A tribute by my friend and classmate C.S.Hariharan (Junior)
In 1949 the famed American playwright Arthur Miller created a sensation with his Play ‘Death of a Salesman’.
The play was about the quintessential American dream of making it big and ‘Willi Loman’ the central character had dreamt all his life, that age had caught up with him and his ideas. His children want to pursue their dreams, his office was no longer interested in him and his envy of his neighbour and their family’s success only incensed him even more. The only spark to his existence was his wife, but like all good things in hand he ignores her trying to focus on making it big one day like his brother. He hallucinates and even has a son in his imagination, who is everything he dreamt of being, a highly successful lawyer and well respected one to boot.
His world slowly crumbles as he alternates frequently between his imaginary world and reality that at a point of time he is unable to separate reality from dreams. Ultimately he understands that the only way he can contribute to his family’s success is by allowing them encash his insurance policy.
This story was probably the most powerful statement made in the US especially when the country was trying to rebuild itself after the World War II. The central theme of chasing ones dreams at the cost of the present is so universal that applies to every one of us even today.
The intelligence of any good script writer when he is adapting such a screenplay to a different audience and tastes is difficult beyond words and to adapt such a screenplay to Tamil is even tougher, a language unique and ancient than any other and a culture of joint family system so common till the last decade or so looked down upon families who lived alone or nuclear as the phrase goes .
‘Vietnam Veedu’ was the perfect adaptation and regionalisation of an internationally acclaimed play that many failed to see the similarities between the two. It is to the credit of its script writer Sundaram of UAA playgroup later known as Vietnam Veedu Sundaram that the play was written with the central character as a Palghat Iyer, (clearly highlighting his weakness in his name as) Prestige Padmanabhan, loud brash opinionated but fiercely loyal to the company he works for. The term Vietnam is more a metaphor about the blazing issues at the home front.
While the entrapments of dreams that interlace the Arthur Miller play are deleted, the ambition for self and children, and a similar vein of rebelliousness by his children are clearly brought out too. The Tamil film directed by Sivaji regular P.Mahadevan is no ordinary tear jerker it hits bulls eye on all aspects the lead actor Sivaji as Prestige Padmanabhan is amazingly accurate that all future Palghat Iyer/ mallu speaking tambrahm portrayals of any actor was benchmarked with his character. It took nearly 30 years for Kamal Hassan to highlight a more comedic touch to the Palghat accent in Michael Madana Kama Rajan as Kameshwaran the Palghat cook.
Similarly actress Padmini as Savitri mami is equally on par with Prestige Padmanabhan that it’s a vigorous joust of fencing, with amazing deft touches between the two seasoned actors.
The biggest success of the film was the discovery of Vietnam Veedu Sundaram as the story and screenplay writer, so successful was he, would go on to pen more than Eight other films for Sivaji besides directing Gowaravam. Vietnam Veedu Sundaram continued his success in writing many other successful films and later in a career change switched to acting in various TV soaps, often seen in character roles till date. His sudden death on August 6th 2016 is yet another loss to the Tamil film industry of professionals from the golden era of the 60’s.