I consider the 70s to 90s as the Golden period of Tamil Cinema. It’s the time when both hardcore masala movies and radical directors co-existed. Tamil audience lapped both types of films with open hands. It also saw the rise of the “B” directors (Bharathiraja, Balachander) and moreover it gave the genius by the name Ilayaraja.
16 Vayathinile (1977)
16 Vayathinile changed norms, broke the rules and created a new trend in the world of Tamil movies. The movies till then were shot in indoors, had melodrama overdose, chastised Tamil and even sometimes had elitist music. 16 Vayathinile was the first movie to get to the real Tamilian in the village and spoke his language. It was a team of geniuses who came from the villages who broke the norm – Bharathiraja, Ilaiyaraaja and SA Rajkannu.
16 Vayathinile is about a young girl Mayil (Sridevi) from a village in her sixteens who dreams of independent life as a Teacher and getting married to a prince charming. Her mother Kuruvamma (Gandhimathi) nagging but a strong woman also raises Chappani (Kamal Hassan), a slightly crippled innocent guy who adores Mayil. Parattai (Rajinikanth), the village ruffian also has an eye on, but Mayil falls for the Veterinary Doctor, who enters her village. After a fling, the doctor dumps Mayil, and her mother passes away due to the same. Chappani becomes the only hope of Mayil and love blossoms between them gradually when Mayil realises the innocent heart of Chappani. When they are about to get married, Parattai tries to rape her and Chappani in a rage kills him. Chappani is taken to jail, and Mayil waits for his arrival. SA Raj Kannu produced the movie with story, screenplay and direction from Bharathiraja. Ilayaraja composed the music.
Why is it special?
1. It not only broke the norms of melodramatic Tamil cinema but also the rules of a typical Tamil cinema. The movie proved that the audience would accept a loin cloth clad, paan chewing, shabby looking hero too. The story revolves around the woman in question and the bold decisions she takes even after being the wronged woman. This was path-breaking in Tamil cinema.
2. The incredible casting and acting of the leads. Nobody could have thought that Sridevi could pull off such a character. The character has multiple nuances – on one end she falls hopelessly in love and on the other hand she snares on Parattai and co. The shades change to a determined woman when she transforms Chappani. A kickass performance, I should say. Kamal should be glorified for taking such a role although he was popular at that time. Chappani will be one of his most memorable characters. Rajinikanth as Parattai was brilliant and in fact, his punch dialogue “Idhu yeppadi irukku” had its roots in this movie.
3. The music – although Annakili (1977) was a perfect launch pad for Ilayaraja, 16 Vayathinile showed why Raja will become the most prolific music composer the Tamil cinema ever produced. Senthoora Poove – an excellent melody, Aattukutti Muttayittu – the comic rendition, Sevvanthi Poova Edutha – a folk overdose – are just remarkable compositions. More than anything else, what showed up was his penchant for background scores. The Sendhoora Poove which comes as a happy song sung to Mayil’s prince charming becomes a pathos BGM at the end when she waits for Chappani. Few changes in the notes explain you the mood of Mayil perfectly.
4. The brilliant script of Bharathiraja. The movie slowly evolves and driven by the characters. There are no drastic twists and turns in the film. It’s realistic, grounded sans melodrama with sharp dialogues. And moreover, it’s an original script taken from the roots of the villages.
Why is it on the list?
1. As it’s the first movie to break the norms of Tamil cinema. It’s a real trendsetter not like the gimmicked marketing movies of recent times. The movie broke all rules with respect to traditional filmmaking, it was shot outdoors, dialogues in non-chaste Tamil and a radically different original score from Ilaiyaraaja.
2. The first movie to touch the roots of Tamil villages. People from villages thronged to theatres to watch the movie. In fact, the trade pundits weren’t convinced the movie would be a success but the people proved it otherwise.
1. Bharathiraja was born in a small village called Alli Nagaram near Theni. He even worked as a Sanitary Inspector. He along with Ilaiyaraaja brothers used to stage dramas where from acting, casting, songs were done by the team. They were persuaded to enter the movie world through the persuasion of SP Balasubramaniam, who was establishing himself as a playback singer. Bharathiraja started his career as Asst. Director with Puttana Kanangal and later worked with many directors
2. Gangai Amaren wrote the song Senthoora Poove and I think it marked his debut as the lyricist. The song won the National award for S.Janaki
3. Sridevi started her career as a child artist (as Bala Murugan), and I think she was about 15 years when she did this movie. Her Hindi movie debut was a remake of this movie titled “Solva Sawaan” directed by Bharathiraja himself. Amol Palekar donned Kamal’s role and it was a failure at the box office. Sridevi ruled the Tamil and Malayalam movie world from 1977 – 1983. Her notable films include Sigappu Rojakkal, Priya, Dharma Yuddham, Gayathri, Johnny, Meendum Kokila and Vaazhvey Mayam. She stormed into Bollywood with Sadma and Himmatwala in 1983. She had an unstoppable run with movies like Masterji, Nagina, Mr.India, Chaalbaaz, Chandni, Kshanam Kshanam (Telugu), Lamhe, Khuda Gaawah and so on. She married after a controversial affair with Boney Kapoor and left the movie world. She came back with English Vinglish (2012) and her final movie as a lead actress was Mom (2017).
4. Bhagyaraj’s first movie as Assistant Director. Kamal Hassan received the biggest salary among the crew, Rs.27,000 and Rajini received a salary of Rs.3000 for the movie. The entire movie was made under Rs.4.5 Lakhs.
5. There is a sequence in which Sridevi had to spit on Rajinikanth’s face. It seems the entire crew tried various alternative but nothing worked. Rajinikanth, without any qualms, asked Sridevi spit on his face for real and she did.
6.Shabbir was a student of the Adyar Film Institute and landed in the role of the Doctor through still photographer Lakshmikanthan. He was christened as Sathyajith by Ilaiyaraaja for the screen. The role was so memorable but he never got good roles except for a few in Ezhavathu Manithan (1982), Hey Ram (2000) and Haridas (2013).
7. There was no success meets or official celebration for the movie (we get to see success functions on the 3rd day of the release these days). Producer SA Rajkannu re-released the digital version of the movie in 2013 and there was a celebration meet for the movie after 36 years.
8. The movie
I shall reserve more trivia about Bharathiraja for the next post, which is incidentally another of his classics.
- The Best of Tamil Cinema by Dhananjayan
- 16 Vayadhinile – Re-release function speech by Chitra Lakshmanan
- 16 Vayadhinile – Re-release function speech by Bhagyaraj
- Remember that doctor from 16 Vayadhinile – NewsMinute
YouTube link to the movie (with subtitles)