Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Other Side

Whenever we think of cinema, we think of glamor and glitz; of rich people leading affluent lives; of beautiful people being adored by millions. But there is another darker side to all this that we rarely see or think of and occasionally, it rears its ugly head. Kunal's suicide a few weeks ago was the latest incident reminding us of this other side but it certainly was not the first.

The earliest such incident I remember was the suicide of actress Shobha. A fantastic actress with a beaming smile that lit up her face, she was probably the first one to usher in natural, realistic acting in Tamil cinema. She captured our collective hearts in movies like MuLLum Malarum, Moodu Pani and Nizhal Nijamaagiradhu and even won the National award for her performance in Pasi. But her career - and her life itself - was rudely cut short when she committed suicide by hanging herself. Foul play was suspected in her death and director Balu Mahendra's name figured prominently in rumors relating to it but the bottomline was that we lost one of our best actresses.

The next incident, again a suicide, was the death of 'Silk' Smitha. Essentially an item number gal, the dusky actress rose to great heights. In the period when she was riding the crest of success, no film, including films of Rajni and Kamal, was deemed complete or assured of box-office success without her and her song sequences were greeted with whistles and cat-calls that rivaled those that welcomed the heroes. She avoided looking vulgar even in those teeny dresses that left little to the imagination and rose above the tag of vamp to be generally liked by most viewers - and not just men. While her death came when her career had almost ended, it still shocked everybody. I remember talk about a 'bearded man', who she had been romantically linked to when alive, being a suspect but not for long.

The actresses who died since then did not reach the peaks that the above actresses did in their careers but that doesn't mean their ends were any less sadder. Divya Bharati, after an unsuccessful debut in Tamil, went on to become a hugely successful actress in Telugu and was on her way to rising to the top in Hindi when she committed suicide by jumping off a building. As in all such incidents, there were various theories about her end and she was supposed to be rather depressed in the days leading upto the fatal day. Actress Viji committed suicide in 2001, after a failed affair with an already-married director. A popular actress in the 80s, she had successfully fought illness and made a rare comeback before her demise. Pratyuksha's case was particularly tragic. Though she was said to have consumed poison, there were several rumors about she being a victim to a gang rape in which her then-boyfriend was involved. But inspite of a lot activity in her case, her death was eventually ruled a suicide. Monal, who arrived with great fanfare as a relative of Simran, committed suicide apparently due to a failed love affair.

The number of actors whose lives were cut short is relatively less. I do remember Prince, brother of actor Urvashi, ending his life in what was apparently a suicide pact with his girlfriend. The news was particularly shocking since Prince was a classmate of my brother at one point and had actually visited us at home. And we just heard about Kunal, who never made it big as an actor but did remain in the public eye with roles in several small movies.

The pressures inherent in filmdom, the constant struggle to make it big, the complete lack of privacy, the constant presence in the public eye, the lack of job stability, the fragility of their livelihood since a single flop could end one's career - one doesn't have to look far to figure out the reasons behind why our cinema is plagued by so many untimely deaths. We can only hope that others learn their lessons before its too late and avoid making the mistakes that led to so many other lives being nipped in the bud.

PS: While I wrote the post purely from memory, a little googling revealed that the list of actresses who killed themselves is much longer, with names like Vijayasree, Lakshmisree(who played Rajni's sister in Dharmayudham) and 'Fatafat' Jayalakshmi.

15 Comments:

At 12:01 AM, Blogger skanda said...

i wonder why onli tamil cinema has got the highest rate of suicide. I dunt hear this happening in other langiuages in hindi , telugu..is ut the pressure here so tremendous tathat the actors cannot stand it? But i dunt think it has anything to do with cinema, mybe it is all to do with personal love affairs..

 
At 7:14 AM, Anonymous aravind said...

Despite being one of the most technologically well endowed film industries in India and despite all its advances and accomplishments, Tamilnadu sees its movie world largely as an industry of koothadigal(loosely tied bunch of clowns).

And with a few exceptions(increasing in numbers recently, fortunately), women are portrayed in pretty disgusting stereotypes in our movies.

Both these factors together make for an absolute lack of respect for women associated with the film industry amongst one of the most sickly conservative audiences in india. I am not talking about the Yuppie-Class A-Center audiences but about the bulk-class B and C Center grown men that find it easy to stand judgement on womens character by setting themselves on the convenient side of the stereotype.

This is one of the most important reasons why young women from the film industry do not find it worth living for anymore.

