Chintamani – The Dasi with a conscience..

Bharathanatyam is seen for the past several decades as the first cultural identity of Tamilnadu. Over the centuries, women as part of the temple and who had dedicated themselves to God, called as ‘deva-dasis’ were the exponents of this tradition. With the passage of time, and with the reduction in power of classical Hindu temples and their ruler kings due to invasions from the North west, the patrons of the ‘deva-dasis’ could no longer support them, leading them to seek questionable ways of survival. Yet, the descendants of the ‘deva-dasis’ continued to practice this art form, with strong support from the temples.
The art form which has been in existence for several centuries had its tumultous period in the first half of the 20th century, when moral questions were raised. Accusations were raised at the practitioneers saying that they not only destroyed hundreds of families but that they also polluted the sacred space of the temple.
Subsequently, the Devadasi system was abolished. Today, most of us do not even know about the existence of such a form of life. However, the Devadasi system seems to have had some sort of direct or indirect representation in almost every film in the 1930s. Several surviving films like Chintamani (1936), ThiruNeelakandar(1939), Uthami (1942), Sabapathy (1941), Haridas(1944) make a reference to the Dasi system.
Chintamani is probably the film that shows us the Dasi system almost entirely from the point of view of the Dasi women, themselves. [ There were other films too like ‘Daaasi Penn’ which are now lost]. What is more unique is that the Director tries to portray the negative effects of the Dasi system on the public, something that was strongly pushed forward by the politicians favouring the ‘Anti-Nautch’ movement. However, Chintamani, although exploitive of her men does have an inner conscience, she regrets her actions and in the end, herself becomes someone, who opposes the system.

Lord Krishna has a special liking for Chintamani, a Dasi. She genuinely regrets the actions of her sins, but it is her ‘karma-palan’ that she has to lead this life. Rukmini does not agree with Krishna’s views, so together, they set out to earth to see for themselves.
Krishna shows Rukmini, that the rich and those who pray to God need not necessarily be free from evil and are quite stingy, while a poor beggar and a man from a lower caste can be more generous than the stingy rich. The life focusses on Chintamani, a Dasi girl, her sister Meenakshi and her mother called as ‘Thai Kizhavi’ by Manoharan. Together, as a family, they exploit rich people. They have driven Manoharan ( YV Rao), a man who abandoned his wife and family for them to near penury and are now milking the rich ‘Alwar Chetty’.
Using Manoharan, Chintamani gets to befriend Bilwamangal, a rich man. Manoharan is subsequently thrown out of the house and falls into poverty and is forced to beg. Bilwamangal is obsessed with Chintamani so much that he abandons his ailing father and his wife. On hearing note that his father is terribly ill, Bilwamangal refuses to leave Chintamani and go home, but being the good natured woman that she is, she insists.
On his way home, his ailing father asks him to promise him to leave the Dasi girl and live with his wife, Suseela, which Bilwamangal, now obsessed with lust refuses. His father dies. With both Bilwamangal and Suseela ailing over the corpse, a storm appears. Bilwamangal rushes to see Chintamani, without even being concerned that his wife is alone with a corpose. Suseela loses her senses and drowns in the river. Without even realising that it is his own wife, Bilwamangal uses the floating body to cross the river.
He reaches and is happy to enquire that Chintamani is safe. Chintamani is curious to see who is dead and together they rush to the river. Bilwamangal is shocked to see that it is his own wife. Chintamani genuinely regrets her actions and promises to not lead the life of a Dasi anymore. She becomes a practitioner and anti-supporter of the Dasi system. She returns the money to Manoharan and the now bankrupt ‘Alwar Chetty’, in the promise that they explain to the public, the bad outcomes of people spending their lives with Dasis, which they promptly do.
Bilwamangal although half mad, accidentally obsesses with Rukmini, the wife of Krishna, both of whom are now in the form of mendicants and who come through out the story. Realising his mistake, Bilwamangal accuses his eyes of causing him to fall in lust and blinds himself.
Lord Krishna makes Chintamani to meet Bilwamangal, where she sees the now blind man and takes care of him.
Lord Krishna blesses the couple and restores their youth and restores Bilwamangal’s eyesight.

