Tamil movies are used as launch pads to enter politics. Politics and cinema are intertwined in Tamil Nadu from the days of early Tamil cinema. In fact, directors used cinema to infuse revolutionary thoughts into public discourse. When politics became business and politicians became corrupt, they didn’t want them to be portrayed as is. Politicians have been depicted as villains in different movies, but nobody dared to show the modus operandi of a corrupt, vicious politician on screen. If Muhammed Bin Tughlaq made it to the list for satire, Amaidhi Padai is here for the stark depiction of politics in Tamil Nadu with a pinch of satire and black comedy.
Amaidhi Padai (1994)
Amaidhi Padai is the story of Amavasai or Nagaraja Chozhan (he changes his name to suit his political image). A pauper, he fights with children to get a piece of coconut smashed as an offering to the gods in temples. He becomes a political speaker after he impresses Manimaran (played by Manivannan), a local MLA from the ruling party, with his mimicry skills.
He makes Thayamma (Kasthuri) fall in love with him, rapes her under the influence of drugs and dumps her after he becomes an MLA. He marries the local landlord’s daughter, Sivakami (played by Sujatha), makes Manimaran as his sidekick (after using Manimaran’s money to win the elections) and remains as the MLA of the constituency for the next 20 years.
After 25 years, Amavasai’s son, Thangavel (also played by Sathyaraj) raised by Thayamma’s parents works as a police constable and during his betrothal with Kuyili (Ranjitha), a dispute arises about his father’s identity. When he accuses his mother as a whore, his grandparents reveal the identity of his father and the back story.
Meanwhile, the ruling party decides to field another candidate instead of Amavasai in the upcoming general elections, and Amavasai orchestrates a communal riot to stop them. Thangavel gets posted as a head constable in the riot police, and he saves Amavasai from an assassination attempt. Looking at the resemblance, Amavasai meets Thangavel and identifies him as his son. He even asks him to join him, but Thangavel refuses and vows to expose Amavasai’s nefarious activities. The rest movie is a battle between the son and the father.
MR Films International produced the movie with Sathyaraj, Sujatha, Ranjitha and Kasturi in the lead. Ilaiyaraaja scored the music, and D Shankar wielded the camera. Manivannan wrote and directed the movie. He also played one of the most memorable villain sidekick roles in Tamil cinema as Manimaran.
Why is Amaidhi Padai special?
1. Amavasai (Nagaraja Chozhan) is one of the most memorable villain characters in Tamil cinema. It’s not usual for Tamil movie audience to fall in love with a negative role (although it has become normative these days due to the glamourisation of such characters) but Nagaraja Chozhan is different. The cult status of this character should have come from either through Stockholm syndrome or probably the role is the perfect representation of all bad politicians. Nevertheless, the portrayal by Sathyaraj and the writing of Manivannan is the prime reason for this character to be so hated yet loved. In the current world of meme culture, Amavasai makes fun of the current state of politics.
2. You can call it the vision or politically astute Manivannan’s writing, because, when you see the movie, you might think that he had a “futuristic” outlook to politics. The political history might remind you that there have been similar cases. The stinging satirical dialogues (usually delivered by Sathyaraj and Manivannan) are still remembered and reproduced to show the state of politics in the country.
3. One of the problems of having such a towering character in the movie is that the supporting characters lose their place in the mayhem. In fact, the other Sathyaraj role fades away in comparison to Amavasai. Even in the mayhem, Sujatha and Halwa Vasu are remembered for their short but impactful roles.
4. Ilaiyaraaja’s impact was felt in the background score especially during the riot sequences, and also he portrayed the evilness of Amavasai through his music. The songs are underrated gems – Sollividu Velli Nilave, the experimental Ada Neeyachu Naanachu and Muthumani Ther Irukku never got their due in the popular culture.
Why is Amaidhi Padai on the list?
1. It was not easy to make political satires, and Manivanan balanced the humour with reality to present us with one of the most memorable movies.
