Thursday, 21 May 2015

An uncelebrated versatile actor

Digambara Saamiyar (Tamil, 1950)
Long before Sivaji Ganesan appeared in 9 roles in Navarathiri, Gemini Ganesan in 9 roles in Naan Avanillai and Kamalhaasan in 10 roles in Dasaavaratham, the often forgotten star of South Indian cinema, M.N. Nambiar had acted in a 9-role movie (some say 11!)

Even though Manjari Narayana Nambiar had always been stereotyped as the most villainous villain in most of the 50s through the 70s, his debutante role was as in a comedic role in 1935.
His illustrious career of 1000 over films which span over half a century started with many of him in lovey dovey major heroic role. Even though he was always downcast in negative roles with evil in his eyes, in real life, he is said to be a jovial chap, a teetotaller,  a exercise freak and a devoutly pious Swami Ayyapar devotee.

Here in a 1950 film, Nambiar dons multiple costumes to narrate the ballad of a sage, Digambara Saamiyar (Nambiar), who tries to bring justice to the people conned by a conniving lawyer. A masala story with strong emphasis on wholesome entertainment, it was a popular production of Modern Theatres owned by a London graduate Indian entrepreneur.
It evokes memory of an era where songs had lyrics which were clearly audible, straight forward and poetic. This is also the era where the dancing legends of Padmini and Lalitha ruled the silver screen. In this film, we see the duo give a memorable montage of a feuding fisherman husband and wife couple. There is another rendition of the evergreen snake dance by dancer Kamala. Other songs are entertaining as well.

M.N. Nambiar (1919-2008)
Many families are devastated by the evil doings of Sandhana Pillai, a vicious lawyers. His devious plans to squander monies from his clients and rich folks in a certain town prompted a sage, Digambara Saamiyar from a temple to don various hats - a sage, a Muslim trader, an Arab, a Malayalee, a Shiva fakeer, Kannada nobleman, a Nadasvara musician, a postman, a travelling soothsayer and a pimp. The saamiyar, through his well crafted plan managed to be get Sandhana Pillai off-guard through 3-days sleep deprivation technique to trap him into making a confession about his nefarious acts! In a single well executed act, he brings justice to all wronged. An entertaining watch of a very versatile actor.  

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