K Bhagyaraj has a penchant to don multiple hats – in many of his successful movies he is the lead actor, writer, director and producer. Yet his classic trademark has been mastering the art of screenplay. His major body of work belongs to the 80s and 90s and yet people still remember some of his popular dialogues with instant recall.
Bhagyaraj began his film journey by working with Bharathirajaa as an Assistant Director. During this period he also did some bit roles (this was primarily done to ensure continuity in the movie as ‘support’ artists may get engaged and cause glitches in the schedule when the lead hero was available for shooting) and that gave him confidence to become a lead hero as well.
He struck gold in 1979 when Bharathirajaa launched him as a hero in ‘Pudhiya Vaarpugal’. He also directed his first movie ‘Suvarilladha Chiththirangal’ the same year. The movie held lot of promise in the first half with his trademark humour and screenplay. However the second half was a big tear-jerker and the movie ended being a failure. Yet these were stepping-stones for him to learn his craft for Bhagyaraj was very sure of his aspiration – to be a successful commercial actor-director. And he put his money where his mouth was by producing as well as writing for these ventures.
Over the years he developed what became a signature K Bhagyaraj movie and his loyal audience were sure to receive their money’s worth in his movies. The typical hooks would be –
- He would play an underdog with a sense of determination and stubbornness whereby he would finally beat the odds and achieve success. Our hero was not one with all the ‘know-it-all’ machismo who will bash up 10 bad guys without batting an eyelid.
- He would make intelligent use of evergreen and universal themes like battle of sexes, the mother-in-law v/s daughter-in-law duality, gender benders to draw etc in his core audiences – rural folks and small town guys (B Segment of the famed ABC classification of movie territories and audiences). The message would be loaded – double entendres galore – but political correctness matters little while pandering to your loyal rasikan
- He would still weave in social ideas and progressive themes so as to make his films a family affair and what would appeal to the ‘women folk’ (Thaikulame – he even titled a movie using this hook). He has often rebutted criticism about his films risque romance by saying that the women folk thronged to theaters to make his movies mint money
- It was unintended to make you laugh but Bhagyaraj would end up doing aerobic exercises in his songs and you would be ‘ROFL’. He had a yen to produce the most outlandish ‘fantasy’ songs with garish costumes and tacky sets. But quite a few numbers were good songs and are popular even now.
- Famous for his mass intro scene for the ‘underdog-cum-hero’, the other staples would include his thirittu muzhi (a sheepish face induced by bewilderment and fear), over-sized spectacles (quite a natural to his look when heroes wouldn’t be caught dead wearing them) and of course a way with words. Screenplay defined and saved him in many ways despite of other flaws in his movie.
My Top 3 include –
Andha 7 Naatukal
Bhagyaraj essayed the character of ‘Pallakad Madhavan‘ – a poor street musician aspiring to be a music director. His famous side-kick was a young boy Gopi played by child actor, Khaja Sharif. Ambika played the love interest, Vasanthi and Rajesh played the role of doctor cum restrained husband.
The movie’s first half was full of humour – Ambika’s attempts to woo Bhagyaraj, Bhagyaraj’s travails in becoming a music director, and the street smartness shown by Gopi. The movie scored in nuanced performances by Bhagyaraj and Rajesh when melodrama and theatrics was staple diet in Tamil movies. Rajesh character was echoed in some ways by Mohan in ‘Mouna Raagam’. And the climax was powerful and Bhagyaraj’s screenplay came out on tops making this a popular hit. The movie was remade in Hindi (Woh Saat Din), Telugu (Radha Kalyanam) and Kannada (Love Maadi Nodu).
A rustic story – the ground made famous by his mentor Bharatirajaa. Bhagyaraj plays the role of a widowed teacher with a baby boy in tow. Urvasi debuts in Tamil cinema and plays a young village girl who falls in love with him. She is aided by a small gang of dwarfs and they make merry at Bhagyaraj’s expense on numerous occasions. (The dwarf gang as aides was used on many occasions by Bhagyaraj including his popular movie Pavunnu Pavunnu Thaan).
Matters turn dead serious when circumstances force Bhagyaraj to marry Urvasi. The eventual reconciliation of the couple forms the climax of the movie. Ilaiyaraja has scored the music and BGM and the songs remain popular to this day. Bhagyaraj did a comedy segment based on ‘Murungakai’ (Drumsticks) being an aphrodisiac and the rip roaring comedy is remembered by audiences even now. This was a typical example of risque romance Bhagyaraj style, the proverbial ladies skirt hemline – long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.
Idhu Namma Aalu (He’s our man!)
Bhagyaraj pairs up with the talented actress Shobana who was rather choosy about the roles she did in Tamil cinema. He didn’t direct or produce the movie but did his usual combo of actor-writer-screenplay along with the role of Music Director.
It was a tricky subject to helm in a conservative society where such experiments would definitely be frowned upon. Bhagyaraj makes merry using his usual mix of deft screenplay and humour. He scores a point by sharply delineating the key characters played by him, Shobana, Manorama and the veteran Somayajulu (Srinivasa Sastri).
Bhagyaraj eventually moved away from ‘direction-production’ roles to primarily work as an actor. Couple of notable exceptions in 2003 were Vijayakanth starrer ‘Chokka Thangam’ and ‘Parijatham’ (Debut movie for his daughter (Saranya). SIIMA accorded him a ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ in a glittering function held in Malaysia in 2014. A fitting tribute to his journey is the public memory we have for his screenplay that has spawn success for many films on the silver-screen.