Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

Two Recent Social Films

Sankara Krishna Chettur

Some months ago, I commented on certain tendencies in the Indian talkie film.1 I have since seen two Indian films recently, both social plays and in Tamil, one of which gives me great hope for the future of Indian films, and the other of which seems to me to exhibit all those traits which an intelligent public would like to see eschewed in the development of our Indian talkies. I refer to ‘Chintamani’ of Rayal Talkies (Madura) and to ‘Modern Youth’ of the Asandas Classical Talkies (Calcutta). The comparison of these two is all the more interesting because the plot runs on parallel lines, and in each the cause of a man’s downfall and degradation is a bad woman–in both cases a dancing-girl. But whereas in ‘Chintamani,’ the very woman who dragged him to the depths effects his ultimate salvation, in ‘Modern Youth’ it is left to the spirited wife of the hero to rescue him from the clutches of vice and restore him to his sanity, to his love of home and family, and to his ancient reverence for religion and morality.

In ‘Chintamani,’ the heroine is a dancing-girl forced by the tradition of her caste (and the importunities of a hard-featured, relentless, money-grabbing mother) into leading a life of vice which is distasteful to her real spirit. She is really a potential bhakta, a devotee of the Lord Sri Krishna, and we get a beautiful glimpse of her spiritual yearning, by watching her re-action to the mystical song sung by a passing sanyasi. This song, following closely on the heels of a scene in which she has very cleverly induced the soft-headed Alwar Chetty to part with some valuable jewellery, has a value reinforced by appositeness and dramatic irony. Here we see our first glimpse of the real Chintamani. However, the claims of the material world are still strong, and Chintamani utilises Manohar, a former lover of hers, through whose money she has completely run, to secure an introduction to a very rich, married man, whose fancy she completely captures (despite his alleged scholastic leanings and indifference to women) by a remarkable abhinaya performance in the local temple. The photography of this scene is excellent, and the by-play showing the reactions of Alwar Chetty, Manohar, the hero and the audience to the performance of Chintamani most fascinating to watch. The hero, himself no mean songster, goes home with his head in a whirl, with Chintamani’s face and gestures dancing before him. At this stage, he bursts appropriately into a song giving vent to his over-charged feelings. Soon he is caught in Chintamani’s toils; he visits her, taking her a costly jewel in an ivory casket, and Chintamani, cleverly getting rid of Manohar, accepts him as her lover. From that point onwards, he forgets completely his wife, his father dying on a sick-bed, and his friend, Manohar. He sets up Chmtamani in a magnificent mansion and spends long hours of love and ease with her. Returning late one night, he finds his wife weeping and father collapsing. The father hands over all his property to his daughter-in-law who, however, dutifully lays it at the feet of her husband. The old man, excited at this, falls into a fit and dies. Reconciliation between the tearful, pleading wife and the son seems imminent when a thunderstorm breaks out, reminding the hero that his Chintamani is all alone to face the thunder. Bursting from the restraining arms of his wife, he dashes to Chintamani’s house. The poor wife, seeing a vision of her dead father-in-law beckoning to her, throws herself into the river and dies. This same swollen river obstructs the hero who, lacking any raft or boat, makes use of a convenient corpse which comes floating along to swim across, landing at the footsteps of Chintamani’s mansion. Leaving the corpse, he climbs the garden-wall with the aid of what he thinks is an overhanging creeper but what actually is a snake, Wet to the skin, with his shirt stained with the blood of the snake, he rushes to Chintamani’s room. After intimating the news of his father’s death and being reproved for leaving his wife alone, he narrates the adventure of the corpse. Chintamani accompanies him to the river-bank, and there he recognises that the corpse is that of his own wife. Investigation soon shows that the creeper was also a snake. At last, the evil of her ways and the terrible retribution which has overtaken them both comes on Chintamani, who has that same night in a dream seen the Lord Krishna. She goes in, throws off her rich garments and assumes the robes of an anchorite. When the hero claims her as his own, she scorns him and says that she is henceforth a bhakta of Lord Krishna and that her poor sinful body which had led her and him into such terrible crimes should henceforth serve only the Lord. With the moonlight on her face and the wind streaming through her hair, standing like an avenging angel over, the corpse of the poor lady whom she had so grievously wronged, Chintamani sings a memorable song of renunciation and the conquest of the spirit over the flesh. The hero also has his moment of spiritual illumination and he too resolves to become a bhakta and to expiate his sins and seek salvation. This is a magnificent moment in this film: it is the logical denouement, and the crowning ending. If this picture had ended there, it would have achieved a complete artistic success and left an indelible impression on the minds of all true aesthetes. But the producers were not satisfied with this. With the methodical mind (which is invaluable in building sky-scrapers and running coffee-hotels) they work out in several succeeding scenes in traditional harrowing fashion, reminiscent of the old religious and mythological play, the ways in which the hero realises that the illusions caused by the human eye are an impediment to the free growth of the spirit. They make him (under the delusion that he is Krishna and she Radha) run after the woman companion of a sanyasi who runs away shrieking, afraid of an assault on her modesty. The sanyasi interferes and bids the woman submit to the hero’s advances. When he does advance on her, she turns (by the magic of the sanyasi) into a hideous, grinning skeleton. These horrors, so dear to the gallery and the uneducated mind, could well have been spared us. Psychologically, too, it is unsound, as the spiritual revelation vouchsafed to the hero on the river-bank was quite sufficient to have disillusioned him already about the lusts of the flesh. Not satisfied with this, however, the producers suffer the hero to take the time-honoured orthodox step of putting out his own eyes with a couple of needles. Thus blinded, he lives in an ashrama where Chintamani ultimately discovers him, and both live in the perpetual bliss of moksha gained by realisation of Lord Krishna.

