Tamil cinema has found it hard to resist the ‘other woman’ plot , often romanticising it. A reason could be that most Tamil heroes had a relationship with more than one woman at the same time in real life.
Thiyagaraja Bhagavathar, M.R. Radha, Gemini Ganesan, Baliah, lyricist Kannadasan...all icons of Tamil cinema, had many women in their lives. Radha and Kannadasan admitted to having four wives each. Gemini Ganesan, though married to Alamelu, had a live-in relationship with actress Pushpavalli with whom he had Bollywood actress Rekha. He also had a son and a daughter with actress Savithri. He was even called “kadhal mannan” (king of romance) for his on-screen and off-screen relationships.
Sivaji Ganesan was known to have a relationship with an older woman before his marriage. After he married his cousin the relationship ended but the other woman was taken care of economically. He was also romantically associated with fellow actress Padmini.
Kamalahaasan has been married twice— to actress’ Vani Ganapathy and Sarika. He had also lived with another actress, Gowthami, till they split up.
The other woman angle has been part of at least one movie of almost all top directors. K. Balachander, whose films are known for their complex relationships, has a Carnatic singer and his fan romantically bonding over their common musical interest in Sindhu Bhairavi even as his tone deaf wife looks on haplessly. The other woman walks out after giving away her child, born with the musician, to his childless wife.
Mani Ratnam has explored the concept of chinna veedu with a deft and sensitive touch in his film Agninatchathiram. The two heroes—one a cop , other a ruffian – are born to different wives and their father, a top government official, struggles to maintain peace between the squabbling sons. The dilemma of the husband torn between two homes is captured effectively when he is unable to receive the prospective groom for the daughter of his second wife since his first wife’s mother has died suddenly. The film ends with the two sons joining hands to battle their father’s enemy. Actor Vijayakumar, who played the father in the film, has two wives in real life as well.
Another ace director, Bharathiraja, touches on the other woman angle in Mudhal Mariyadhai (First Honour). Here the woman is in a platonic relationship with the hero, who has married his wife only to be the father of her child born out of a premarital affair. Bharathiraja’s disciple Bhagyaraj actually titled a film Chinna Veedu—a humorous take on the triangle situation.
Director Balu Mahendra made two films: Rettai Vaal Kuruvi (Sparrow with two tails) and Sathi Leelavathi (Scheming Leelavathi)—on a two-timing husband. Mahendra had a tumultuous affair with actress Shobha, who later committed suicide, and much later in his life married actress Mounika, even as his first wife managed his home.
Now, cinema too is changing with the times “The chinna veedu concept is disappearing from movies as they deal with live-in relationships and extra marital affairs which mirror our present day society more accurately,” points out Vijay Nagaswami.
By G.C. Shekhar in Chennai