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Saturday, July 04, 2020

South Stream: MGR’s Anbe Vaa

In the 28th edition of South Stream, we recommend AC Tirulokchandar's Anbe Vaa, starring MGR and B. Saroja Devi.

Written by Manoj Kumar R | Bengaluru | Updated: June 7, 2020 8:20:12 am
MGR and B Saroja Devi MGR and B Saroja Devi’s Anbe Vaa is available on Amazon Prime Video(Express archive photo)

The definition of grandeur in cinema has changed drastically over the decades. Ambitious filmmakers world over have been pushing the envelope when it comes to enriching our big-screen experience by making expensive and visually spectacular movies. Recently, Hollywood filmmaker Christopher Nolan revealed that he crashed an actual Boeing 747 filming a sequence for his upcoming movie Tenet.

Back home in the 60s, merely showing a landing Air India passenger aircraft made a movie a large-scale production. And if the aircraft was shown in 16mm Eastmancolor film, the experience just got bigger.

AVM Production’s Anbe Vaa was one of the early colour films of Tamil cinema. It was a modern big-budget movie that established a template for future big-budget movies. There is also a noble intent behind the film’s extravagant production. Back in the day, this movie could have been the closest many members in the audience would have come to experience air travel, picturesque mountainous landscape, sprawling mansion and the lifestyle of a man who comes from money. Cinema still remains a dream portal through which many see exotic locations across the world and experience things that they may not be able to do in their lifetime.

Loosely inspired by Come September (1961), Anbe Vaa (1966) starred legendary MG Ramachandran. The screenplay by A. C. Tirulokchandar, who also helmed the movie, is a case study for how one can spin a star-vehicle without undermining the need for a strong script and logic.

MGR plays a young business magnate called J Balasubramaniam aka JB. The hectic work schedule starts affecting JB’s well-being. And to restore balance in his life, he decides to take a vacation. Man’s gotta have some fun, yo.

Cut to the next scene, JB arrives in Shimla. And he celebrates the break from his stressful life by singing the iconic “Pudhiya Vaanam” through the streets of Shimla. Wait, he is a rich businessman, but why is he walking the streets like a vagrant? Where are the expensive cars?

The first thing that JB notices soon after he deboards the train at Shimla is nobody is waiting for him to chaperone him to his mansion. He is visibly irritated. And he picks up a telephone at the railway station and calls his staff at the mansion. But, the guy who picks up the phone is a self-obsessed, cocky and money-minded newcomer who lacks basic manners and hangs up the call without knowing who is on the other end of the telephone: it is the big boss. Hence, JB had to walk home.

Maybe Tirulokchandar could have easily chosen to ignore this plot continuity and right away jumped into the first song. Well, he would have known that nobody would complain as long as they get to see MGR sprinting through hilly roads. But, no. As a writer, Tirulokchandar stayed loyal to his material and did not overlook the importance of cause and effect in his screenplay. The entire narration seamlessly develops and moves forward so organically.

The protagonist in Anbe Vaa wants to have fun and get away from his mechanical life. So he assumes an alternate identity as Balu and even tolerates Ramaiah (a wonderful Nagesh) who mistreats him without knowing his actual identity. JB plays well-meaning pranks on Geetha (B. Saroja Devi), and challenges her in good spirit. And he never vows to teach the woman a lesson by putting her in her place. He wins over everyone by his charm and good behaviour. In the meantime, the audience also learns new information about JB in every scene. He is not just a workaholic but also a fun-loving person who does not take his wealth and social status seriously. He plays golf, and he is kind, chivalrous, strong and can throw a punch if need be.

Tirulokchandar never deviates from the plot to accommodate unwanted things to serve MGR’s image. Imagine, if MGR broke into a song in Anbe Vaa that spoke about revolution, instead of pleasures of twist dance, test match and blessings of youth. Or as a side gig, he fought corrupt politicians and cops when he was not busy playing pranks on his girlfriend.

Tirulokchandar’s discipline and focus are what many big-budget, star-vehicles lack today.

Anbe Vaa is available on Amazon Prime Video. 

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