Irumbu Thirai poster from

I must get off the Gemini Studio fixation but with May Day coming about I thought this is a good topic to write on.

SS Vasan was a staunch Congressman and detested the communists. As is well known, it is the latter, with their Union rules that finally brought the cosy studio system to its knees. If you read Asokamitran’s My Years with the Boss, there is a hilarious episode of how the socialist poet Stephen Spender came to address the employees of Gemini. But that is another story.

When I was young (and fat), I sat through a screening of Paigham (1959) on Doordarshan. It stars Dilip Kumar and Vyjayanthimala in the main roles, with B Saroja Devi in the supporting cast. I saw it one Sunday evening in Calcutta, in a neighbour’s flat. Those days were like that – you could walk into anybody’s house, and join them in watching TV. It was a good film, though never rising to the level of extraordinary. Dilip Kumar was really the best of the lot. Vyjayanthimala was her usual overacting self – all Bharata Natyam expressions. Raaj Kumar was good as the elder brother and Moti Lal was fabulous as usual as the mill owner.

Paigham poster, from

According to Dilip Kumar’s delightful biography, it was during the shooting of this movie that Jawaharlal Nehru made a visit to Gemini. Grandmother Yadugiri Devi went on and on about how Panditji was such a fan of Pappa (Vyjayanthimala)’s dance. Vasan therefore got her to stand right upfront when Nehru came. Imagine Patti and Pappa’s discomfiture when the PM saw Dilip Kumar, went up and put his hand around his shoulder with a cheery “Hello Yousuf!” ignoring poor Pappa! Patti kept silent about Pappa thereafter.If at all someone would have enjoyed this episode it must have been Vasundhara Devi, Vyjayanthi’s mother, who was estranged from daughter and mother-in-law. By then the heroine of Gemini’s great hit Mangamma Sabatham had come down in life and had a small role in Paigham, as Vyjayanthi’s mother. Only Vasan could have got such impossible things done.

It was only when I grew older and read all about the studio system and Vasan and Asokamitran, etc that I came to realise that as a film it is all about class conflict. Vasan must have been at the receiving end of so many Union pressures and yet, keeping the audience in mind, he made a leftist film. C Ramchandra scored the music, which sadly was not great. Legend has it that Vasan interfered quite a bit and that could explain why the songs were not up to the usual Chitalkar mark.

A year later, Paigham was made remade in Tamil, with Sivaji Ganesan overacting to the hilt in place of Dilip Kumar. Getting him was a coup of sorts for Vasan and he never got along, Sivaji having never forgiven the former for a rejection in his initial days. The film had an inspired title – Irumbu Thirai (Iron Curtain), thanks to an office boy who was rewarded for it by Vasan. Those were after all the days of the Cold War and Churchill’s phrase was still being used. Many of the Hindi film’s cast reprised their roles for the Tamil movie, and that included Vyjayanthi and Vasundhara. The music was by SV Venkataraman and a host of lyricists worked on the songs. One piece alone stands out – Enna Seidalum, written and set to music by Papanasam Sivan. Sung in playback by (Radha) Jayalakshmi, it features Vasundhara Devi. Vasan had created a song for his old friend, something that she did not have in the Hindi version. It did not do anything dramatic to her career but it did give her a grand send off. The woman who had sung her own songs in Mangamma Sabatham, had to rely on playback for this movie. My song this week is Enna Seidhalum. Enjoy!

This article is part of a series on old film songs, chiefly Hindi and Tamil. You can read the earlier parts here