Features, Tamil

Fated to Oblivion?

Yesterday (November 28, 2009), I came across a rather disturbing piece of news on the net. Veteran actress from the South, Manorama, who has done all types of roles and regaled audiences in over 1500 films and is still active even today, is unconscious in the ICU of a hospital in Chennai following a surgery for her knee problems. She had to be given anaesthesia for the surgery and has not regained consciousness several hours after the operation. Even as I’ve tried to keep track of her well-being over the net through some sites where I keep track of current events in South Indian cinema, I am unable to find any updates on her current status. A couple of the so-called popular websites claiming to be up to date on all affairs of the Tamil film industry have not even reported on her.

But should one really be so surprised by this? I remember when the great Vijay Anand passed away, his death was reported in just a single sentence in the news scroll even as all News channels were going ballistic about the crockery and whatever at a current leading lady’s wedding! Why, when the great P Bhanumathi passed away, I did not find a single report outside the South about her demise. This, for a woman who was one of the biggest ever heroines in Tamil and Telugu cinemas, had an acting career of almost six decades and who at her peak, owned a studio, produced and directed films, wrote scenarios and screenplays, composed music and did playback as well besides acting. It was by sheer accident I came to know about her death a few days later when I visited Bangalore and so could do a tribute for Upperstall. Even recently, very little has been written about Abrar Alvi, who passed away on November 18, 2009 and whom I consider to be one of the greatest writers that Hindi cinema has ever had.

Several yesteryear artists have died, not just lonely and forgotten, but in total penury. Khan Mastana, Mohammed Rafi’s co-singer in the immortal patriotic song Watan ki Raah Mein Watan ke Naujawan Shaheed Ho died a beggar at the Haji Ali Dargah; when actress Vimi (Humraaz (1967), Nanak Naam Jahaz Hai (1969)) died, there was no one to even claim her body at the hospital and it is said Meena Kumari’s bungalow had to be auctioned to pay for her pending medical bills when she passed away. Across the border in Pakistan, Meena Shorey, known as the ‘Lara Lappa’ girl in her days under the sun, died in abject poverty while Ragini, known for her mesmerizing eyes and being the first heroine to charge a lakh rupees a film, died barely being able to see. And there are many, many more – Bharat Bhushan, Nadira, Bhagwan…the list goes on. And we’re only talking Hindi cinema here. The story must be repeated in all our various regional film industries as well. And forget those who have died, many old artists are living totally forgotten and neglected lives today. In fact, in an earlier blog piece of mine, I’ve mentioned how Shyama broke down in the course of her interview saying how lonely and isolated she felt these days.

And if public memory is short, the film industry is equally cruel and inhuman to its people. What’s the use of all the various associations if they are unable to help its seniors in their times of need? At least, the plight of yesteryear actors, filmmakers, writers, composers or singers still sometimes comes to light as they were known faces in their heyday. But what about the other technicians – cinematographers, editors, audiographers, choreographers, stunt directors, make up personnel, art directors and the like and the true workers – the assistants, light boys, spot boys, stunt men, junior artists and others?

Coming back to Manorama, I can only hope she recovers soon and one sees her where she rightfully belongs – in front of the camera and on screen. Get well soon Manorama Aachi!

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  1. I am not surprised at all because this is quite usual in the film industry. No one remembers important film personalities whose contribution has been significant even when they are still alive and before they pass on yonder. Pradip Kumar, famous as the “Mughal Prince” of Hindi cinema, was lying in a Kolkata nursing home, left behind by his own children who had gone away. A real estate dealer and promoter Pradip Kundalia, happened to recognize the old star despite his long beard and took him to one of his empty flats. Pradip Kumar passed away in this apartment and later, Kundalia had a film made on his life which, however, lies unseen. Veteran actress Leela Desai who acted in New Theatres’ President and other films, died in Mumbai but I do not recall reading any obituary in the papers. Lalita Pawar’s body was discovered in her Pune flat four days after she had passed away. Calcutta’s Aseem Kumar, who rose to fame with Saraswati Chandra, lived in a slum home after his family deserted him for his wayward life. He had lost all he had earned at the races and in drinking but when he died, his well-established only son did not care to attend the funeral. But he did get an obit in a Bengali film fortnightly. Om Prakash died alone, unheard of and unsung. Mehmood, one of the greatest comedians Indian cinema has produced, had seven sons and many horses during his heyday, but the grapevine reports how he died a lonely man in his own apartment. Parveen Babi’s death made news because of the dispute over the property she had left behind between some relatives who claimed to be her heir. Noted director Nabyendu Chatterjee got just a few lines when he passed away earlier this year.
    My personal opinion is – the film industry demands plastic emotions – expressions are plastic, verbal interaction is plastic, and after a point of time, the plasticity of having lived a synthetic life spills over into the real life behaviour of film people. So, people cease to matter to them once they have outlived their use. Forgetting is natural, not acquired or created. What a tragedy it is to be forgotten when you are still alive and when at one time, the world waited for you to sneeze and cough and have a cold to hit the news headlines.