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Golden Oldies – Utthami(1942) – The First Depiction of Picture Morphing in Cinema?

The Movie ‘Utthami’ has been published by ‘Urimai Kural’ DVD Publishers. You can contact them to get a copy of this movie. UK Golden Movies – RamaPuram, Chennai. Phone – 98417 01807

Note – The author has no personal affiliations with this publishing company.


Natesan and Meena's child marriage.
Natesan and Meena’s child marriage.
Introduction of 'Daasi' Singaari
Introduction of ‘Daasi’ Singaari
Singaari in conversation with a customer
Singaari in conversation with a customer
Natesan and Meena begin their happy married life.
Natesan and Meena begin their happy married life.
Meena(l) seeks justice. ( The Climax of the Movie.)
Meena(l) seeks justice. ( The Climax of the Movie.)

In the late 90s, a furore erupted over the leaked nude images of a North Indian heroine. Most of us hardly knew anything about PhotoShop or its subsequent impact in our daily lives, going forward. It was however the first time that i heard the word ‘morphing’, a criminal act where a person’s face is superimposed with another person’s body, and is typically used to defame a person..

Although the concept of morphing plays a small yet important aspect in the climax of the movie, the movie touched upon social issues, prevalent at that time. This was the time, when both commercial cinema typically produced by Sriramulu Naidu of PakshiRaja productions starring M.K.Thyagaraja Bhagavathar and P.U.Chinnappa, mostly based on mythological subjects were at their peak.

Parallely, as the war raged in Europe, and the spirit of Nationalism was at its peak, as India was on the verge of gaining her independence from Britain, legendary movie Makers like K.Subhramanyam were making movies like ThyagaBhoomi(1939). From the period of 1935 onwards, after the making of the now lost movie, Dumbachari, Social satire movies were also made. K.Subhramanyam himself had established himself strongly through the Social Satire movie – Balayogini(1936).

Utthami is based on the evils of Child Marriage and the Dowry system which were then very prevalent at that period in time.

Natesan and Meenal are married off at a young age. Meenal’s father ( informally called Meena in the movie) promises to pay a huge sum of dowry to the groom’s father. Ten Years Roll by. ( The Movie uses a slide to make certain aspects of the story clear to the audience, a practice that was frequently used in the silent era, but was slowly fading out in the era past 1931, when Sound Films came into existence.)

Ten Years later, Meenal’s (T.S.KrishnaVeni) father, a poor priest is financially destroyed. He has no means of sending his daughter from his little village ThiruMalai, to her in-laws. Sensing this, Natesan’s father and his cunning-ultra conservative grandmother decide to cut off the alliance. They poison Natesan’s (?) mind making him believe that Meena has become a vibachari ( a prostitute) and make him write a letter to Meena’s father to inform him that the marriage is off. Natesan’d father and his grandmother had done this with the intention of getting her married to a rich girl.

Meenal and her family are destroyed to learn off the accusation. Meenal decides to go alone and meet her husband and ask him, if he indeed felt the same, and if he said the same, she would die at her husband’s feet.  So, she sets off alone to the city.

The movie shows a slide, that the city is also the place, where Daasi-Singari ( played by the legendary T.P.RajaLakshmi) lives. Singari’s business is suffering a lull, and they need a young girl to incite more customers. Along with her assistant, Vichu, they set off looking for a girl. They come across the innocent girl Meena, fool her and bring them to her house. But Meena, refuses to co-operate.

One day, Natesan sees Meena in the park. He is obsessed with her. Vichu says that this particular girl is fraught with risk and charges Natesan a huge amount of Rs.2000, and gives Natesan their address and he tells him to comes over to #13, HELL ROAD ( The Address of Singari). Natesan comes over the next day.

