2016 was a brutal year. Many of our favourite artists and celebrated talents were taken from us. Here’s a list of the stars we lost last year.
Singer David Bowie was known for his startling on-stage performances and innovations in music. He passed away on 10 January, a mere two days after the release of his album Blackstar.
Actor Alan Rickman died of pancreatic cancer on 14 January. He was 69. A giant on screen and stage, Rickman’s passing came as a shock to many who had been unaware of his illness. Best known for the recurring role of Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series, Rickman was a fine actor who collaborated with the likes of Anthony Minghella, Phyllida Law, and Emma Thompson through a long career that spanned decades.
National award-winning south Indian actress Kalpana Ranjani passed away in Hyderabad on 25 January. She was 51,
Kalapana’s acting career began in 1983 when she appeared in Manju as a child actress. She acted in 300-odd films in all South Indian languages and won the Best Supporting Actress award in 2012. Her notable Tamil films include Kamal Haasan starrer, Sathi Leelavathi, Dumm Dumm Dumm and Kaaki Sattai. Her last film was the Martin Prakkat’s Charlie, in which she played Queen Mary, an AIDS patient.
Noted Malayalam filmmaker Rajesh Pillai passed away in Kochi on 27 February. He was hospitalised several times during the shoot of his last film Vettah. During the film’s post-production, he was diagnosed with pneumonia, which ultimately resulted in his untimely death. Pillai’s second film Traffic is regarded as the pioneer of a Malayalam new generation wave.
Actor Kumarimuthu passed away on 29 February at a private hospital in Chennai where he was admitted after a sudden illness. He was 77.
Kumarimuthu entered Tamil cinema with Ival Oru Sethai in 1978. He went on to act in over 500 films in over three decades. Some of his best known films include Idhu Namma Aalu, Pudhu Vasantham, Idhayam, and Oomai Vizhigal. Known for his iconic laugh, Kumarimuthu was last seen alongside Vijay in the film Villu (2009).
South Indian actor Kalabhavan Mani passed away in a private hospital in Kochi on 6 March. The actor was 45. Mani acted in over 200 films in Malayalam and other south Indian languages. His rendition of folk songs also made him widely popular. His portrayal of a blind singer in Vasanthiyum Lakshmiyum Pinne Njanum, and his role as the villain in Gemini (Tamil) were some of his best remembered roles.
After his passing, reports that the actor had been poisoned were circulated. An investigation was subsequently launched but has so far proved inconclusive.
Film News Anandan
Veteran journalist and film historian Anandan, popularly known as Film News Anandan, passed away in Chennai on 21 March. He was 90. In an extensive work titled Tamil Thiraipada Varalaru, Anandan compiled data from over 16,000 feature films in different languages to put forward insights on various cinema subjects, such as how the ‘studio model’ gave way to a ‘hero-driven’ industry.
Prince, one of the most influential artists of the ’80s died on 22 April. He was 57.
Makiko Futaki, the animator who brought many of the highly acclaimed films of Japan’s renowned Studio Ghibli to life, passed away on 13 May after an unspecified illness. She was 57. A regular collaborator of director Hayao Miyazaki, Futaki worked with him on My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Howl’s Moving Castle. She also served as the key animator in the 1988 dystopian sci-fi anime Akira. Her recent works include From Up on Poppy Hill and When Marnie Was There.
After a 32-year-long battle with Parkinson’s disease, former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali died on 3 June. He was 74.
AC Tirulokchandar, the award-winning director with over 60 films in Tamil, Telugu, and Hindi died in Chennai on 16 June. He was 86.
AC Thirulokchander (sometimes referred to as AC Thirulogachander) started his career as a writer before moving on to film direction. His first film as director was Veera Thirumagan (1962) which starred Anandhan. Deiva Magan followed soon after. His last movie as director in a storied career was the 1987 film Anbulla Appa, starring Sivaji Ganesan.
Anton Yelchin, widely regarded as a promising talent, died on 20 June following a freak accident. The actor was found pinned to the gate of his own home after he failed to show up for a rehearsal. According to police reports, the actor had temporarily exited his Jeep Grand Cherokee car on Saturday night when it rolled backwards and pinned him to the gate. His body was discovered by concerned friends who arrived at his residence to check on him after he didn’t show up for the rehearsal.
Renowned Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami succumbed to gastrointestinal cancer on 5 July in Paris. He was 76. His film Taste of Cherry won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997.
Marshall was known for his offbeat sense of humour and the sensitivity with which he portrayed women in his films. His first blockbuster was Pretty Woman (1990) in which he wrote the female lead (Julia Roberts) as a sex-worker who is down on her luck. Marshall drew flak for not killing off her character. “Traditionally, a prostitute in a movie has to die or be punished. I don’t like women to be victims. It’s time we stopped that,” he said in an interview with Vanity Fair.
Veteran Tamil poet Gnanakoothan, known for his social satire and parody of the Dravidian movements, died in Chennai on 27 July. He was 78.
