Naan Avan Illai (1974)
No. No. No. I am not speaking about the crappy remake directed by Selva with Jeevan in the lead. This is a classic of K.Balachander and Gemini Ganesan. Gemini was one of the most underrated actors in Tamil movie world as two giants – Sivaji and MGR overshadowed him, but he carved a niche for himself when it came to romantic movies. K.Balachander, on the other hand, cast in some of the most memorable performances. In fact, he was the most favourite actor next to Nagesh for K.Balachander. Velli Vizha. Iru Kodugal, Punnagai were few impressive casting of this versatile actor. But the most memorable of all would be “Naan Avan Illai.”
Naan Avan Illai was based on a Marathi play To Mi Nahvech written by Prahalad K.Atre adapted to suit the local audiences. The story starts with a courtroom where a man named Nanjil Nambi (Gemini Ganesan) is accused of cheating women through marriage and robbing them off. The first man claims him to be his brother David Asirvatham who ran away after marrying a dumb woman. Nanjil Nambi dumps his lawyer to conduct the argument by himself while public prosecutor (Senthamarai) unfolds the case through different women cheated by David Asirvatham. Vijaysree (Varalakshmi) and her family through a marriage bureau as Lakshman Sharma, Ammukutty (Jayabharathi) and her brother (Kamal Hassan in a small role) as a naval officer Chatruganan Menon, Rani (Jayasudha) and her mother as Hariharadas Swamigal (claiming as Krishna’s avatar), Violet Solomon (a widow) as Jack Solomon (an Anglo-Indian) are the different women cheated by David.
The only argument that Nanjil Nambi keeps against the prosecution is that he and David Asirvatham are two different people. He even brings his wife, Thanammal (Gandhimathi) as his alibi. The Judge (Poornam Viswanathan) gets confused over the way he escapes each prosecution through his intelligence, whereas his daughter Salima (Lakshmi) admires the intelligence of Nanjil Nambi. Salima had met David Asirvatham as Akbar Ali (an Urdu poet). Akbar Ali even cheats her father through a money order. What happens, in the end, is unfolded in an entertaining and comic screenplay. Unveiling the climax in this article would not do justice to the movie.
The movie was produced by Gemini Ganesan under his Sri Narayani productions with music from MS Viswanathan and a whole lot of actors like MN Rajam, Thengai Srinivasan, Asokan etc., doing beautiful cameos.
Why is Naan Avan Illai so special?
1. A comic thriller. No, it’s not an oxymoron. A thriller can be comic too and “Naan Avan Illai” fits the bill perfectly. The movie perfectly paced with a wonderful overdose of comic scenes
2. The movie also brought the acting skills of Gemini Ganesan as he was previously cast in stereotypical romantic roles. The scene in which the inspector and the lawyer try to find his mother tongue is hilarious to the core
3. While Varalakshmi and Jayabharathi portray the naive women, Jayasudha sizzles as a wronged woman. In fact, Jayasudha steals the show in the small role provided to her. Lakshmi’s role was quite interesting as someone who has a crush on a wrong guy.
4. Wonderful musical score with two classic songs “Radha Kadhal Varadha” and “Naan Chinnanchiru Pillai” by MS Viswanathan.
Why is it on the list?
1. There has been a host of movies where the protagonist and the antagonist are the same. But this one stays right at the top where the story is made believable by an excellent screenplay. The real hero of the movie is the screenplay and not the actors
2. One of the best films of Gemini Ganesan as an actor, in fact, Gemini himself claimed that this as is best performance ever in few of his interviews. He comes in 9 different disguises, and each character portrays a different facet of this versatile actor
3. The screenplay, casting and acting are so impeccable that till the final scene the audience is made to think that David and Nanjil Nambi are two different people.
4. A must watch comic thriller from K Balachander’s stable.
1. Gemini Ganesan produced this movie, but it was not a commercial success. Now the film is considered to be a classic, and it was remade with Jeevan in the lead in 2007. The remake was a commercial success leading to a second part in 2009. Naan Avan Illai was the only movie produced by Gemini Ganesan. The movie fetched the Best Actor Filmfare Award for Gemini.
3. Gemini Ganesan was born into a rich family in Pudukottai. But he was raised by his Grand Father’s brother Narayana Swami Iyer. Narayana Swami Iyer’s daughter is Muthulakshmi Reddy, India’s first woman doctor. Gemini got married to Bobji when he was 20 while he wanted to become a Doctor. His debut role was the role assistant director (to Javert Seetharaman) in Miss Malini. Gemini Ganesan’s lead role was a double role in Manam Pol Mangalyam (1953) and he met Savithri.
4. Gemini Ganesan was legally married thrice. He initially didn’t accept his relationship with Pushpavalli, a famous Telugu actress and the heroine of Miss Malini. It came to light when Pushpavalli’s daughter Rekha (Hindi actress) let it out in an interview. When Gemini was enquired about it, he accepted that he had a relationship with Pushpavalli. He married Juliana, a 35-year-old woman when he was 79. He had 7 daughters and a son through this 4 relationships.
2. Gemini Ganesan initially worked as a production executive with Gemini Studios. He actually started acting as a villain in Thai Ullam in which RS Manohar was the hero. Gemini was even a villain against Asokan in Modern Theatres’ Vallavanakku Vallavan.
3. Gemini was an avid cricketer. He captained an Madras Christian College (MCC) cricket team. He had eight children out of which Dr.Kamala Selvaraj and Rekha are the prominent personalities.
4. Kamal Hassan is credited as a dance master in “Naan Avan Illai” but which song did he choreograph is not known. He is even credited as Asst.Director in some of the Balachander movies.
5. The real story writer Prahalad Atre is not credited in the opening or end credits. In fact, interestingly there is no credit for the story. K.Balachander is credited only for Screenplay, Dialogue and Direction. The story is said to be based on a true story which has come in newspapers.
YouTube link to the movie
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