CINEMA: Sivaji still drawing them in

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NOW SHOWING: Karnan (Tamil)
Directed by B.R. Panthulu
Starring Sivaji Ganesan, N.T. Rama Rao, S.A. Ashokan, R. Muthuraman, Devika, Savitri, M.V. Rajamma
Duration 180 minutes
Rating U

WHEN new movies like Mirattal fail to hold your interest, you seek other films to satisfy you. Now there’s a 1964 Tamil movie re-released in theatres in a digital format drawing big crowds.

Karnan is one of the greatest hits of the late Sivaji Ganesan. It was considered as a magnum opus at the time — using specially-built chariots and Indian army soldiers appearing as extras.

Taking three years and costing RM200,000 to digitalise and improve on its colour and sound quality, the re-release brought in RM3 million at the box office, with the movie playing more than 100 days in several cities in Tamil Naadu in July.

For an old movie shown countless times on TV, to merit such a big reception in theatres is unheard of. And to run for more than 100 days when most new movies are taken off within a month, is a stupendous achievement. This shows that despite the passing of time, the popularity of Sivaji has not diminished.

Here, Karnan seems to be mainly attracting the middle-aged crowd. The movie carries English subtitles.

Karnan’s success has prompted distributors to re-release many other Sivaji, MGR and Rajnikanth movies in digital format.

Sivaji’s big hit, Veerapandiya Kattabomman, is expected to be released in 3-D next year.

Karnan is a character taken from the Hindu epic Mahabharatha.

Karnan (Sivaji) was the son of Surya (a solar deity) and princess Kunti (Kannamma), born through a special boon given to her by her religious teacher.

As she was unmarried then, she floats the baby on the Ganges river and he is found by a childless charioteer. Karnan’s skills in archery make him the closest friend of Duryodhana (Ashokan) and his wife (Savitri), who make him a king.

Despite later finding out that Kunti (now a queen) is his mother, he fights on behalf of Duryodhana against his own brothers, the Pandavas (Kunti’s five sons after her marriage), in the famous Kurukshetra war.

Karnan’s generosity to all, his bravery and staunch friendship with Duryodhana have stood him in good stead among Hindus. Devika plays Sivaji’s wife in the movie.

The film has classical Tamil dialogues, penned by Sakthi Krishnasamy.

Instead of trooping out, the audience sat through the 14 songs composed by the Viswanathan-Ramamoorty pair. They are that famous and many can sing along to the lyrics as the songs have been heard countless times on the radio.

Much effort has been put in to ensure that the song sequences have had their colour fully restored but this effort is half-hearted for the other scenes.

I saw the original movie when I was young and I remember being thrilled by the fight scenes. But now, these battle scenes, including those using bow and arrows, and maces seem unrealistic.

The actions of certain characters, like Indra and Krishna may appear perplexing to some. Some reading on the Internet is needed to understand their reasons.

The scene where Krishna explains Arjuna’s duty in killing Karnan forms the background of the Bhagavad Gita, a sacred text of the Hindus.

Such mythological film is important for the younger generation.

Sivaji wins over fans with his fabulous acting in the 1964 Karnan, now re-released in theatres


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