Memories of "Agni Nakshatram"No, the searing temperatures have nothing to do with this nostalgia trip. After many years, the songs of Agni Nakshatram1 (dir: Mani Ratnam, music: Ilaiyaraja) splashed sonorously on the ears, and provoked memories of that 1989 summer when I first watched the movie.
The occasion had been a family gathering of some sort. I was just about getting introduced to the world of contemporary Tamil cinema after our move to Madras (I did not know words like "contemporary" then, mind you). I don't know if we watched the film in the middle of May, but a VCR and tape procured by enthusiastic cousins came as a sparkling relief on a Sunday afternoon.
The film is one of the best entertainers I can remember having seen - a rocking 3 hours filled with whistle-worthy dramatic and action scenes, and one heck of a music score. It's been a while since I've seen movies like Rangeela and this, which not only regale unabashedly, but also get their elements spot on. A Prabhu with a reputation for pudginess became this big, tough inspector with a penchant for arresting half-brother Karthik who was reprising his Mouna Ragam cameo as a street-lad. Both were being pursued (respectively, of course) by the not-much-to-do-in-2nd-half lead actresses, delicate Amala and mysterious Nirosha. Add to it political intrigue, hospital climaxes, brothers-at-throats episodes among muddy stables, soft-focus lighting, and the persistent suffusion of disco, and you have a terrific ride. Oh, and the exceptional comedy track featuring Janakaraj and V.K.Ramaswamy - just thinking about Janakaraj doing a lap of pure joy when the bus leaves sets my giggle-centres off.
Back to the songs: The eyebrow-raising "ninnukori varNam" which took the first few words of the childhood varnam and spun it off into a Chitra special, the Karthik-statement-of-life in "raaja..." voiced by the Raja himself, the courting song "rojaa puu" set in a gym (of all places) allowing Amala and gang to show off their flourescent leotards, "oru puu.ngaavanam" featuring Nirosha doing multiple laps of freestyle in an Olympic swimming pool (must confess that there is a limit to watching anyone do that, and so we fast-forwarded the song to great hilarity), the much more conventional love-songs, full of saris and feelings, in "thuu.ngaatha vizhigaL" and "vaa vaa anbe anbe". Quite a treat overall.
The power of the scenes and dialogues, the novelty of the song situations and the lighting, the sheer fun of the film - those were less judgemental times!
1: Agni Nakshatram refers to a period in May at which the summer heat is supposed to be at its most extreme.