Thanks To Manjummel Boys, Gunaa Is In The News — But Who Was Its Producer?

K Balakumar

Mar 05, 2024, 02:04 PM | Updated 12:28 PM IST

Manjummel Boys has struck a chord with Tamil audiences because the film's core is located in a place that owes its fame to the Tamil film Gunaa (1991).
Manjummel Boys has struck a chord with Tamil audiences because the film's core is located in a place that owes its fame to the Tamil film Gunaa (1991).
  • It can send you on a rabbit hole and throw up a unheralded production assistant the likes of whom bring respect to film business.
  • The biggest movie rage in South India, especially Kerala and Tamil Nadu, for the last two weeks has been Manjummel Boys

    The film, based on a real-life incident of survival by a bunch of Kerala youngsters at the now-famous Gunaa caves in Kodaikanal (Tamil Nadu), seems to be a bigger hit in the Tamil state. It is already on the way to be the biggest grosser among Malayalam movies in Tamil Nadu.

    The film, directed by Chidambaram who had proved his innate skills in that whacky comedy Jan-E-Man (2021), again shows the director's felicity with a story that revolves around a gaggle of friends, who find themselves and rise to the occasion when the chips are down.

    If Jan-E-Man was a madcap adventure and everything had an oddball tweak, Manjummel Boys, even if it starts with fun, it soon becomes a different kind of movie — one of survival and courage. But make no mistake about it, both the ventures of Chidamabaram have the underlying theme of effervescent male bonding. 

    Manjummel Boys has struck a chord with Tamil audiences because the film's core is located in a physical place that owes its fame to the Tamil film Gunaa (1991). As is now well known, the place was originally called Devil's Kitchen. But after Gunaa, especially with the iconic song Kanmani Anbodu, the deep caves became an eponym of the film. 

    It became a popular tourist attraction, especially among the youth set in the 1990s, despite the risky nature of the terrain. But after a few unfortunate accidents involving the terrain, including the one that became the inspiration for Manjummel BoysGunaa caves were shut for tourists. The place is now inaccessible and Manjummel Boys was shot in a real-like set.

    The placement of the song Kanmani Anbodu, especially the rousing line Manidhar Unarndhu Kolla Idhu Manidha Kaadhal Alla (This is no ordinary human love to be understood by humans), to drive home the friendship has been particularly lapped by the audience everywhere.

    Even in remote towns in Tamil Nadu, which have not seen many other language films for years, Manjummel Boys is said to be running to packed houses.

    Who Has The Rights For Gunaa?

    To add to the reigning euphoria, the film's team made a beeline to Chennai and met Gunaa's brain Kamal Haasan. The film is decidedly his labour of love, in more ways than. Santhana Bharathi, Haasan's friend and longtime associate, is the director of Gunaa.

    He has also become the flavour of the season with channels and YouTube networks arriving in droves to interview him. 

    And by the way, there is a big trend of yesteryear hits being re-released in Tamil Nadu. With new movies not being impressive at all, the last two months or so have seen many popular films from the previous two decades have made it to the theatres again.

    In this context, the inevitable question was popped to Santhana Bharathi. Will Gunaa be re-released?

    And his answer came as a bit of a surprise. 

    The actor-director said that he had broached the subject with Haasan himself. "But we have to see. It is not clear who has the rights for the film."

    That the director of the film like Gunaa, whose lore has been getting burnished with every year (even though the film did not do well commercially upon its release in the November of 1991), does not know who has the film's rights is perplexing.

    Going by his words, even Haasan isn't so sure. And that straightaway takes us to the question: Who was the producer of Gunaa?

    Well, to produce a movie of Haasan, who was arguably the greatest star of the 90s in Tamil, it has to be a big and established name. As it happens, that is not the case. At least outwardly. 

    The film's producer is credited to one Alamelu Subramanian, and the film has been produced under the banner Swathi Chitra International. The production house's only other film on record is Chinna Vaathiyar, helmed by Singeetham Srinivasa Rao and dialogues penned by 'Crazy' Mohan — two hands that decidedly belong to Haasan's table.

    The Legend Of DNS

    Anyway, Alamelu Subramaniam is said to be the wife of D N Subramaniam, better known in film circles through his initials DNS. If Haasan was the heart and brain of Raj Kamal Films, then DNS was its sinews. He was Haasan's most trusted lieutenant when it came to the production side. Every rupee spent through Raj Kamal was through DNS only.

    The career of DNS is in many ways the career of many old-school production heads in Kollywood — diligent, honest, and implicitly loyal to the boss. It is a kind of culture that the oldest film studio in India, AVM, exemplified.

    And it is no surprise that DNS came from that background and was imbibed with that ethos. He started his career with lyricist Kannadasan and his brother AL Srinivasan in the late 60s. In that, DNS worked in their production office. After Kannadasan's death in the early 80s, Haasan, who had an eye for such committed talent, assimilated him into his newly-launched Raj Kamal Films.

    By the dint of his work ethic, DNS became the pillar of Raj Kamal films. Though unheralded to the outside world, he was a minor legend in the film world for his steadfast sincerity. He was the executive producer for some of the major movies that Kamal Haasan bankrolled. DNS' name could be spotted in the credit lines of big films like Thevar Magan and Hey Ram

    But only with Gunaa (and of course Chinna Vaathiyar), Subrmanaiam was elevated to the actual producer under his wife's name. But was he the real producer of Gunaa, one of Haasan's prized movies? Or Haasan just used his Man Friday to surreptitiously produce the film? After all, it was not uncommon for big stars to produce movies in their assistants' name.

    There are no easy answers. But it is also too much to suggest any hanky-panky here. It is quite possible that Haasan wanted to help his production confidant and may have backed the project fully on the creative aspect, while it was left to DNS to make whatever profit from it on the business side.

    That it didn't make much money is a different point altogether. It is the likes of DNS, who even if unsung, bring respect to the film business. The vital cogs without which the film wheel wouldn’t rotate.

    DNS, as long as he was healthy and active, remained with Raj Kamal. But he seems to have withdrawn himself after he fell ill due to old age. DNS passed away in 2021, and Haasan was one of the first to pay homage. The two had such a great bondage and genuine affection for each other.

    To echo the lines of Gunaa (and Manjummel Boys), Manidhar Unarndhu Kolla Idhu Manidha Kaadhal Alla.

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