Subtlety thy name is Mahendran. When Tamil cinema was reeling under overrated emotions, a few directors tried to break the norms of Tamil cinema. As I already explained in previous posts, I would consider this as the golden period of Tamil cinema. Mahendran played a significant role in shaping up this period of directorial excellence
Mullum Malarum (1978)
Mullum Malarum is a movie that depicts the love between a ruffian brother and innocent sister. The film had Rajinikanth, Sarath Babu, Shoba and Fatafat Jayalakshmi in lead roles with Balu Mahendra wielding the camera and Ilayaraja composing the score. It was produced by V.Mohan (Anandhi Films) and directed by Mahendran.
Set in a rural backdrop near Annamalai Hills in Tamil Nadu, it paints the story of Kali (Rajinikanth) and his sister Valli (Shoba). Kali is a winch operator in the hills and enters Kumaran (Sarath Babu), an officer and the boss of Kali. Exciting encounters between Valli and Kumaran blossoms into a tender love between them. Kali doesn’t approve this love while he falls for Manga (Fatafat Jayalakshmi), a bratty village girl. In a freak incident, Kali loses one of his hands. Valli is torn between the love for her brother and Kumaran. The whole village tries to arrange for the marriage between Kumaran and Valli with the help of Manga. The climax tells you who Valli chooses to be with.
Why is it so special?
1. Although brother-sister relationships have been portrayed a lot of times in the past (Paasa Malar, Pachai Vilakku), they were always filled with an overdose of melodrama. Mullum Malarum deliberately broke the rules to give more subtle, natural version of a brother-sister relationship. It broke the stereotypes and gave an honest portrayal of the relationship
2. The acting of the ‘actor’ Rajinikanth rather than the superstar. You would not believe that it was only the 3rd year in his film career. The anti-heroic act of the first half and the disabled man in the second half was simply brilliant. He was challenged in every quarter by the young Shoba (was just 16) with her portrayal of an innocent sister. Her eyes showed more emotions than her face when she is torn between the love of her brother and lover.
3. The able supporting cast of Fatafat Jayalakshmi and Sarath Babu (some feel he is miscast, but there couldn’t have been a better person given the choices for the director).
4. The brilliance of the man by the name Ilayaraja. If Senthazham Poovil is an evergreen classic, Raman Aandalum is still one of the most favourites of Rajini fans. Adi Penne is an uncelebrated classic, and Nitham Nitham nellu choru provided a prelude to interesting rural orchestrations that Ilayaraja would do later in various movies.
5. The rusticity in the movie is the main reason for the honest portrayals. Balu Mahendra (Cinematography) and Mahendran have worked hard to preserve it. A deft screenplay, some wonderful writing and brilliant portrayals made the movie an instant classic
Why is it on the list?
1. It broke the stereotypical portrayals of brother and sister relationships sans the melodrama
2. For the ‘actor’ Rajinikanth – one of his best
3. The subtlety of Mahendran
1. Mullum Malarum is based on a short story by Uma Chandran that won the Kalki Silver Jubilee Issue award.
2.Mahendran had scrapped the “Senthazham Poovil” song in the original cut due to the budget constraints and producer couldn’t provide the money. Hearing this, Panchu Arunachalam gave some money to shoot the song as he thought it was too brilliant to be left out. We would have lost a classically shot song, if not for Panju Arunachalam.
3.The movie has two actresses who died of suicides, Fatafat Jayalakshmi and Shoba both committed suicide after a few years. Tamil industry lost two great actresses. Shoba won a national award for Pasi, a year later at the age of 17.
4.Mahendran was initially born as Alexander. It’s said that he changed the name in honour of a school senior, who was a famous athlete.
5.Mullum Malarum is the only movie where the three greats came together to work – Mahendran, Balu Mahendra and Ilaiyaraaja. Incidentally, Kamal introduced Balu Mahendra to Mahendran.
6. Sarath Babu (real name: Sathyanarayana Dikshit) wanted to become a police officer, but he had to wear glasses, and it pushed him to the movie world. He met K Balachander and Singeetham Sreenivasa Rao at a function. The next day, he met K Balachander at his office and KB offered him a role in Nizhal Nijamagirathu. He acted in more than 200 films in South Indian languages including some memorable characters in Nool Veli, Nenjathai Killathe, 47 Natkal, Salangai Oli, Sattam, Velaikkaran etc.; He had a turbulent personal life. He was married to Rama Prabha, a Telugu actress who accused him of torture and financial fraud. He married Snehalatha (MN Nambiar’s daughter), and she filed for a divorce in 2001.
If you think Mullum Malarum was a classic, the next movie that I am going to write about equals any international masterpiece. A film that I am proud that it was made in Tamil.
- The best of Tamil Cinema by Dhananjayan
- I am a director’s actor – Interview with Sarath Babu