D for Devaraj-Mohan
I think I have to make two things clear – Devaraj and Mohan are two people and they didn’t make only Annakili. The biggest problem of a supporting act in a more prominent story is that you are just remembered for that one performance (like Sathyaraj’s Kattappa). Devaraj-Mohan made 18 movies together, and Devaraj made five more films after they split, but they are known for only one movie – Annakili that launched Ilaiyaraaja
I couldn’t find any history about the duo except for the fact that they assisted K Madhavan until the early 70s. They became friends and looking at their talent, P Madhavan produced Ponnukku Thanga Manasu (1973) that had Sivakumar and Jayachitra in the lead. Although Sivakumar had acted in more than 40 movies, this was the first lead role, and Vijayakumar debuted in the film. GK Venkatesh was the music director for the movie.
The movie was a huge hit, and the partnership between Sivakumar – Devaraj – Mohan continued for 13 more films. According to Sivakumar, Devaraj was incredibly creative with respect to scene compositions and song sequences while Mohan was the executor as he was from a stage drama background. Even Ilayaraaja recounts a beautiful incident regarding the En Kadhali song from Chittukuruvi. He wanted to make a counter-point song, and the song situation helped him. He had got the permission to make the song from Devaraj, but Mohan wasn’t happy about the idea. But Devaraj was willing to experiment with the song, and we got a classic.
Although 16 Vayathinile is usually touted as the movie that took the camera to the villages, it was initially Devaraj-Mohan who made the first move to the villages with their Annakili. According to Film News Anandan, Devaraj-Mohan was instrumental in changing the landscape of Tamil cinema – the transition from a synthetic hero to a more complex protagonist that allowed the audience to think about the culture and circumstances attached to him.
Devaraj-Mohan never shied away from making movies with experimental storylines. Annakili was about a love-struck village girl who doesn’t have the guts to express her love, Kavikkuyil was about a pregnant woman waiting for her lover who has lost his memory, Chittukuruvi was about an ex-convict who becomes a good Samaritan for a community, Poonthalir was about the search for a lost kid. The entire movie follows the small kid and the film was shot in the perspective of the kid. But I want to talk about Rosappu Ravikkaikari.
Breakout movie: Rosappu Ravikkaikari
A story is set in a remote village during pre-independence period. Sembattai (played by Sivakumar) is a naive illiterate who lives by supplying betel leaves and other essentials to the villagers. His mother gets him married to Nandini (played by Deepa), a beautiful and educated lady from the neighbouring village. Nandini finds it challenging to live in the household, and Sembattai’s mother abuses her for her lifestyle.
Sembattai establishes a separate home and supports his wife in her lifestyle choices. Manickam (played by Sivachandran), a distant relative of Sembattai comes to the village to recruit workers for the British. Seeing his suaveness and sweet talk, Nandhini falls for him, and they start an affair. Nandini gets pregnant, and Sembattai is devastated because he knows he isn’t the father. One day, he finds Nandini and Manickam in compromising position and commits suicide by jumping into the pond. Realising her mistake, Nandini also commits suicide. The film ends with the villagers speculating on the reasons for the death.
Although there were movies that touched upon infidelity, there wasn’t one that openly portrayed infidelity like Rosappu Ravikkaikari. The film was based on a Kannada movie, but Tamil version had Sivakumar in his career best role and Ilaiyaraaja with one of the most haunting original scores. Sivakumar recollects that Devaraj comes up with scene compositions and you will see this in the picturisation of Uchi Vaguntheduthu song; the way camera moves to match the song and expressions of Sivakumar is the epitome of Devaraj-Mohan’s brilliance
Devaraj-Mohan parted ways after Kannil Theriyum Kathaikal. Devaraj made some more movies like Kavithai Malar and Isai Paadum Thendral that were successful. Some of the reports state that he lived in poverty, had a small cycle shop in Ambattur and died without any help. Mohan passed away in 2012 at the age of 81. Their story is the perfect example how quickly the film industry forgets people.
They were the first directors to have multiple music composers in one movie. Kannil Theriyum Alaigal had composers including Ilaiyaraaja, MS Viswanathan, Sankar-Ganesh and V Kumar (technically five if you take Sankar and Ganesh as two different people).
They collaborated with Ilaiyaraaja for most of their movies and did interesting experiments with him. Balamurali Krishna for Chinna Kanna Azhaikkiran, counterpoint experiment in Chittu Kuruvi and made a film titled Ilayarajavin Rasikai but it didn’t make it to the theatres
YouTube link to the movie
Movies to watch
- Devaraj-Mohan wiki page
- The 1970s and it’s legacies of Indian Cinema – Essay compilation – Contributed by FilmNews Anandan
- இளையராஜாவின் முதல் படமான அன்னக்கிளியின் இயக்குநர் மோகன் மரணம்
- மூகாம்பிகை மீது கன்னடப் பாடல்கள் – இளையராஜா பாடினார்
- Pride of Tamil Cinema by G Dhananjayan
- ‘Tell him that his cycle is Acting!’ எனக்குப் பிடித்த இரட்டையர்கள்!- நடிகர் சிவகுமார் கட்டுரை