’t matching him for that. A young reckless cowboy infuriates him forcing Jimmy to draw and the kill the young kid. His three brother wants revenge.

Jimmy heads to Cayenne where he hopes to meet his estranged wife and kid whom he has never seen so far. He runs into Marshal Mark Strett (Milard Mitchell) who is his old friend and treats him well, but urges him to leave town as soon as possible. His wife Peggy (Helen Westcott) refuses to meet him.

Meanwhile another daring young policeman needles Ringo for a draw but Jimmy refuses to get involved. He just wants to meet his wife and kid and leave. The three brothers meanwhile arrive into town for a showdown.

Nice clean movie with very little gun fight unlike what you normally see in western movies. In fact there is hardly any gunfight around save for one or two. Gregory Peck is nice and restrained and mature acting skills do him too good. Milard Mitchell as the sheriff has done a reasonably good job.

Lot of excitement in the movie, lots of human interest without too much of emotional showdown. There is a kind of a legacy for good honest gunners in the wild west with the underlying theme being either them or me. IMDB 8/10

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Metropolis

Science fiction drama film “Metropolis” (1927) of the silent era directed by Fritz Lang and starring Gustav Frolich, Brigitte Helm among others.

Too lengthy a film at two and half hours, the print was a restored one, but there were few areas where the print was not done properly. Its basically a fight between man and machine, a mad scientist, whose love went awry, sought destruction of the industrialist who married his love, created a robot, installed a face of Maria (Brigitte Helm) and made it do things.

The special effects were spectacular for a 1927 production, camera work and set design, picturisation etc. were all done beautifully. It must have cost a lot of money to make this film in view of the extensive set design used, the number of characters in the movie and the visual effects. The story is the weak point. Brigitte Helm in the double role has done a superb role in the film. Other than her and the special effects, nothing much to recommend except for its historic value as a big budget spectacular science fiction of that era.

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Nosferatu

Deadly German horror film of the silent era “Nosferatu” (1922) directed by F.W. Murnau and starring Max Schreck, Gustav Von Wangenheim, Greta Schroder among others.

Its kind of a cult movie, because it is indirectly based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Apparently there were some copyright issues, so the names and everything else was changed, but its inspired by Dracula.

Its probably the first of its kind vampire movie in the history of cinema. Thomas Hutter (Gustav Von Wangenheim) is working with a real estate agent Knock and he brings in a proposal for sale of a house opposite his i.e. Hutter’s at a substantial amount, for which the commission also could be good. Hutter agrees to meet the prospective buyer and close the deal.

The prospective buyer is Count Orlok (Max Schreck) who is staying in some dark castle far away. Hutter clinches the deal but strange things start happening. Orlok apparently is the vampire who sucks the blood of humans by clinching their neck. He chances upon a photograph of Hutter’s wife Ellen (Greta Schroder).

Wikipedia mentions that the movie is an example of German Expressionism in the mould of “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” but i did not find much of that in evidence there. The music is very baroque in style. The print is quite old and that is apparently because of the dispute with Stoker’s heirs, the movie was banned and only a few prints were available for viewing.

It does have its moments of horror especially when Orlok rises up with his long pointed finger nails, his deadly pallor, his frightening eyes, the creepiness when a swarm of rats is shown coming out. Good use of light and shadow accentuates the horror part. Its a cult classic.

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The Haunted House

Buster Keaton’s 1922 silent comedy “The Haunted House” starring himself, Virginia Fox among others .

A laugh a minute gag this film shows Buster stuck literally with glue in his hands at his bank. He being the teller has it all over himself and on the customers as well.

Meanwhile robbers are planning to rob the bank and use a haunted house as their getaway plan. Buster lands in the haunted house and a drama troupe also ends up there explicably to add to the laugh riot.

There is no story to the movie, no human element, no female interest unlike other Buster Keaton movies. This must be one of his least favorite movies.

Nevertheless a good watch for the laugh riot.

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The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Deadly psycho horror German movie “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (1920) directed by Robert Wiene and starring Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Lil Dagover among others.

Considered as a legend especially in the German expressionist cinema, which is basically films which focus on “themes as bizarre madness or obsession, particularly through the use of visual distortion” (wikipedia). The film has an unusual visual style in the sense that the roads and houses etc. are all “twisted with sharp pointed forms oblique and curving lines, structures and landscape that lean and twist in unusual angles and shadows and streaks of light painted directly onto the sets” (wikipedia). The set design and art direction of the movie is simply outstanding.

Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss) wants permission from a rude town clerk to have his stall in the town fair. He is basically presenting a somnambulist Cesare (Conrad Veidt), who has slept continuously day and night and will give predictions. Alan (Hans Heinz V. Twardoswki) and Francis (Freidrich Feher) are vying for the attention of Jane (Lil Dagover) and Alan wants to know from Cesare how long he will live. He is shocked with the answer “upto next dawn”.

In the night Alan is murdered and a string of murders take place. Francis is distraught and starts investigating with Jane’s father. Jane also goes and visits Dr. Caligari in his cabin. That night Cesare comes to kill Jane but strangely he abducts her instead. Upon the villagers raising a cry, he drops her. Dr. Caligari escapes from his cabin. Francis follows him and finds that he is the mental asylum director obsessed with an ancient story of an Italian monk who uses his somnambulist to commit murders.

There is an interesting twist in the end of the story. It is a cult classic and probably the most famous Expressionist cinema. It broke new grounds in that era. Its probably the first ever psycho horror movie, the first noir movie. Production values for a 1920 movie are pretty good. The print that i saw on youtube is probably a remastered one and they might have added music to the movie later on, which is again quite good.

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Last Night at the Alamo

Winner of the Special Jury Prize at the 1984 Sundance, “The Alamo” (1984) a film about the closing down of a favorite bar somewhere in Houston, Texas.

Some oddball characters we have here, Ichabod and Mary, a married couple constantly fighting and arguing with each other. Claude is another character who had a huge fight with his wife back home and is the most dramatically angry. He constantly calls his wife who has ordered him to stay in motel for a couple of nights.

Then there is Cowboy Regan, who is supposedly in the movie business. He talks to his friend, the senator to stall the demolition of the bar, but fails in that attempt. His is shown as a pathetic character, because he tries to get into the pants of one girl but fails miserably, wins and loses a tequila contest, gets into a fight with another patron Steve, injuring himself in the process and tries to get into the arms of another girl who stays opposite the bar but gets slammed in return.

There is nothing worth a story in the movie. The acting is quite natural though and the production is quite good. Camera work, & photography are quite superb. Difficult to understand the Texan accent though.

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