  2. Sad. Its a cruel place and the only thing that guarantees attention is success. Once an industry-wallah, be it an actor or any technician, is branded a failure, they can wave goodbye to the visitors, and their phones fall silent till Luck favours them again- if ever.
    Praying Manoramaji gets well soon.

  3. @srini: Yes, it’s sad. Even now 2 days after reading that report, there is no further update on her condition. And for this to happen to a legend who is still active and working…

    @Shoma: Valid point Shoma. But still, is it too much to ask to just give someone their due with a detailed and proper obituary/ tribute when they pass away?

    @Jkd: Agreed Jkd. Hope she not only gets well soon but is back there on that screen regaling her admirers with many, many more fine performances.

  4. I could not agree more. It’s CRIMINAL!!!!!!! When the Hindi cinema actress Manorama passed away within days of Rajendranath, neither of them got much mention in the press either. I was shocked.

  5. I agree memsaab. Too many of our veteran artistes have suffered this sad fate. One tries to avoid this at upperstall but sometimes one finds there is just not enough research material available on the concerned person to give them the proper tribute they deserve. We still managed with Rajendranath’s obituary but just couldn’t do so with Manorama for all our best intentions. 🙁

    Coming to the other Manorama, suddenly there is a host of news items on the net today more than 48 hours later from the first report but they are basically copied and pasted variations of the first report with no update whatsoever. This is just pathetic. Anyway, one hopes and prays she comes out of it fine.

  6. Puttar, the press / media publishes what it thinks is of intrest to its redears / viewers. Upperstall thinks that a piece on Manorama should be ideally on, on its site and elsewhere…Some others may think otherwise. – unfortunate we might argue. But the news channel that went ga ga over the film star’s wedding might consider itself as fortunate to have got that footage and the news. Matter of perception…
    But right – being in an unorganised sector, we lack a social security system in place.

  7. It’s a shame.

    I just read a lovely story by Satyajit Ray yesterday ‘The Two Comedians’ about two comedy stars from the silent era, one of whom works successfully until old age and the other whose career is destroyed by the coming of the talkies. It not only elucidates on the whole game of fame and wealth but also the disregard of care for old prints, old films.

    Though the story has a lovely end, real life doesn’t seem to have changed much since then. Memsaab’s rant about the condition of our VCDs on her blog also speaks of the same callousness we have for that which is no longer flavour of the month/year.

  8. Ram, don’t agree with the this-would-be-of interest-to-viewers-so this-is-all-we-would-show attitude simply as matter of perception. It’s simply callous and inhuman and shows the shallowness of TV channels to look little beyond what gets them eyeballs and ratings. And many of them have proved to be totally irresponsible in this regard.

    Batul, I must read the Ray story. As regards memsaab’s rant, leave alone our DVDs and VCDs, we just don’t have it in our system to archive, preserve and respect our history well at all. That is something we have to rectify. And we are not just talking of the what or which here but even who.

  9. Puttar: Very emotive piece. Reminds me of people like Dhirendranath Ganguly, a pioneer of Bengali feature films and a Dada Saheb Phalke Award winner who died in poverty and utter neglect. The great comic actor Tulsi Chakraborty who is best remembered for his brilliant performance too died in penury. Only very recently some industry associations in Kolkata have come forward to provide some succor to his widow.
    From a slightly wider perspective we seem to forget many people who have made significant contributions in sports, science, public life, literature, arts etc etc. – perhaps its a sign of our nation collectively being ‘ahistorical’ and thus placing more importance to myths and legends rather than hard historical data/facts.