I am willing to concede that these scenes, subsequent to the great denouement, which are totally unnecessary and ruin the aristic effect, are perhaps necessary to explain the full import of the hero’s conversion, to the illiterate and uneducated section of the public. So far, so good. But the Scene in which Chintamani walks through the public street, announcing her repentance and giving her ill-gotten wealth to all her former lovers, is in the worst possible taste, as also the confessions of Manohar and Alwar Chetty of their dealings with her and how they lost their wealth. This is merely propaganda for the Women’s Vigilance Association and has no place at all artistically in the picture.

In describing this film, I have tried to convey the impressions left on my mind by the acting of Aswathamma (Chintamani) and the hero (Tyagaraja Bhagavatar). Aswathamma achieves a notable success in her delineation of an extremely difficult and subtle part. The deep emotion which she put into her songs more than atoned for a few technical shortcomings. She has an excellent singing voice; her talking voice has a Greta Garbo-ish huskiness. Both the acting and singing of Tyagaraja Bhagavatar were good. Y. V. Rao as Manohar and the comical Alwar Chetty also achieved distinction. The songs of the distressed wife were somewhat long-drawn-out, but her agony, when deserted by her husband, was well portrayed and her outburst before her suicide convincing. The sanyasi and his wife, who are a kind of Greek chorus in this film, also deserve mention for competent singing and acting.

Let me turn now to ‘Modern Youth.’ This has been a very much over-praised picture in the local press. The plot is full of almost hysterical impossibilities; complications have been introduced in the plot without much sense of proportion; and there is an amount of melodrama in the production, which considerably detracts from its artistic value. The story is that of an unsophisticated village youth whose widowed mother is bringing him up on orthodox lines. Thus, though educated in Madras, he arrives in the village in a bullock-cart and shows proper respect to his mother, to the elders of the village and a holy man of the neighbourhood. He marries in due course, in accordance with his mother’s wishes, the daughter of a family friend. Unfortunately, being selected for the I. C. S., the hero is transported to London. There at first he preserves all his village rectitude, and amuses a critical London audience (outside his bedroom windows) by his vigorous interpretation of a religious song sung by him at his morning puja. But a fashionable friend takes him to a night-club and introduces him to a couple of English girls, under whose compelling glances he imbibes much more champagne than is good for him. We see him entering on a reckless course of dissipation (including the very questionable enterprise of driving about in a taxi with a girl-friend on either side of him) in which he runs through his poor mother’s entire fortune. When the cablegram arrives from her saying she has no more money to send him, his girl-friends desert him and he returns to India merely Barrister Ramu, having failed to complete his I. C. S. examinations. So far, even though the scenes of dissipation in London are greatly in excess of what average Indian students resort to (or anticipate in their wildest dreams), they can pass muster. But the hero’s behaviour in Madras is most incredible. When his mother comes to see him, he spurns her most rudely. An accommodating friend who is a libertine introduces him to an unscrupulous dancing-girl at a garden-party in his honour, and our hero imagines that he is the sole lover of the courtesan, who is actually the mistress of the libertine. This our young friend, Ramu, finds out by accident. But the complication introduced at this stage is of his wife coming to his rescue dressed up as a boy-applicant for a clerk’s post under him. She sets to work to put right his finances and composes his creditors. At this stage, the dancing-girl falls for the handsome young clerk and makes violent love to him (or is it ‘her’) and is discovered trying to kiss him, by Barrister Ramu. Ramu ejects the dancing-girl and reproves his clerk. Finally there is a scene in which the clerk reveals himself as Ramu’s wife and there is a touching reconciliation between mother and son.

But this is all mostly hyperbole. A young man who leads a rakish life in London may grow insensibly colder towards a parent (due to the brutalising of his feelings) but he is not likely to spurn her in the manner in which Ramu treats his mother in this film. It was most unnatural and melodramatic and showed that the authors of the play had no notion of those nuances of feeling which characterise the actual relationships of individuals in life. Coldness and indifference are difficult to enact; hence the short-cut alternative of spurning and vituperation. The whole film leaves one with an impression of un-reality of being completely removed from actual life. The only interesting parts of the film were the Coronation scenes which had nothing to do with the film proper. Social films which are travesties of human life do not deserve encouragement. I am sure that Asandas Classical Talkies can do much better than this. The actors in this film were quite competent, but they were required to act in an extravaganza and not a social play. It comes down to this: that the directors must secure effective plots for their social plays which, while presenting them with plenty of scope for dramatic action and a good denouement, still are not divorced from the facts of human life. Otherwise the social plays they offer to the public will present a sad hotch-potch of desperate devices to sustain the interest of the audience by unnatural incidents, unnecessary complications, and impossible characters.

1 Triveni, November, 1936.

Let's grow together!

I humbly request your help to keep doing what I do best: provide the world with unbiased sources, definitions and images. Your donation direclty influences the quality and quantity of knowledge, wisdom and spiritual insight the world is exposed to.

Let's make the world a better place together!

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: