When music blended with dance - A review on Thillana Mohanambal

Name: Thillana Mohanambal

Director: A.P.Nagarajan

Year: 1968

Language: Tamil

At the very beginning of the movie, a foreigner wonders if one could play Western music on a Nadaswaram. Sivaji Ganesan donning the role of a nadaswaram artist and his team gives them a live demo. In this movie, meet two seasoned artists: Shanmuga Sundaram (Nadaswaram player) and Mohanambal (Bharathanatyam danseuse), who pride themselves on their talent and mesmerize people with their skills. Director A. P. Nagarajan’s masterpiece ‘Thillana Mohanambal’ features the story of the two people and how their lives entwine personally and professionally.

Set in the milieu of the late 1950s, the story is woven around Nadaswara Chakravarthi ‘Sikkal’ Shanmugasundaram and renowned danseuse Mohanambal or Mohana (played by actress and dancer Padmini). They meet each other at a temple festival where the two are invited to perform. Mohana is full of awe and utmost respect for the former after she watches him perform with his troop. However, Shanmugasundaram feels more comfortable watching her perform from a distance (the song ‘Maraindhirundhu paarkum’ aptly composed for the scene). After some bittersweet encounters, he also falls for her. However, what ensues is a lot of misunderstandings and plot twists before the couple unites in the end.

The movie is adapted from the novel by writer Kothamangalam Subbu that appeared in the magazine Ananda Vikatan in the late 1950s. The main protagonists take pride in their profession and would not allow anyone to demean them or their talent. It was also interesting to see how the artists had mutual respect for each other, which went beyond the gender constraint. Shanmugasundaram confers the title of ‘Thillana Mohanambal’ to Mohana, after a fierce ‘Thillana rendition Vs dance’ face-off between the two artists.

The movie also gave us some memorable characters such as the naïve and talented folk artist 'Jil Ramamani' (played by veteran Manorama) and the vile Vaithi (played by late actor Nagesh). The movie also shows the darker side of the society wherein female artists are merely an object of desire in the eyes of the aristocrats. But Mohana is a woman of integrity and is constantly warding off the advances of such people. However, this is the main point that causes misunderstanding between the lovers. On the other hand, Shanmugasundaram is very sensitive when someone demeans his talent and is miffed at the slightest provocation in this regard. A man who is too attached to his music is initially too proud to accept the fact he is equally drawn to the beautiful and highly talented Mohana. Expressions conveyed by the eyes of the characters were deeper than the actual words conveyed.

There is a timeless classic in the history of Tamil cinema. A very impressive line-up of popular actors like M.N Nambiar, Thangavelu, Balaiyah and Balaji and so on added to the luster of the film. The stellar star cast brought every character to life. Adding to the beauty of the movie was the mellifluous music composed by K.V.Mahadevan. In this movie, emotions are expressed through music and silence. Being a perfect potpourri, this magical movie is a must-watch for every cinema lover.

Janani Rajeswari is a freelance journalist who feels writing is a way of staying happy and positive. She teaches foreign languages. She also loves music, pets, books, movies, art and craft and learning new languages.

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