For SI blog reader STG
You putzheads can believe us or not but Ulagam Sutrum Valiban (1973) is the ultimate Dr.Jekyll and Hyde of Tamil movies.
A magnificent eagle that soars high in the clouds and moments later an ugly crow that struggles to get its wings off the ground.
A dystopian nightmare and a delightful charmer.
Think we’ve taken leave of our senses? Well, you’re not the first to harbor such thoughts. 😉
Of course, ye schmucks will think such base thoughts, when you even think at all.
In a million years and after a gazillion albums, can the Allah-hailing A.R.Rahman approach the heaven that M.S.Viswanathan brings within reach of mere mortals for a few short minutes in Ulagam Sutrum Valiban. (Tis’ one of the great tragedies of life that the fame and sounds of some musical talents echo in just few places while that of others extends far and beyond.)
Who having heard the melody of Thanga Thoniyile, Nilavu Oru or Ulagam, Ulagam can fail to be under the everlasting spell of M.S.Vishwanathan.
We swooned, as did millions before us.
Every song in this movie is a lavish feast for the ears. The passage of time has not dimmed their appeal but instead boosted their luster when set against the drivel that’s part of most movies these days.
Adding to the allure of the fine music were the pleasing lyrics from Vaali and Kannadasan.
Sadly, the picturization of the songs is nothing to write home about.
By the same token, it’s hard to conceive of a director so inept as M.G.Ramachandran aka MGR, the director of Ulagam Sutrum Valiban.
Except for the music, virtually everything about this movie including the photography, costumes (what’s with the red shirts and red trousers), story, screenplay, dialogs, makeup, the fight scenes and the choreography screams amateur, amateur.
If you ask us, the acting was nothing to write home about either.
The comedy track featuring the late Nagesh was downright silly and included merely to pander to the jackasses that form much of the Tamil film base over the decades. If it was Nagesh who tortured us then, it’s Vadivelu, Vivek and Santhanam who rain misery on us now in one Tamil movie after another.
Not content to stop at direction, MGR was the producer and also donned the greasepaint for the two main roles in the movie.
As Stupid as it can Get
The story is bizarrely stupid, as, of course, only Tamil movies can be.
Given the utter nonsense of a screenplay, there’s little scope for character development of most characters. Particularly, of the four girls.
Harnessing the power of lightning, a scientist Murugan (MGR) has made a remarkable discovery that has the potential to unleash enormous destruction on humankind.
Naturally, the bad guys, including a rival scientist Bhairavan (Asokan), are after it. Not surprisingly, Murugan is soon attacked and in the process falls from a great height (conveniently into a swimming pool) and loses his memory making it impossible for the criminals to retrieve the coveted formula for the invention.
Before you can say Ulagam, we see the scientist’s younger brother Jeyaraj a.k.a Raju (also played by MGR) in search of his brother. A search that takes him to Thailand, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore (??).
In between the MGR frames, we have three Indian girls Vimala (Manjula), Ratna (Chandrakala) and Lily (Lata). Obviously, all three fall for one of the MGRs.
As if three Indian girls falling for two MGRs were not weird enough, we also have the spectacle of a Thai beauty Medha flipping for MGR only to be turned into a younger sister. Anna, she exclaims, in one of the most ridiculous scenes ever in a Tamil movie, moments after she learns that MGR is married.
The fight scenes were comical for their sheer ineptness and the villainous scientist Bhairavan has been turned into a cartoon.
And what’s with all the hats?
Filmed in 1970 and released three years later, Ulagam Sutrum Valiban had a hard time making it to theaters, thanks in no small measure to the Machiavellian tactics of his then DMK rival M.Karunanidhi, who was promoting one of his wastrel sons Mu Ka Muthu in the film industry.
The songs, of course, had been released much earlier and their popularity lured audiences to the theaters.
Various obstacles notwithstanding, Ulagam Sutrum Valiban went on to become a super hit in Tamil Nadu.
The movie was a raging hit not just in Tamil Nadu but in Malaysia, Singapore and other places with a large Tamil diaspora.
Ulagam Sutrum Valiban was also to play a pivotal role in MGR’s political fortunes, coming as it did during the time of his break with the DMK party led by Karunanidhi (current Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu) and his formation of the ADMK. A break that still resonates in Tamil Nadu via the ADMK-DMK rivalry.
Several years after the movie’s release, the song Pachchaikilli muthucharam used to blast our eardrums from loudspeakers in Tamil Nadu almost every other day.
A marriage, a public meeting, Diwali or any other event would see this song blaring across public address systems in the villages, towns and cities of Tamil Nadu. Thus began our love affair with Pachchaikilli muthucharam, an enduring relationship that has now lasted decades.
An affection that our migration to distant shores has not dimmed.
But if you ask us now (after we’ve watched this film), we might be tempted to say that Thanga Thoniyile is a way better number.
Your favorite blog SearchIndia.com recommends Ulagam Sutrum Valiban, primarily for the songs. The DVD should still be easily available.