2. Amavasai has become a cult villain and in the recent past, a political commentator in the meme world. The impact of the character will be felt until there is politics in Tamilnadu
3. The unique combination of Sathyaraj and Manivannan. There are only a few such partnerships in Tamil cinema.
1. Manivannan hailed from an agriculture and trade family. He was inspired by the movies of Shyam Benegal and Mrinal Sen. Impressed by movies like 16 Vayadhinile and Udhiri Pookal; he wanted to join Tamil cinema. He worked as an assistant director with Bharathiraja. His first credit is in Nizhalgal for story and dialogues. It’s interesting to note that he wasn’t credited in earlier movies directed by Bharathiraja.
2. Manivannan jokingly remarked that Bharathiraja never expected him to direct a movie. But Ilaiyaraaja saw the potential in the young Assistant Director and suggested his name to Kalaimani (scriptwriter turned producer). They both collaborated to make Gopurangal Saivathillai with Mohan, Suhasini and Radha in the lead.
3. Manivannan directed 50 films in different genres. The range of scripts he explored is fascinating. Notable films are Gopurangal Saivathillai, Kuva Kuva Vaathugal, 24 Mani Neram, Nooravathu Naal, Palaivana Rojakkal, Ini Oru Sudhanthiram, Jallikattu, Chinna Thambi Periya Thambi, Ganam Courtar Avargale, Moondravathu Kann and Amaidhi Padai.
4. Sathyaraj and Manivannan were close friends as they started together in Tamil cinema. Manivannan cast Sathyaraj in challenging roles. They collaborated in 25 movies, one of the longest director-actor collaborations in Tamil cinema. This combo started the unique sarcastic Lollu comedy of Sathyaraj in Mudhal Vasantham. Sathyaraj’s role as Kunguma Pottu Gounder became so popular that they used the same character in Jallikattu and Sathyaraj made another movie of the same name. On Deepavali day of 1986, Vidinja Kalyanam and Palaivana Rojakkal released on the same day, both directed by Manivannan and Sathyaraj in the lead.
5. Interestingly, Manivannan collaborated with Mohan for eight movies, and Manivannan recalls that Mohan was a friend and it was easy to work with him. Mohan got some radically different roles with Manivannan than his usual Mic Mohan stereotype.
6. Amaidhi Padai was a huge success and became one of the biggest hits of Sathyaraj. Manivannan directed a sequel in 2013 titled Nagaraja Chozhan MA MLA. Except for the conversations between Sathyaraj and Manivannan, the movie was drab and failed miserably at the box-office. Nam Thamizhar Party leader Seeman played an important role in the movie.
7. Although he made cameos in some of his movies, Bharathiraja cast him as a villain against Rajinikanth in Kodi Parakkuthu. Bharathiraja dubbed for Manivannan in the movie. His acting prowess was evident in Amaidhi Padai, but Ullathai Alli Tha (directed by his Assistant Sundar C) catapulted him to stardom. He had a good run as an actor in many movies.
8. Manivannan was openly political. He supported the Eelam movement in Sri Lanka, joined Vaiko’s MDMK and later with Seeman in Nam Thamizhar Party.
9. Although Manivannan worked with many music composers, his best output was with Ilaiyaraaja. The background scores of movies like 24 Mani Neram, Nooravathu Naal, redefined the thriller genre music in Tamil cinema.
10. Born as Rangaraj Subbiah, Sathyaraj started his career as a henchman in Tamil cinema. 24 Mani Neram, Nooravathu Naal and Kaaki Sattai established him as a seasoned actor in antagonist roles. After 24 Mani Neram, he acted as a villain in 27 movies in one single year. It was Bharathiraja (again), who redefined the career of Sathyaraj through his Kadalora Kavithaigal.