‘Gnanakoothan’ was the pseudonym of R Ranganathan. He entered the world of literature with his 1968 poem Prachanai. Following this, he authored several poems including the noteworthy Andru Veru Kazhamai, Suryanukku Pinpakam, Kadarkkarayil Sila Marangal, and Meendum Avargal.
Gnanakoothan was one of Tamil literature’s pioneering modern poets. Known for his surrealist mode of writing, his poems had a modern outlook. He was also a regular contributor to popular Tamil publications like Kalki, Kalachuvadu, and Uyirmei.
The Tamil writer’s association described his death as an “irreplaceable loss” to the world of Tamil literature.
Eminent writer Mahasweta Devi, known for reinventing a subversive genre of literature with strong subaltern themes, died on 28 July in Kolkata. She was 90. She won the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1997 for her work with tribal communities in India. She wrote over a 100 novels and short stories about tribals, Maoists, prostitutes, nomads, beggars, and rebels.
Vietnam Veedu Sundaram
Vietnam Veedu Sundaram, veteran writer and actor, died on 7 August in Chennai. He was 73.
Credited with introducing ‘social mythology’ into Tamil cinema, Sundaram used it to great effect in films like Namma Veettu Dheivam. He said in an interview, “I wanted to make a new kind of film. Gods can be humans. They take human form frequently. Why can’t humans be Gods?”
Actress Jyothi Lakshmi, who starred in nearly 300 Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam films, died on 8 August in Chennai. She was 63. She was a prominent presence on screen throughout the ’60s and ’70s.
Veteran writer and producer Panchu Arunachalam died on 9 August. He was 75. Panchu Arunachalam wrote around 100 films in Tamil. He also produced 45 films under his banner PA Arts, which was one of the leading production houses in the ’70s and ’80s. He directed four films and distributed over 400 films in Tamil.
A nephew of the renowned Tamil lyricist Kannadasan, Panchu was also a celebrated lyricist in his own right and wrote lyrics for over 200 films. He is credited with introducing Ilaiyaraaja as a music director in the film Annakili (1976).
Panchu Arunachalam entered Tamil cinema at a time when the industry was making formulaic films starring MGR and Sivaji Ganesan. His Annakili, a rural drama starring Sivakumar and Sujatha, is regarded as a game-changer that revived commercial cinema in Kollywood.
In an interview with the Times of India, national award-winning film historian and producer G Dhananjayan said, “He (Panchu) is the man who invented Rajinikanth as an actor and showed the world that he can act. Even Rajini sir acknowledges this in the documentary, and says, ‘Even though Balachander sir is the one who introduced me, Panchu Arunachalam is the person who made me a big artist.”
Panchu’s Sakalakala Vallavan was the first Tamil movie to make Rs. 1 crore at the box-office. However, in spite of making many blockbusters and being instrumental in the making of two superstars – Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan, Panchu Arunachalam lived a modest life.
Panchu Arunachalam was recently honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award at SIIMA 2016.
Director Sasi Shankar, known for films like Naraayam and Kunjikkoonan (The Hunchback), died in Kerala on 10 August.
His directorial debut film Naarayam (1993) won the National Award for the Best Film on Other Social Issues in 1991. His biggest commercial success was Kunjikkoonan, starring Dileep and Navya Nair. Kunjikkoonan is credited as being the film that made Dileep a superstar. Sasi Shankar remade the film in Tamil as Peralagan, with Suriya and Jyothika playing the lead roles.
Two-time national award winning lyricist Na Muthukumar died on 14 August. He was 41.
Introduced by Seeman in Veera Nadai (2000), Muthukumar wrote songs for over 100 films. Although Veeranadai was his first film, by the time the film released, he had written more than 100 songs.
He collaborated extensively with music directors Yuvan Shankar Raja and GV Prakash. He worked with Yuvan in almost 65 films. Some of his most memorable work was in 7G Rainbow Colony, Pudhupettai, and Kadhal Konden.
He won his first National Award for Best Lyrics for “Ananda Yaazhai” from Thanga Meengal. The album was composed by Yuvan Shankar Raja.
TA Razzaq, renowned scriptwriter for almost 30 Malayalam films, died on 15 August in Kochi. He was 58. In 1996, he won the Kerala State Film Award for Best Screenplay and Best Story for Kanakkinavu. In 2004 and 2002, he won the Kerala State Film Award for Best Story for Perumazhakalam and Aayirathil Oruvan respectively. His other notable films include Ghazal (1993) and Thalolam (1998).
The famous photographer-turned-actor succumbed to a long illness on 23 August. He was best known for introducing “action movie stills” to the Tamil industry. Ramamani, who had been suffering from dementia for a while, passed away in his sleep.
Gene Wilder, who regularly stole the show in films such as Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory, The Producers, and The Woman In Red, died on 30 August at his home in Stamford, Connecticut. He was 83.
Wilder began his cinematic career with Bonnie And Clyde in which he played a hostage. But, Wilder’s official break in Hollywood was as Leopold Bloom in the 1968 film The Producers for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
He collaborated with comedy writer/director Mel Brooks in 1974 with Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, which Wilder co-wrote. The duo won an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Wilder often portrayed eccentric roles ranging from the man who fell in love with a sheep in Woody Allen’s spoof Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex to the crazy writer serving a 125-year prison sentence in Stir Crazy (1980). His breakthrough role was perhaps as Willy Wonka, the chocolate factory owner based on Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory.
