I have been told to lay off the adjectives for this one. But when the subject is Vidyamma, it is a tough task for me. So forgive me if a couple do manage to creep in.
My favorite movie of Srividya is Apoorva Raagangal (1975) any day. This landmine of a movie from K Balachander was way ahead of its times. It explored unchartered territories and tried to name relationships that were hitherto unspoken of, at least on the Indian screen. And Srividya played the lead role of MR Bhairavi, a classical vocalist- a complex role that called for exceptional maturity and finesse from the actress so that it did not slide into crassness. And she delivered, with poise and grace. And she was all of 22.
In what was a reference to real life, the opening scene has Nagesh introducing Srividya/MRB as the heir apparent to MLV. Fate brings together the lead characters- the rebellious Prasanna with MRB and the spunky Ranjini with Mahendran.
Srividya’s Bhairavi is a serene foil to the volatile Prasanna (Kamal Haasan still cannot resist all that fretting and strutting he does on screen) and even back then, her eyes did most of the talking. Amazing how in that age when over acting was the norm, she scintillated like an ocean of tranquility, yet manages to make the most impact on the viewer.
Adhisaya raagam aanandha raagam – my favourite.
Innocent relationships soon develop into something deeper and tread the path of unconventionality. And when old secrets and skeletons come tumbling out, you find yourself doing mental gymnastics, trying to unravel relationship riddles.
The movie is divided into ‘chapters’ all titled with explanatory musical terms and the motif of music runs throughout. And when ‘Shruthibedham’ shows up on screen, it heralds a defining moment in the history of Indian cinema- the debut of Rajinikanth. This is Rajinikanth in the raw before he achieved ‘godhood’. It was Manirathnam who managed to unlock this actor decades later in Thalapathi.
Rajnikanth ‘enters’ the Tamil Film industry.
This is one movie I can never have enough of. And these days when I watch it, I find myself skipping through, just watching the scenes with Vidyamma in it, especially the song ‘Adisaya Raagam’ that Kamal Haasan sings to reveal the name of the lady he loves. Through the song we see her expressions change, from curiosity to doubt to anger as eventually it dawns on her that, “Avaloru Bhairavi!”
KB has presented on screen a host of strong women. And Bhairavi still remains one of the most unforgettable women he ever cast on screen. An Apoorva Ragam indeed!
PS: I watched Apoorva Ragangal long after it was released, when it came on TV. The day after I watched it, I found the answer to something that had been on my mind for a while. What to call the child I was carrying, if it happened to be a girl. My firstborn is Bhairavi.
Kelviyin Nayagane from Apoorva Raagangal (1975)
Related : Srividya | The Danseuse onscreen