  10. True Boorback. The wider perspective is equally bleak in all fields. And even in sports, the plight of older cricketers still sometimes come to light but what of other sports? In the past with the Olympics being strictly for amateurs, just think of our poor sportsmen – especially the hockey teams that repeatedly won us the gold medal…

  11. It’s not new in the industry. There are lots and lots of celebrities died lonely and nobody from their family or friends taking care of them. When your are a success, the industry keeps you on the head and as you quit industry it makes you abandoned for the whole life.

  12. Puttar, do agree with your perception that at times news channels are irresponsible, inhuman and thier coverage, shallow. Its just that these channels percieve it differently.
    Let Manorama Aachi get well soon….

  13. Sad state of affairs… after more than a century of the film industry being around…but what does one expect of an industry which still has not figured out that paying a scriptwriter well pays later since a film has a script as it’s backbone.

    It is more like a lottery in overall approach…what does it take to think of group insurance and health schemes ?

    I was talking to a doctor recently and he said that in medicine international best practices are regularly reviewed and updated…why not so in cinema, he asked…I had no answer.

  14. News channels are a joke – so let’s not complain – they are in it for making money and nothing else. But I remember, much before the advent of satellite television, way back in 1988 or 89, during the days of Doordarshan, Calcutta Doordarshan failed to report the death of Kishore Kumar! But that was more out of snootiness – anything to do with Bombay was below their dignity – so they gave him a miss. So it continues, only the reasons are different.

  15. @Web Hosting: True, it’s all about the sawdust and tinsel…

    @Ramchandra: A week later, there are no further updates except an occassional copy and paste version of the first report still being uploaded. One only hopes that means that no news is good news and that she’s doing ok.

    @Swagat: I think the film industry here would win the award hands down for the most disorganised sector. And you’re right. Group Insurances, Health schemes and Pension schemes should be the order of the day with all organisations. A person should feel he would benefit from joining the organisation beyond being forced to get his working card. Is there some way of making them see the light? BTW, I’m a little unclear as to what the doctor was getting at. If medicine uses newer and more modern technology and best practices, so does cinema in its own field.

    @Ranjan: Hmmm. so even singing a song in a Ray film (Charulata) couldn’t do it for him. And yet I remember you mentioning sometime that the streets of Calcutta would be deserted each time his Lookochuri was telecast. On Calcutta Doordarshan only I presume in the days before the satellite boom… And yes, let’s not even get started on the News channnels. That’s a whole different ball game altogether.

  16. An Indian woman who teaches Indian cinema history at a university here in the US told me that she went to the Film Archives in Pune to ask for material that she could use in teaching her course: “I told the Archive that they could probably make money AND create interest in early Indian cinema if they released these materials on DVDs. Their response was outrage that I would suggest defiling this precious resource by making it available to all and sundry! They wouldn’t even give me copies for teaching purposes.”

    That is an UNBELIEVEABLE outrage.

  17. Memsaab, we just don’t have a history of archiving and wherever we do, we don’t know how best to utilize the information. That said, maybe it wouldn’t be possible for a body like NFAI to market the material they have as I’m sure there would be various copyright issues and the like.

  18. Is it very different in other walks of life? How many of us know where the ex-predisents, generals, CEOs are? Or for that matter that special someone who made life worthwhile when we walked through college?? We take their passing as normally as we take passing of our own days. However that ‘ahistorical’ comment was very interesting……a strange but bountiful weather robbed us of giant structures, gave us enough to eat, made our gods many in number and told us everything will go only to come back again…….its so much fun to close our eyes and float on this bubble of maya……. what does it matter if a few more mayas pass us by??? Everybody forgets…but something makes us forget with bliss……is it a curse? or a great boon of history?

  19. You’re right dirtroad. It could and does happen in all walks of life. I would say forgetting with bliss is a curse rather than a boon. For it makes us stop caring.

  20. I think we mythify rather than write history. Myth has no place for personal narratives..unless it has a bearing on the mythical space. That makes us not care for our political leaders’ personal peccadilos….goods for democrcy i would say…then try to paint a false picture of happy domesticity……the same allows us to forget the personal tragedies of the hero when he retires from the limelight and is no more a myth!!! Maybe thats why our culture suggested ‘banaprastha’…where you dissolve yourself happily and not wait for that raincheque from society!!!! But we are digressing…and whatever be the freudian reason for forgetting..it IS very hard on persons who were once so integral parts of everybodies lives.

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