Meena is adamant that she will not bow down to any body other than her husband. Torn between the money that is going to come and Meenal’s not agreeing, Singari forces her, for which Singari regrets and cries for help.  A man on the street hears her pleas and sees Singari’s customer coming towards the house. He happens to know him, and on knowing that he is going to a whore house, shouts at him. Singari’s customer (Natrajan) runs away in fear.

After coming to know that the girl although staying in a Daasi house, refuses to sleep with men and that she is also a Brahmin, Natrajan now decides, he wants to get married to her. He tells this to his friend. But his friend warns him, that could be tantamount to going against the girls wishes. But the man is convinced that she will agree, as he is promising her a better life.

Vichu and Singari now are in a problem. They have taken the money from Minor Natrajan ( Indeed Meena’s husband, who is now obsessed with her), but Meena is not agreeing. ( without knowing that it is her husband). Natrajan’s friend comes to Singari’s house telling her about his friend;s obsession with Meena and that he would die if he did not get Meena. He offers to talk directly to Meena and convince her. But when he comes near Meena, she protests and threatens to tie her saree around her own neck and kill herself. The man tells her not to do so, and that he has come with really good intentions, after he heard pleas of help from this house, #36, and that he has come to rescue her. Meena trusts him and tells him her sorry story, that she had come to meet her husband, but was cheated and trapped by Singari and her men. The man is incidentally also from Sirumalai and offers to help her.

The man then tells Meena the good news that the man who is obsessed with her, is her real husband. Meena is happy. He tells her that she should behave like a Daasi, and assures her that all will go well. Act like a Daasi, seduce him, and get married to him via register marriage, and he leaves.  Singari and Vichu are shocked to know that Natrajan wishes to marry off Meena. They had thought he would be a prospetive customer. But Natrajan insists. They now claim that a marriage would be a loss of business for them and demand Rs. 5000 instead, which Natrajan writes them a cheque.

Natrajan and Meena get married via register marriage. Without the knowledge of his parents, Natrajan clandestinely lives with his wife. A child is born to the couple. Life is Rosy for them. But with Meena gone, Singari’s business faces turmoil. They have not been able to find any other girls, and Singari warns Vichu to bring back Meena at any cost. Vichu, fools an aspiring ( stupid) photographer asking him if he can morph Meena’s face on another body to appear as if she is with another man. He does not tell the photographer who the real girl is, and tells that the girl is related to him and offers him 15 Rupees. Without knowing the truth, the photographer completes the job.

Using the morphed photograph, a seed of suspicion is planted in Natrajan’s mind. Natrajan without saying a word, leaves Meena and comes back home. A marriage is fixed for him. On the date of the marriage, a faithful servant comes home and brings the bad news to Meena. Meena, on the verge of hunger has sold all that she had , including her Thaali to feed her child. She comes to the Mantap to seek justice. Natraj initially protests, accusing her of being a woman with a loose character. But thanks to Natrajan’s friend and the village’s zamindar, the photographer is traced, who points the fingers at Vichu telling the truth that indeed Meena is a virtuous woman.

At the end of the movie, Natrajan regrets his actions. He blames his misfortunes entirely on the child marriage being perpretated across two individuals without their permission and also his father, who poisoned his mind, accusing his wife of being a ‘vibachaari’.

Natrajan apologies to his father in law and Meena. Meena wants to know who took the photograph that caused her life to go in chaos. Meena is taken to Seenu, and Seenu tells the truth that he did it only for 15 rupees and become a famous photographer. He is stupid and every one understands that he did not do it intentionally.. The movie ends in a happy note..

The movie has other characters like Mariyamma, a woman married off to a much elder man and ‘Pudalangai’ Thirudan, a man who initially chose to steal ‘Pudalangai’s, but could not get the stigma off his back, even after he joined the police force. He plays a crucial role in the film, tracking down Meena. In the end, seeing no other way out to eraze his stigma, he decides to do a business on Pudalangai’s itself.