My first brush with Veedu was really funny. I saw it probably when I was 10 or so on National Television. It was one of the most iconic scenes in Tamil cinema when Murugesu (played by Chokkalinga Bagavathar) visits half-built house of his grand daughter for the first time. At that age, I didn’t understand the scene and Ilaiyaraaja’s background score was more mystical than enlightening at that age. After many years, when I started analysing movies, I saw the movie again with fresh eyes and I understood why it’s one of the best movies ever to be made in Indian cinema.
Sudha (played by Archana) lives with her sister Indhu (played by Indhu) and her grandfather Murugesu (played by KA Chokkalinga Bagavathar) in a rented house. When her landlord decides to construct a new building at her place, Sudha is forced to look for a new house. As she couldn’t find a place under her budget, her colleague Iyengar suggests that she should construct her own house. Murugesu has two plots in the outskirts and they start raising the money.
With the help of her fiance, Gopi (played by Banuchander) and her jewels, Sudha starts the construction of the house. Whenever she takes a step forward, she is pushed back couple of steps backward. She is forced to bribe for approvals and then rain halts the construction. The cost escalates and she finds the contractor has been cheating her through Manga (‘Pasi’ Sathya), a construction worker at her site. Manga promises that she will help to complete the construction with the help of supervisor (Oru Viral Krishnarao). As a final jolt, she finds that the metro water officer has given wrong approval and the site is going to be acquired by the water board for construction. The movie ends in a poignant tone when she is still fighting for her land against the government.
The story was written by Akhila Balu Mahendra while Balu Mahendra wrote the screenplay, edited, shot and directed the movie. Ilaiyaraaja used his pieces from “How to name it” to provide a minimalistic background score.
What is so special about the movie?
1. Owning a house is an ultimate dream of Indian middle class and the movie showed how difficult it is to build a house on your own. It becomes even more difficult when you are a woman fighting the system. The mental agony undergone by the middle class was clearly portrayed without melodrama by Balu Mahendra in this movie.
2. The movie is timeless because the issues haven’t changed for the past 30 years and to be fair it has become more difficult to construct a house. If you or your parents have constructed a house, you can feel the pain that the characters go through in this movie.
3. The biggest asset of Balu Mahendra is the way he constructs his characters. Sudha is one of the strongest female characters that you will see in Tamil cinema whil Manga shows another side of feminine strength.
4. The wonderful portrayal of the entire cast. Balu Mahendra has the knack of extracting the best out of every actor. Archana, Pasi Sathya, Banuchander and Chockalinga Bagavathar were a class apart. Archana in particular gave a nuanced portrayal that showed the resilience and frailty of a woman. On the other hand, Chokkalinga Bagavathar portrayed the helplessness of an old man. His acting in the final sequence (mentioned at the start of this article) is a testimony to the brilliance of this man. ‘Pasi’ Sathya as Manga was a revelation.
5. The movie boldly showed the problems in the society that a middle class woman faces. At one point of time, her higher-up at work asks her to sleep with him for money to be sanctioned – the subtlety in the scene is hard hitting and impactful. Balu Mahendra never held back the reality and the sad ending makes the movie more realistic.
Why it should be on the list?
1. Veedu portrayed the reality of the middle class without exaggeration and at the same time the movie didn’t hold back its punches.
2. It was path breaking in the way it was made. Right from character sketches, screenplay and cinematography, it’s one of the flawless movies in Tamil Cinema. Balu Mahendra rated it as one of his two best movies along with Sandhya Raagam.
3. For Balu Mahendra and his vision to make such a brilliant masterpiece on screen.
1. 1987 was the International Year of Shelter for the Homeless and the movie was made in the year. Surprisingly, the movie was censored on the last day of the year right in time for National Awards consideration. The movie was dedicated to the homeless 1.
2. Veedu won the National Award for the Best Tamil Feature film in the 35th National Awards. Archana won the Best Actress award 2. Chokkalinga Bagavathar was said to be in contention for the Best Actor award which eventually went to Kamal Hassan for Nayakan.
3. The house that is being constructed in the movie housed Balu Mahendra’s Cinema Pattarai until his demise. After his demise, the school slowly folded up due to lack of patrons 3. The name board of Cinema Pattarai was written by Balu Mahendra himself 4. The first picture that Balu Mahendra hung inside Cinema Pattarai was of Chokkalinga Bagavathar 4.
4. KA Chokkalinga Bagavathar was a commercial drama artiste and singer made his debut with this movie at the age of 83 5. Here, I need to make a note. According to Randor Guy, one of the film historians, there was another KA Chokkalinga Bagavathar who acted in movies like Thukkaram (1938) and Rambayin Kaadhal (1939) 6. Probably, these are two different people as the age doesn’t match. It’s a pity that we don’t have any information about this wonderful actor (there will be another movie of his in this list). He also sang the title song of the movie.
5. Veedu was inspired by Balu Mahendra’s mother and her difficulties while building a house when he was 8 years old 7. The story is credited to Akhila Balu Mahendra – his wife.
6. Balu Mahendra noted that Veedu and Sandhya Raagam (will be part of this list later) are the two movies that he made with the least number of mistakes 7.
7. One more anomaly is that Best of Tamil Cinema – Part 2 (written by Dhananjayan) lists the movie was shot in black and white while the movie available on YouTube is in colour 5. I don’t remember the movie in black and white, I think even the Doordarshan version was in colour. Can someone throw light on this?
Producer: Kala Das for Sri Kala International; Story: Akhila Balu Mahendra; Screenplay, Dialogues, Editing and Cinematography: Balu Mahendra; Music: Ilaiyaraaja; Art Direction: Ramasamy;
- Veedu Movie – YouTube link.
- The official press release for 35th National Awards by DIFF.
- ‘Cinema Pattarai’ – a thing of the past – The Hindu
- பாலுமகேந்திரா… தமிழ் சினிமாவின் வீடு! – Artilcle by Director Ram on Ananda Vikatan
- The Best of Tamil Cinema – Part 2 by G.Dhananjayan
- Tukaram (1938) – The Hindu
- Balu Mahendra – The Method, the madness – Rediff.com
- Image credit: The Frontline