Today March 22 is observed as International Water Day every year since the United Nations General Assembly designated 22 March 1993 as the first World Water Day. The day is celebrated all over the world to raise awareness about water management and better use of the nature's gift.
This ubiquitous chemical substance that is composed of two molecules of hydrogen and one molecule oxygen is vital for all known forms of life, including our cinema. If you look at how Tamil cinema treated water and water bodies all these years it is very interesting.
When you think of water in films the immediate thing that comes to mind are the rain songs. The rain has become an indispensible prop for songs to most of the directors for many years. Letting the characters singing in the rain is a favourite idea for directors for many years to show both happiness and sorrow. If Sivaji breaks into the song 'Kaana Inbam' in Sabash Meena romantically MGR sends out strong social messages with 'Budhan Yesu Gandhi piranthathu' in Chandrodhayam drenching in rain. While the black and white films too had rain sequences only the colour films showed the pomp of water drops falling. But one thing to be noted is that except directors like K. Balachander, Mani Ratnam and a few others most of the directors used water and rain to show the curves of their heroines.
The song 'Pothukittu Oothuthadi Vaana' in Payum Puli is one of the song in which you feel the rain is drench soaking. Kamal in 'Megam Kottatum' song for 'Enakkul Oruvan' impressed for his share. When rain was mostly used to seduce the heroine by the hero some directors used rain songs to show the strength of their heroines. Oho Megam Vandhathu' in Mouna Ragam, 'Vaan Megam' in Punnagai Mannan looked women empowerment. For that you need directors like Maniratnam and K. Balachandar who has a fascination for rain and strong women characters. There is no big star in the industry who has not done a rain sequence in Tamil cinema. Since that is too many we will try to cover all separately later.
While rain was mostly used in songs, one film used rain as the theme and the life line of the story. Aptly called 'Mazhai' which introduced Shriya to Tamil 'Mazhai' is the only film that used rain as a character and not as a property. Also 'Moontram Pirai' in which Balu Mahendra captured the climax in rain so in actual fact that the audience looked for umbrellas involuntarily after the film ended as if there is real rain pouring outside.
Other bodies of water used mostly are the lakes and falls which helped the directors again mostly for the songs and climax fights. Singing in the lake for Mullai Malar Mele in Uthama Puthiran was rage then. The Kodaikanal Lake is one location beaten to death by our film makers. A well remembered scene there is Rajinikanth drowning Kamal Haasan for Moontru Mudichu.
Another film in which the element called water was responsible for the fate of the protagonists is 'Vaidegi Kathirunthal'. The twist the film is well etched by the director. Vijayakanth loses his lady because there was not a drop of water when needed. Revathi loses her man because there was plenty of water. People who have seen the film will relate to this irony better.
But the reason for this piece of writing is one ageless film made that parched the throats of viewers in 1981. In that director K. Balachander touched the raw nerve. The classic film is 'Thanneer Thanneer' which is a political drama depicting a third world human story. The film is about a village dry to the core called Athipati tries a cooperative method to bring water to the village. But their attempts are thwarted by unscrupulous politicians who try to use the water problem for their political gains.
The very opening scene of the film of a boy bringing water on his head from miles away under the cruelly hot sun dropping his pot and losing the water carelessly and then desperately digs the mud to get the water back sets the tone. Then, Saritha carrying more than one pot and her baby suggesting the water pots are as important as her baby. The whole film realistically depicts the waterless rural India, far removed from dream world.
K. Balachander adapted Komal Swaminathan's play by the same name for screen. The film can be classified as a political satire that excelled in all departments. Soulful music by the great MSV, compelling photography by B. Loknath and whipping dialogues by Komal Swaminathan. The song 'Megam karukkuthadi' which starts when the villagers see some dark clouds and ends after the clouds disappoints without any rain is a classic both musically, visually and emotionally.
Wonderful performance by the actors led by the inimitable Saritha absorbs you into the film easily. The film which fared well at many international festivals did not do commercially well in its home ground. The government was also not with the film for the graphic portrayal of the inefficiency and apathetic attitude of the politicians. The state government even thought of banning the film.
Released on the Diwali day of 1981, Thaneer Thaneer is one of the best films made in Tamil and the content is relevant even today after 30 years of its release. With acute water scarcity today the world hasn't changed for the past three decades.
On a sad note we record that Thaneer Thaneer, the poignant story about human life, has no existing copy of the negative. A cult film which should have been restored and preserved for future generation is lost.
But what ever means possible please try to watch this movie at lease once in your life time.