Nenjil Or Alayam – pic courtesy Wikipedia

It is quite amazing that director Sridhar, who gave us Kathalikka Neramillai, also gave us Nenjil Ore Alayam (1962), which was such a tear jerker. I have seen the former several times and the latter just once and let me tell you, once was enough.

Sita (Devika) is married to Venu (Muthuraman) who is diagnosed with cancer. They come to a doctor (Kalyankumar) who says an operation needs to be done. Unbeknownst to Venu, Sita had originally been in love with the good doctor and so there is a lot of tension. The rest of the movie, apart from some ghastly comedy by Nagesh, revolves around Venu asking Sita to marry the doc in the event of his, Venu dying at the operation table, and Sita suspecting the doc of plotting to kill Venu at the same operation table so that he, the doc, can marry Sita. There is heavy symbolism, a child that is on the way to recovery kicks the bucket, thereby sending Sita into throes of depression, a day calendar sheds its leaves like a tree in autumn, close-ups of dangling thali and plenty of lugubrious songs. Anyway, in the end… but let me leave that to you to figure out.

Among the many lugubrious songs (lyrics by Kannadasan at his best and music by Viswanathan Ramamurthy at their best) is Sonnathu Nee Thana? by P Suseela, pictured at the moment when Venu the ass has just asked Sita to marry doc in the event of he Venu making it to The Hindu’s page 3. It is a song I really like, though most people would probably rate Engirundalum Vazhga higher.

The same film was made in Hindi as Dil Ek Mandir (1963) and since I have this thing for Meena Kumari, I sat through that movie as well. She of course lifted the acting from Devika’s level by several thousand feet. However the rest of the cast (Raajkumar in place of Muthuraman, named Ram and that dreadful ham Rajendra Kumar as the doctor), managed to bring down the average. The equivalent song in Dil EK Mandir is Hum Tere Pyar Mein Sara Alam (Hasrat Jaipuri and Shankar-Jaikishen), also a delight, sung by Lata Mangeshkar who once said that her voice best suited Meena Kumari.

An interesting aside- Sridhar managed to convince Meena Kumari to play the sitar for the scene and that meant her having to expose the pinky of her left hand, something she never did, after it was permanently disfigured in an accident. You can see it in the long shots and then also note the way she covers it in the close-ups. The extreme closeups of the hands playing the sitar feature someone else’s. What a woman and what an actress! And a prima donna also – how many can get away in film after film getting directors and cameramen to portray them in a way that a little finger remains hidden? The film’s song O meri ladli, one of its rare happy pieces, has portions featuring Nagesh, bits from the Tamil film incorporated here.

Sridhar also made this film in Telugu as Manase Mandiram (1966), starring ANR as the doc, Savitri as the wife and Jaggayya as the husband. Unlike the other two this flopped and Sridhar rather unusually blamed the casting of Savitri for this, saying she was too plump to portray Sita. Now was Devika any slimmer? And I don’t think Meena Kumari was any lighter. Remember this was a year after Saheb Bibi aur Ghulam and the lady had already begun lifting the elbow quite a bit.

Anyway, those are matters not concerning us. Suffice it to say that no matter what my views, Nenjil remains a classic and it was according to wikipedia, made into Kannada and Malayalam as well! You can watch it once.

This is part of a series I write on old film songs, chiefly Tamil and Hindi. You can read the rest here