Recommended by SI reader chaitu1987
From the cesspool of Indian cinema arises every once in a while an aberration so splendid that it jolts even jaded moviegoers out of their stupor, pulls them up by the scruff of the neck and declares in a stentorian tone – see, this is the movie you’ve been waiting for.
For the early 1980s that movie was most certainly Salangai Oli.
Originally made in Telugu as Sagara Sangamam, the movie was dubbed into other regional Indian languages like Tamil.
Directed by K.Viswanath (of Shankarabharanam fame), Salangai Oli breaks free of the straitjacket of trashy Indian cinema characterized by asinine stories, poor screenplays and hideous acting.
Salangai Oli strikes a different path with an offbeat story of a passionate classical dancer Balu (Kamal Haasan) living in straitened circumstances.
Besides directing the movie, K.Viswanath is also credited with the story and screenplay. Clearly, the man knows his job. Not one of your later-day buffoons like Vishnuvardhan or Raju Sundaram or a shameless thief like Venkat Prabhu.
A fairly lengthy movie (2hrs and 40min), Salangai Oli tracks various facets of Balu’s life – the committment to dance, the friendship with Raghu (Sarat Babu), the mostly easy-going temparament, the abiding love for Madhavi (Jaya Pradha), the descent into hackdom and the retreat into alcohol.
None but Kamal
It’s hard to think of any other Indian actor for the principal role save Kamal Haasan.
Although his dancing in the movie didn’t send us into orgasmic raptures, still Kamal Haasan slipped into the role neatly and rendered justice to it.
Whether as the youngster with grand aspirations or as the seriously ill, disillusioned hack decades later, Kamal Haasan was a pleasure to watch in this movie.
Kamal’s adroit essaying of the role of Balu in Salangai Oli is perhaps one of the highpoints of his career. Maybe, even the ne plus ultra of a lengthy movie innings.
Tis’ a mighty pity that Kamal’s recent movies like Vettaiyadu Villayadu and Dasavatharam are unwatchable garbage.
By the way, we would rate Salangai Oli higher than even Anbe Sivam, another jewel in Kamal Haasan’s crown.
She may have looked like Kamal Haasan’s aunt in many a scene.
But we’ll take this angelic looking ‘aunt’ any day over the current crop of emetic starlets.
In an age of ugly, graceless monstrosities like Trisha Krishnan, Nayantara, Shriya Saran et al, to behold a beauty like Jayapradha on the screen is to see the hand of God at work (really?).
Again, it’s hard to think of any other actress for the role of Madhavi except Jayapradha (now a politician and member of the Indian Parliament, by the way).
Although not an accomplished actress in the league of Kamal Haasan, Jayapradha was more than effective in Salangai Oli.
One thing we were perplexed about was why when crucial decisions involving Madhavi were being made no one thought to ask her opinion. Or would that have made the movie too complicated.
Nice music is the third leg (besides the strong story and acting) of this bewitching movie.
We will say little more here other than the five songs accompanied by classical dances were sheer music to our ears.
In a movie that’s satisfying from the start to the end, why do you ask us to highlight a few scenes.
Yes, we were struck by this scene toward the end of the movie:
Unaware of the truth of her marital status, Balu places his places his palm over Madhavi’s forehead to prevent her kumkum (a key symbol of being married for Hindu women) from being washed away in the rain.
Odds are that you were also moved by the scene. Right?
If you are looking for some nice lines in the movie, there’s the rhetorical question that Balu asks of his friend Raghu as he lies ailing in the hospital:
Na uyiroda irundhu evanakku prayojanam, na saththu evanakku nashtam
(Who gains by my living, who loses by my dying)
If you live in the U.S., you can borrow Salangai Oli from Netflix. If you live in India, there’s always online theft or pirated DVDs. 😉