Wilder was a comic with theatrical techniques he often employed. For instance, in a 1971 interview with Roger Ebert, he explained that “lying” in acting was about really fooling the audience, not just another character on screen.
Noted lyricist Annamalai passed away on 27 September after suffering a heart attack. He was 49. Some of his best known work was in Vattaikaran, Velayudham, and Naanand Uthamaputhiran.
Veteran Carnatic vocalist, instrumentalist, and playback singer M Balamuralikrishna passed away on 22 November at his residence in Chennai. He was 86.
The maestro is a winner of all three Padma Awards (Padma Sri, Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan), India’s highest civilian awards. In 2005, he was conferred the Chevalier Rank (Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres) by the French Government.
Some of his most memorable work includes “Oru Naal Pothuma”, a ragamalika in Thiruvilayadal, “Chinna Kannan Azhaikiran”, a reetigowla-based song from Kavikuil, “Mounathil Vilayadum Manasatichye” from Noolveli and the Abhogi song “Thanga Ratham Vanthathu” from Kalai Koil.
Director and writer K Subhash passed away on 23 November. He was 57.
After assisting Mani Ratnam in Nayagan, Subhash’s breakthrough film came with Sathriyan (Chatriyan) starring Vijayakanth and Bhanupriya. He directed over 20 movies and worked with actors like Sathyaraj, Khushboo, Ajith Kumar, Raadhika Sarathkumar, R Parthiepan, and Prabhu Deva, among others. He also wrote the story for Bollywood films Chennai Express, Dilwale, and Housefull 3.
Actress Rekha Mohan was found dead in her apartment in Thrissur. Police reportedly found her at her dining table in a ‘sitting posture’ on 13 November. She was best known for her work in Mammootty’s Udhyaanapalakan (1996), and Mohanlal’s Nee Varuvolam (1997) and Oru Yathramozhi (1997).
The former actress who went on to become the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu was hospitalised for hypertension in September. After a four months of treatment Jayalalitha died of cardiac arrest on 5 December in Chennai. She was 68.
A brilliant acting talent, a charismatic onscreen presence, and a canny politician – Jayalalitha was all this. But it was her courage in the face of adversity and her political success in a male-dominated society that will be talked about for a long time.
Political commentator and actor Cho Ramaswamy died on 7 December. He was 82.
Cho began his film career with a supporting role in Paar Magale Paar, followed by movies like Adimai Penn and Rickshawkaran. His first directorial was the Tamil film Mohammad Bin Tughlaq (1971), which garnered much acclaim for its severe, unbiased take on politics.
Cho also ran the political journal Tughlaq. Known for its fearless satire and withering criticism of politicians, the magazine and its founder faced constant political pressure, but won the support and admiration of the masses.
A close friend of the late Chief Minister, Cho was admitted to the same private hospital in Chennai as Jayalalitha. Reports indicate that he did not know of her passing.
Zsa Zsa Gabor
Veteran actress and socialite Zsa Zsa Gabor died on 19 December of a heart attack. She was 99.
She made her acting debut with a supporting role in Lovely To Look At. She was noted for her charm, grace, and extraordinary beauty.
Though she was an established actress, Gabor often made headlines for her personal life. She had a number of love affairs, some controversial. Speaking to Foxnews about life, fame, and marriage, she said, “I love the companionship, I love cooking for a man (simple things like chicken soup and my special Dracula’s goulash from Hungary), and spending all my time with a man. Of course I love being in love – but it is marriage that really fulfills me. But not in every case.”
Curiously, she attributed her numerous marriages to her Catholicism, saying she felt compelled to marry a man she slept with because she “never stopped being a Catholic at heart”.
“Every age has its Madame Pompadour, its Lady Hamilton, its Queen of Sheba, its Cleopatra,” George Sanders, an Oscar winning actor and one of Gabor’s husbands wrote in his autobiography. “I wouldn’t be surprised if history singles out Zsa Zsa as its 20th century prototype of this exclusive coterie.”
Veteran Malayalam film and television actor KN Jagannatha Varma passed away at a private hospital in Thiruvananthapuram on 20 December. Varma made his film debut in 1978 with Mattoly. He went on to do memorable roles in over 500 films. His notable performances are in New Delhi, Lelam and Pathram.
George Michael, superstar and the honeyed voice behind hits like Last Christmas and Careless Whisper passed away on Christmas morning due to a heart failure. He was 53.
Actress and writer Carrie Fisher died on 27 December. She was 60. The Star Wars actress suffered a heart attack during a flight, and was subsequently hospitalised in Los Angeles. She was best known for playing Princess Leia in the Star Wars original trilogy.
Hollywood legend Debbie Reynolds died of a stroke on 28 December. She was 84. The death came just a day after her daughter, actress Carrie Fisher died.
Reynolds was reportedly distraught after Carrie Fisher’s death. According to TMZ, she was at her son’s house working out funeral arrangements for Fisher when she had a stroke.