 
At 7:25 AM, Anonymous ram said...

it is very sad indeed that some of these "entertainers" meet with tragic ends...yes, i get a lump in my throat when i think about some of these people who have ended their lives. Not just these people but also those who lead a very difficult life stuck in financial situations that they cannot get out of because they literally dont know anything other than the cinema industry...great artistes like V.K. Ramaswamy and solid character actors like Vijayan had difficult financial situations (Vijayan spoke in a tamil magazine about how he once was kicked out of his place and slept on the road one night) before their deaths...
It is actors like V.K.R. and Shoba have made me love cinema and have made me appreciate this as an art form and not just as an outlet for entertainment...Shoba as Valli in Mullum Malarum is one of the best ever characterizations and she gave such a beautiful performance (yeah, that innocent laughter...marakave mudiyaadhu...) that will be remembered long after her death twenty eight years ago...

May all these souls rest in the kind of peace that the last stages of life didnt give them...

 
At 7:26 AM, Anonymous ram said...

just thought of poor Srividya, another wonderful artiste who led a difficult life starting with her failed marriage and later cancer that consumed her...

 
At 8:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You forgot to mention Savitri & GV.. Both died tragically.
Pushpa

 
At 11:06 AM, Anonymous Prin said...

I don't think it was intentional.

But this post coincides with the death of writer, Sujatha.

R. I. P, to whom Anniyan and Sivaji as well as tonnes of other films were the brainchild of.

 
At 1:23 PM, Blogger giri subramanian said...

Its really sad to see these actors end their life, unable to withstand the pressures of the Film industry. Its also a strange coincidence that all these deaths were surrounded by controversy earlier only to be dropped later.

 
At 7:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sujatha passed away? that's sad....RIP

How was Balu Manedra's name associated with Shoba's death?....I mean even if it was just a rumour?...just curious....

 
At 7:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sujatha passed away? that's sad....RIP

How was Balu Manedra's name associated with Shoba's death?....I mean even if it was just a rumour?...just curious....

 
At 8:46 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

skanda, i was looking just for happenings in tamil cinema and i assumed that was why i found all these incidents. i just assumed other film industries would have had similar happenings too. just that we hadn't heard about it as much.

aravind, couldn't have said it better myself.

ram, yeah the post would've been much longer if i'd written about all the sadness. i remember even ramarajan talking about his dire financial situation after his foray into politics.

pushpa, i think i was too young when savitri died and so don't remember much about it. but yes, GV was one of those recent incidents that was really tragic.

prin, defly wasn't intentional.

giri, yes almost all these incidents were controversial and had investigations, etc. but none of them were closed satisfactorily.

anon, don't remember all the details but there were rumors about an affair and that being the reason for her suicide. there was even a malayalam movie made about her death and i believe it had a character that was clearly based on him.

 
At 11:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Death before Dishonour" seems to be suggested most of time by the tabloids - be it a failed loved affair, financial troubles (remember Kaja & VV), family pressures, etc etc. The reasons seem to resonate what is shown onscreen - that suicide is a final means of a dignified exit from a irrecoverable situation - tragically wrong!

 
At 4:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At last, I was happy to see a webpage, with more or less unbiased reviews. Here are few concerns:

The film, which was shot before I was born, and I enjoyed watching very much is "Aalayamani"- great film to watch out for Sivaji & Kannadasan's song - " Kallellam Manicka ", " Ponnei Virumbhum" : I feel , you can add this movie in future. Any tamil movie
review site, which does not include much about Sivaji & Kannadasan , I am unable to digest.


What about K Bhagiyaraj's movies like Thooral Ninnu Pochu, Andha 7 natkal, Darling Darling darline, Vidiyum Varai Kathiru : I wonder , how "Mundhaanai Mudichu" ( Not a so good film in my opinion, but a commercial success) entered your review site while I could see Bhagiyaraj's real touch in other movies I had mentioned.

What about "Mullum Malarum" , I felt Rajinikant's natural flavor for that role ( apart from Avargal by Balachander) & good direction by Mahendran?

Then , at last , recent " Kaamaraj" movie, ( movie about great leader Kaamarajar - I dont know whether Tamil Nadu will ever get such clean politicians in near future )


All that said, your reiviews are good. Keep it up.


- Amar

 
At 4:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a continuation of previous comment : I saw the movie " Mounageethangal" by Bhagiyaraj, after my school tamil teacher told, " if you want to know about " kurunji,mullai, marutham, neithal and paalai "thinai", watch this movie "

Amar

 
At 2:43 AM, Anonymous Sankar S said...

Woww...that was a very thoughtful blog.. quite melo-dramatically penned too.. especially the part that you have written about silk smitha.. "WOWWW". While she was alive i guess all she needed was someone like you who could understand her other side.. after all she needed a life outside cinema and glamour , someone who could see a heart inside !

My heart goes with those women each of whom are wonderful in their own way..

 
At 10:13 AM, Blogger Prabhu.S said...

Balaji,

Nice piece.

Prabhu

 

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