11. Manivannan improvises a lot on the sets. The most popular sequence in the movie when Sathyaraj and Manivannan are waiting for election results is completely improvised on the sets. (Thanks to Somu Padmanabhan for pointing me to Sundar C’s interview at BOFTA)
12. Vasu or Halwa Vasu as he is fondly known as started his career as an assistant director to Manivannan. His role in Amaidhi Padai made him famous and fetched him the moniker “Halwa” Vasu because he is the person who provides drug-tainted Halwa to Amavasai which he uses to intoxicate Thayamma. He acted in more than 900 films as a comedian and known for his roles with Vadivelu. He passed away in 2017 due to Liver failure.
13. Sujatha was born in Sri Lanka and spent her childhood acting in school plays. She debuted in Malayalam at the age of 14 and acted in 30 movies before she got her big break when she was identified by Balachander to do the lead role in Aval Oru Thodarkathai. Known for her nuanced portrayals of strong characterisations, Sujatha made her mark with movies like Annakili (1976), Oru Oodhappu Kan Simittugiradhu (1976), Avargal (1977), Poonthalir (1979) and Vidhi (1984). Manivannan presented her with some challenging roles in Vidinja Kalyanam (1986) and Amaidhi Padai (1994). She moved on to do character roles (especially mother roles) and continued her run in movies like Kodi Parakuthu (1989), Senthamizh Paatu (1993) and Aval Varuvala (1998). Her last movie was Varalaru (2006), and she passed away in 2011 at the age of 58. One funny trivia – she has acted as a pair, sister, sister-in-law, mother and mother-in-law over the span of 25 years.
14. It took time for me to get info on Sujatha. Have you ever wondered why there are no interviews of Sujatha? It seems, her husband Jayakar was overprotective of her and created a huge wall between her and the public. He managed her finances, career and her media appearances. There was a running competition among journalists to get an interview from her, and I could find only one interview. She opened up with her co-stars but never gave up on her husband. Balachander, who is known to recast his favourite actors in subsequent movies couldn’t cast her after Noolveli (1979). It’s ironic that her reel life in Avargal and real life became one and the same.
15. Kasthuri started her career with Aatha Un Kovilile when she was 15. A Chennai born, she won the Miss Chennai, 1992 and was one of the finalists alongside Aishwarya Rai and Sushmita Sen at the Miss India Contest, 1994. She had a good run with movies like Chinnavar (1992), Senthamizh Paatu (1992), Urimai Oonjaladugirathu (1992 – one of my favourites), Aathma (1993), Indian (1996) and Annamayya (1997, Telugu). She got married and left to Europe to be with her husband. She worked as a Business development head for a Chennai based International movie distribution company. Due to her mother’s ailment, she had to return to Chennai and later came back to the industry through a cheeky item song in Tamizh Padam (2010). Now, she is choosing character roles and the latest role being an international agent in Simbu’s Anbanavan Asaradhavan Adangathavan (AAA, 2017). An avid quizzer, she was the finalist in Mastermind India and also hosted Vina Vidai Vettai, a quiz program on Puthuyugam TV. She is vocal about her political views and participates in TV debates on various issues. Richard Breyer made a documentary on Kasthuri, titled “Kasthuri: A South Indian Film Star” that dabbled with the public and private life of an Indian actress.
16. There is a popular Facebook meme page on Ammavasai’s name.
- Amaidhi Padai – Wikipedia page
- Manivannan’s speech – Nagaraja Chozhan MLA Audio Release
- Sathyaraj’s Speech – Nagaraja’s Chozhan MLA Audio Release
- Manivannan – Wikipedia page
- Comedian Alwa Vasu passes away – The Hindu
- Enakku Nadigaya Pesa Theriyathu – The only interview of Sujatha
- Sujatha ennum Kavitha enge ponaal – An unverified blog account
- Kasthuri – Interview with Peppers TV
- Kasthuri – Interview with CineGoer TV
- Kasthuri – A South Indian Film Star – Worldcat Entry
- Sundar C Interview at BOFTA
Amaidhi Padai is part of the 50 Best Tamil Movies to watch before you die. Access the entire list in the below link