These are times when the mask is perceived to be the most important accessory, even though those who know keep repeating that it is only the infected who need to wear it. Be that as it may, and now that everyone is practically homebound, here are a few films that feature masks in important situations or have them as a running theme, and which you can watch if they are on Netflix and whatever else.
I am aware that the Peters in my readership will immediately assume that I refer to classics such as Jim Carrey’s The Mask, Antonio Banderas’ the Mask of Zorro or the many versions of the Man in the Iron Mask. I allude to none of these. Mine, barring one, are of a sounder vintage.
- Utthama Puthiran (1958)- inspired by the Man in the Iron Mask, it has two Sivaji Ganesans, Padmini and Nambiar. Sivaji is just swashbuckling and the songs are great. One of the two Sivajis has to wear the mask that will eventually suffocate him to death and the evil one finally goes to his death over a waterfall, even as he struggles to take off the mask. Like the Man in the Iron Mask has had several versions in Hollywood, Utthama Puthiran was made in 1940 with PU Chinnappa and again in 1958. There is a film of 2010 with the same title that I know nothing of (much after my time).
- Dilli Ka Thug (1956) – starring Kishore Kumar and Nutan, the film features a villain – an unknown by name Kishenkant who essays the role of Anantaram – a man who wears a mask complete with monocle! The movie, unlike UP above is pretty dumb and involves a fight in a flying aircraft where after the pilot is incapacitated, the hero lands everyone safely. Awful really but the villain is good.
- Manthiri Kumari (1950) – rather like those western films where the villain was at one time always masked, this too features him doing all his heinous tasks wearing a mask. The audience is let in to the secret pretty early and it is only the female lead (Madhuri Devi) who does not know. The climax, after the lovely song Vaaraai Nee Vaaraai takes place atop a hill and leaves you gasping somewhat. Though the hero was MGR, the villain SA Natarajan stole the show. God knows what happened to him later.
- Amadeus (1984) – I saw this first in the Lintas conference room sometime in 1989 and this movie has remained with me ever since. Who can forget Tom Hulce and F Murray Abraham in their roles of Mozart and Salieri? Of course I learnt later that this whole story is fictitious and Mozart probably had no detractor in his less-gifted composer. But remember that the repeated motif is Salieri wearing a mask and haunting Mozart. The music is of course superlative (what can you expect with Mozart) and the acting is class.
Besides these there are several horror movies that have masks, several normal movies that are horrors with people going around in masks and the usual superman genre as well. Let us leave those aside.
TOP CLASS. Sivaji Ganesan as the pampered prince gave an immortal performance. in UTHAMAPUTHRAN We need not take ‘the mask’ literally. If we read it as impersonation, So many of Shakespeare’s plays are of ‘mask’ too. All of them Delightful/ First and foremost comes AS YOU LIKE IT. … ‘MERCHANT OF VENICE’ Then TWELFTH NIGHT… COMEDY OF ERRORS, then CYMBELINE. .. ‘ TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA’, The Bard had a fancy for tender girls of slender gender in men’s garb! They are indeed sweet . as in so many oriental’ village dances of old films by Travancore sisters. the younger of the two ( padmini) always donning the male robes! Even Ellis Dungan was captivated by one such and has shown it in his documentary.. Vyjayanthimala in ‘Vaazhkkai’,,, ‘un kaN unnai aematrinaal’..
On 3/20/20, Madras Heritage and Carnatic Music
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